Lately we have been adding some pretty heavy titles to our collection, so we felt like it was time for some small cute games to balance it again. Luckily we stumbled apon Dale of Merchants and the cute animal cards immediately drew us in. After reading the very short rulebook and choosing what animals we wanted to play with, we were ready to become merchants.
How to Play.
For the setup, choose one animal deck per player plus one. Form a starting deck for each player by giving everyone each card valued one from each animal deck. All remaining valued one cards can go back to the box. Add junk cards to each deck until every player has ten cards. Place the market board on the table and the junk cards close by. Then shuffle all remaining animal deck cards into one deck and reveal five cards on the market board. Then each player takes five cards as their starting hand and you are ready to play.
On your turn you may perform one action followed by a clean-up phase. You can choose to buy a card from the market. You can find the cost in the top left corner of each card. If the card is placed on a +3 for example on the market, you have to pay the cost of the card and the additional value of three. To pay for a card, you have to discard cards of your own hand with the same value or more. You can overpay, but you can’t discard cards that are not necessary if you already have gathered the value needed. The card goes straight to your hand, ready for use in the next round. The cards you have payed with go to your discard pile. You can also choose to play a technique card from your hand if you have one available. Technique cards have different effects depending on which animal decks are in play. Some technique cards will allow you to borrow cards, stashing cards or even stealing cards for example. You can recognize these cards by the text technique on each card. Some technique cards have a + icon on the card. This means you will get an additional action of your choice once played.
The goal of the game is to build your stall as a merchant. As an action, you can also choose to build a stack in your stall. Each player needs eight stalls in order to win the game with the first stall starting at value one and the last one ending with eight. All stalls have to be an exact number starting from 1, to 2,3,4 etc until you come to eight. You can place a single card from your hand, or you can combine card value’s to get the exact number you need. You cannot build a higher number if you have those cards available, you always have to build the next number in line with the exact number needed. Combined cards have to be from the same animal deck and placed cards cannot be played anymore. They remain in your stall until the end of the game. Note that once a stack is placed, it can’t be removed anymore even if it decreases in value because of a card for example. As a last action, you can choose to discard cards. You can discards as many cards from your hand even until you have zero cards left. Other then buying cards or building stacks, this is the only way to get rid of many unwanted cards in your hand at once.
After the action phase, you have a cleanup phase where you fill your hands back to five cards. Slide cards on the market to the rightmost empty spots, then draw new cards. The game ends if you have build your last stack in your stall with number eight. The player who manages to do this first, wins the game.
Playthrough of the game.
You begin each game with a lot of junk. In the first few games, we both tried to get rid of it as fast as possible since they don’t have anything you can really use. But the more games we played, the more I tried to keep the junk cards. Some animal decks have technique cards that allow players to take or steal the top card of your discard pile. After Tomasz managed to take one of my new bought cards that I really needed, I learned to always try and discard a junk card on top when buying new cards for example. The interesting thing about this game is that every player starts with the same deck and somehow, every player take completely different actions and strategies. We noticed that I like to stash cards however I can and manage my discard pile good enough, while Tomasz likes to let me do all the hard work and later steal my cards anyway. The great thing about Dale of Merchants is that you can simply switch up some animal decks to make sure the gameplay will be different every time.
We really like the short card game. You have to try and gain all the numbers you need for your stacks. This sounds simpler then it is since the card values only go up until five. Then again, you want your timing of building your stacks to be right since you can’t use the cards anymore once they are placed. Or worse, there might be cards in play that let other players alter your stacks and benefit from them in some way. There is a lot of replayability since there are many animal decks in one game. Dale of Merchants 3 has six animal decks to play with and we also had the otter expansion to add to that. But this is not where it ends. All the previous Dale of Merchants and expansions can all be combined, which means you can create the most creative gameplays however you want. You want a challenge? Pick a couple of mean animal decks. Teaching new players how to play? Go for hand management animal decks rather then stealing animals for example. The rulebooks have short descriptions of what each animal deck stands for. To stay true to the theme of the game, not only the art fits very well, also each item on a card, text on cards and even small phrases in the rulebook, will show you a bit of character from the animals you can play with. A lot of thought has been put into this game.
Dale of Merchants 3 is a card drafting, deck building, animal card game where you have to become the best merchant and build eight stacks in your stall in order to win. This game is easy to learn and can be played in many different ways because of the different animal decks. All animal decks have different quality’s and you can choose how you want to combine them during the setup. Some animals like to steal, others might be more friendly and will just borrow something. There are also animals who don’t lower themselves to such a level, but rather focus on perfecting their stash and always having cards at hand. These unique features are not only very clever, but makes sure you can play any game how you want it. Dale of Merchants 3 can also be combined with any of the other animals from previous Dale of Merchant games or expansions which add to the fun. The art and theme of the game also really comes together and every animal deck has a clear personality that is especially created for that animal. We will definitely be hunting for previous Dale of Merchants now!