Do you still remember the animal folks appearing in the Dale of Merchants’ series? Well, the publisher released its third volume of this deck building game with their six new friends! Dale of Merchants 3 is indeed great news for the fans of this intellectual property (IP), including me who have been in love since Essen 2018.
A short disclaimer before you read my board game analysis
As an avid euro gamer and hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player, my reviews may reflect a preference for these styles, and I may not cover solo games/variants extensively. Please note that my personal remarks are based on my gaming experiences, and I aim to provide honest insights within the scope of my preferences.
Through the successful funding by shy of 3,000 backers, Sami Laakso and Co. secured the release of the third establishment of this IP. Well, most of the game aspect has been covered in my latest article for the Collection box, and I will not repeatedly write about the how to play here. Nevertheless, if you have no prior knowledge about Dale of Merchants, you are welcome to make a small detour to read from the link above. I also provide Snowdale Design’s comprehensive video below as well, for your convenience.
I am impatient already to meet the new creatures. Now, which animal folks will we encounter this time? I think they don’t bite, well, most of them… Maybe… Or maybe not?
INSIDE THE DALE OF MERCHANTS 3
As we unbox this recent volume, we found the six new animal folk decks available to play with. Just like its previous brother and sister (except the Beaver expansion), Dale of Merchants 3 is a stand-alone game you can enjoy by its own. Nonetheless, you can combine the decks of this third chapter with the other previous releases, too. That way, it ensures variations and unique experiences for your gaming group.
The game comes with the usual sets of cards and the market board. In addition to these must-have components for Dale of Merchants’ series, the third edition also provides a blue die, which specifically usable for one of the animal folks. The build and production quality stay in that certain high standard comparable to the previous ones, so I am happy with it.
SAME GAME CONCEPT WITH DIFFERENT APPROACH
Dale of Merchants 3 is played and set up in the same way as all of its predecessors. The setup still requires us to assemble the cards from a number of animal folk decks equal to the player count plus one. The initial deck for all players consists of cards valued 1 from each of the chosen animal folks, and topped up with the Junk cards until the deck has ten cards.
The six new animal folks bring their unique play styles, providing divergent from the overall gameplay and experience we had from the preceding chapters.
Their quirks take off to a different course to progress with the game. Sami also meshed a new keyword in one of the available out-of-fairytale merchant.
Consequently, they boost the already-abundance combinations of decks we can try in this deck-building game.
Despite the distinct card effects from the new animal folks, the concept in Dale of Merchants 3 stays true.
Players need to build and keep their deck as lean as possible. The leaner deck makes it reliable, efficient, and consistent enough to swiftly set up the stacks without losing momentum.
The six animal folks in Dale of Merchants 3
Let’s start with Prepared Grizzled Tree-Kangaroo, a marsupial from Papua New Guinea who brings the aforementioned new keyword Store to Dale of Merchants 3. By storing cards, we can place them face down, and they are ready to use for the next turn. This is really useful to prevent your opponent from stealing and borrowing your cards (will be explained in the upcoming paragraph). Not only for safety purpose, storing cards enable us to increase our hand size when drawing at the end of our present turn.
The Scheming Green Magpies and Sharing Short-beaked Echidnas are the double-trouble in the series. Their style core is almost similar: to take the other players’ cards and use it for themselves. The requirements to activate the effect and how the effects occur differ how to play these animal folks. They introduce the most interactive play between players in Dale of Merchants 3.
Echidnas have their way to get the cards from the opponent’s side. They don’t actually steal it; these spiny anteater only ‘share’ the cards with the others but not sincerely. They swap the cards with something else from other players’ sides.
By swapping the cards, we can take the other player’s card and use it in our favour. The sharing ability is a two-way deal. It lets the opponent use the same trick against us in the future round, so it’s a double-edge sword anyway.
Meanwhile, our Magpies‘ ability enables us to literally rob other players’ hand or deck. However, stealing does not come easy for these birds. The activation requires us to correctly guess the card’s value or name before we can take it for our usage. I think in this case, the reliance on luck is a good way to balance out the possible strong outcome from this effect.
If we discuss further about the fortune, we also have Superstitious Snowshoe Hares who pin their hopes on the die-rolling. This is the only animal folks from Dale of Merchants 3 that gets to use the provided blue die. The Hares cast the die to decide from which part they draw or take the cards, making the game more push-your-luck and more random. The unreliable outcome can be interesting for players who like to gamble.
Keeping your deck as lean-and-thin as possible is essential in Dale of Merchants 3 and the other series. Thanks to the Discontent White-headed Lemurs, stripping off the deck becomes a piece of cake.
In my opinion, this animal folk may be the strongest in the box due to its skill to throw away a card and replace it directly with one from the market. Not only it keeps our deck from the Junk and useless cards, we can deny our opponent the access to a specific card on the market board, too.
Lastly, Archiving Desert Monitors, the most unassuming animal folks in the box. Their quality shine in moving the cards from our hands, deck, and discard pile. Although it is not as flashy as the others, the Monitors are really useful to recycle cards all around.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS ON DALE OF MERCHANTS 3
After counting, we have 21 animal folks from the previous series and expansion. With the extra six coming from Dale of Merchants 3, they intensify both diversity of style and replay value even further.
Some of these animal folks are highly interactive. The stealing and swapping cards are one of the tools to win the game. Fortunately, the designer did not forget to have a counter for this aspect, keeping the balance in Dale of Merchants 3 gameplay.
Please do mind that Sami’s design (both in the card effects and the new mechanic) in this volume is rather more complex than the first, second, and the Collection. Hence, for veterans of the series, this is a great addition that gives more challenges. I do not recommend new players to jump directly into this box. You are, however, welcome to try.
And as usual, Snowdale Design delivered a superb overall quality in Dale of Merchants 3. I love the new animal folks’ illustrations in this box. They are still consistent when compared with the art style from the other volumes. I still wish they print the cards in the standard size (63.5x88mm), though, but this is purely my preference.
I still pay my utmost respect to Sami’s grand design in Dale of Merchants 3. The new animal folks are great additions to the already-vast amount we have from the series. Be it played as a stand-alone or combined with the previous boxes, Dale of Merchants 3 provide the most fun time of all. It cemented my pure love for this IP.
Albeit the good tidings, it is woeful to think that Dale of Merchants 3 might be the conclusion of this disarming game. If we take a look closely, the massive Collection box accommodates the series up to this point only, well, at least for now. It is still unclear for now if the dev team will expand the game even further, and Sami has disclosed nothing in particular about this.
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I am a full-time food technologist during weekdays. However, when the calendar hits weekends, I transform into an avid board gamer. I am a hardcore Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) LCG player from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). Current hobby: buying board games. My shelf of shame’s list is getting longer, thanks to you, Kickstarter.