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Toy Vault: Starship Merchants – Review

March 29, 2016

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Publisher Toy Vault
Genre Strategy Game
Number of Players 2 – 4
Play Time 90 minutes
Initial Review Date 3/24/16
Last Updated 3/24/16
 FAQ Digital | Printable
 Card Clarification Guide Digital | Printable
 Official Rules PDF

In this game you play as space mining corporations, that are competing to see who can make the most money. It’s a pick up and deliver type of game, but unlike many you are allowed to have multiple ships in fact it is strongly encouraged that you do have several.

Setup

The game requires quite a bit of setup that would be very long and boring to fully go through. So, I will hit on just the highlights. Each player starts in the Ship Yard and has 15 credits. Only first generation ships can be purchased at the start of the game. Each player’s first turn will be spent either buying or leasing a starship.

Game Play

On subsequent turns you will have the option of either advancing to the next area of the board or not. Then you can choose to either take a single action at your location or you may decide to do nothing and pass.

There are four areas on the board that you move between.

  • Ship Yard: The Ship Yard is where you can buy starships. If you have any loans these must be  paid when you first enter this area.
  • Market: The market is where you can purchase things other than starships. This includes things like upgrades, pilots, refineries and claims. Claims are special in that purchasing them is optional and they can always be brought even if you buy something else. Otherwise you can only purchase one item from the market on a turn.
  • Belt: This is where you send your ships to mine asteroids. One limiting factor that can force you to make strategic decisions is that you can only have one ship act each turn. This means that when you run a ship you will want to try to be as efficient as possible so you aren’t wasting turns trying to gather the resources you want. This is also where claims come into play, once you claim a mine you have exclusive rights to gather the ore from it. Otherwise, the ore you discover can be taken by any player operating in the belt (on their turn). You can also claim destination cards. these represent planets that will pay extra for certain kinds of cargo. While this can make a run more lucrative, each destination has an energy cost. You spend energy to carry out other activities like exploring and collecting ore. Additionally, once you pick up a destination card, it’s assumed your ship has left the belt and so you can’t explore or collect ore on subsequent turns. Each ship has a certain amount of energy and cargo space so you have to balance these things.
  • Dock: This is where you go to get paid. When you enter the dock you offload your ore and discard destination cards. You then receive money based on what you offloaded along with any bonuses you might have. Each ore has a number on it and that number directly correlates to how many credits it’s worth on it’s own. When you purchase a claim you can flip the ore token to it’s claimed side, which not only makes it so other players can’t steal it, but it also increases the value of the ore by two. Since no other activities take place at the Dock, you will typically move back to the Ship Yard on your next turn instead of hanging out here. The exception is if the end of the game is triggered in which case you stay here and get to collect 10 credits each turn until everyone has arrived at the Dock.

Scoring

Your score is your money. At the end of the game the player with the most money wins. The money is also what triggers the end. Once a player has 100 or more credits (after getting paid at the dock) they have the option to trigger the end of the game. Once this happens no one can progress from the Dock to the Ship Yard and play continues until everyone is at the Dock. Each player at the dock continues to earn money on their turns. This encourages other players to hurry up and finish since basically those player’s scores simply increase on their turns.

However, if a player has over 150 credits after being paid at the Dock, they MUST trigger the end of the game.

Conclusion

This is a nice pick up and deliver type of game. The fact that the locations are abstracted helps it “feel” realistic. You can easily imagine the belt as being some vast three dimensional field that your ships are flying around in. Only being to operate one ship at a time feels arbitrary but it’s clearly in place for game balance. I guess you could imagine your ships having to go through customs of some sort and so twice as many ships take twice as long.

I also appreciate that each ship that you purchase gets it’s own little board that represents the ship. It makes every ship purchase feel significant and it makes being forced to decommission “old” ships heartbreaking.

If the idea of being a space merchant with a fleet of starsips at your command appeals to you, then I highly recommend this game. It does a good job of capturing that feel. If this doesn’t appeal to you though, then you probably won’t enjoy the game that much. Since there isn’t anything to do in the game beyond picking up ore and selling it. All, of the things you can purchase just help you specialize in some way.


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