Note: This review pertains to an expansion for Battle Merchants and requires the base game to play. We are also assuming that you are familiar with the base game, or at least have read its review.
It’s said that in both war and business, it’s always wise to plan for the unexpected. When you’re in the arms trade, this is doubly true. Being predictable shifts the advantage to your opponents. The status quo is at best a lost opportunity. At worst, it’s a recipe for defeat.
Looking to ensure that the endless fighting between the warring factions doesn’t get stale (as it would be bad for business), new tactical options have been drafted up. Thanks to this expansion deck, players gain access to a whole new wave of creative opportunities to potentially aid them in their ethically challenged profit-making enterprises.
Rules Creep Factor
New Kingdoms is a minor expansion to Battle Merchants, and its rules impact is negligible, coming with only three very minor changes. The most notable with this expansion is that the original Kingdom deck is replaced with a new one. This new deck contains nearly all of the original Kingdom cards, although several have been updated minor changes, as well as including around 20 brand new cards. A subset of these new additions are cards that add specialized tokens to the board to a variety of effects. During setup, a number of Kingdom cards from each lettered group are randomly chosen and stacked atop one another, keeping the number of cards used each playthrough the same as the base game.
Secondly, a new rule is introduced wherein players who start their turn with less than 5 gold now have the option to skip their entire turn to bring their total back to 5.
Finally, New Kingdoms modifies the Repair rule slightly such that vorpal weapons still on the board provide 3 gold instead of the normal 2.
The crux of this small expansion is the introduction of a replacement Kingdom deck. This new deck is larger and contains a host of new card effects, but the overall behavior of their usage remains unchanged.
In reality, nearly all of the cards originally in Battle Merchants are still present in the New Kingdoms deck, with only one card, Secret Council, having been removed entirely. However, about half of the core cards have been modified to some degree. Most of these changes are miniscule and were done solely for clarity or balance purposes.
The only base cards to undergo substantial changes were the Localization and Secret Deal cards, both of which have been generalized. That is, rather than being beholden to whichever Location or faction card revealed, the replacement versions simply let you pick the Location or faction you desire.
The practical application of this conversion is that you’re still able to get the specific reward you want regardless of which cards are shuffled into the Kingdom deck each playthrough. This provides a strategic advantage as well, though, by giving players more control over whichever choice is the most beneficial to your current plans compared to mere luck of the draw situations.
The remaining half of the expansion deck is the addition of nearly two dozen new Kingdom cards. These cards blend seamlessly in with the original set while also providing a bevy of previously unseen abilities and benefits when claimed. The only exception to this is the standout introduction of a half dozen new ‘class’ cards, each of which comes with a token that is placed on the board when claimed. Each class card is unique and provides an ongoing effect that modifies a single weapon, weapon space, or individual battle in an advantageous, flavorful, and visible way. These cards tap into interesting and creative new design space for Battle Merchants Kingdom cards without disrupting the rules of the game at all.
Thanks to card changes and new powers to explore, New Kingdoms injects renewed energy into the Kingdom deck and does an excellent job making the act of choosing Kingdom cards more of a worthwhile pursuit than before. All of these new effects, while often situational, are well balanced, clever, and highly rewarding. With lots of new tactical options, players are more likely to watch the Kingdom deck more closely and act accordingly. With this new deck, Kingdom card selection isn’t nearly as much of an afterthought as it sometimes was previously.
Still, while this new deck certainly increases the game’s replay value and helps diversify player choices, it is ultimately more of an improvement of the existing game more than generating new concepts to explore. As such, New Kingdoms doesn’t shift any of the player archetypes preferences with respect to Battle Merchants overall.
Streamlining the Sales Process
Ironically, however, the most worthwhile additions with New Kingdoms don’t actually reside from the host of interesting new card interactions but are instead the handful of secondary inclusions and changes included alongside them. Chief among these is the much desired Craft Tracker:
While the majority of Battle Merchants gameplay is markedly direct and flows well for a medium weight economic game, the one area where its cadence suffers is the amount of effort that goes into calculating weapon levels. Being accurate with these numbers is incredibly important not only for determining if you can craft vorpal weapons or can snag one of the master smithing tiles, but they are integral in resolving the litany of contested locations at the end of each season and actively play into players’ strategies when determining which weapons you should upgrade. As a result, in the base game you are routinely counting and recounting your own weapon strengths while asking other players about theirs – which gets even more tricky once the double weapon upgrade tiles emerge. This cumulative effect slows down the tempo and makes Battle Merchants come across slightly more convoluted than it actually is.
The Craft Tracker, as the name implies, largely alleviates these issues by introducing a public weapons track for players to use. This drastically cuts down on the fiddly nature of weapons leveling to a point where you only need to glance at your upgrade tokens when calculating weapon discounts. This keeps the game moving much easier and frees players up to focus on the most important part: making lots of money.
This leads to the expansion’s second most worthwhile inclusion, being the introduction of the Bailout rule. This minor rule, whereby you can skip your turn to bring your gold reserves back up to 5, closes an infrequent but major developmental issue that occurred in Battle Merchants where players could find themselves unable to take any further money-generating actions way too early in the round. Because the minimum gold to Forge a standard weapon is 5, it was possible to unintentionally hamstring oneself by overspending, and there was no recourse besides waiting. Since weapon crafting is the primary way of making money during a round, and residuals at the end of the round are based on having weapons on the battlefield, finding yourself in this situation created a cascade effect that was, competitively speaking, potentially devastating. The Bailout rule corrects this quasi-edge case scenario by, well, creating a bailout rule. It’s still not ideal to invoke, but the fact that it’s now an option eliminates undue punishment from someone making a simple misplay.
There is no need for a hard sell with Battle Merchants: New Kingdoms, as the final product speaks for itself. This small, unassuming expansion effortlessly succeeds at both of its intentions: smoothing out the few known kinks and omissions of the base game, such as a weapons tracker, while introducing new tactics, flavor, and added variation by way of a fuller, more robust, and more engaging Kingdom Deck that should easily replace the core deck in all subsequent playthroughs. Its additions and changes, while outwardly minor, add ample equity to the Battle Merchants brand thanks to increased replayability and more streamlined game flow. In this way, New Kingdoms should be thought less of an expansion and more of a must-have upgrade mod for your stock Battle Merchants model.
Battle Merchants: New Kingdoms is a product of Minion Games.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 4 (+.5 Change)
Physical Quality: 4
Overall Score: 4