Dale Of Merchants Collection
In Dale of Merchants, players take the roles of animalfolk merchants learning new techniques, trading goods, and managing their stocks. The first player to finish their marvelous merchant stall is the winner.
Designer and illustrator Sami Laakso from Snowdale Design packs in a ton of content into Dale of Merchants Collection, the third in the series. It plays 2-4 players, ages 10+, in under an hour.
How to Play
Select animalfolk decks equal to the number of players plus one. Then, give each player a value-one animalfolk from each deck, returning leftovers to the box. Fill the rest of a ten-card deck with “Junk” cards, then shuffle and draw five cards to make a starting hand.
The remaining animalfolk cards of the chosen types make up the market deck. Place the first five cards out onto the market board.
In Dale of Merchants, a player’s turn consists of an Action phase, followed by a Clean-up phase. During the action phase a player may perform one of the the following actions:
Purchase a card from the market by discarding cards from your hand, combining the cost on the card with its position on the market board.
Play a technique card by placing it in front of you (into the “schedule area”) for the duration of its effect. Most techniques immediately resolve and then the card is discarded. Techniques grant a bonus action after being played, denoted by the plus symbol under the card value.
Build a stack in your stall. Each player’s merchant stall has room for eight stacks of cards with ascending totals. The total of the first stack is one, then two, up to eight. To build a stack, play animalfolk cards from a single set (e.g. Fickle Giant Pangolins), whose value adds up to the necessary stall value.
Players may discard any amount of cards (including zero) from their hand into their discard pile.
The player refills their hand. Then slide all unpurchased market cards to the right (now they’re cheaper!) and refill the market.
Players continue taking turns until someone successfully builds their eighth Merchant Stall and wins the game.
Each deck in the collection plays quite differently. Some combine together well, add complexity or just a nice dash of take-that to your opponents.
Vigorous Emperor Penguins and Swindling Black-headed Gulls are utility decks. Penguins have abilities like “Draw x cards” or change the value of cards when going into the Merchant Stall. The Gulls feature draw/discard techniques, but also allow players to give cards away, allowing them to cull unwanted junk from their deck.
Wealthy Tuataras are the Scrooge McDuck of merchants. Their techniques gain coin tokens. Golden Opportunity is particularly useful because you can discard a card for gold.
Stealthy Long-winged Tomb Bats and Lively Slender Mongooses complement each other well due to their night and day abilities. Their techniques advance the clock’s time of day. Mongooses thrive during the day with extra card draws, but Tomb Bats persevere at night by drawing cards from other player’s decks. Clever timing is the key to using techniques to capitalize on their benefits. This is easily my favorite combination so far.
Mischievous Tasmanian Devils are little tricksters, featuring take-that as their core mechanic. Players can do fun things like: force others to discard, swap decks / discard piles, or even search discard pile and then force an opponent to shuffle cards into their deck.
Enthusiastic Wood Turtles are one of the most challenging creatures to play. They have a keyword known as Finish that can be a bit tricky to grasp. When playing a technique with Finished, players activate the text preceding the keyword Finish, but keep the card in the schedule area. The card remains there until the player spends cards equal to the finish value to move it to the discard pile.
The Fumbling Giant Pangolins introduce wacky randomness. Players roll two dice and apply the outcome. Fortunately you can roll and then decide who’s impacted. If its good, choose yourself. Loose Marbles is the best of the bunch. Roll dice, then place a card from any player’s source into another player’s destination.
Loaded with Options
Dale of Merchants Collection not only brings new decks to the series, but the box comes packed with all kinds of extras that expand the depth, strategy, and gameplay options.
Character cards add unique abilities throughout the game, many with extra components or cards to use.
Trap cards offer even more player interaction. When played as a technique, the trap is placed on top of another player’s discard pile. When drawn, the trap springs and the effect applies.
The box also includes deck selection cards to help randomize setup and card dividers to keep everything organized. There’s room for the rest of the Dale of Merchants series in the box, too.
Dale of Merchants has been a favorite in my library for a while. The artwork is beautiful and the gameplay is unique for a deck-builder. The animalfolk seem to come to life with cleverly crafted personalities for each deck. Mixing and matching is half the fun.
What makes Dale of Merchants so cool is that it’s heavy on player interaction. Many deck builders have players focus on getting the right cards to build points. But Dale of Merchants isn’t about racking up mounds of victory points. It’s all about racing to be the first to build your eight Merchant Stalls.
It takes some pretty crafty planning to acquire the right animalfolk cards to make sets for the required stall values. Interestingly enough, value one cards are in short supply. You’ll never see “ones” in the market, only in your starting hand (or stolen from other players). Building high value stalls can be tricky if there’s lots of shenanigans during a game. Always be ready to look for new combinations to pull off a win.
The first few acquisitions from the market will help you formulate a strategy for how your deck will get you to victory. There’s so many different ways to go, and I like that you can blend cards from multiple animalfolk sets. Higher value cards typically will have more powerful techniques, so use those to gain advantage until they join a stall.
Dale Of Merchants Collection is what the series needed; a standalone game that comes with a storage solution and a bunch of content to make the game options endless. If you own other games in the series, this box is perfect, with slots for everything and card dividers to keep it organized.
Replayability is practically endless with this set. Once you master the the animalfolk mechanics, layer in Character cards and traps to spice things up. Players looking to ramp up difficulty levels should look to the red cards put their brains to work. All the content included in the collection is compatible with all other Dale of Merchants games.
Does it Work for Families?
With some caveats. Deck-building experience is a plus for the more advanced decks and content. The level of reading and depth of mechanics means that the box recommendation of age 10+ might actually be a little low, although kids who have played a lot of hobby games should be able to handle it.
I love how portable Dale of Merchants can be. Pick the decks and cards you want, toss them in a bag and go; perfect for a coffee shop or a coffee table.
The gameplay is extremely satisfying and nails all the elements of a solid deck-building game. It plays similarly at all player counts, but becomes highly interactive at four players. After several plays, I’m still excited for my next session. There’s always more options to explore in my all-time favorite deck-building game.
Find Dale of Merchants Collection directly from Snowdale Design, or ask for it at your friendly local game store.
Snowdale Designs provided The Family Gamers a promotional copy of Dale of Merchants Collection for this review.
Dale of Merchants Collection
Number of Players: 2-4
Age Range: 10+
Playtime: 20-60 minutes