Well, since I’m reviewing it, I might as well announce that I’m also giving away a copy to a lucky reader in the US (or with a US mailing address) thanks to Snowdale Design. For more information on that giveaway, check out this link!
Hey, look, a game I bought myself. It happens, sometimes, but it’s been happening less frequently as time goes on, more due to the “if I buy something, I want to play it” bug that I keep getting. Weird, right? Either way, this one’s another from Snowdale Design, makers of the (as you might guess) Dale of Merchants series, as well as Dawn of Peacemakers, a really neat campaign-based game set in the same universe that came out a while back. This one’s the big box for the Dale of Merchants series, finally able to hold everything. It’s standalone, but, I’m calling it an expansion review since it really is more content for the series. Let’s see how it plays!
In Dale of Merchants Collection, an even bigger exhibition has opened up, and of course, you’ve gotta be there to show off your wares. There are some new faces in town, but also some celebrities, which is pretty awesome. These characters will add something new to anyone’s stall, so you hope you can get one of them to show up for yours. Will you prove to be the world’s greatest merchant?
Generally, it works the same as other games in the Dale of Merchants series, but if you have all the other stuff, you can make even more configurations! That said, you’ve got the eight (two more than usual!) initial sets:
Choose from those or others: you’re going to need one for each player, plus one more. If you can’t decide, feel free to use the randomizer cards:
Give each player a 1 from the sets you’re using, plus enough Junk to bring them up to 10 cards:
I don’t … remember which Junk is from this one, Dale of Merchants 1 or 2, or the Systematic Eurasian Beavers expansion. So, you kinda get a mix in that photo. Lucky you. Next, set out the board:
If you want to use Characters, shuffle them and deal each player two. I recommend starting with the Green or Yellow Characters if it’s your first time playing with them. Each player chooses one and puts the other back:
Note a few things:
- Some characters require Gold / Tokens. More on those later, but you’ll need to have those in play.
- Some characters have their own additional setup tasks. Make sure you do those before the game starts. Some of them give you specialty cards; make sure those are in your deck.
- Some characters may require things that you don’t have. At least one requires the Polecat die from Dale of Merchants 2; if you don’t own that game, well, you can’t use that character. Sorry.
Different decks / characters, as mentioned, may require Gold:
Set those out if you need to. If you want to use Trap Cards, add those in, as well:
If you’re playing with the Mongooses (mongeese? Probably.) or the Tomb Bats (or certain Characters), you’ll also need the clock:
Once you’ve got all that ready, you should be good to start!
The clock’s a fun one, mostly affecting the Mongooses and Bats. Generally, it’s just a tracker that moves between day and night, with certain actions changing effect based on the time of day. Here’s the kicker: you move the clock every time a technique card is resolved. It doesn’t have to be completely resolved; just resolve its immediate effects. If its immediate effects are delayed (as the result of a Character, for instance), then resolve it later.
Trap Cards (as well as some other cards) include alerts, which are snippets of text that take effect as soon as any player who isn’t you draws them. How does that work? Well, every player gets a player color and the corresponding Trap Cards, as mentioned earlier, and you work them into your deck and play them to your opponents’ discard piles. Then, when they draw them, they’ve activated your Trap Card. Or some less memetic phrase on the matter.
Characters are a wild ride. There are three categories: Green (easiest to play), Yellow (medium difficulty) and Red (complex). I generally recommend having every player use the same general complexity of Character, as some of the more complex ones affect other players, so it doesn’t help to give inexperienced players less complex Characters. You’ll drag them under either way. As you get more experienced, though, these Characters’ effects can drastically change games.
Many require their own tokens or provide their own keywords, so make sure you’re reading your Character’s card carefully so you know when and how to use their specific abilities.
Excitingly, you can now play as two teams of two players, each contributing to a stall to build it up to a value of 10! Rather than the usual 8. Now, when you build a stall on your turn, you must contribute at least one card, but your teammate can contribute cards as well! The catch? You only refill your hand at the end of your turn, so, make sure you don’t spend all of your cards.
You’ll also need 24 Junk instead of 20 (since you only use 4 Animal decks). If you don’t have enough (you’d have to only own this version), use 4 1s from an Animal Deck not in play as Junk.
The Whole “Finish” Keyword
So, the Enthusiastic Wood Turtles give you the ability to Finish cards that haven’t, yet. You know how turtles can be. When you play a card with Finish on it, you may resolve everything up to the word Finish. On that same turn or later, you may complete the rest of the card by spending money equal to the card’s Finish value (spend 2 to finish a Finish 2). Resolve the rest of the card (if anything) and then discard it.
You cannot combine Finish costs (spend a 4 to finish two Finish 2s).
Other than that, play the game normally, mix in a few decks, and see what happens!
Player Count Differences
I’ve never really noticed a ton of differences at various player counts, and that still kind of applies for this game. The only big ones are that as player count increases, more decks are in play, and cards that target more than one opponent become more useful. Is that worth the increase in playtime? Unclear. I still love this game as a quick rough-and-tumble two-player deckbuilder, but I’ve also played it at three and quite enjoy it. All in all, I don’t have a particularly strong preference for player count with this game, though I might lean slightly away from four players.
- Lean into your Character’s ability. This is a player power. Everyone gets one. You shouldn’t ignore yours, since it gives you some kind of buff. Just make sure you understand how to use it, especially for the higher-complexity ones. They can really throw you.
- Some of the Penguin abilities are pretty wildly good. The Stove is one of my favorites, since you can set its value for a Stall Action. There’s plenty of good stuff, but they’re all kind of powerful. If you see them, it’s worth getting one so that your opponents cannot.
- Use the money you get from the Tuataras to get what you need; don’t sit on it forever. There’s kind of a limit to how much money you can spend in one turn (8 – 9). You don’t want to hit that much extra gold; you’d be much better off spending it early. Keep an eye on your Character card to see if they’d benefit from the extra money, even. Or use the cash on some of the Tuatara’s other card abilities! Don’t hoard it; they’re lizards, not dragons.
- You could even use the extra money for something like the Finish actions for the Wood Turtles, if that’s up your alley. Either way you’re going to be spending a bit to finish the Wood Turtles. If you end up not liking their powers, though, you can also just … not spend and keep them locked out of your deck for a while. Decent strategy is to spend right before you shuffle your discard pile up to make the new deck. Then you have a decent chance of getting the cards back more quickly, which is good.
- Just mind the Pangolins; they can be really confusing to use. If you want to, though, you can really mess with players if you get things working correctly. This one’s a lot of fun, but complicated; you can usually pass cards between the Source and Destination, but the cards you play may make that your Source / Destination or your opponent’s Source / Destination (or sometimes one of each). If you get a good roll, this is a solid way to steal cards from your opponent and give them Junk, which nobody wants.
- If you really want to dunk on your opponents, go for the Gulls. Junk gifting is always fun. You’re definitely going to see the game slow to a crawl, but, it’s pretty funny to grind on your opponents like that and just keep giving them all your garbage. Notably, if you see the Gulls in play, though, do not let one player take all of them. You don’t want to get stuck with all of their junk.
- Regardless of which you choose between Mongooses and Tomb Bats, watch the clock closely. One is stronger by day; the other is stronger by night. Mongooses also let you manipulate the clock, a bit. If you’re trying to work with them, use that to your advantage (preferably playing Techniques with a + for that bonus action). If you’re working against them, disrupt them with the same tactics to neutralize their effectiveness for your rivals.
- If you’re playing with the Tasmanian Devils, the Strategy section here won’t help you much. They’re about as high-chaos as you can get. You’ll be not-quite-attacking your opponents, but you’re certainly not helping people by swapping stuff around. If you see them in play, you may want to stop focusing on long-term strategy and plan more around tactical one- or two-turn advancements; that might be the longest guarantee you have.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Finally, the penguin expansion. I’ve waited 2000 years for this one. They’re one of my favorite animals and, consequently, one of my favorite modules to play with. I even bought the playmat.
- It holds everything! Don’t get me wrong, it’s significantly bigger than the other boxes, which has its own problems. But it can hold all of the cards, so that’s also nice.
- I really like the additional dimensions of the Character Cards. Not only are they, artistically, delightful, but adding them to the same sets can really shake the game up. It’s similar to Landmarks from Dominion: Empires, though I’ll concede that the Landmarks can often make the game feel a bit more random, whereas these usually augment what you’re allowed to do.
- Really, the game adds a lot of stuff to make the entire Dale of Merchants set more well-rounded, like additional forms of player interaction and team play mechanics. They’re not particularly things I want in my deckbuilding experience, but the whole thing is so modular that you can take what you want and leave the rest.
- I appreciate that the randomizer cards and the compendium give insight as to each set’s thematic conceit. It’s occasionally hard to explain which sets do what and why, so having these can be useful when you’re trying to make a deckbuilder for your players. It would be nice if he started crowdsourcing recommended combinations or something and giving them a fun name (I always liked that Dominion did this).
- Whew, the art must have taken a while for this. There is so much new art. Each of the Characters has their own unique stuff! And sometimes even additional unique cards! Sami really outdid himself, this time; I love it.
- How can you hate a game with a toad magician? It’s a magical toad. She’s got the outfit. It’s adorable.
- Still my favorite deckbuilder for modularity. It’s very similar to Sushi Go Party!, but for deckbuilding. You can really just pick what you want people to learn about deckbuilding and include it. Trashing? Yes. Hand management? Yes. Market management? Sure, why not. Attacks? Of course.
- Additionally, seems like a useful resource for people doing design in the deckbuilding space. If you’re looking to design your own deckbuilder and want to see how certain mechanics interact, the market is very simple and getting new cards into your hand happens instantly when you buy, so this is a great testbed. It feels like prototyping your own by adding a new set to this game might be a great starting step (since you don’t have to build out the rest of the deckbuilding mechanics).
- Remembering to cycle the clock can be a bit annoying. This happens with every game that includes a “do this every so often”, for me. I just … forget about it, from time to time. Try to make sure you’ve got another player watching the clock to keep you honest. It also makes the game a bit more confusing since it’s resolved after every technique card, not every turn.
- The character-specific stuff can add a bit of time to the setup. Mostly around getting the specific cards or breaking out the pieces that you need to break out. It doesn’t take a ton of time, but it’s nonzero.
- As with all modular gameplay additions, having a Character that doesn’t match up to your personal strategy can be a bit of a bummer. It’s unlikely that you’ll get two, so you can choose one, but it can be frustrating if your character and your strategy kind of grate against each other.
- It’s not Snowdale’s fault; they mentioned it a dozen times, but even then I still thought that I missed Dale of Merchants 3 and panicked. As of February 2020, it has not released yet. I basically was just like, “ah, what the hell”, but then checked the Kickstarter updates and realized. This isn’t really a “Meh” against them, it’s more of one against myself.
- That all said, releasing Character cards that rely on dice that aren’t available in this set isn’t my favorite mood. It sort of junks up the Character selection process if you have to go through and remove all the ones that you can’t use (or if you get dealt one you can’t use). This also happens with the ones that require teammates. Just make sure you go through the deck before you shuffle it. I’d normally suggest they put the relevant Character cards with their own sets, but, Character cards are a relatively new innovation for this series, so I can’t really fault them for including them with this one. It’s just something you need to watch out for when you play.
- The new, massive box does kind of kill the major portability advantage the original game(s) had. That’s just trade-offs, unfortunately. Something had to give. What I may start doing is making my own favorite sets of six and taking them with me in one of the original, smaller boxes, and using the Full Collection when I’m actually at home and can break out the playmat, as well. It forces you to be a bit more choosy about which sets to play with, but, again, portability vs. scale. It’s a trade-off. It would be nice if they made named sets so that I could take certain cohesive groups together as one portable set, but, maybe that’ll happen after Dale of Merchants 3.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think the Dale of Merchants Collection is the best entry yet. It’s hard to exactly evaluate it as a standalone game, since, I mean, it’s literally called the Collection, but as a super-fan of the series I love what it adds! I think it increases the complexity a bit, which, being honest, has pros and cons. Naturally, it can make the game more interesting for players, but it has the added risk of taking a simple game and running it off the rails. Thankfully, it avoids that, though it does negatively impact the game’s portability. Can’t make an omelette without making a game harder to travel with, I suppose. The question fundamentally becomes, knowing that, do the added features make the game worth the (admittedly mild) drawbacks? I’m going to say … yes. I love what the Character Cards add to the game. They’re thoughtful player powers that can either mildly augment your game or add entirely new strategies and challenges. They’re Landmarks, but without the random scoring. They’re quite fascinating! That, I think, elevates the game above the mild irk that is a massive increase in box size. Plus, it stores everything. Additionally, each Character is unique, and Sami has gone above and beyond on the art. Again, literally, a toad with a magician outfit. It’s incredible. Can’t recommend it enough. Either way, I’m waxing a bit and we’re on a budget, so, let me get to the point. I think Dale of Merchants Collection is a fantastic thing for fans of the series, though I’ll freely admit it might not be the best one to start with if you’ve never played any games in the Dale of Merchants series. As you might guess from “Dale of Merchants Collection”. That said, if you have some deckbuilding experience you’re going to be fine. If you’re looking for something that adds an interesting spin to the Dale of Merchants series, though, I’d definitely recommend the Dale of Merchants Collection!