Updated: Oct 30, 2022
WBG Score: 7.5
Published by: FunkyHat Games
This is a prototype copy provided for free by the publisher. The final game will have some minor changes to the art and components.
Merchants of Karanor is live on Kickstarter now. You can find out more information here. At its heart, this is a pick-up-and-deliver game, but the game tries to create a full blooded story around your character and your travels. Let's pick it up and get it to the table to see if this delivers. (Snigger).
Lay out the board and place a resource or local token on each space that shows the same symbol across the four islands. Place the rest to the side of the board. Give each player one city of origin tile, one backstory tile, and three commerce cards, as well as all the playing pieces in their chosen colour. Place your character marker and one building on your starting city as shown on your city of origin tile. Then take any resources, coins, and any coat of arms as described on your backstory tile. Place your income marker on the prescribed place as shown on your backstory, and place your notoriety marker on the zero space on the right hand side of the board. Finally, place one card for each player on the delivery space on the bottom right of the board, and gather the six associate tiles and place them below the board.
All players will now pick one of their three commerce cards to keep, giving the other two to the player to their right in a draft system. You will then take one card from the two just passed to you, and discard the final third card. Each player should now be left with two starting cards.
Your starting set up will now be complete, but you will be able to add additional coat of arms, associates, artifacts, and develop your income as the game progresses. It is from these variable components that makes each game start in a unique way for each player each game.
How to Play
On your turn, you can carry out any four actions each time. There are six options you can pick from. Moving. Collect resources. Working. Hire an Associate. Interact with a local. Make a delivery. Build a Villa. Or, build a commerce.
Moving simply allows you to take your character pawn and progress your current travel limit on the board. You start with a movement speed of two but can gain additional move points via completing quests and gaining the traveller coat of arms.
Collecting resources is done when you are on a space with a resource token. You do not take this token, rather you can take two tokens of that type from the resource pile.
Working allows you to gain one coin. A simple way to gain money. Another is via hiring an associate who will initially gain you one resource of the type shown on their tile during each income phase, but if you flip this tile, they will then gain you extra one coin each round instead.
Quests are gained by interreacting with a local. Move onto a space with a local token, remove it, and draw the top quest card. Some quests will be part of two connected quest, such as the San Talas Shipwreck card below. When you complete the first part, draw the second card from the second quest pile, and you can now try to fulfil this too. Most quests give you one point in exchange for taking specific goods to a certain place on the map. You can keep what you are doing secret, or read it out loud for all to hear for a more interactive immersive experience.
The delivery cards act in a similar way, asking you to take specific items to a certain place but then rewarding you with money as well as points upon completion. They can only be done by one player, when they are completed they are removed from the game. So this adds a bit of a race element to the game, especially as the rewards for these cards is generally quite good.
You can also move onto one of the spaces on the map that show the Villa symbol, pay eight coins, and place one of your houses onto this space. This will gain you one point. This action is limited to the five Villa spaces on the board.
Finally, the last action available to you is build a commerce. In order to do this, you must be on a city location, with the right resources, an available house token, and an unused commerce card.
This will gain you one point and you can advance your income marker one point, making your income each round now more profitable. You can then if you chose, pay the requirement shown in the text in the middle of the card and gain the secondary additional benefit.
Each player can take any four of these actions, and as many of each as they like. You could just move four times if you wanted. When your actions are done, you will take your income, drawing money and any items your current engine generates. This will be based on where your income marker is positioned on your player board, and any items shown on any associates you have hired.
You can also freely trade anything in the game you want with any other player, as long as they agree to it. This can be done at any point, with anyone, and with anything. This does not use any of your action points.
You can also complete quests without taking an action. Generally this happens when you move to a certain space at the cost of a move action, whilst being in possession of the specific items you had previously gathered from a collect resources action.
When you move onto the three and six spaces on the notoriety board, you will be instructed to draw a black market card. These cards will give you additional powers and opportunities, quite often to take items or money from other players. Note some cards have a 4 plus symbol on the bottom and are only meant to be used with the specific player counts.
This carries on until someone reaches ten points. At which point if this is the last player who just had their turn, the game ends. Otherwise, all players have one more turn until they have had equal turns.
In the case of a tie, if more than one player reaches ten notoriety points, then the player with the most coins win.
Is it Fun?
Pick-up-and-deliver is a limited mechanic. Is restricts a game to a fairly similar pattern of play. Merchants of Karanor develops this as far as the mechanic can go, offering multiple paths of scoring from this one mechanic. Pick up and take something from one place on the board to score points, either via a quest, constructing a commerce building, or making a delivery. It's all pretty much the same thing. Move, collect resource, move again, drop off resource, But it feels more than that. The game has gone the extra mile to bring a story to the game. Either via your own characters back story, or from the quests you undertake during the game.
Some p[layers will be able to develop on this story and enhance their own game play experience. You can bring a real narrative sense of adventure to the table if you get into the back stories and quests. For others who don't want to do this, it could become quite abstract, and a simple race to move things around a board. Which side of this fence you fall depends on your own style of play and which games work for you.
I enjoyed the sense of adventure this game brings to the table. Karanor is a bright, colourful world, full of exciting (if a little clichéd) stories. I liken it a little to Tales of Arabian Nights in this respect. If you enjoyed that game, then this will feel similar, a little more constructed and formed, but perhaps a little more enjoyable. It doesn't quite have the same crazy plot twists, but it has more structure and certainly more control in terms of game length.
In essence, like most pick-up-and-deliver games, this is a race based on efficiency. Who can make the best decisions to collect the most points as quickly as possible through careful planing. There is some strategy too based on the options available. You could win this game without ever building a Villa for example. Conversely, you could win the game having built all of them. It very much depends on which route to victory you wish to employ.
I very much enjoyed my time in Karanor. It is a wistful and adventurous place. I enjoyed moving around the board. Using and developing my skills. Becoming more efficient in my actions, and building up my own personal engine. I was conscious of the race element throughout, and this kept the tension high, my focus keen, and my engagement in the game strong. Pick-up-and-deliver certainly is not my favourite mechanic, but I enjoy the race, engine building, and character development in this game.
However, my favourite part hands down is the constant sense of satisfaction you get throughout the game from completing lots of little tasks. Which in truth, does come from the pick-up-and-deliver mechanic. Being able to gain lots of small rewards, constantly feels good to me. I always liken this to a game of American Football versus Football. In Football, games are often won or lost by the odd goal. It is a huge moment in the game that the rest of the match builds up to and focuses around. This is seen in some board games where you work towards a big task that pays off with a massive reward. It feels great when you get there but it may not happen more than once per game. Whereas with American Football, there are constant moments of jubilation, not just when your team scores, but also when you defend a third down, or get a first down as the attacking side. Any time you score or course is the biggest cheer, but there are additional smaller moments throughout the encounter that all feel great too. They contribute to your overall sense of enjoyment from the experience. Merchants of Karanor feels like this. You are constantly getting a little buzz of dopamine for delivering a certain group of objects to a certain spot of the board. There is a real sense of satisfaction from this. It is not massive. But you are rewarded with this feeling regularly.
I will be interested to see how this game does at kickstarter. I feel the pick-up-and-deliver mechanic and box art may put some people off, but if it does get a chance to shine, and get to your table, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.