Does third time tell The Truth? Merchants on rails!

Dale of Merchants 3: The Grand Continental Railway is a game designed by Sami Laakso and published by Snowdale Design in 2020 and will be funded in Kickstarter. According to the box it plays 2-4 players of ages 10 and up and should be done in 30 minutes.

As mentioned, Dale of merchants 3 is currently in Kickstarter and the campaign will end (and fund) at the end of May 2020. The designer Sami Laakso of Snowdale Design kindly sent me his last extra prototype copy after photoshooting it prior to the campaign (thanks!). Now that the campaign is underway and began yesterday, it is a good time for me to write this. I am not compensated or paid for writing this and Sami didn’t even ask if I liked the earlier games and thus he (and you) can only expect me to be honest.

The Game

Dale of Merchants 3: The Grand Continental Railway is the third one in the series of small-sized card games as the number 3 in the name suggests. The previous release in the series was a collection edition (non-numbered) which added a bigger box to store all the cards from these smaller boxes as well – yes, including this one! I have earlier backed the first and second part of these series, but not the collection. I do want to support a fellow Finn when it comes to my beloved hobby, and thus backing these have been a no-brainer if possible.

The game is quite easy to learn and you can find out how to play it from the Kickstarter-page (here’s a direct link to a picture used in the campaign showing you how to play) or you can find a more detailed written instructions on the Dale of Merchants section at Snowdale Design’s page. The designer Sami Laakso has also uploaded an instructional video for learning if you learn better from a video format than from written text. I have embedded it here for your convenience:

Basically in your turn you choose what to do with your cards and then do it. The game ends when a player builds their 8th stall of value 8 in the same colour. Highest value of a card is 5 and you need to build the higher value stalls from multiple cards (you can do it for smaller value too). Cards have different effects and all different factions have different styles of effects. The twist in the game is that when you buy a card, it comes to your hand. Also, if you want to discard cards without using them, you need to spend your turn doing so and it is important for your deck to not be filled with junk to avoid this.

Each small box of Dale of Merchants come with 6 different factions and all boxes are stand-alone and thus can be played by themselves. This, the 3rd one, is an easy entry to the series and the factions are well varied and all offer something different and new, but none is too difficult to grasp even for a new player. The prototype copy I have here has nearly finished artwork and should have finished effect for the cards. The things missing are back of the box, some flavour texts and a new rulebook, also the die is stickered and not the real. None of these matter for the playability and thus the copy is in my opinion complete.

The new factions

The Factions’ start cards in Dale of Merchants 3

Archiving Desert Monitors give you the strongest start card in my opinion. It can be value 1-3 when used to purchase a card. The other cards in the set offer ways to manipulate your cards, deck and discard pile. There are no cards that affect the other players. Nice and simple faction that lets you play with your cards.

Discontented White-headed Lemurs give you a start card that allows you to shuffle your discard pile into your deck. This can be strong, depending on the situation. All the cards in the set let you throw away your cards or cards from the market. There are no cards that affect other players. Probably my favourite faction due to the market manipulation aspect.

Prepared Grizzled Tree-kangaroos give you a start that allows you to store a card for the next turn. This can be very powerful especially during later game. This set gives you ways to manipulate the cards in your hand, deck and discard pile. Most of the cards allow storing the cards. There are no cards that affect other players. I like this faction a lot due to the possibility of storing as well as the deck-slimming possibilities.

Scheming Green Magpies give you a start card where you name a set and draw top cards of your deck and take one of named set into your hand shuffling the rest back. This can be strong if you know what you have coming up. The cards (except value 2) in this set somehow screw the other players. You either steal (by guessing correctly) or discard cards from other player’s deck or hand. Very frustrating to play at least with 2 players and only adds time to the game. I didn’t like this faction much.

Sharing Short-Beaked Echidnas give you a start card that let you swap it for the top card in another player’s discard pile and take it to your hand. This can be very useful if there is a good card on top of the discard pile, but that can be rare. The cards in this set let you swap them to other players cards and one card lets you manipulate the market. Like the magpies, this set adds time to the game, but is much less frustrating. I didn’t mind the swapping as it’s not a big screwage, but it’s random if it’s useful.

Superstitious Snowshoe Hares give you a start card that lets you draw a card and then let the fate (die) decide if you discard cards from somewhere or not. This card is rarely useful as the effect is somewhat up to the die roll. The other cards let you draw and manipulate either your cards or the ones in the market. The effect of some cards is up to a die roll, but it’s not a bit deal really. There are no cards that affect other players. I like this set somewhat, but it’s usefulness is very dependent on situations and also sometimes up to the die roll. The Bad Omen card in this set is probably my favourite card in the box however – possibly also artwise!

Have you seen such a Bad Omen?

So how is the game?

I have played the first part of Dale of Merchants when it arrived from Kickstarter in December 2015, but not since. I played it at that time with 2 and 4 players a few times and noticed 4 players was way too long and not as good as 2 player. We kind of forgot the game with The Wife as our daughter was born and didn’t go back to it. We also thought it was too light for us as we prefer to play something with a board and pieces, and not just cards – well, not this style of a game with cards. Also, we had so many 2 players games we liked better.

I backed Dale of Merchants 2 too, as it was from a Finn, but never got it played. I later sold both and couldn’t not back the Collection during the campaign. When I saw Sami talking in Twitter about this 3rd one in the series, it made me interested again and I asked Sami if he has extra copies. He had one, and thus I now I have one. Has my opinion changed in 4ish years and about 500 new different games in between?

The short answer is not really. The long answer is yes. Wait, what? ..Well, I might need to go into more detail here. The game still is very light for us to play with The Wife. However, it is very quick and easy to play, but we both, especially The Wife, tend to build the stalls too quick which means we don’t really unleash the power of the cards. I do want to and will do, but when she gets 2-3 stalls ahead, I’m in trouble.

I always have problem aiming for the win in this style of games where you have interesting cards and combos and whatnot but are supposed to do something entirely different to win. I suck at Dominion, I would not win in Legendary if I played it for points as I combo too much and don’t go for points (as one even shouldn’t!), I get too involved in creating engines in games where I am supposed to score points. This happens especially with card games, but also with some others. The Wife on the other hand, goes for points or win if possible instead of trying out all the combos and whatnot (well, not in Legendary, as she shouldn’t).

So I still think this is not the best suiting game for us as we tend to play something with a board or with more meat in it. However, The Wife says “it’s easy and quick to play”, and that really is my feeling as well. We can finish a game in 15 minutes after setting it up if there are no interruptions, and that is not even with an effort to play quickly. It just is so easy to grasp and logical and everything is intuitive after just a few plays – even from the get-go. But that’s all it is.

From that point we can continue to the yes-side of things. The “all it is” stated before would be more than enough and even perfect for some people! Not for us, for now. However, every single time the cards have been on the table and The Daugher saw them, she wanted to play with them. The problems is the cards have text and it will take many years for her to be able to play with us. They are also in English, which would require learning a 3rd language for her before playing. However, children have great memory, so they can memorize the cards’ functions from the pictures without needing to read the text even once.

I am tempted to try this out with The Daughter, but it will take at least a year or two until she would be able to try this – even that is merely 50%-60% of the age suggested in the box and I am a bit doubtful it’ll work due to the texts. This also makes me think should I get the earlier parts of the series again. I have only ever once rebought a game I sold, that was Tobago, which came with ugly wooden pieces, I sold it and bought the proper ones with stone-like statues (but that was sold too to Arto from pöydällä.net boardgaming blog a while back).

The part I have always liked the most in these games is the artwork. It is fantastic and the use of colours is great. Everything is vibrant, the artstyle differs from card to card and faction to faction. All the art is very suiting to the cards and functions they depict and some cards have intelligent humour in them! I have rated this game 7/10 in BoardgameGeek, which is 0.5 higher than the first one.

Will the game be for you? Should you back it? Well, I don’t want to give you advice on spending your resources for the future, but the game is not expensive and if you like the points I made previously on the game, you should at least consider it. If you use Tabletop Simulator, there is an official version by Snowdale Design in the Workshop that includes all the cards, even the one currently in Kickstarter. You can’t really get much more informed on your decision than this. Also the designer seems to be very open and approachable on his games and will probably willingly answer any and every question you have on the game.

Does this stay on my shelf? No. It will go to Hannu from Hukkareissu for a review once we see eachother (* more info at the end). After that, I would want this to come back to my shelf. It’s a small box and I don’t want to sell it forward as I have not bought it. I might donate it to Joensuu Board Gamers, my game club, but I might keep it until I can try it out with The Daughter. Then, I might want to get all the other parts of the series too. And while we’re at it, I can not wait for Lands of Galzyr to come out in the future! If you hadn’t heard about it, well, now you have! You’re welcome or I’m sorry – whichever suits better!

In the middle of a game – I actually won this one!

(* more info) If you’re reading this later than May 2020, the world has been in the hands of a little Covid-19 pandemic which has created a new situation for most people where you should socially distance from each other to prevent possibilities of getting sick. This is of course mostly a problem to people with privileges and freedom and whanot, but everyone can bear and should bear staying indoors for a while for the survival of humankind. And also to have a break from polluting the air of The Earth for a moment at least.

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