Tabletop Twosome’s ‘Tweet’ Review: Browse and buy, only to resell on your stall later; that’s the life of a Merchant in Dale.

No. of Players:             2-4
Key Mechanisms:       Set Collection, Deck Building, Hand Management
Game Length:             20-40 minutes
Publisher:                    Snowdale Design
Designer:                     Sami Laakso

Dale of Merchants is a game that we have been trying to get around to writing about for a while. Firstly we included it in our Top Two Player games list; and secondly, the recent Kickstarter for the expansion generated some of that good old internet hype.

We are happy to say we were original backers of the game but that doesn’t mean we had any expectations on how the game was going to be. After-all, this was Snowdale Design’s first game; and it’s a deck builder released in a world full of them.

So, lets’ move onto the review.

In an age of discoveries; new items always manage to find their way into merchants hands. All merchants love the town of Dale and flock there to sell goods;  The merchants know of an extraordinary guild in the town; only the best merchants are invited to join!

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Can you win this prestigious competition? All the animals around the globe travel to take part in this glorious event; bringing with them all the goods and tricks they have learnt from their years trading back at the homelands.

Set up is so quick; choose as many animal folk decks as there are players plus one deck. So as we play as a twosome we pick three animal decks. With six decks to choose from, it’s really up to you what game style you want to play.

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The animal folk vary in colour and abilities. Take the Lucky Ocelots, who use a die to add a bit of randomness to your stall. Or, you could go for the Snappy Scarlet Macaws who allow you to cycle your hand in a ways to draw to your next cards easier. Racoons are mean, they want to steal your opponents cards, but Chameleons will happily just immolate other cards in your hand or on the table. Each deck really feels unique and focused on doing something really well.

Let’s assume we wanted a peaceful game, we’d pick the Chameleons, Scarlet Macaws and the Giant Pandas! We highly recommend using these for your first game as they offer a very simple but still diverse game.

To make the starting hand you need to take the basic card from each chosen animal deck (the number 1!) and place that in the players hand, discarding any basic cards left over. Then, fill that hand up with junk until all players have ten cards in total.

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Now, get shuffling the rest of the animal cards you picked, draw 5 cards to place on the market board, the rest of the deck will act as the market draw pile. Then, get trading!

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During your turn you can do one of the following things:

  • Activate card effects
  • Purchase new cards
  • Add cards to your stall
  • Discard any number of cards from your hand

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See those numbers at the top of the cards? They are what the card is worth. Under that is the icon to show what set it’s from and some cards have a plus on, these allow you to do another action after you’ve played it. These assist you in making jaw dropping combos!

A card is either a technique or passive. If it’s passive it has effects that apply when you have the card in your hand, you must show the card when you are using its effects. Technique cards can be played as a technique action, show the card and then do the action. The effects always happen in order and then the card must be placed into your discard pile.

If you want to buy a card from the marketplace you simply pay the price in any combination of cards from your hand. If you’ve noticed there are numbers above the cards on the marketplace, if you purchase the most right card you simply pay it’s base cost. However, if you move along the price increases and you have to pay more. Cards move down as they’re taken from the market with a new one drawn to ensure the marketplace is always brimming with new goods.

After buying a card, place the cards you used to purchase in your discard pile then your shiny new card gets to stay in your hand for next time. You can overpay if there is no other choice. At the end of your turn you always draw back up 5 cards, fill any empty market slots and then move on to the next player. We want to state this again, purchased cards go into your hand for use next turn. Although some deck builders do this; we love seeing it in them.

You win the game by building your stall with stacks of goods. Yes, your hard earned cards must be let go of if you want to win this game! It’s tough; you want to make sure you have enough to keep buying to fill your stall and have enough money to buy new shiny things.

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Your stall must follow a cumulative numerical value; from 1 to 8, as shown above. The cards must be from the same set and you can’t use junk cards (unless the card states otherwise). That’s it; you know how to play.

In your box you will find very minimal contents; in fact there are only 110 cards, a bespoke die (for the Ocelots), a double-sided board (identical other than art) and finally the rule book.

It’s almost criminal that we have come this far without really talking about the art – it looks really good, As you can see from the images, the game has a painted-like quality where the centre image blends flawlessly with the background colour. The variety of items is also fantastic, from telescopes to cookies; you really can get a lot of joy from just looking at a completed stall.

One of the stretch goals was higher quality components for everyone; the cards have a linen finish and do feel durable. We are a bit upset that our board got damaged on the back, the table was sticky and we didn’t realise it. This of course, is our fault and nothing to do with the durability of the board. The marketplace has two sides to it, a night and a day. Luckily we prefer playing with the day time picture so the fact the back is a little damaged is not the end of the world.

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However, it’s a game we’ve played a lot and things are going to get damaged. Cards are getting scuffed at the edges, so it’s a game we really think we should have sleeved and something we highly recommend. The cards get handled, shuffled and re handled constantly; there is no way around this; it is a deck building game after all.

The box is simple, it’s a box, nothing really special about it! However, it’s burst open a couple of times as the cards sort of flop around inside. Over time our box has got scuffed and marked, but that’s just down to how much we love this game and do take it everywhere with us.

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What don’t we like then? We do feel the game runs a bit long at the max player count of 4. This isn’t to say it suddenly becomes a bad game because it really doesn’t; but we like this game for the quickness of it and the fact that it can be used a filler, starter or ender to a gaming evening; when running at 4 players it becomes more of a mini-feature.

We also think the six decks will get repetitive after a few plays because understandably, there aren’t an infinite numbers of combination’s and its very easy to fall into the same strategy over and over again each round. Some of this will be alleviated with Dale of Merchants 2 but we understand not everyone will want to buy two games in one go.

Final Thoughts

As a Twosome: The fact that you use less animal decks depending on the number of players is a really great thing. Because the less you use, the more variables there are to the ways the deck is set up. We feel the game runs best at 2 and 3 players but especially really good at 2. Nothing feels overpowered or imbalanced and most cards have multiple copies. So if your gaming partner buys a card that feels like they have an unfair advantage, you can bet that there will be another of those available down the line.

Also, the rarely used mechanism where a purchased card goes into your hand, rather than your discard pile; is just really well woven into the game. It fits the thematic idea of you actually having the item, but also game-play wise, means that you aren’t having to wait 2-3 turns before you get to use said item. It’s just a really neat mechanism okay?

The fact is, if you really like deck builders then you can’t go wrong building a stall in Dale of Merchants.

 

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Look, it’s not just Chessie that likes the cuteness of this game; I love it too! The game just makes you feel good playing it. The theme is both kid and adult friendly, which I like; the mechanisms are deep enough that I can play strategically, but quick enough that it isn’t boring and finally, it just plays really smoothly. At this point the only bad thing I can say is that I want more decks, and I can see as more come out, this game will start to become expensive to invest in. But more of a good thing; especially something this good; isn’t really a true bad thing is it.

If only opening up a stall and selling things was this fun in real life; sadly, I’ll have to visit the town of Dale to be a merchant.

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I fell in love with this game the moment I saw it; I even did a little dance around the room when the email announcing the second Kickstarter came. I’m probably a bit more emotionally charged when it comes to reviews; but, it’s just an elegant game that works. The art is beautiful and I just feel like this is a game where a lot of love and passion was put into it. For Snowdale Design’s first game; it’s absolutely beautiful. Everyone should own it.

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Have you played Dale of merchants? Tell us your thoughts!

Dale of Merchants 2: The Era of Trade masters is estimated to be delivered in October 2016, we hope you check back to see our review on it.

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