Review: The Guild of Merchant Explorers
Start with a single city, then explore new land for treasure and more.
Designed by Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert and published by Alderac Entertainment Group
👤 1-4 players
🧩 Route Building, Pattern Movement
The Queen has sent out a call to The Guild of Merchant Explorers, asking brave adventurers to voyage to all corners of the kingdom of Tigomé.
While the kingdom is flourishing, its maps have not been updated in some time and its great cities have lost contact with one another.
With your team of explorers, you will journey over rough seas, majestic mountains, vast deserts, and lush grasslands to establish trade routes between cities, climb far-seeing discovery towers, and visit new villages that have emerged.
—description from the publisher
Each player aims to earn coins by exploring their map to discover villages, complete trade routes, uncover ruins, and visit discovery towers over the course of 4 eras. Any time you earn coins, take them from the supply and keep them value side down beside your board until the end of the game. Players may make change with the supply at any time. After 4 eras, the game ends and the player with the most coins is the winner.
Each era takes place over several turns equal to the number of cards in the Exploration Deck. Players take turns simultaneously, placing explorers on spaces on their map according to the revealed explore card. Explorers must be placed adjacent to villages, the capital space, or previously placed explorers, and as players discover more villages, they can begin their journey each era from any of these new villages
A Flip-and-Write game that is not actually a Flip-and-Write game, that was probably the first thing I heard about this game. That statement alone made me curious about the game, but when I saw the exploration maps from the game I knew this would be a game I would enjoy.
The Guild of Merchant explorers has not received that much buzz in the crowded board game space. I think this is really undeserving since I discovered it is actually a really good game! The game feels like a Flip-and-Write but adds some things that could be difficult to achieve if this was a pure pencil and paper game. After each round, you remove all explorers (cubes) from the map but leave all other things you discovered like villages, trading posts, and discovered treasure. This kind of reset at the end of each round is not something I've experienced in any other game. You try to reach distant lands so you can start from your villages next rounds to explore more bountiful land.
Because your explorers get removed each round you really need to plan ahead, you also need to make sure you have plenty of fallback scenarios in mind. Since you know which cards are in the deck you can make sure you can use those cards when they come up. For example, if you know the "Explore 1 mountain space" card is still in the deck, you've to make sure you can use it effectively by exploring spaces adjacent to the mountain spaces.
In the first three rounds whenever the era card of that round comes up you draw 2 investigate cards and keep 1. This is a special explore card that only you can use immediately and every following round whenever that specific era card comes up. You can use these investigate cards for really powerful explore actions so each round you're planning around those investigate cards to benefit the most from them. In the last round, you have 3 of those investigate cards which you can all use once and then 1 of those 3 can be used once more. This makes for some huge gains in the last era.
While there is much to consider, the game plays very quickly and there is no downtime since everybody plays at the same time. We can play a two-player game in about 20 minutes. There is a lot of variability with 4 maps in the box and various objective cards you use with those maps. I personally really like the art of the maps, but some of my co-players found it a bit dull and It could've been more vibrant.
The production overall is good but I do find some of the tokens a bit too small to handle comfortably. Another thing I don't really like in games is hidden scores, I think the game is perfectly fine with open information. If they had decided to remove this element they could have used different artwork or shapes for the different values so you can easily find the specific value you need.
👍 Simultaneous gameplay with no downtime
👍 Quick gameplay with lots of tough decisions
👍 Plenty of replay-ability with 4 maps in the base box
👍 Nice ramp-up in possibilities during the 4 eras
➖ Some tokens are very small and hard to handle
➖ Hidden score is not something I like
The Guild of Merchant Explorers
The Guild of Merchant Explorers is an enjoyable game about exploring maps that feels like a Flip-and-Write but instead of writing you place explorer cubes on your map. The game is quick, there is no downtime and there is a lot of replayability. In each era, you get more options, and the scoring ramps up in a very satisfying manner. While I dislike some of the small tokens and hidden scores I can wholeheartedly recommend this hidden gem that deserves more exposure in the crowded board games space.
Looking for alternatives or similar games? Have a look at Cartographers or Trails of Tucana