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Subject: A love letter to Mercurius rss

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Blake Morris
United States
Henrico
Virginia
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This size viola da gamba is like a cello with frets. I started playing at age 48.
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While I am prone to game crushes, Mercurius has made a very deep impression on me after only five plays. Since the designer has made an excellent introductory video and others have left detailed reviews, I have decided to lay out some general observations and tips in the hope of generating more interest in the game. (I don’t pretend to be expert, just enthusiastic.) First to be noticed is the beautiful artwork, which adds considerable atmosphere. The shield markers for the city chapters’ shares are freely rendered from the actual arms of the cities. (Delft’s is impaled with the blade of a sword, presumably with hammer marks; Amsterdam’s has three St. Andrew’s crosses.) The paintings on the cards are also very attractive. While the 1 and 5 guilder coins are very similar in size and color, I expect there would be no complaints for the color-blind, since everything works by number or symbol. However, the real beauty of the game lies in its mechanisms.

While Mercurius is remarkably simple to play and learn, it offers deep choices. When I first studied the card distribution, I thought it was too rigid. A more careful analysis revealed the designer’s intentions. The cards' actions divide the market into three “sub-markets” of two rows, each tracking two shares and two commodities. It is unwise to hold a chapter city share and the “primary” commodity on the same row, since they usually move in opposite directions. The combination of a share and the commodity on the adjacent row of the same sub-market is almost as unpromising. On the other hand, the two shares in the same sub-market are almost independent, as are the two commodities. This approach to the cards actually simplifies the game, since each set of price cards affects only two rows of the market at once. It is important to consider the card distribution (explained on the back page of the rulebook). I will call the cards marked +1/-2 “share cards” and those marked -1/+2 “goods cards”.

It is usually unwise to buy commodities early. The average potential for them is low because there are so few goods cards. An exception occurs when no one seems interested in a particular share and you can drive up the price of its primary commodity with the cards in your hand. Be wary of any commodity whose price drops to 1 guilder; these are very difficult to rescue.

Since shares are less volatile than commodities, they make better investments at the start of the game. Pushing them up the board until they pay a dividend is a sensible long-term goal. However, this trend of play causes the goods cards to pile up in players’ hands, and eventually each row of the market may find a “tipping point” where its primary commodity begins to rise. Identifying and profiting from these moments is important.

Since there are at most five players and six shares, one share will sometimes be “scapegoated” because the players have goods cards they need to play. When this occurs the corresponding commodity will shoot up early in the game, offering an opportunity to the wily player. Eventually this trend tends to reverse, so that the share may make a comeback. Another characteristic of the game is the tendency for the players to form tacit alliances, pushing up the same shares or commodities with their cards.

I find Mercurius interesting in one way with 3 players, where there are more turns and longer-term planning is possible, and in another with 4 or 5, where the players tend to ally to influence prices in concert. Designer Wozniak has given us a fascinating game which will repay careful play and analysis.
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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Folsom
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An excellent write up- perhaps you should've posted this in reviews?
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