I Love to Touch These Terrific Treasures in Merchants of the Dark Road

Elf Creek recently released Merchants of the Dark Road, which I literally opened today. I’ve been salivating for weeks, having run across their game near the end of its Kickstarter campaign while researching publishers for a game of my own. The deluxe edition includes awesome tokens and other pieces that cry out for passersby to notice and want to grab.

Let’s start with the wagons. They appear to have been etched with inlaid ink, so when you reach out to pick them up, you expect to feel a bit of texture on the wagon’s wood paneling and the wheels. Yet this is not the case. The artist and manufacturer have successfully convinced your subconscious, using screen-printing, that the object has texture.

And yet, as you now run your searching fingers across the object’s surface, you do find a slight indentation in the windows, where they have cut entirely through the object. Intriguing. With a bit of further attention, you notice a couple of other through-cuts, such as at a wagon wheel. The piece has gone from attracting your passing attention to holding your full conscious attention. You are no longer thinking about dinner or whatever was going through your mind as you walked by.

The deluxe edition also includes resin tokens and metal horseshoes. Most of these come in numerous quantities (e.g., a couple dozen lanterns) so that players can use them as resources during the game. Such tokens add considerably to the cost of a game, while contributing nothing mechanically (in most cases) relative to cardboard tokens, which may seem like a waste to somebody who only thinks of games from the standpoint of game design. Nonetheless, humans aren’t just reasoning machines, and games are far more just than an intellectual pursuit; ultra-high-quality tokens like these can turn a mechanically great game into a deeply satisfying, sensorial experience for players who value them.

Another flair of creative attention-grabbing appears on the “goods” tiles (below), which players gather into their wagons during gameplay. (I’ll write about the other clever uses of cardboard in this game in another blog entry.) One side of each tile has shiny gold pictures to represent upgraded goods, while the other side is plain white. The gold glints in the room’s lighting, which means that the game may literally flash at people as they walk by–now, that’s an attention-grabber if I ever saw one!

I’ll briefly mention a final component that is a nice touch: the plastic tray for storing these numerous bits. It has two levels. What I really appreciate the most about this tray is that the top level’s cutouts are the right side to hold the good tiles. Some games’ trays aren’t the right size (not naming names), which makes putting pieces away such a waste of time. I anticipate actually wanting to use this tray for storage. The bottom level has space for storing tokens and other parts.

I also like the fact that the tray is semi-triangular rather than rectangular: no need to make a tray bigger than it needs to be, folks! The remaining space in the box makes it easier to comfortably pack the game’s other parts, plus whatever expansions will surely be snapped up by yours truly.

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