Deck building for all
In the kingdom of deck-building games, Dominion rules proudly, rarely being bothered by other pretenders to the throne. That isn’t to say there aren’t other worthy contenders, but through the test of time Dominion has remained the exemplar by which all deck-building games are measured. Dale of Merchants, originally released in 2015, may not have come to usurp Dominion’s position, but it certainly offers an alternative for players who crave the smoothness of the latter’s gameplay but are not entirely satisfied with its fairly pastiche theme.
Dale of Merchants is set in a world resembling Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels, with anthropomorphized animals illustrated beautifully on the cards with a whimsical fairy-tale approach. Each deck has its own unique character that reflects the nature of the animal it belongs to. For example, the Black-Headed Gull focuses on filling opponents with junk cards, low-cost cards that saturate their deck, making it hard to draw cards with useful abilities and higher values. The Tasmanian Devil is very playful and likes to mess up other players’ plans, making them discard cards or mixing up their decks, so it is harder to plan ahead.
There is a deck for every type of player. Those who are feeling a bit mischievous will find characters that have high levels of player interaction and take-that powers. While others who do not like confrontation and want a more pacifist game experience will be able to do that as well.
The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played deck-builders before. Players start with basic decks that include junk cards and animal cards from each set used in the game. They will buy more powerful cards from the market and during the course of the gameplay use their abilities – techniques – to eventually create stacks of cards in numerical order. The first player to place eight stacks of ascending value wins the game. The gameplay loop, although simple, is very satisfying and while some thinking and planning ahead is beneficial, players will not suffer from analysis-paralysis.
Dale of Merchants Collection acts as a standalone game and an expansion at the same time, introducing new animals to the game as well as adding a couple of mechanics and variants. These decks can be played completely on their own, but Collection also unites all previous games together, but in more ways than simply providing enough space for them in the same box.
On the gameplay level, it adds almost boundless replayability. The game varies not only based on the decks, but players can also pick from the large collection of characters, whose unique powers make the gameplay easier or harder. For an added layer of challenge, players can also include trap cards, that spice up the gameplay again. Each new element is more of a flavouring and doesn’t overburden the core of the gameplay, keeping it swift and easy-flowing.
On a practical level, Collection includes everything to make set up and play as effortless as possible – from dividers to special cards that summarise qualities of all the decks ever released, including their ease and style of play. It makes the already gorgeous cards feel special, and the game a joy to take out and pack back in the box.
A lot of effort and thought has been put into making this collection inclusive, suitable for all types of players. Seasoned deck-building fans and newcomers alike will find something in the game that fits their play-styles. That together with adorable animal illustrations is why you should really consider adding this game to your collection.
PLAY IT? YES
Dale of Merchants Collection does not stray too far from the establish deck-building format, but it does a great job at making sure that it’s gameplay and artwork are appealing and memorable to players of all types and levels of experience.
Designer: Sami Laakso
Artist: Sami Laakso
Players: 2-4 players
WHATS IN THE BOX?
- 120 animalfolk cards
- Two wooden dice
- 20 junk cards
- 27 deck selection cards
- 20 trap cards
- 55 character cards
- 42 specialty cards
- 32 dividers
- Market board
- 40 coins
- 40 tokens
This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.