Back in December I received the original Dale of Merchants and described how pleased I was with the component quality and look of the game. Over the last 5 months we (my husband and I) have played it several times and enjoy its fast gameplay and close finishes.
Every game is close, generally when one of us (usually my husband) completes the final stall, the other one of us (usually me) could have finished on one of their next 2 turns. This keeps you feeling that you are always in the game and that next time you will win.
Depending on which animal characters you use (in a two player game you only use 3 of the 6 available for each game), the strategies are completely different. My favourites so far are the squirrels, partially because I collect squirrel related items and have done since I was a child, but mostly because they give so many options for stall building. Other characters allow you to mess with your opponents (raccoons), introduce chaos (ocelots), aid with hand management (macaws) or help with using the market (pandas). The final animal characters are chameleons which allow imitation of other cards (probably the hardest set to understand and use well), however we haven’t yet used the chameleons in any of our games – it’s like having an expansion already in the box waiting to be used.
We definitely prefer some animal characters to others, reflecting our preferred style of gameplay. Neither of us likes to take too many risks with the ocelots or be too mean with the raccoons, but even with these reservations, as the cards can also be used to buy other cards and set up stalls they are still useful.
Some aspects of the game can be frustrating, knowing that you have the combination of cards you need in your deck to build your final stall, but not being able to get them into your hand at the same time – although I often forget the option to just discard any number of cards from my hand and draw new ones rather than purchase, play a technique or set up a stall. I also often can’t remember exactly what cards I have left in my deck, which can make it hard to work out which cards I need to complete my stalls. You are allowed to look through your discard pile to refresh your memory so that does help, I just need to remember to do that each time before shuffling in future.
Even though we haven’t yet used all the animal characters in the original box, I was excited to see a new standalone expansion come onto kickstarter. With 6 new animal decks and 1 additional promo deck included so far, I’m sure this will be a great addition to the game. And if the funding reaches $100k there is an even more exciting stretch goal – a promo deck of Emperor Penguins. I love penguins so this would definitely make my game complete!