Full disclosure: A review copy of Mercado was provided by KOSMOS.
I’m probably going to keep hitting Gen Con games until Essen, and then keep hitting Essen games until the holidays, and then keep hitting holiday releases until next year. So that’s basically the plan through 2019, so get excited. So while we’re going through those, might as well talk about Mercado, one of the new releases from KOSMOS.
In Mercado, well, it has its own lore, but you’re essentially at a Renaissance garage sale, buying a variety of trinkets. Unfortunately, some of your money is definitely counterfeit, which isn’t super good (or legal), so you have to be careful with that. Will you be able to out-buy your competitors and prove that one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure?
So, first, give everyone a character:
They’re double-sided, so whatever you’d like. These correspond to pendants on coin purses, so give each player one:
Put 5 each of the following currencies in the bag:
The white currency should be set aside, for now. The black currency is counterfeit money, which isn’t good either.
Set out the board, which is also double-sided:
There’s a starting disc, as well. Choose a space on the board and put the starting disc on top; it doesn’t really matter which one you choose, which is half the fun.
Set out four of the Valuable Object tiles:
Set out two of the Enchanting Perfumes (which I previously thought were Potions, that you drank):
Finally, set out the Head Merchant and Coin Changer Market Tiles:
Those will form a 2 x 4 rectangle below the board. Leave space in between. Give each player a seal:
Set the Privilege tokens nearby:
You’re just about ready to start! Stack the starting markers in player order, top to bottom, and you’re ready to get going!
So, a game of Mercado is essentially a bag-builder, of sorts. On your turn, you’ll draw tokens from the bag and play them in the hopes of being able to afford any of the merchandise around this … I’ve been calling it a garage sale, but you do you. You may also enlist the help of the two folks working in the Market. But be careful! Any counterfeit money you draw is just wasted; you can’t spend it. As you gain merchandise, you’ll gain status by moving your token around the board, which might earn you other rewards, as well. Once a player moves completely around the board, the game ends, and the player who moved the farthest wins! But before we get there, let’s talk about your turn.
To start your turn, you may reveal one Privilege Token you have and take its relevant rewards. It’s generally points, sometimes points plus something else. Once you’ve done that, take one of the following two actions:
- Draw three coins. Take three coins randomly from your bag. If any are black, put them on your character tile. You may perform additional actions with these, listed below.
- Return your coins. You may return all of your coins that are on your character tile to the bag, if you want. That concludes your turn, though. If you don’t have three coins in your bag, you must take this action.
If you didn’t return your coins, you may also use a seal to draw two more coins from your bag. You may only use one seal per turn, and each unused seal is a point at the end of the game, so don’t undervalue those!
If you want, you may then play the coins you drew on any combination of Market Tiles, on the side of the tile with your player color, provided they match the tile’s requirement (and don’t exceed it). Certain tiles have certain requirements, like three of any color you want, or two silver and a white, or two copper or something. Coins stay on these tiles between turns, so don’t spread yourself too thin. If you match a tile’s required cost, leave it until the end of your turn and we’ll score it then. If not, don’t worry about it.
There are two players in the Market that you should be familiar with:
- The Head Merchant can be hired with three different coins of any color. He’ll give you a Privilege Token at the end of your turn (during the scoring) if you manage to pay his fee.
- The Coin Changer can be hired with three coins of the same color. She’ll give you a white coin that can be used immediately. White coins are considered universal tender and can be used in lieu of any coin, but only once.
Once you’ve made your play, check the board. Are any tiles fulfilled? If so, take your coins from that tile and put them on your Character Tile; they’ve been spent and can be returned later. The player with the second-most coins on that tile takes a Seal. If there’s a tie, all tied players get Seals; they’re cheap. Note that this does not happen on the Head Merchant or Coin Changer spaces; they’re kind of instant effects and other players don’t need to remove their coins.
Now, resolve the tile’s effect. They have a variety of effects, from giving out Seals and Privilege Tokens to letting you give other players Counterfeit Money or removing some from your bag. Some are nice, some less so. Either way, you then advance around the board the number of spaces on the symbol in the top-right corner. If that’s a question mark, discard the top Valuable Object of the Valuable Object deck and move that many spaces. That can be pretty good, sometimes! If you land on a space with an effect (even if that effect is “gain more points”), do it unless there’s already another player on that space. Sharing is good, but being first is better. Unless you’re on a bad space, in which case the other player did you a solid, albeit inadvertently. You may choose the order you want to score tiles if you scored multiple tiles in one turn; you’ll want to, to try and get some beneficial effects and ignore others. Discard all scored tiles and replace them with tiles from their relevant stacks.
Once you’ve done that, it’s the next player’s turn. Play continues until a player lands on or passes the Starting Tile. That begins the final round; play will continue until all players have gotten an equal number of turns. Do not count effects on spaces past the Starting Tile. That’s just the rules.
After the final round has ended, give each player one extra space for each seal they have and any points symbols on their unused Privilege Tokens (don’t give them any of the other benefits, though; just the points) the player who is furthest past the Starting Tile wins!
Player Count Differences
I have a vague recollection of this at two, but I primarily play it at three and four. It’s got a lot more contention at the higher player counts, but in a good way — at the lower player counts, it’s kind of content just to let you leave well-enough alone as long as you can stay out of each others’ way. It also highly incentivizes you to place one token on everything, as even if your opponent gets it you still get one point (or a Seal). Don’t spread yourself too thin doing that, though! The tough one at higher player counts is that on the B side of the board there are a lot of “every other player takes a Counterfeit Money”, and getting hit with several of those from multiple players is a great way to end up draining the Counterfeit Money Pile (which almost happened). That said, I’d probably still recommend this at three or four players.
- Watch the spaces you’re planning to land on the board. Some spaces are good, some spaces are bad, and some spaces let you move even farther if you land on them. You can use Privilege Tokens you’ve taken to fine-tune your movements to try and hit the good and miss the bad, if you’re lucky enough to draw the right ones for your needs.
- Count your tokens. You can also kinda just look in your bag and take a quick inventory. There’s no real reason why that should be hidden information; you just should have to choose your coins randomly. You should keep appraised of what’s in your bag so that you know whether or not certain merchandise is even affordable (or if you have any chance of getting it quickly).
- If you’re unlikely to draw more / refresh your bag, why not take a bunch of counterfeit money? I usually only return my coins once per game. That said, when you take counterfeit money, you add it straight to your bag, which means you’ll draw from it later, so don’t get too aggressive with this. However, if you gain two counterfeit money on your last turn, you’ll never see it again, so that’s probably fine. Just make sure you’re managing your expectations and not taking on too much; I saw someone finish a game of Mercado with 12 counterfeit money; that’s way too much.
- Seals are very good. They’re a great Hail Mary if you just need more coins; they’re useful as points at the end of the game; and even if you draw two counterfeit money with one, that means you’re not drawing it at the start of your next turn, so you’re lowering the dilution of your bag. Don’t undervalue seals! They are huge helps. This also means you should keep an eye out for when your opponents have seals so that you can gain effects that will get rid of theirs. Cruel, but effective.
- Sometimes it’s worth hopping on to a Market Tile, even if you can’t win it. If you get on the tile and your opponent wins it, you can still get a Seal. Don’t do this if you’re not confident you can’t be at least second-best, of course. Sometimes that’s better than winning the tile, to be honest.
- I rarely if ever return drawn tokens to the bag in lieu of playing them. If you’ve got tokens you might as well play them somewhere. Give them to the Head Merchant! Place them on a tile you barely want! Putting them back in the bag is a waste of a turn.
- I haven’t found the three-of-a-kind-for-one helper to be very useful. I think after four games I’ve used her skill once? That’s not very good odds, if I’m being honest.
- Remember: you can save your Privilege tokens. You don’t have to use them immediately after getting them. You can wait until you’re set up and use them to combo into a power turn. Well, one at a time. You can also just keep them until the end of the game and get pure points for them; that’s kind of handy for the ones that just give you points, anyways.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Seems expandable. I would be kind of interested in a Super Mario Party-style variant where each player has a sightly different bag that’s adjusted to make the starting field a bit more variable, or I’d be interested in player powers to make the game feel a bit less samey. Or another board! Another board could be really interesting. I could also see Mercado: The Dice Game come along, given Istanbul: The Dice Game’s success.
- I like the board concept a lot. Using points as distance to gain effects and points is a subtle, but effective maneuver. I’d love to see other games employ this; it’s reminiscent of the classic games but feels modernized in a way that makes sense. I like it.
- Plays pretty quickly. There’s not a whole lot of analysis unless you’re just looking for what other players have and then trying to do that probability analysis in your head. If you see someone doing that, gently shake them until they stop. It’s a short game.
- Nice art. The aesthetic isn’t my personal cup of tea, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was quite striking.
- It can be hard to recover if you get too much counterfeit money. We played a game where one player had 5 and the other two had 12; he won pretty handily. They just kept getting unlucky on turns and he could capitalize on that. That’s not the funnest feeling in the world.
- The box is kind of large for no reason, but the insert doesn’t really help. The tiles just kind of fall around inside the box; it’s very frustrating. It would be nice to have an insert or some bags that would keep the tiles from becoming an absolute mess between plays.
- Pretty luck-dependent. It’s kind of fast, so that’s not too bad, but it definitely depends on what tiles you draw. I saw a player draw all five of their black tokes on their first turn (used up a seal to do it!). That … sucks for that turn, but it at least means that most subsequent turns aren’t bad for that player. However, if you get super unlucky, you’re not going to draw coins fast enough to get the merchandise you want before another player swoops you on it. I’d love to see some factors in the game control that luck element a bit more than I feel like they’re currently doing. Maybe an expansion?
- The Market Tiles are kind of single-coded for color. It might have been a good idea to mark the coins in some way so that they have an image on them and you can tell which is which (and which sides of the tile belong to which player color. I understand that makes things more expensive, but double-coding is always a good idea from an accessibility perspective.
- Not a particularly diverse cast. Yeah, I’m kind of … over it when that happens, in games. It’s not … all that hard to do, and there’s nothing in the theme that would suggest that it’s out-of-place (and even then if it is, who cares???????), so it seems like it was just an oversight.
- Not a particularly thematic game. I think my enjoyment of the game has spiked 200% since I started playing it — the first spike was for accidentally referring to it as a Renaissance Garage Sale game, and the second was for getting potions and perfumes confused and accidentally asserting that you were drinking the “potions”, only to realize they were perfumes and now you’re that weird guy at a garage sale drinking all the perfumes that you can get your hands on. It’s a very specific image, but we love it. That said, none of that is really present from the theme at large; we just kind of made that up as we went along. I would have liked the game to be more invested in its theme.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I like Mercado! It’s fun, quick, and not terribly intense. It feels a bit … light, right now, though? I’m slightly underwhelmed by it, I think. It’s not so much that I don’t think it is good, but I think it could be great (or at least, I’d think it would be great) if it had a bit more content / structure to it. Right now, since everyone has similar odds starting out, a lot of the game is defined by what you can draw out of the bag without much chance for strategy beyond “trying to anticipate the luck of your opponents”. I’d love to see variants that allow for more strategic play. As it stands, it feels kind of light. That said, light is certainly not bad! Light’s my whole brand, essentially. But maybe it’s the dour Europeans, but I feel like this game could have more weight to it and still be fun. Either way, if you’re looking for a light “bag-building” (you don’t do much bag-building) game or you really like the idea of chugging perfume at a Renaissance garage sale (if you do, maybe ask someone about that?), Mercado may be just the game for you! I’ve enjoyed my plays of it.