Game Session - 29 Sep - Session Report
- Merchant of Venus
Sterling had bring this game for some time, but well aware of the
set-up and time required to play the game, it never quite hit the
gaming table in recent months. Tonight with only Dave, Rich, and
Sterling at the table, we decided that it would be a good night to
bring out this classic game from Avalon Hill.
A nice description of the game was posted by Gary Webster on BGG - so
rather than recreate the wheel (or space station) - I will quote it
here for those not familiar with the game:
Merchant of Venus is an Avalon Hill trading game with an interesting
premise and an entertaining game board, but with a few weaknesses. The
premise is that the players explore a region of outer space (hence the
board) and find aliens, who are willing to trade with the players for
an exchange medium, namely money. The object of the game is to be the
first player to amass a certain amount of money (the length of game is
determined by the end amount of money chosen to be the victory
condition, either 1000, 2000 or 3000 dollars).
The game map depicts a region of space that includes a dozen
colonizable “planets,” such as the asteroid belt, the cloud, the ice
planet, etc., among which the alien races (called “cultures”) are
randomly distributed. Also randomly set up are individual asteroids
that can be beneficial or penal (more below).
Each player begins the game with some money and a scout ship, located
at the Galactic Base. In turn, each player moves around the board
along dots on orbits. Movement is controlled via dice rolls (sum of 3
dice for a scout and transport, 4 for the clipper, and only two for
the lumbering freighter, which can carry more goods.
The player turn is simple: choose a movement direction (or choose not
to move, if you are trading), roll the dice and move as directed. As
the players move around the galaxy, they stop when they 1) run out of
movement capability; 2) land on a landable space (asteroid, platform,
station, planet, …); or 3) hit a decision space that won’t allow them
to move further. This last option can be painful; there are spaces
whence you may only advance in a given direction if one of your
movement dice matches the arrow from that space. Also, there are
“tele-gates” that allow you to flit across known space if the target
gate number matches the number on a die. So, there are preferred
places to move, and areas which are poor choices to enter. Option #2,
landing on a landable space, includes the randomly allocated asteroids
mentioned in the second paragraph of this review. These provide some
replayability, as they change from game to game. These tiles may be
artifacts that help a ship get around the board (special engines, for
example), or things that can be sold for full profit, or they can be
an oval with a number, as shown in picture #354. The number is the
cost in money units to pass through the space; a ship can always stop
there, ending his turn, and spend nothing. Slows you down, though.
If a player makes landfall on a planet or orbiting station not already
containing an alien culture, they discover an alien culture. Discovery
brings with it a discount on purchases from that culture, which is
beneficial early on, since everyone is comparatively broke. Each
culture will only sell to a subset (about 1/3) of the other cultures,
in a rotating manner: alien culture #2 can only sell to 3, 4, 5a, 5b
and 6, while 5b can only sell to 6, 7a, 7b, and 8, etc. But, there are
profits to be made from each sale, and with each sale, bonus tiles
come out on the board which enhance certain sales (these represent
demand) or provide fares to certain cultures. These bonus tiles come
out of a cup, into which the sold goods go, to potentially be drawn
later when someone else makes a sale. So, goods can be temporarily
depleted. Factories can also be built to provide goods at a higher
profit margin. Though factories cost money, they are included in the
final victory condition, so they are effectively free.
Alien cultures can also provide technology upgrades that allow players
to get better ships, shields that allow you to pass some of the penal
tiles mentioned above, etc. Goods and fares take up space on
shipboard, so upgrading to larger or faster ships can make sense,
though at a cost.
So, the basic game is both exploratory and economic; the players try
to discover as many cultures as possible, and come up with “trade
routes” to optimize their profit. At the same time, they must be
flexible in case their favorite good is depleted due to sales, or
comes back into demand via bonuses.
Merchant of Venus is a highly entertaining game; while the premise
seems dry and economic, and the dice-roll movement can be frustrating,
the alien cultures are enjoyable (humans are included as an alien
culture!) and the dilemma of entering a movement-poor but goods-rich
region can be quite fun to watch (if not to endure for oneself).
Of course, this game is long out of print, but if one were to come up,
I would recommend getting it. It not only provides a look into good
board gaming of two decades ago, but is a fun game as it is!
I couldn't have said it better myself. Sterling did spend about 20
minutes summarizing the rules, while the 3 of us set up the various
chits and bits for the game. This was my first playing of the game,
and I think Dave and Sterling had played many times previously (though
Dave was the first explorer to sail from the Galactic base and
discovered Culture 9b (The Wollow) on Colony World and puts 1 good in
his hold. Sterling set sail next to discover Culture 5 (the Shenna)
in the Interstellar Biosphere and puts 2 goods in his hold. (NB - We
realized mid-way through the game that this was in error, but as we
were all guilty of this infraction at some point in the game, we just
decided to remember to do better next time. Rich was the last to
depart and was left with a single unexplored direction (the Cloud with
its decision spaces threatening to send ships in unintended
directions). Rich did discover Culture 6 (the Yxklyx) and also loaded
up his hold.
Sterling was the first to sell his good from Culture 5 to Culture 6.
On Rich's turn, he attempted to navigate to Culutre 9 to sell, but was
forced to stop suddenly in the navigation circle as the only available
move was to retrace his path which is not allowed. Dave explored the
Giant Planet to uncover his homeworld (Culture 10, the Qossoth).
Several patterns started to emerge in the game. One interesting
aspect was that several asteroids that Sterling explored turned up
penalty points forcing Sterling to pay to continue his quest.
Sterling though was the first to upgrade his ship to the 4-die clipper
hopefully allowing for quicker transits. To help him along, he did
find a Mulligan gear drifting in space that allowed him to re-roll 1
of his 4 die. The Mulligan gear must have been set adrift because it
was broken, because the re-rolls always seemed to generate a single
pip upgrade. The classic was a roll of 4 ones that was improved to 3
ones and 1 two.
By midpoint in the game, Rich had picked up a fare to culute 7a
(Cholos) which had yet to be discovered. In addition, Rich had Chicle
Liquor which could be sold to any of culture 5, 6, or 7. Heading to
an unexplored corner of the board, Rich got very luck to not only
discover Culture 7A, but also finding that the culture had a demand
(paid a premium) for Chicle Liquor. This gave Rich a nice profit on
the deal which he used to upgrade to a combination drive which would
allow him to skip the red and yellow dots (including penalties) on the
board). However, the drive did take up room in the hold and Rich
probably should have upgraded his ship (and sold his relic shields as
the penalty dots didn't really affect him anymore.)
The game was appeared to be fairly balanced at this point. We all had
about 800 in space stations and about the same amount of cash in hand.
But Dave (with his upgraded trader and extra hold capacity) started to
make very profitable deals. He managed to sell 3 Melf Pelts ($110) to
a planet with 2 demands (+50) for a total of $480. Flush with this
money, Dave could purchase Immortal Grease and Shining slime to again
sell at a planet with demand for Immortal Grease to generate income of
$500. Finally, Dave sold Servo Mechanisms and Pedigree Goods for $800
to achieve $2001 and the win. Counting net worth, Sterling came in
second with $1275 and Rich trailed at $955.
Playing time was 2 hours 30 minutes above and beyond the 20 minutes
rules explanation above. As we had come to our usual ending time,
there wasn't time for another game tonight.
My own thoughts on the game - an interesting game that has nice
randomness and replayability. A bit chit-heavy as was typical for
games of their era (late 1980's), but still a nice variant on the
pick-up and deliver style of game. As can be seen in the comments,
the game does tend to build slowly with incremental growth, but the
end can come rather quickly for the well-prepared which turned out to
be Dave in this game. Even though I came in last place, I still felt
I was competitive through most of the game, but a few bad economic
choices (a space station that impacted cash flow and the combination
drive before upgrading the ship) probably crippled me more than I
envisioned. I wouldn't mind playing this again, but the time to play
will probably make that an less frequent occurance.
- Darn - if I had known that you guys were going to be playing Merchant of
Venus, I would
have tried harder to come. But of course, if I had come, then you would
have had 4 people
and wouldn't have played it. A nice paradox, worthy of Heisenberg...
Anyhow, I'm thinking of hosting a weekend session here (Hayward), if I
the rec hall to give us space to play. That would give us a longer
block of time where
we could play games like MoV without worrying so much about playing time.
The possible dates for me this month (subject to availability of the
Sunday afternoon on the 24th, or Saturday afternoon on the 30th (Halloween
weekend). Does anyone have any strong feelings about one date vs. the
I'm probably going to try and make a tentative reservation tomorrow, so
let me know promptly if one of those dates works better for you than the
Thanks for the offer. Unfortunately, both look bad for my schedule;
but don't let that deter you.
Sunday, 24th, I am heading to Houston for a week of meetings there.
Saturday, 30th would be just after I return. Saturday morning is
Sabrina's Japanese school. And the afternoon might be filled with
some accumulated projects around the house.
So, in short, probably best to count me out for this month.
Hopefully, the first session goes well and there will be a repeat
session I could attend.
Best of luck and I look forward to the session report.
- --- In email@example.com, David Wallace <dave@s...> wrote:
> Darn - if I had known that you guys were going to be playing Merchant ofYeah. As it was, with the three of us, we still ran to 9:15, and that's because I hit
> Venus, I would
> have tried harder to come. But of course, if I had come, then you would
> have had 4 people
> and wouldn't have played it. A nice paradox, worthy of Heisenberg...
some pretty efficient runs, and was able to roll the right pilot number to hit the
TeleGate. Otherwise, we probably were going another half hour or so.
>I can say for starters that the 30th isn't going to work for me. I'll have to check with
> Anyhow, I'm thinking of hosting a weekend session here (Hayward), if I
> can schedule
> the rec hall to give us space to play. That would give us a longer
> block of time where
> we could play games like MoV without worrying so much about playing time.
> The possible dates for me this month (subject to availability of the
> room) are
> Sunday afternoon on the 24th, or Saturday afternoon on the 30th (Halloween
> weekend). Does anyone have any strong feelings about one date vs. the
> I'm probably going to try and make a tentative reservation tomorrow, so
> let me know promptly if one of those dates works better for you than the
my wife to see what plans she has for the other weekend -- she's pretty flexible
about the weeknight gaming, since she's usually dealing with schoolwork, but that
leaves only the weekends for the two of us. But I'll check with her, and see what's on