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Game Session - 29 Sep - Session Report

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  • Richard Pardoe
    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
    Message 1 of 7 , Sep 29, 2004
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      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
      not recently).

      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.
    • David Wallace
      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
      Message 2 of 7 , Oct 3, 2004
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        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
        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
        other?
        I'm probably going to try and make a tentative reservation tomorrow, so
        please
        let me know promptly if one of those dates works better for you than the
        other.

        Dave Wallace
      • Richard Pardoe
        Dave, 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
        Message 3 of 7 , Oct 3, 2004
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          Dave,

          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.

          Rich
        • Dave Wilson
          ... Yeah. As it was, with the three of us, we still ran to 9:15, and that s because I hit some pretty efficient runs, and was able to roll the right pilot
          Message 4 of 7 , Oct 4, 2004
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            --- In trivalleygamers@yahoogroups.com, David Wallace <dave@s...> wrote:
            > 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...

            Yeah. As it was, with the three of us, we still ran to 9:15, and that's because I hit
            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.

            >
            > 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
            > other?
            > I'm probably going to try and make a tentative reservation tomorrow, so
            > please
            > let me know promptly if one of those dates works better for you than the
            > other.

            I can say for starters that the 30th isn't going to work for me. I'll have to check with
            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
            her radar.

            Dave Wilson
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