We’re back in the Middle Ages and you’re lucky to be one of the merchant class in a tough, resource constrained era. Being an entrepreneur, you also enjoy constructing various types of buildings and, of course, what merchant doesn’t have an entourage of fellow travelers, ready to lend a shoulder or sword? The problem is that there are dragons everywhere and while you don’t have to defeat them, it’s the fastest way to fame and riches, so what’s a hero to do but be, well, heroic?
“Traders & Raiders: The Endless Land” is a game for 2-5 players (with an included solo mode) that’s of moderate complexity and is fairly easy to learn. I struggled through an early version of the rules and tested out the solo play, which I found to be fun and challenging. Traders & Raiders is built around resource collection, a mechanism found in many games, and there are a lot of different resources to collect: 3 common resources, 8 uncommon resources, 15 rare resources, and gold coins to fund your adventures. With 27 different resources, it’s far more common that you don’t have what you need to recruit a new person or construct a helpful building, and those raiders? Well, they can be weak and cowardly, with a strength of 1, or they can be tremendously powerful with a strength of 4, and be enraged, adding another 4 to their overall strength. They’re not easy to overpower!
Let’s start with the main board, side time track board, and general setup for solo gameplay:
On the main board, the top left has handy reminders for order of play, and below that is the Action Tracker that ensures you and your opponents (in multiplayer) or you and your automata (in solo play) don’t take the same action too many times. Below that is the follower marketplace (currently five doors, but they’ll shortly be covered with exposed cards) and the building marketplace (five houses, also to be covered by cards). The bottom portion of the left are all the different resource tokens in the marketplace. There are a lot!
The right half is the map, with villages, threats to each village, and spots for trading posts, and the smaller board to the right is the Fortnight board, which tracks progress in the game. Gold coins, a bag for picking Fortnight tiles as the game proceeds, and both the solo automata and player cards are at the bottom. I know, that’s a lot from a single photo, so let’s look a bit more closely at things.
To get setup I’m going to deal out five follower and five building cards:
You might be able to read the action spots too. Left to right, they are Move, Trade, Build, Recruit, Collect, Rescue and Fortnight. Each action banner has two spots: The upper spot is filled first and allows everyone to take the specified action, while the lower spot denotes a solo action: Same steps, but only the active player gets to do the action. If both have been acted upon and another of the same comes up in the solo card it triggers a Fortnight, which is a full round. After eight Fortnights, triggering the ninth ends the game.
Notice that both the follower spots and the building spots have resource banners above them; those denote the additional cost of acquiring that card from the marketplace. One cool thing (that only applies in multiplayer) is that if one person constructs a building, other players can also build it for themselves too, paying the same price and getting a few fewer victory points. On the leftmost building card, the Dirge Barrow, the first builder gets 11 points (denoted on the top left), the second builder would get 7 points and the third builder a measly 3 points.
The resource marketplace is broken into three categories, common, uncommon, and rare. You can see most of them in this photo:
There are many points in the game where you get a token from the bank, but the Collect action lets you take all of the matching tokens (for example, notice there are two salt tokens, not just one). A critical difference that I kept tripping up on, collecting single tokens when I should have picked up two, three, or even more.
Game producer Joe Magic Games have thoughtfully included two plastic organization trays that make management and storage considerably easier:
Moving to the map, you can see how each village has its own list of available resources, divided into common, uncommon, and rare, along with the adjacent raiders (the dragon token) and a circular spot for a market:
Move lets you move from village to village, Build lets you optionally construct a marketplace (or you can construct a building from the available cards if you have the resources), and Rescue has you attack the raiders. Collect allows you to collect all of one resource listed on the village tile, ranging from wood to gold coins and emeralds for Cutthroat Villa.
Finally, on the Fortnight board where you track the passage of time in the game, as these tiles are drawn from the bag and played, you will be able to add one resource from each column to the general marketplace. For example, here’s the starting tile:
Actually, the starting tile is special because you allocate one of each and every resource shown, but all subsequent fortnight tiles are allocated one per column.
TRADERS! RAIDERS! ON WITH THE GAME!
With multiple players you go around the table, taking turns, but in the solo game, each solitaire card has three actions listed, so the rhythm is basically you, automata * 3, you, automata * 3, until a fortnight is triggered by it wanting to take an action that simply isn’t available. Midway through the very first round, here’s how my tokens and the automata’s tokens look:
The top row is the automata and it’s primarily going to be blocking my moves more than working on its own strategy. Since there can only be one marketplace in each village, for example, its green circular tokens are used to denote where I cannot build. I’m starting with 1 gold, 1 red potion and have acquired 1 emerald. I have my own blue tokens and chits to mark the actions I have taken in the current phase of the game.
The solo card lists three actions that have to be taken in order, top-to-bottom unless a fortnight is triggered, in which case that action occurs instead. On the card shown, the first action is a Build that also blocks the marketplace spot in Coldspring Hamlet. The second action is a Collect, and the third is a Trade action. Remember that if it’s the first time any of these actions are performed in this phase, I’ll also get to take the action too, as each begins as a group activity. If I cannot take the action (for example, I cannot build because I lack resources), I can always opt to collect one common resource in my current location instead. These are collected from the bank, not the shared marketplace on the board.
You can focus on trade actions and building, but it’s fighting raiders where the game is most fun, so you’ll want to build up your entourage quickly. This is all easily calculated because as you gain followers, some have lighting bolt symbols that add to your combined strength. Raiders, once flipped over, have a base strength and you’ll often also draw and flip over a fortnight tile which can add further strength to the raiders too. For example, a bit further in the game:
In addition to my starting card, I’ve added Light Weaver, Enchantress, and Horse to my lineup, giving me a total of three lighting bolts. That’s an attack strength of 3. Above, I’ve moved the Raider off the map for this explanation: Directly above the Enchantress card, it’s got a strength of 1. But before I attack, I have to draw a fortnight tile, on the back of which is the dragon graphic which grants that Raider a +2 strength. No bueno: 3 vs 3 means I have to roll the luck die and will only succeed if I roll a number lower than my own strength. Fortunately, I’ve rolled a 1, so I defeat that Raider and win the battle! Huzzah! My reward is one of any resource from the village where the battle transpired (you’ll almost always choose a rare or uncommon resource, and it’s from the bank, not the marketplace on the board).
Points-wise, each defeated raider is worth its strength in victory points, and both follower and building cards have their values printed on the top left. Light Weaver’s a good one with 7 points, followed closely by the Enchantress with 6 more points. All in all, the above shows 19 points, including the newly defeated Raider.
LATER IN THE GAME…
In solo mode it’s about an hour to play thru a game, and probably faster as you get more comfortable with the nuances of the various actions and the interrelationship of different resources. Later in the game, here’s how things look:
Notice that the resource marketplace has expanded and there are doubles of many rare and uncommon resources and four wood. Collect wood and you’ll get all four of those resources. Very helpful! On the other hand, there are no more emeralds available, so collecting that resource would be pointless.
Being able to only choose one out of each four possible actions (since the automata specifies three that must be taken each time, often by both players, but sometimes just by the automata) makes this a game that requires both planning ahead to figure out how to acquire and/or trade resources to complete buildings or recruit followers, and patience because sometimes you’re poised to grab a card just to have the automata discard it.
I did okay in this particular game, though more than once I accumulated resources for a high-value building just to see it vanish from the marketplace due to a random automata action. As the game wrapped up, here’s how the board looked:
Notice that the Fortnight board on the right is completely full (how you know the game’s over) and the cards in front of me include both buildings (on the right of my tokens) and a large number of followers (on the left side). On the far left are all the raiders I defeated, a sizeable number. How many points did I score? Let’s look a bit more closely:
Points are calculated as a sum of four categories; Raiders, Buildings, Followers, and Gold. Left to right, I scored 10 points for Raiders, 21 points for buildings, and 32 points for followers. I had no gold coins, giving me a sum score of 63 points. Not great, but not too bad. Game designer Mark Hanny suggests 90 points is a good solo score for a novice, but privately told me that was based on using the optional extra powers of the various resources (listed on the bottom portion of the Fortnight board). I did not use those optional rules, hence my lower score. My other playthroughs had me score a solid 81 points, then a miserable 53 points.
THOUGHTS ON TRADERS & RAIDERS
This was a tough game to review because the rules are rough and incomplete, requiring me to email back and forth with Mark to clarify rules, understand nuances of gameplay, and ensure I was playing correctly. There’s also a lot of randomness in the solo automata that is likely more frustrating than playing this with other people. For one thing, while another player might be able to construct a building you were planning to build, you could still build it for fewer victory points if they snag it first. With the automata, that building simply vanishes, leaving you holding the wrong resources for the other available buildings.
Variations in a few resource pictures on tiles versus tokens versus cards contributed further to my occasional confusion, something that’ll be easily cleaned up in the final production version. This also seems like a game where some house rules might improve flow and produce higher scores. For example, tokens could have a non-zero point value at the end of the game, perhaps 1 victory point for every 4 common, every 2 uncommon, and every rare resource. Sure that would balance out if everyone gains this bonus, but higher scores are more rewarding from a gameplay and overall game satisfaction perspective.
What was most problematic with the solo game, however, was the randomness of it. Every game I played suffered from me spending precious turns trying to accumulate necessary resources for a valuable building, just to have it wiped off the board by the automata just before I was able to build it. I was then left with the wrong resources, and with a somewhat overwhelming 27 possible resources and a requirement that you have 1-4 of each, depending on item, the combinations are enormous.
Still, there’s fun to be had with Traders & Raiders: The Endless Land with clearer rules and a few tweaks. I am optimistic that Joe Magic Games will make the changes needed to clear things up and have games flow more easily, at which point this will be a definite keeper, a complex resource collection game suitable for the entire family.
Traders & Raiders: The Endless Land, designed by Mark Hanny and published by Joe Magic Games. $34.23 at Amazon.com
Disclosure: Joe Magic Games sent me a copy of Traders & Raiders in return for a candid and honest review. My opinions are my own.