Board Game First Impressions: Merchants of the Dark Road

I recently borrowed and played (and opened; it’s a long story) my friend’s copy of MotDR. Played solo and 2-player so far.

Unboxing

My friend requested that I double-check the components. Everything is accounted for (and 2 extra blue dice!). It’s a bit disappointing that there’s no insert and it only comes with 5 baggies, none large enough for the big cards. So if you don’t have backup baggies, the large cards are just supposed to be left loose in the box?

Session

I learned the game from the rulebook(s), which aren’t as bad as some people make them out to be. Some minor organization issues aside, it’s a solid rulebook. The only thing I struggled with was that I had to learn the game and the solo mode at the same time, but it was still doable. First few rounds were a bit slow, double-checking things at each step.

After a handful of rounds, I got the hang of things and turns started going much smoother. There were a couple of edge cases not covered in the rules, like how the bot chooses heroes when they gain them from other effects, not the action. There’s only an indicator when the bot takes the action to take a hero. I’m also not really sure why the bot even has a piece that moves around the board since it has no effect on you in any way. You could just skip that part and resolve the action.

I did pretty well balancing my coins and prestige, so my base score was only a point or two below the other score. I won 36-28. But I was only playing the basic solo mode, not an adventure.

The game’s a bit of a table hog.

Overall, I enjoyed it. There were some quarks, and a lot become more apparent when we played 2-player.

Thoughts

Pros

  • The main dice mechanic of moving dice through 3 bonus actions, then moving around the board is pretty easy to understand and is really solid. I’ve played a lot of dice drafting/allocation style games, and this one stood out because I’ve yet to feel like the dice screwed me and prevented me from getting something done. And I like how much you can plan around the dice.
  • The retail version is really nice. Love the art, love the atmosphere. The custom dice are all really good and chunky.
  • Really good mix of theme and Euro mechanics.

Cons

  • The companions and blazing quartz feel pretty tacked on. I think you could have chucked that part of the game and lost nothing.
  • I don’t think the game needed quite so much dice rolling. Between the Oracle, the Ruins, and Events, I think one or more of these could have been something else. Oracle and Ruins especially feel a bit redundant. Roll a die and get a random thing.
  • The random buildings feel a touch overkill; they could have just picked the four best buildings, printed them on the board, and it would have been better. Some of the buildings just aren’t exciting to use. Maybe include a couple extra “expert” tiles you can place on top of a printed building to change things up if you want. It definitely should have had 4 good and interesting buildings printed on.
  • Deed cards feel inconsistent and a little underwhelming for the effort in acquiring and completing them. You either should acquire them more often (since most aren’t likely to score), they need to be easier to score, or they need to score more. It’s really unsatisfying to put in a lot of work on some of them for a tiny reward that isn’t likely to help. And yet, others can possibly score a lot. It’s weird that the most difficult Deed I’ve seen (12+ delivered heroes and commissions) is one of the worst scoring (only 2 VP).

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