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Merchants of the Dark Road Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look:

Designer: Brian Suhre
Artists: N/A
Publisher: Elf Creek Games
Year Published: 2019


This preview was done in the earlier stages of making the game. Changes very well could have been made already. This was a prototype copy played with Brian during Geekway to the West.

Getting the Game:
I decided to sign up to "check out" Brian Suhre's new game coming out called Merchants of the Dark Road. I signed up on BGG on a Geeklist that was posted by Brent Dickman of Elf Creek Games. I was expecting a game similar to Coldwater Crown and Freshwater Fly which you can click on those links to check out, as they are wonderful games. I was surprised to realize during rules explanation that this game was different from his previous games that I knew. This game is a heavier worker placement type pickup and deliver with a Tetris style puzzle to manage your goods that you are buying from the market to deliver to heroes or using to deliver to certain towns that are in need of those certain goods. Let me explain further.

Playing the Game:
Warning - I only remember what is in my head and what is on the pictures that I took. My memory might not be the 100% best, but I wanted to give you a good look at the game and describe as much as I can remember.

You will start with a "Pegasus" card that shows how many dice, which types of dice (orange and black do matter) you will start with, a certain end game scoring condition (mine was each group of blue, purple, and red cards--contracts or heroes from a guild--would score 3 points, and bonus actions available when using a pendant(?), and starting items. Dice are placed on the bottom of you player board and you start with 1 lucky horseshoe that can be used for a couple different things, but we used them mostly when we traveled (in the travel section of the board). I will touch more on that later. Everyone rolls their dice so that they are random.

On your turn you will select a number shown on at least 1 of your dice to activate. If you activate the 3's, then you will need to use every die that shows a 3 on it. If you activate a 6, you activate all 6's. Before you activate your number you can use the black dice to visit the courtyard located in the middle of the board. Select one of your dice to exchange for the die located in the area you want to swap out. You can not swap out the same number that you are placing. When swapping out, you will take the newly acquired die and place it on the top part of your player board labeled "Action." You will then take any dice of the same number from your other dice on the bottom of your board, and move them to the top. If you only want to use one die, then don't swap out a die with a number on it that matches any of your other dice. You will take the accompanying action from the place you swapped from. Actions consists of: take 2 money, take 2 points, take a good located in the "2" section of the market and place it in your backpack. Orange dice can not be used to take the courtyard action, but will be used to enhance some board actions.

Decide if you would like to take any of your dice in the "Action" section on the top of your board and discard it for the good listed to the top right of your player board.

The number of dice you have in your "Action" section will dictate how many spaces your worker will move, and also which actions you can take. For this reason, you might want to craft so you can move your worker to a certain spot on the board to take the wanted action.

You will moved around the board only using 5 spaces. You can only take the actions of the areas the touch those spaces where your worker is located. For example, the green would be able to use their die or dice for the travel, dungeon, and/or black market actions. Purple can perform the black marker, mystic, or guild actions. Blue is kind of in a "special" place, and can perform the guild or market action. You can take your actions in any order, and the market action is free, so in this space you essentially could buy whatever is in the market and use it to give to a guild member and collect that card. Yellow can perform the market, lighthouse, or contracts action.

Use your die or dice to perform any of the actions of the surrounding areas from where your worker is located.

Market: Five dice will randomly be rolled and placed in the sections shown on the dice. These are the goods available at this time. You can buy any or all of these goods. If more than 1 die is located in the section, you will pay the number shown for all the dice located in that section. The market action is free and doesn't cost a die, but if you wanted to manipulate the market a bit to either make something cheaper for you to buy or making something more expensive for when you drop off these goods to the guild you can use a die. A die of any number will turn the market wheel once clockwise. Everything gets 1 cheaper, while the lowest goes from a 1 to a 5. The other spot lets you change the die face of any chosen die. You would do this if you really needed a certain good and there was none available in the market at that time. After buying these goods you will move the dice off the wheel to the sides and collect them to place in your backpack. Remember, you need to have enough room to fit everything in the Tetris-like backpack. For each die that was removed, when done with their turn they will re-roll those dice and place them again on their matching icons to make a new market.

Lighthouse: Change one good from the normal side to the enchanted side and gain 1 point. Each good can be flipped over to show that it is enchanted and will give you a bonus when used at the guild.

Contracts: Collect a contract you would like to fulfill. You will need to collect the listed goods on the card and deliver them to the location shown in the "Travel" section. When delivered you gain 2 points per good.

Harbor: Collect a good that is not available in the market place at that time.  You will take a good that doesn't have a die on it in the marketplace and place it in your backpack.

Travel: You will be taking your contracts and delivering them here. You also can drop off any of your guild members here to gain a little extra shown differently for each pair of locations.  But first before you make it to whatever location you will need to make sure that you actually make it there. There is a deck of 10 cards. The player to your right will shuffle them and place one out for you one at a time. The top locations require 2 cards, the next pair requires 3 cards, and the bottom cards require 4 cards. There are "good" cards and "bad" cards in the deck. The card will also provide you will options or decisions you will need to pick from.  If you have any lucky horseshoes you can use them to avoid the "bad" cards and keep going.

When performing this action with an orange die, you can gain an extra 2 points plus the points shown on the contract card. If you used a black die, you will only gain the points listed on the contract card.

If you had another die, you could travel again. If there is a pendant or perhaps money left on a location, you will gain it. Each location starts with a pendant token located on it.

Dungeon: Use your black die to choose one of the goods shown on the enchanted dice and place it on its enchanted side in your backpack. If you use an orange die, you will take the 2 enchanted goods. For whatever good that was claimed, re-roll the die or dice of that good.

Black Market: There are 4 different options on a wheel. You will have to pay a minimum of 1 coin to move the meeple once and take the goods located on it. You can pay 2 or 3 or 4 to move it twice, three times, or four times if you would like.

Mystic: (I actually never took this action myself during the game, so I am a little fuzzy on this action) My best guess would be you move the market wheel clockwise once and gain 2 horseshoes.

Guild: Here you deliver the goods wanted by each hero, and they are then added to your player board. When delivering the wanted goods they pay you for them for whatever the prices are listed at the market at that time. (Remember, you can go to the market first, when located on the space between the market and the guild, to manipulate the market a little to benefit you when you "sell" your goods to the heroes in the guild.) If you used an orange die you will gain an extra 2 coins. For each enchanted good you delivered, you will gain a pendant for it.

These extra guild members are placed on your player board and become part of your group. Each one of them can hold 1 of your items. You can have 3 of them at a time, and they really make it easier to hold more stuff. I would advise that they always hold the huge musical instruments if they can.

Cards: You will eventually use the 4 dice you start with, when this happens you will take your animal cards and choose which one you will continue with. Each card provides different number or types of dice, unlocks potential bonus actions used by your pendants (explained below), as well as end game scoring possibilities (explained below as well). You won't use every card, but you do have options. When someone plays their 5th total card, the game will end letting each player play at least 1 last card, and then finishing the round letting everyone have the same number of actions. (I'm a little fuzzy on specifics of how the game actually ends, but know that its something similar to above.)

Whenever you would like, on your turn, you can spend a pendant to place on one of your animal cards to gain the listed bonus. Remember you are eventually choosing which of these cards you would like to use, so you will be choosing those cards to know which possible extra pendant actions you can take as well. At the end of the game, if you put both pendants on a card it will be used for final scoring. Each card has different actions you can take. At the beginning of the game, tokens will be randomly placed to set how final scoring of these cards will occur. If you have 2 pendants on a card, it will be used for its final scoring ability.

What's the goal?
At the end of the game, you will count your points, and you will count your money. Whichever is the lowest is your final score. For this reason you need to balance your money and your points when playing the game. There are many different actions that allow you to balance this. You will then place your score marker on whatever you final score is and then perform final scoring. You will look at your animal cards to see which ones will be scored by seeing which ones have the 2 pendants on them. The board was setup with a random token showing which card would score what, and you will add those points to your final score to make it your final final score.

Quick Ideas
  • The only goods available in the market are those that are rolled.
  • If the 1 space had 3 dice in the market, you will be paying 1 coin for the 3 items, not 1 coin for each. So when they are grouped together, they become cheaper, even if they are on the higher number.
  • The number of active dice determines your movement.
  • The black die is used for the courtyard.
  • The orange dice are used for extra points in the guild and travel sections.
  • It doesn't really matter how fast you use your dice by using doubles more often versus moving slow and using just 1 at a time. Everyone will take the same amount of actions, which makes me wonder if using doubles actually benefits you as you might move further but you have more dice to use each turn.
  • After playing your first game you will realize a better strategy like using double to move faster.
  • Beware of the "bad" cards when traveling in the travel section. Come prepared with lucky horseshoes to counteract those cards.

The Good:
Such a great game! I felt like it was polished already and nothing felt "unbalanced." I feel like everyone I played with tried to use 1 die at a time because you want to take every action and don't want to pass over any. But, looking back, I think the more you use doubles the more actions you can take on your turn even though you might move further to a location. Really, it comes down to planning. I like how you collect guild members which allows you to gain money due to selling goods to them that they want. Then you can use them to hold goods while they are traveling with you in your party. Then you can use them to help balance your money or points by delivering them to a location in the travel section. The choices of using the orange dice vs the black dice makes it hard. Orange dice give you 2 points when using them in the travel section and guild section, but you can just as easily use the black die in the courtyard to score 2 points. When I played I seemed to think the orange dice were better and used to score me more points, but I think it all depends on how you plan and organize your dice actions. You can use a black die to swap out another die to gain the 2 points in the courtyard, then if that new die matches the number of one of your orange dice, then it will be moved up and you can then use the orange die to take the guild action and gain 2 coins extra.  This is a hard concept to understand on your first play, but after thinking about it, I know that doing more complicated actions that use more than 1 die might benefit you more.

The Bad:
The only bad thing was that the art and components in the game are not yet set, and I believe this would help with the theme and touch of the game.

Final Thoughts:
I always seem to like a game when I win and feel like everyone was fighting to win. The game score from my memory and notes was 35-36-37-48. I believe when I balanced my money with my points I was only 1 off from the other. Plus, I did 2 sets of my pegasus that gave me 6 more points, and some more with my other animal cards.

Check out Elf Creek Games on:


Brody Sheard - Reviewer

Brody Sheard played board games with his large family growing up. He continues with his love of games by teaching his family, local gaming guild, and friends about new and exciting games. Brody believes that board gaming keeps your mind healthy while also having fun interacting with others.

See Brody's reviews HERE.
Merchants of the Dark Road Kickstarter Preview Merchants of the Dark Road Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by Brody on July 11, 2019 Rating: 5

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