In tabletop games, deckbuilding is probably one of the most popular mechanisms. The idea is players will start with a deck of low value cards and over the course of the game. They can use those cards to purchase stronger cards which will be part of the deck that they will keep cycling through.
This mechanism was popularized by Dominion in 2008 and now a lot of designers trying to use that idea to make their own game. Some even integrate the idea with other mechanisms.
While a lot of people love that idea but for some others, like me, may find it a bit underwhelming. For the most part, it is just about just buying cards to buy more cards until the game ends. However, some designers tried to add something different with extra challenge.
One of them is Dale of Merchants. In this one, players cannot just buy cards but they also need to carefully take them out of their deck in order to win. There are also some other different designs that make this one stands out from other deckbuilding game.
So, what is this Dale of Merchants game? How do we play the game? Is there a solo variant to play Dale of Merchants?
Those are probably just a few questions that came to mind after hearing about the game. Well, in this article, I’m going to share with you my Dale of Merchants Review based on my experience on playing the game and what I can find from the internet.
Hope this helps. Is Dale of Merchants going to be the best deckbuilding game out there?
Click or tab on any sections from the table of contents to jump right to that part. Use the red arrow button on the bottom right corner of the screen to head back to the top.
Game’s Title: Dale of Merchants
Genre: Deck Building, Competitive, Set Collection, Race, Open Drafting, Fantasy Theme, Anthropomorphic Animals Theme
Designer: Sami Laakso
Artist: Sami Laakso
Publisher: Snowdale Design
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Official Website: Dale of Merchants (snowdaledesign.fi)
Release Year: 2015
Price: 21 USD
1 Game Board (double-sided)
110 Cards (57 x 89 mm):
Junk Cards (20)
Scarlet Macaws Cards (15)
Giant Pandas Cards (15)
Northern Raccoons Cards (15)
Flying Squirrels Cards (15)
Ocelots Cards (15)
Veiled Chameleons (15)
1 Custom Wooden Die
Expansion and Accessories:
Dale of Merchants 2 (2016)
Beaver Expansion (2016)
Dale of Merchants Collection (2019)
Update Pack (2019)
Dale of Merchants 3 (2020)
Playmats and Bag (2020)
Custom Sleeves (2020)
About Dale of Merchants Card Game
Dale of Merchants game is set in Daimyria, a world of animalfolks. This same setting is also used in other games like Dawn of Peacemakers and Land of Galzyr. Both of them are also from the same designer and publisher.
In Dale of Merchants, merchants from different anthropomorphic animals are trying to become the newest member of the legendary guild of the city of Dale. To do so, they need to win the event by being the first to complete their Merchant’s Stall. They need to learn how to trade goods, manage their stocks and other techniques, even work together with the other animalfolks.
In this game, that idea was translated in deck building mechanism. Players will start with a deck of low value cards that they can play on their turn to buy better cards and add them to the deck.
Eventually players will use some of the cards to build the Merchant Stall. This will take the cards out of the cycle and players will lose access to those cards and their unique power.
These powers or techniques can help players to do more interesting actions. From curating their deck and hand of cards, messing up with the opponent’s and eventually build the Stall.
The Stall will have 8 stacks of cards in ascending value from 1 to 8. Each card has a value between 1 to 5. So, for stacks with higher value, players can build the stack using several cards as long as the total value matches and using the same type of cards.
Depending on the number of players, each session of this game will use the same number of different animalfolks plus one. The game comes with 6 different animalfolks, from Macaws, Pandas, Raccoons, Squirrels, Ocelots and Chameleons.
Each animalfolks has 15 cards but with their own gameplay characteristic. For example, Macaws card’s ability is more about hand management while Squirrels is more about stall manipulation. Players can choose at the start which animalfolks they will use for one session.
With the 6 different animalfoks and between 2 to 4 players, we get a lot of setup varieties from one box. Each combination will offer different experience to the players.
Dale of Merchants already have several expansions. Most of them are stand-alone game with completely different set of animalfolks. At this moment there are about 27 animalfolks from 3 stand-alone Dale of Merchants boxes, 1 big collection box and 1 mini expansion.
The first game was crowdfunded on Kickstarter platform in 2015. which raised more than $20,000 supported by almost 750 backers. We can learn a bit about the design process from this article.
These next 2 videos were the original trailer and gameplay by the publisher for that campaign.
Dale of Merchants comes in a rather small box, probably could be smaller than it is. The size of the box is about 12.4 x 18.3 x 2.5 cm. What I have here is the English edition.
Other versions with different languages have mostly similar size with a few exceptions, according to the data on BGG. They also use the same size box for Dale of Merchants 2 and Dale of Merchants 3.
At the top left corner, we can see the publisher’s logo. Then, at the center we can see the title: DALE OF MERCHANTS, followed by a subtitle: THE GUILD OF EXTRAORDINARY TRADERS. The subtitle is different on the two sequels.
As the art on the cover, done also by the designer, Sami Laakso, we can see a small town or village in a valley. The village seems to be divided by a waterfall and the river, only connected by a bridge.
If we look closely at the village, there is kind of a city hall where we can find several merchant stalls with various colors. At the top, we can see a character, which I assume is one of the merchants, with a big bag pack is looking down at that village.
We can play all stats related to gameplay like playing time, number of players and target audience’s age on the side of the lid. It says that the playing time is about 30 minutes, for 2 to 4 players, 10 years or above. We can also see some animals from the game on these sides.
On the back, we can see pictures of the components, individually, and when they are setup during the game. We can also see a brief description about the game, a list of contents and QR code. Below the code it shows a URL to the publisher’s page for this game but it seems that they change it to their YouTube channel.
It will send us to a tutorial video of how to play this game. Actually, it will showcase all contents in this Dale of Merchants series not just this box.
On the back of the box, they also mention the card size used in this game, which is 57 x 89 mm. One interesting info is that the game was manufactured in Europe.
Inside the box, there is no additional artwork on the back of the lid or the bottom box. They do come with a cardboard insert with 2 compartments for 2 decks of cards.
Each compartment is of course, leaves extra room, that they use to store the custom die. This will also give more than enough room for card sleeves.
Like a lot of other tabletop games, the insert is mostly so that the game board can stay on which is above where the cards are. The problem is that when we use sleeve, the cards will eventually push the board so the board will stay on the card instead of on the insert.
This means the lid will not perfectly close the bottom box as the contents push it up. Depending on the thickness of sleeves that we use, the lid will leave like 0.5 cm from the bottom part uncovered.
While the cards and other components will stay in the box, but the several cards at the top of both decks will get mixed up. This happens even after using an elastic band.
If we also buy any of the sequel with the same size box, we definitely need separate boxes to keep all of the contents. Unless we buy the Dale of Merchants Collection big box which can store all cards from this series. Removing the insert may give extra room for one more deck, or about 55 cards for this small box.
Inside, we can also find a leaflet that advertise the other game in this series or from the publisher.
This next video is the unboxing video for this game by Board Game Empire.
It seems that different versions based on languages of this game only come with rulebook of one language. As I said before, my copy has the English version rulebook.
The designer shared the file of the rulebook with various languages on BGG, which we can find here. So far, the versions that the designer (username: Liuhuparta) uploaded were English, Finnish, German and Czech, which we can assume the official ones. We can also find these 4 on the publisher’s page for this game. Somebody else shared the Polish version that seems to be official as well.
The rulebook only has 16 pages. At the top right corner of the first page or cover, we can see the flag sign to denote the language version. Here is the table of contents of this rulebook.
Title, Introduction (Page 1). While this cover does have a couple of illustration from cards in this game, it also tells us a bit about the setting of this game. I was expecting more story about each Animalfolk from this game however, according to the text, the focus is more about the weird, unique items carried by those Animalfolk merchants.
The digital file has the latest edition which includes a QR code on the cover. That will will send the scanner to the official how to play video on YouTube, the same link as the one on the box. My 2019 version rulebook doesn’t have that.
Components List (Page 2). Here we can find the list of all components in the first box of Dale of Merchants game. But the information is not very detail. For example, they only say the number of cards for each Animalfolk set which is 15 but no detail the value and the number of each value in any set.
We can also find the detail of the Custom die. The face values are 0, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 3.
Credits (Page 3). Here we can find the list of everybody involved in the development in this game, at least from the publisher. They only mentioned the number of Kickstarter backers who supported the first campaign.
What’s interesting is that I only know about Sami Laakso, the designer and illustrator of this game. From this section there are 2 persons who got the credits for the World Building aspect which are Jason Ahokas and Talvikki Eskelinen. Before reading this, I thought Sami Laakso did all of that themselves.
As the last part of this section, we can find all of links to learn more about Dale of Merchants, which lead mostly to the publisher site, SnowdaleDesign.fi.
Game Overview (Page 4). Including the text in Italic style, the two paragraphs actually tell more about the theme not the gameplay. Or at least just the idea of what the player will be doing to win the game.
Card Overview (Page 4 – 5). This section starts with the explanation of every feature we can find on each animalfolk card with an illustration. Then it continues with an important note that text on the cards can override the basic rule of the game.
After that, the section explains the 2 card types: Technique Card and Passive Card. For the former, the card can give action that players can choose to activate. If the card also has “+” icon, it means, the player can do one more action after activating the Technique.
For the latter, the passive ability is an ongoing ability that players will gain the benefit as long as they have that card in their hand. Players have to show the card to the opponent to let them know about the effect.
The last part of this section is about Junk cards, which somehow they need to use another term “Rubbish” instead of just Junk cards.
Game Setup (Page 6 – 7). The setup starts by choosing a number of Animalfolks sets based on the number of players. Then followed by a step by step setup using those sets and a number of Junk cards.
That section has illustration as how the game will look like after the setup for 2 players. The one part that is missing from the illustration is the pile for Junk Cards. I guess it should be next to Market’s discard pile or it can be anywhere near the playing area
Turn Overview (Page 8). This section is the summary of the 2 main phases that each player has to resolve during their turn.
Action Phase (Page 8 – 11). There are 4 possible actions and players can do only 1 during their turn. This section explains each of them and there are a couple of important notes.
In general, doing action means placing the card right to the player’s discard pile. Players can look through their discard pile but not reorder them.
From Market Action, we can overpay with more cards as long as none of those cards alone can afford the purchase. It doesn’t matter if we can pay with just another single card in hand. Purchased card goes straight to the buyer’s hand.
From the Technique Action, we can keep doing extra action if all cards that we play has that plus icon and we have the cards to do so. The bonus only applies when doing this action, not for using the cards for purchasing. If there are multiple action, they need to be resolved in the same order as written.
From Stall action, after the stall is built, it doesn’t matter if the cards are changed due to some Technique Actions. We only need to continue with the next stack based on the number of previous stacks on the Stall.
From Inventory Action, we simply spend the turn to discard all cards. We can also choose to discard 0 card, which means doing no action at all.
Clean-up Phase (Page 12 – 13). There are 2 parts of this phase, refilling the hand and refilling the market. For the former part, this is where we can find that the hand size can go above 5, no need to discard and how we can draw the Junk Cards again. This is also the section that says Junk Cards are considered as unlimited.
For the latter, the existing cards will slide down to the cheaper slot. When the market deck runs out of cards, just keep reshuffling the discard pile but at some point, all cards will eventually be purchased by players. Unless players are throwing away animalfolk cards, the market will not get any card again.
Winning the Game (Page 13). The winning condition is very simple. Whoever build their 8th stack first wins the game immediately. That means players may not have equal number of turns.
4-Player Team Rules (Page 14 – 15). This is the rule for 2 vs 2 mode. There are tweaks from the basic rule for number of Junk Cards, number of Animalfolks and the number of Stalls to win the game.
There is also an extra rule how teammate can cooperate to build the Stall, on the teammate’s turn. But there is a consequence that any player can only refill their hand at the end of their turn.
Summary of Animalfolks (Page 16). This last page of the rulebook has a list of 6 Animalfolks that come in this version or the first Dale of Merchants box.
For each animalfolks, we can find their icon, color and the summary of their power’s characteristic. Players can use this for setting up the game and decide which of these 6 that they will include in their game session.
I think the rulebook covers everything about the gameplay but in general. Obviously, the tricky part comes from the cards which have unique things that can change the rule. Sadly, there is no printed explanation of how each unique new thing can affect each other.
The publisher’s website does have an FAQ page but for all Dale of Merchants game, not just the first box, which we can find here. It seems that the page really only explains what people have been asking about in general or from each animalfolk but not every card.
On that page, there is one question for Squirrels (#3), 1 for Ocelots (#5) and two for Chameleons (both #3). Actually, even if the page includes FAQ for the other boxes, there are not a lot of questions.
The designer himself is very active on the forum and their Discord channel, answering questions.
I personally don’t find any issue with the rules when playing the game. But I probably haven’t explored and tried all of the cards in this one box.
This is the game board of this Dale of Merchants game. It is a double-sided board folded so it can fit in the box. The size is 17 x 11.5 cm, folded and 34 x 11.5 cm, unfolded with 0.1 cm thickness. It seems that we can only fold the board in one direction not both.
The board shows a Merchant stall with a couple of animalfolks having a transaction. One side shows a busy market during the day while the other side has empty stall during the night.
This board servers as the Market area to display cards during the game that players can purchase from. Both sides work the same. On either side, we will find 5 card slots and above the slot from left to right, we can see a decreasing value.
Starting with +4 above the leftmost slot down to no additional value above the rightmost one. The cards themselves have base value between 2 to 5. So, the number on the board is the extra value that players need to pay also to purchase the card on that specific slot.
That means the most expensive one would be 9 while the lowest cost per card is 2. As the game progresses, players can purchase the card from the market and take the card. At the end of each player turn, the remaining cards in this market will slide down to the one with lower value.
Then, a new card from the top of Market deck will be revealed, filling the most expensive empty slot. So, next to this board, we will need extra space for the face down market deck at least. There is a good chance that we will need a discard pile for these market deck and another pile for the Junk cards.
I understand that they cannot include them as part of the board due to box size. Maybe this folded board is the reason they choose that box size and not smaller.
Cards on the market and from the deck will be in random order. Any value can occupy any slot at the start. The cheapest one can occupy the most expensive one so the price will be 6 (2+4) which no player will be able to purchase. In that case, after one player bought something, that specific card will slide down and the price will become 5, which any other player can afford right from the start.
So, there are things to consider when purchasing the card. While we can buy the card that can give us the most benefit, we probably are helping our opponent with their purchase.
The most expensive card can also start on the cheapest slot and the price will still be 5. If nobody bought anything, then the market will stay like that. So, the price will go down only when somebody buy card.
With that idea, there is a chance that one player can choose to stall the market even if they have no other action to do. Hoping that the opponent purchase something.
When the market runs out of cards, we have to form a new deck using cards in the discard pile. The problem is that we may not see any card in the general discard pile.
Discarding an animalfolk card to the common discard pile only happens by activating the ability of certain animalfolk cards which is up to the players. They can do to their own card or to the opponent’s depending on the Technique or ability.
The thing is, discarding a card from our hand like that is mostly a wasteful action. We can always use the card for purchasing or something else. At the same time, the opponent can use their turn for something more beneficial.
When the market has no more cards in deck, the game continues and players will have 1 less action to choose during each turn. Depending on the animalfolk set, they can still get more cards but by stealing from or exchanging with another player.
This market setup also doesn’t change regardless of player counts. Whether it’s a 2-player or 4-player game, we will only see up to 5 cards at a time on the market. However, the number of cards will change depending on that player count. More player means more cards in the deck.
The board itself may not be necessary to use. It helps as reminder to change the cost of each card but it’s not that difficult to memorize. Other games with similar Market area use tokens or different cards for that reminder. That way, the game box can be smaller or more compact at least even if with the same volume.
The original Dale of Merchants also come with a wooden red die. This is actually a standard D6 in term of shape but the face is customized. Instead of 1 to 6, the values are 0, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 3 represented by a unique icon each.
Except for the 0 which just blank. I honestly don’t get what icons are they but each face with have dots from 1 to 3 dots that represents the value. The size is about 16 mm with rounded corners, makes it easier to roll.
We will use this die only if we include the Ocelot faction. Out of 15 cards from that faction there are 5 cards of 2 variants that will mention how to use the die. Any player who has any of those cards can then use the die to activate the Technique.
One allows us to increase the value of that card by adding the value from the die. So, the card has a value of 1 and it can be 1 up to 4. That effect only happens until the end of round.
The other card with a value of 5, allows us to exchange cards in hand with one other player. We roll the die and that value determines the number of cards we can exchange.
There is only one card of this while the other has 4 copies. So, even if we play the faction, using the card for the Technique, therefore using the die is still very minimum if at all. Most of the time, we will immediately discard the card for the purchase action.
The die itself will roll random result which probably makes it unpredictable to use for specific things. For the Bold Haggler cards (#1), it can be used the value when we purchase the card. Most of the time, it helps to afford more expensive cards. Or that we can discard less number of cards to pay the cost.
The other use is if we use the card as Stall action. Without the die roll, the value is just 1 which only the first stack. But then with the additional value and combined with other card, it can be part of any Stack from the Stall.
For the Gamble card (#5), exchanging the card early might not be helpful because the opponent might have the same low value cards. On the other hand, we want to give the opponent Junk cards which probably early.
We also need to exchange the cards randomly. There is a chance we will end up giving good cards and take the bad ones. So, there is a risk for that.
I think the use is actually to stall the opponent from building their Stall. We know the card that the opponent recently purchased in their hand. Or maybe we actually need that card but the opponent took it from the market first. This can be a way to steal that card. But that means, we need to hold the card and wait for the right moment.
I guess, the randomness adds some excitement. Other than roll to resolve, we can do nothing about the outcome of the roll. It’s not a dice manipulation game.
Cards and Deck Building Mechanism
So, we get to the main part of the game, which is the Cards. All 110 cards in the box have the same size which is 57 x 89 mm. Since this is a deck building game, we will shuffle these cards a lot and for some people, they prefer putting on sleeves.
From those 110 cards, 20 of them are Junk cards and the rest are 15 cards for each faction. Junk cards are all identical while each faction is different unique from each other.
Each faction will have 4 identical cards with a value of 1, 3 identical cards with a value of 2, 3 identical cards with a value of 3, 3 identical cards with a value of 4 and 2 different cards with a value of 5 each. So, from 90 cards of 6 Animalfolks, there are only 36 unique cards.
All cards will of course use the same back side art so we don’t know which card will show up next from the personal deck or from the market. I actually don’t know what this brown pattern means.
Regardless of the type, all cards will have the same structure of information. Start with the top row, we can see the name of the card and which faction or junk the card belongs to. For the latter, we can actually just look at the color if we don’t have any colorblind issue.
Next to that row, we can see a vertical banner with the color of that faction or type. This banner will have 3 information: the value of the card, the faction or junk icon and possible “plus” icon.
Then the top middle half of each card, we can see an illustration. Cards with a value of 1 from the faction will show the animal of the Animalfolk. While the rest of the cards will show a unique object. The animals are the merchants and the objects are things that they are selling on their Stall.
At the bottom right corner of that illustration, we can see an icon that represent this box set. The icon looks like an hourglass, for me, at least. It represents The Guild of Extraordinary Merchants, which is the subtitle from the original Dale of Merchants. This way, if we combine the cards with the other boxes, we can easily tell which box they come from.
Then, the bottom most row of each card will have text. The text has 2 parts. One describes the Technique or ability from that card in black font color and the other is flavor text in Italic style and brown color.
Between the text section and the illustration, we can see the action type of the card. There are 3, which are TECHNIQUE, PASSIVE and RUBBISH. The last one is just for Junk Cards.
Passive means the effect stated on the text part will become active if we have the card in our hand instantly. While Technique means we have to activate the action first by playing that card and put it on the discard pile. For the Passive card, we can still use the card for something else like purchasing or Stall action.
As for the Technique type of action, if the card has that “plus” icon on the vertical banner at the top, that means, after playing the card and using the Technique, player can do one more action. Without the plus icon, the player’s turn or action, ends after resolving the Technique.
These abilities are the additional rules that will be added to the game with a simple gameplay structure. Some can change the basic rule and the interaction between cards can become complex. As I said before, the designer could have made a clarification for each card but there is none other than FAQ for just specific cards.
Depending on the player count, we won’t be using some of these cards. The number of Animalfolks used in a session is equal to number of players plus 1. So, with 4 players, we will not use 1 and there will be less setup varieties for that player count, like only 6 different setups.
With 3 players, we will exclude 2 factions each session with maybe 15 combinations. For 2 players, we can probably try 20 combinations. Those numbers are of course, just from this one box. We can get more if we also have the other 2 Dale of Merchants and Dale of Merchants Collection.
Like typical deck building game, players will start with a deck of 10 cards and use 5 of them as the starting hand. These 10 cards consist of Junk cards and a value of 1 card from each chosen Animalfolk set. Since the number of Animalfolk sets used in the game depends on the number of players, we will still start with 10 cards but different number of Junk cards and those from Animalfolk set.
Players can play cards from their hand and those cards will go to discard pile. At the end of each turn, players will draw cards from their personal deck back to a hand of 5, in general. Once the personal deck runs out, players will shuffle their discard pile to form a new deck.
As the game progresses, players can purchase more valuable cards and add them straight to their hand. Eventually those purchased cards will get into the cycle of the deck. The more cards we have in our deck, the longer it takes for the same card to come back to our hand again so we can play the card.
In this game, there are ways to take some cards out from the deck. This is by using some of the abilities from the Animalfolk cards. Usually we want to take out less valuable cards so the more powerful ones can come out often. At the same time, we will permanently lose access to those cards and their abilities.
Also, to win the game, we want to take the cards out of the cycle and use them as Stall action or to build stacks of Stalls. The thing is, we need specific cards with specific value and from specific type for those stalls. Sometimes we need a couple of cards from the same Animalfolk set just to build 1 stack of stall.
By keep cycling through the deck and shuffling them, making sure that those specific cards can be in the hand at the same time is one of the challenges in this game. We will have to hold some cards while finding a way so that the other cards to build the stall can come out faster.
To build a stack of stall, in general we need to use cards from the same Animalfolk set. Which is why, we probably should buy cards from one single type. Another challenge is that the opponent might do the same and players will be competing for that same type.
Different stacks however, might be built using different Animalfolk set. So, eventually we have to diversify a bit. If we keep chasing different types of cards, getting the same one to be in the hand at the same time will be another problem.
In this game, whoever built the 8th stack for the stall first will become the winner. That means, there is a racing aspect from this game, combined with managing cards by buying more and taking a few of them out. Which is why, we cannot just mindlessly buy cards that as not as helpful like in other typical deck building games.
Some people might like Dale of Merchants because it offers different experience with Deck Building mechanism. However, some might miss that typical experience that they can find in other games.
Stall Action / Building Stall
As mentioned before, to win the game, players need to build their own Stall. Each stall is made of 8 Stacks of Animalfolk sets with an ascending value from value 1 for the 1st stack to a total of value 8 as the 8th stack.
We cannot use Junk cards to build a Stall. I also said that we can use several cards to build one stack but they need to have the same type of Animalfolk set and the exact total value.
Since each Animalfolk card has 1 specific value, here are the possible combinations to build different stacks using just one type of Animalfolk.
1st Stack: 1 card with a value of 1.
2nd Stack: 1 card with a value of 2.
1 card with a value of 3 or
1 card with a value of 1 plus 1 card with a value of 2.
1 card with a value of 4 or
2 cards with a value of 2 or
1 card with a value of 3 + 1 card with a value of 1.
1 card with a value of 5 or
1 card with a value of 4 plus 1 card with a value of 1 or
2 cards with a value of 2 plus 1 card with a value of 1 or
1 card with a value of 3 plus 1 card with a value of 2.
1 card with a value of 5 plus 1 card with a value of 1 or
1 card with a value of 4 plus 1 card with a value of 2 or
2 cards with a value of 3 or
1 card with a value of 3 + 1 card with a value of 2 + 1 card with a value of 1 or
3 cards with a value of 2.
1 card with a value of 5 plus 1 card with a value of 2 or
1 card with a value of 4 plus 1 card with a value of 3 or
2 cards with a value of 3 plus 1 card with a value of 1 or
2 cards with a value of 2 plus 1 card with a value of 3 or
1 card with a value of 4 + 1 card with a value of 2 + 1 card with a value of 1 or
3 cards with a value of 2 + 1 card with a value of 1
1 card with a value of 5 + 1 card with a value of 3 or
1 card with a value of 5 + 1 card with a value of 2 + 1 card with a value of 1 or
2 cards with a value of 4 or
1 card with a value of 4 + 1 card with a value of 3 + 1 card with a value if 1 or
1 card with a value of 4 + 2 cards with a value of 2 or
2 cards with a value of 3 + 1 card with a value of 2 or
1 card with a value of 3 + 2 cards with a value of 2 + 1 card with a value of 1.
As we can see, for the higher value stack, we have more possible combinations to build them with. The problem is that some of the combinations require more cards which we may also need for the other stacks. Maybe figuring out the combination to make all 8 stacks is a better way to look at it.
I guess from the numbers above, the least number of total cards to build 8 stacks is 11 cards. Also, some of the possible combinations require almost entire hand of cards which is very unlikely to happen.
Which of these possible combinations from each stack is the best depends on the Animalfolk cards themselves. Some of them might have very powerful and useful abilities that we want to hold them for a long time. We probably should use them for Stall action as the last stack.
On the other hand, there are abilities from Animalfolk cards to copy some cards or manipulate their value. I actually don’t know how significant those abilities might change how we build the Stacks but they do open more possibilities.
Somebody pointed out that there is a possibility that one player won’t be able to build their Stack at all which eliminate their chance to win at all. That is because of building the 1st Stack is only possible using cards with a value of 1.
In 2 players, each player will have only 3 cards, 4 for 3 players and 5 for 4 players. So, with lower player count, the possibility is higher.
Since some Animalfolks have abilities to steal cards from the opponent, then one player can try to steal all those value 1 cards from one player. Unless the opponent can steal them back before the first player remove them from the game, then that 2nd player only has one choice.
They need to play and build their 1st stack right after their 1st value-1 card got stolen. Even if they can try to steal them back, they probably already waste a lot of time just to get the ability to steal and actually steal them back.
Also, value-1 cards have better flexibility to reach specific total value for higher value stack. I guess that means knowing the capabilities of each Animalfolk set can help prevent that disaster.
These are one of the starting cards in the player’s deck and hand. The game comes with 20 identical cards of these. They all have the same value which is a value of 1.
Depending on the player count, players may start with different amount of Junk cards in their hand and deck since every player always starts with 10 cards. More player means more Animalfolk set, and therefore less number of Junk cards.
The only way we can use this card in the game is to purchase another card. We cannot use them to make a Stall and they don’t have Technique or Passive ability. Which is why, after we have enough better cards, we want to get rid of them from the deck as soon as possible.
This can be done either by throwing them away, which just put them in the Junk discard pile or using some abilities, we give them to the other players. There is a possibility that player will have to draw them again from the Junk pile and add them to the player’s deck or hand.
This may happen if players are throwing away their cards too soon. To the point when they cannot have 5 cards at the start of their turn. So, while it’s possible but very unlikely to happen. Players might be playing very poorly to reach that situation. Other than that, there is no ability or mechanism in the game that allow players to take Junk cards voluntarily.
Unlike Animalfolk cards, Junk cards are considered as unlimited supply. The rule suggests to use the unused animalfolk cards as substitute if somehow all players manage to use all 20 Junk Cards.
Details of Snappy Scarlet Macaws Set
The last page of the rulebook says “Macaws help you manage your hand of cards. New players like their opportunistic nature while seasoned players use them to optimize their play.” Their abilities are related to Hand Management.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 1 out of 3. For Interactivity Level, this gets 1 out of 3. No Nastiness aspect, so 0 out of 3 and for Randomness, 1 out of 3. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, Snappy Scarlet Macaws is recommended for the 1st play.
Here are details of cards from Snappy Scarlet Macaws.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Spectacular loss of temper can be considered as an art form among macaws – but not so much in the eyes of other folks.
Ability: Discard your hand, draw as many cards from your deck and place them into your hand.
This is useful when all remaining cards in hand are not that useful for the moment. Activating this ability is like a push your luck mechanism, hoping that we can get better ones.
It will be helpful if we have an idea what the next card will come out from the deck., like memory element. Maybe the effect will be better in later rounds in the game.
Since we can also keep some cards that we think are good, then maybe keeping those from different sets is a better choice. Otherwise, if they are also from Macaws, maybe we will try to combine them to make stall, instead of using the ability.
Flavor Text: It’s not uncommon to see a macaw raving mad over a virtually irrelevant matter. Afterwards they’re so calm it’s a bit unsettling.
Ability: Your hand size is increased by 1.
That one extra card in hand means, more purchasing power and more options to activate the abilities or to build stack. In long term, it will help cycle the deck faster.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Ignore the past, seize the present and make progress.
Ability: Throw away a card from your hand. Draw a card from your deck and place it into your hand.
This is useful to get rid of Junk cards, therefore make the deck thinner and cycle faster. But after that, then, it’s kind of hard to justify throwing away just any Animalfolk cards.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Featherfolks are terrible swimmers. No wonder they favour raccoon sailors in their fleets.
Ability: Draw 3 cards from your deck. Place 1 into your hand and the rest back in any order.
That means, we know the next 2 cards in our hand. I guess this is a way to prepare for the next round but probably not the current. Maybe this can save the cards so the opponent won’t be able to steal them. But that is if we choose not to play any card at all after that.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Pacts among macaws are honoured until better opportunities arise. One gains respect by utilising the full potential of the given situation.
Ability: Take the top card from your discard pile and place it into your hand.
This means we need to be mindful when discarding the cards when we do have this card in hand. I think for the most part, the order of the discard pile matters when we purchase a card by spending multiple cards. Not sure how this would affect positively for the order of Technique cards we activate.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: The Axhiquk empire likes to show off its power by arranging pompous imperial parades. Ocelots love to turn them into splendid festivals!
Ability: All cards you use get a +1 to their value for this turn.
This can be useful for purchasing, especially if we only have low value cards. For high value cards, it means we will cycle the cards less. This can also be useful for Stall action. But a bit tricky if we want to use multiple cards as a stack as this ability affect all of them.
Details of Dealing Giant Pandas Set
The last page of the rulebook says “Pandas are close friends with the market keepers and benefit from that. They’re great for beginners and players wanting a more peaceful game.” Market Proficiency is their specialty.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 1 out of 3. Interactivity level is 2 out of 3. No Nastiness aspect, so 0 out of 3 and for Randomness, 1 out of 3. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, the Pandas is placed under Deep Pocket and Market Menace theme, not sure what they meant.
Here are details of cards from Dealing Giant Pandas.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Pandas know the traditions of other cultures. They proudly believe to always have the perfect offer for others to sign – whether they wanted it or not.
Ability: Throw away all cards from the market. Fill the market by drawing cards from the market deck.
For the owner, this can help if the Market has no card that will be useful. Therefore, resetting might offer a better fresh supply. On the other hand, there is no guarantee. And if there is, we need to make sure that the other cards in hand is enough to purchase the most expensive option. Otherwise, we are just helping the next player.
This can also be a mean move towards the other players. This can prevent the other players from taking a card that is good for them if we do know what they are after.
One note about this card. We can choose the order of how we put the cards in the Market discard pile.
Type: Technique, no additional Action.
Flavor Text: Bearfolks have a desire for exploring and a long tradition of faithful sentinels and sturdy soldiers. These helped the Pandalan empire in creating a broad network of trade routes.
Ability: Choose a card from the market and place it into your hand.
This is a very strong card because it is basically ignoring the cost to purchase at all. By having this card, we will have a lot of flexibility especially if we need card with specific value and from specific set to make a stack. Without this card, that card may show up but there is no guarantee that we can purchase it.
Flavor Text: Pandas living far from their homeland cure their homesickness by ordering traditional delicacies from the old region of Pandala. That’s not cheap.
Ability: When you purchase this card, you may throw away up to 3 Junk cards used in the purchase.
If this card comes early, whoever purchase it, using Junk cards will be in huge advantage. Even if they have to pay more. I guess resetting the market with that Loyal Partner card make sense if we know that we cannot make the purchase ourselves.
Other than that, the card is basically useless. We can throw them but that means, if we have to form a new deck, this will show up again and the opponent can take advantage. So, I guess, we should just use it for Stall action.
Flavor Text: It is an age of great discoveries.
Ability: You may throw away 1 card from the market deck once in your turn. When you use this card to purchase, you may purchase the top card of the market’s discard pile.
This needs a bit of clarification. We are allowed only to throw away the top card from the deck, not really searching through the deck. More like revealing the top card from the deck which is optional.
If we then do not purchase that card, the other player might get access to purchase that card if they also have Market Discovery. So, there is a risk for just revealing.
Also cards on the market’s discard pile don’t get the added cost. So, the cost is at most 5, which is close to this card.
Type: Technique, no Additional Action
Flavor Text: Fellow bearfolks are always welcomed with open arms. And with plenty of good food.
Ability: Draw 3 cards from the market deck. Place 1 into your hand and throw away the rest.
Another push your luck aspect. Hopefully that one of them will be beneficial and throw away the rest. If the opponent has the previous card, Market discovery, they may have access to one of those two thrown away cards.
Flavor Text: The Pandalan Empire is peaceful, but it has profited from wars around the world by selling weapons to each side of different conflicts.
Ability: When you use this card to purchase, you may overpay as much as you want.
Basically, this allows us to discard all cards in hand to make a purchase of 1 card. That will cycle the deck faster. The designer said that it will be more useful against Raccoon or Ocelots that might steal our cards in hand.
Details of Thieving Northern Raccoons Set
The last page of the rulebook says “Raccoons are a great addition for players wanting some conflict. They don’t care about the definition of “ownership”. You have been warned!“. Direct conflict is their specialty.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 1 out of 3. For both interactivity and Nastiness level, this one gets 3 out of 3. This gets 2 of out 3 for Randomness. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, Thieving Northern Raccoons is recommended for the 1st play and also one of the stealing theme.
Here are details of cards from Thieving Northern Raccoons.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: The raccoons’ shameless arrogance is repected by other folks. In its own way.
Ability: Swap your discard pile and deck. Shuffle your new deck.
So, this is a way to bypass the entire deck and get the cards we just discarded faster. This will be helpful if we really track all cards in hand, discard pile and deck. Or just focus when the discard pile has small number of cards.
Type: Technique with Additional Action.
Flavor Text: You can get assaulted by raccoonfolk simply because you caused trouble to their partner or a family member. That’s called friendship.
Ability: Discard 1 random card from up to 2 other players’ hand.
Well, there is no reason not to use this action at all. Unless we want to use this card for purchasing or Stall action. Removing 1 card from 2 players will annoy them enough. The question is more which 2 players we need to target when playing with 4 players.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Life is hard for European Raccoons – the Outsiders without a homeland. Moldy bread is a common sight both in their merchandise and sadly on their dining table.
Ability: Place a card from your hand on top of another player’s deck.
For the most part, we can use this to remove Junk cards from our deck while at the same time, make the opponent cycle their deck slower. That is, of course, we still have Junk cards in hand.
We can still put low value cards that we know won’t help us for the Stall. But if we are not careful enough, those cards can still help the opponent. Which means, we need to be mindful with the sets that they are collecting.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: A raccoon can get out of or into trouble just for looking more or less like another raccoon.
Ability: Take 1 random card from another player’s hand and place it into your hand. Then choose 1 card from your hand to give back.
Since we can only take randomly, we can end up getting Junk card. Of course, we can just give it back but we already lose one card that we can use to purchase. I guess this is better towards the end of the game when there is a better chance that the opponent has better hand of cards.
Or just pay attention to the opponent discard pile. Especially after they made a purchase. They probably just used Junk cards to buy.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: European raccoons follow their own laws. Luckily every country has folks who appreciate the raccoons’ special talents.
Ability: Draw 2 cards from another player’s deck. Throw away 1 and place the other on that other player’s discard pile.
This is also useful in later rounds. Otherwise, we might end up helping the opponent in throwing away Junk cards. For this, it is also helpful to pay attention to the opponent’s discard pile.
Type: Technique, no Additional Action
Flavor Text: After the European Raccoons were driven away from North America, their loyalty to their friends and family only grew stronger.
Ability: Take the top card from another player’s discard pile and place it into your hand.
For the owner of this card, we can just wait until the opponent put a good card at the top of their discard pile. Then the opponent needs to be aware the existence of this card when playing with the set.
The problem is when the opponent also has the same one. Since activating this Technique ends the turn right after, the opponent can just steal that same card from the discard pile.
Details of Hoarding Flying Squirrels Set
The last page of the rulebook says “No one can set up their stall faster than squirrels. Inexperienced players like these hoarders, while experts can pull off nice cmbos with them.“. Stall Manipulation is their specialty.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 1 out of 3. For interactivity level, this gets 1 out of 3. Nastiness level, this gets 0 out of 3. This gets 1 of out 3 for Randomness. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, Hoarding Flying Squirrels is recommended for the 1st play and also one of the Stall Masters theme.
Here are details of cards from Hoarding Flying Squirrels.
Flavor Text: Squirrelfolks buy cheap and never throw anything away. Selling usually starts with the oldest stuff, Surely its value has gone up during the years.
Ability: When you build a stack with this card, you may include junk cards.
To make this useful, we might want to wait for the higher value stack. 1st stack is useless as we don’t need any Junk cards. For every subsequent stack, we will use one more Junk card to build the stack. At the same time, we can save cards in that value for the bigger stack if we manage to use this ability.
However, at the same time, waiting too long for the right stack means those Junk cards will stay in our deck until we use them. Maybe go for 3rd or 4th stack is the best option which can help remove 2 or 3 Junk cards.
Flavor Text: Barren containers are a source of nightmares. Squirrelfolk never forget past famines.
Ability: When you build a stack with this card, you may include cards from any animalfolk set.
Based on the comment from designer, we can use more than 1 additional animalfolk even though it will be suboptimal to use more than 2 cards to build a stack.
That means the minimum value would be 3 and it can go up to 8 with 2 additional cards. So, this one is very flexible and we probably want to hold it for a bit.
Flavor Text: Squirrelfolk keep track of everything and anything all the time. Feverishly.
Ability: When you build a stack with this card, you may include one junk card or animalfolk card from any set from your discard pile.
According to the FAQ page, we are allowed to check the discard pile. This one is a bit less flexible as we can only use one more card from the discard pile. Of course, it can be card with a value of 1 or 5 which can help make a stack with a value of 4 up to 8.
To use it properly, maybe we need to plan ahead in the previous round, making sure that we have discarded the right card for the next round. Otherwise, we will end up not having any useful card at all in the discard pile.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Squirrels were among the first to see the benefits of co-operation. They stubbornly argued for their views to other folks until all opponents gave up.
Ability: Swap this card with any card from a stack in an opponent’s stall. Place the new card into your hand.
This can be handy but only when any of the opponent has made some stacks. Especially after the first 5 stacks, usually we will have enough varieties of value. It’s just maybe we need to use the same animalfolk set as the opponent.
Obviously, we need to use this for the higher stack or otherwise we will be left behind from the opponent.
Flavor Text: The title of best party animals goes to squirrels and ocelots. Squirrelfolks are totally different beasts outside of work.
Ability: When you build a stack with this card, you may add or subtract 1 from this card’s value for this turn.
That means, the value of this card is either 4, 5 or 6. Combined with Empty chest from this set also, it can be 6, 7 or 8. I guess the Empty Chest ability becomes meaningless. Or with Nostalgic Item, the stack can be a value of 7 or 8.
Winter is Coming
Flavor Text: The surest way to survive is by preparing for several worst cases at the same time.
Ability: When you build a stack with this card, you may immediately build an additional stack in your stall.
This one is a bit difficult to actually take advantage. Let’s say we use this one for the 5th stack, then, we need to have the cards to build the 6th which is not always available at the same time. It’s even more challenging when making the higher value stacks.
Details of Lucky Ocelots Set
The last page of the rulebook says “Ocelots can give you and edge if luck is on your side. Add these to the game when you want to introduce a little havoc to your contest“. Chaos and Luck is their specialty.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 2 out of 3. For interactivity level, this gets 3 out of 3. Nastiness level, this gets 2 out of 3. This gets 3 of out 3 for Randomness. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, Lucky Ocelots set is under stealing and rolling dice theme.
Here are details of cards from Lucky Ocelots.
Flavor Text: Ocelots won’t get discouraged by drawbacks. They embrace nature’s amusing unpredictability.
Ability: You may roll Ocelot Die once in your turn and add the rolled value to this card’s value for this turn.
For this, we need to use the exact additional value or not at all. Which means the value of the card can go from still 1 or up to 4. Because of the randomness, we have to immediately roll first and make decision based on that. It’s kind of useless if we make decision first then hope that the roll will give the exact value.
Type: Technique with Additional Action.
Flavor Text: Prosperous winners should be generous while they can.
Ability: Search your discard pile and throw away an animalfolk card from there. If you do so, draw 1 card from the market deck and place it into your hand.
The drawn card from the market deck is still random while we know exactly the value of the thrown away card. Not sure how to make the most of this. Maybe to help working towards specific animalfolk set? Like if we know, we want to build the stack with just 1 type, and try to cycle the deck faster by removing the other type.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: More chaos, more fun!
Ability: Discard your hand. Draw as many cards from your deck and shuffle them with another player’s hand. Randomly give both players their original number of cards back.
To make this one useful, we need to make sure that all good cards are already in the discard pile. So, the next set of drawn cards will be the less valuable ones. That way, maybe some can switch with the opponent’s hand of cards.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: A mortal’s fortune and destiny are decided by the twin ocelot goddesses, Thia and Mia.
Ability: Draw 1 card from the market deck. If you can build a stack using only that card, do so. Otherwise, throw away the card.
Again, the drawn card is still random. Not sure how this actually works on its own. This one only useful for building 2nd to 5th stack but still random.
Another use if we also play with the Pandas and using the Market Discovery. This way, the thrown away card can still be purchased for something else.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Historically, many have vastly underestimated the ocelots’ ability for organized resistance.
Ability: Choose a card from your hand. If an opponent you choose guesses the card’s value, discard it. Otherwise, you decide its value (1 – 5) for this turn.
The purpose of this ability is actually to change the value. For the most part, it is better to have higher value but to make a stall sometimes we need specific lower value. That way, we may still challenge other player to guess a card with a value of 5, so we can change it to a lower one.
Not sure about any other purpose of this card. If that is the only one, then maybe the opponent can make an informed guess by looking at the next stack that the active player is trying to make.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Conflict among ocelots are solved by holding huge contests and festivities – never with a blade.
Ability: Choose another player. Roll Ocelot Die and randomly exchange that many cards between your hand and the hand of the chosen player.
From the FAQ page, if we only have 1 card, we only exchange 1 card even if the die roll higher. The die itself may roll 0 so no cards will be exchanged. I assume that the active player still lose the card for activating that even if they got 0.
We might still get bad cards and even lose a good one because of the random nature. It’s best if we use the ability when the remaining cards in hand is all bad.
Otherwise, it’s an alternative to stall the opponent’s progress. Maybe we can at least take one card that can help them build their next stall. Even if we do give them back something else. That can mess with their plan.
Details of Adapting Veiled Chameleons Set
The last page of the rulebook says “Chameleons make you play your cards as if they’re other cards in the game. They are recommended for more experienced players with long-term plans.“. Imitation is their specialty.
According to the publisher’s page, the Complexity Level for this set is 3 out of 3. For interactivity level, this gets 2 out of 3. Nastiness level, this gets 0 out of 3. This gets 1 of out 3 for Randomness. From publisher’s Deck Selection Tool page, Veiled Chameleons set is put under multiple themes, from deep pocket, Market menace, dice rolling, combo.
Specifically for Chameleons copying ability, the copying happens immediately at the start of the turn if there is an available target. Otherwise, the card will use its own value and type. Players have to explain which card that they use to copy and its target.
Copying can be tricky as we need to remember which card we use as the target which the effect can last until the end of turn. This can become complicated if we activate multiple actions in the same turn.
Here are details of cards from Adapting Veiled Chameleons.
Flavor Text: Other folks often find calm chameleons distant and indifferent. Those who befriend chameleons know them to be deeply emotional. Sulking can last for weeks.
Ability: This card is a copy of any card in the rightmost stack in your stall.
This is an interesting one. As the game progresses and we make our next stall, this card can get stronger, at least from the value. Maybe a bit different after the 5th stack. Also, this card copies the color or type of the target card.
Flavor Text: Unexpected situations ay make a chameleons’ skin resemble a firework show. For them it’s embarrassing while others find it entertaining.
Ability: This card is a copy of the top card of another player’s discard pile.
This one is a bit difficult to execute since it depends on the card at the top of any discard pile which can change from time to time. Especially with just 2 players, there is a good chance that when we have the card, the opponent’s discard pile is empty or with less valuable card at the top. With more players, we have more options.
Good Old Times
Flavor Text: Chameleons are a great source of knowledge from the past. Some individuals have lived for 400 years.
Ability: You may throw away 1 card from the market deck once in your turn. This card is a copy of the top card of the market’s discard pile.
From the FAQ page, if we choose to throw away card from market using this ability, that card will be at the top of the discard pile. Therefore, the card will be copied. It is also possible that the thrown away card is another Good Old Times card. Which means, the owner can throw away 1 more card.
The thrown away card is still random, so to make use of it is probably situational. Also, if the other player also has the same card, they may get access to the same card during their turn. I assume they don’t need to throw away another card just to activate the ability.
The copied card can give a passive effect like increasing the hand size which we immediately apply by drawing 1 card from our deck.
Type: Technique with Additional Action
Flavor Text: Collected Sha’teh writings discuss an individual’s status and responsibility in different societies and situations.
Ability: Swap this card with any card in the market. Place the new card in your hand.
This is similar to Panda’s Prepaid Goods which will ignore the cost of any card from the Market. That will give a lot of flexibility. However, we have to swap and place this card to that market spot. If we are not careful enough, the next player can then buy that card for whatever purposes.
Flavor Text: Chameleons are experts in many fields for a good reason. They can actually look at and concentrate on multiple things at once.
Ability: This card is a copy of another card in your hand. Show the copied card whenever you show this card.
This can be any card from the game as long as we also have them in hand. If it’s the Cookie card that increases the hand size, this one will do the same. And the effect lasts until the end of turn. At the start of the next turn, players can choose different cards in hand to copy.
Flavor Text: Chameleons founded gentlefolk clubs in order to push different civilizations in favourable directions. They have little desire to establish countries by themselves.
Ability: This card is a copy of any card in the market.
Combined with any card that may reset the market or throw away one of them, this card will change accordingly. As long as the copied card stay in the market, the copy effect remains until clean up phase.
Those are all of the components from the first box in the series. Now, we can learn how to play Dale of Merchants game using them.
How to Play
Dale of Merchants is officially a competitive game for 2 to 4 players. Different player counts doesn’t change the gameplay but only the number of cards used in the game.
For the 3 small boxes, the rule and setup is mostly the same. The Collection box has optional modules that are not available in the small boxes. What I’m describing here is specific for the original Dale of Merchants, which can be applied to Dale of Merchants 2 and 3 in general.
There is also an official variant to play the game as a team of 2 players each, included in the rulebook.
On the website, the publisher also has a rule for Tournament Play. Learn more about the Tournament from here and participate in the leaderboard with other players around the world. Ideally, to play the Tournament, we will need the Dale of Merchant Collection but not necessary.
On BGG, there is one fan-made solo variant that people can try but may not work well with some Animalfolk sets.
This next video is the official tutorial of how to play Dale of Merchants from the designer/ publisher themselves.
1st. We need to choose the Animalfolk sets that we will be using in the game. The number of sets is equal to the number of players plus 1. So, for 2 players, we have to choose 3 sets, 4 sets for 3 players and 5 sets for 4 players. We can return the unused sets to the box as they will not be used in this session.
The chosen sets don’t have to be from the same box or version. We can integrate them using sets from other boxes, mini expansions and the Collection big box. Each set has unique characteristic and some can be more complex than others. The publisher has a tool that can help us choose the sets.
2nd. We now need to form the Starting Deck for each player. The Starting Deck will always have a total of 10 cards, regardless of the player counts. This includes 1 card with a value of 1 from each chosen Animalfolk set and the rest are Junk Cards.
So, with 2 players, using 3 Animalfolk sets, each player will have 3 Animalfolk set cards with a value of 1 and 7 Junk cards in their personal deck. For 4 players, the Junk cards are only 5.
Players then should shuffle their deck and put the deck face down on the table in front of them. Each player will also need their own table space for their discard pile, Stall and an area to play the Technique card.
Area for discard pile can be the size of just 1 card like the personal dec. The Stall will require a space of up to 2 rows of cards and the size of up to 4 columns of cards. The area for the Technique action or Technique card is also usually just one card before the card goes to the player’s discard pile.
NOTE: If we play with less than 4 players, we have to return Animalfolk cards with a value of 1 to the box. They will not be used.
3rd. Place the remaining Junk Cards at the center of the playing area to form the Junk Pile. Junk cards are considered as unlimited amount. It’s very rare to use all of them in a game but if it happens, we can use cards from the unused Animalfolk sets as replacement.
4th. Now, we have to create the Market Deck. This is by using all of remaining cards from the chosen Animalfolk sets. Each set should have 11 cards (without the value 1). Shuffle them and place them face down at the center of the table.
5th. Place the Market Board on the table, next to the Market Deck. It doesn’t matter which side of the board to use. Then draw 5 cards from the top of the Market Deck and place them face up on the slots of the board, starting from the rightmost slot. This will form the Market.
6th. Players then draw 5 cards from the top of their own personal deck and place them in the hand. This will be player’s Starting Hand.
Players can then choose the Starting Player. That’s the setup and we are ready to play Dale of Merchants.
Dale of Merchant is played over multiple rounds. Players will take turns in clockwise order resolving their 2 phases: Action Phase and Clean-up Phase until the end game is triggered. Once a player has built their 8th Stack of Stall, the game immediately ends and that player becomes the winner.
In the Action phase, each player can choose to do one of 4 possible actions: Market Action, Technique Action, Stall Action or Inventory Action.
Unless the chosen action itself allows player to do more action, the Action Phase is done and that player proceeds to Clean-up Phase. In this phase, the active player will do 2 things: Refill hand back to 5 cards and Refill the Market.
This action allows player to buy 1 card from the Market. Generally, the Market will have 5 cards that players can purchase. The cost of each card is equal to the value printed at the top left corner of the card plus the additional cost printed on the Market Board above the slot.
This means, the cost can go as low as 2 up to 5 per card. With the additional cost, it can go up to 9 per card from the most expensive slot.
To purchase a card, the active player can use a number of cards from their hand. Those cards are worth the printed value on each, between 1 up to 5 per card. The active player can just put them on the discard pile as payment and take the purchased card from the market. Then the purchased card goes straight to the player’s hand.
NOTE: Players may overpay to purchase a card but all cards that they use must be necessary to reach the cost. As an example, we can use 2 cards with a cost of 4 each to buy a card with a cost of 5, even if we have 1 card with a value of 5. But if we include that single card with a value of 5, then the other card will be unnecessary.
After the player has resolved their action in this phase, they can proceed to the Clean-up Phase.
This allows the active player to play 1 Technique card from their hand. The player should show the card and resolve the effects stated in its effects. If there are multiple effects, then it must be resolved in the same order as written.
After a technique card’s effect has been fully resolved, place the card on the discard pile, unless told otherwise.
NOTE: if player cannot draw, take or exchange the exact amount of cards stated by the effect, perform it with what’s available. However, if any player’s deck runs out and someone needs new card from it, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.
If the Technique Card has a Plus Icon or Bonus Action, then after resolving the effect, the player gets to do action again. This can be 1 of 4 possible actions. If that next action leads to another Bonus action, then the player can continue to do more action.
NOTE: This bonus is only awarded for playing the card as Technique action not for purchasing the card from the market.
If player needs to discard or throw away multiple cards by using the Technique, the player can choose the order in which they go to their designated destination. There are also some cards that lets other player to guess something about a card. The player should show the card to confirm the result.
After the player has resolved their action in this phase, they can proceed to the Clean-up Phase.
This is the third possible action during Action Phase which allows player to build one stack of their Merchant Stall. Each player will have to build all 8 Stacks in order to win.
Building the stack must be in ascending order of the value. So, the value of the first stack must exactly be 1 and the 2nd stack must be exactly 2 and so on. The cards that player used to build the Stack can no longer be used for other actions.
To build a stack, the active player can choose any number of cards from their hand that belong to a single Animalfolk set. Again, the total value must be exactly the same to the required amount of the stack.
Then place that set of cards in the player’s Stall area. Stacks are placed face up with all cards value visible. Players are not allowed to build the stack partially and continue on it later.
In this game, there are ways that can change or manipulate the cards and/or its value that are already in the Stall. However, after the stack is finished, it doesn’t matter what its value or what cards are in it.
The total value of the next stack is only determined by the number of stack that the player has already built.
This action is how player can end and win the game. Once a player has built their 8th stack in their Merchant Stall, the game ends and that player is the winner.
If that doesn’t happen, then the game continues. The active player can proceed to the Clean-up Phase.
This is the 4th possible action during Action Phase which allows player to discard any number of cards from their hand. Players then place the card on their discard pile.
The purpose is so that during Clean-up Phase, they can draw more cards if they think the card in their hand is not useful for the moment.
They can also choose to discard 0 card. Maybe they already have no card in hand. This is also useful if players do not want to do any action.
After the player has resolved their action in this phase, they can proceed to the Clean-up Phase.
Some cards will have Passive effect, which apply when the player has the card in their hand. This can be from purchasing, drawing new cards or using the Technique, like taking cards from other player’s hand.
There are also some passive effects that can provide their effect elsewhere if the text states so. Players should then show the card to the other players and fully resolve its effect.
Special Note for Chameleon’s Passive Effect. Most of the cards will copy another card from the game. The copy effect must be done if there is a valid target available. Which can change the color type and value of the card as its own. This is important when using the card for any action, whether for Market, Technique or Stall action.
Refill Your Hand of Cards
This is the first part of the Clean-up Phase which allows player to refill their hand of cards. In general, the hand size is 5 but there are cards that will increase this limit.
Most of the time, at this point, the active player will have less than 5 cards in their hand. In that case, the player should draw more cards from the top of their personal deck until they reach the hand size limit.
However, it is possible that the player still or already have 5 cards or more. At that point, players can keep the cards, including the extra, no need to draw more.
If the personal deck runs out of card, then the active player can shuffle their discard pile to form a new deck. Then, the player can refill their hand from the top of the new face down deck.
It is also possible that both deck and discard pile run out of cards at the same time. In that case, the player should draw Junk Cards from the Junk Pile until they refill their hand.
After refilling the hand, the active player can proceed to the second part of the Clean-up Phase.
Refill the Market
This is the second part of the Clean-up phase, which is basically just refill the Market if there are empty slots. To do so, we have to slide the remaining cards to the rightmost empty slot, starting from the right. Then, draw new cards from the Market deck one by one to fill the empty slots, starting from the right.
Refilling is done only if there are empty slots on the Market. Otherwise, if the active player didn’t buy card from the market, then those cards stay.
If the Market deck ever runs out of cards and players need card from it, players can form a new one. That is by shuffling the Market’s discard pile, assuming there are any cards in it to form a new deck. If there are not enough cards, the market will be filled partially.
After refilling the market, the player’s turn ends. Then the next player’s turn begins with the Action Phase. The game continues until one of the player do Stall action to build their 8th stack.
Winning the Game
As mentioned above, to game immediately ends after one player built their 8th Stack of their Merchant Stall. That player will become the winner.
Players may not have equal number of turns. Most of the time is by doing the Stall Action during the Action Phase but there is Technique Action that allows player to also do Stall Action.
That’s how to play Dale of Merchant, the basic mode.
2 vs 2 Team Variant
This variant is included in the rulebook. The rule also states this variant needs 24 Junk cards. That means, if we don’t have extra from the other boxes, we need to find substitute. The rule suggests using cards from the unused Animalfolk sets with value of 1.
In this variant, each team will work on a single Stack but they need to build 10 stacks to win using the same rule as the basic game. The team that build the 10th stack first wins the game.
When building a stack, the teammate can help the active player to build a stack by adding one card or more. However, the active player must contribute at least one card for that stack.
If the teammate does that, they will not refill their hand of cards until the Clean-up phase of that player. The player will then start their turn with less number of cards than the hand size limit.
As a setup, instead of using 5 Animalfolk sets like in 4-player basic game, in this variant, players will use just 4 sets.
That’s how to play the 4-player team variant.
Fan-made Solo / Co-op Variant
Learn more about this variant from this BGG forum page. To play as solo, it will use similar rule for the official 2-player variant and to play the cooperative variant, it will use similar rule as the official team variant.
In either mode, we are basically competing against the Company as the opponent. This opponent will buy cards from the market every turn and put them in their deck.
At the start, the Company will only purchase 1 card which is the card at the right most slot. After the market is first reshuffled, then the Company will start buying 2 cards per turn but it does not increase beyond that.
Once all cards have been purchased, the game ends and player or players lose the game. Players have to build their 8th or 10th stacks to win before the market runs out of cards.
For the most part, players will play the game like usual. The difference is that when using Technique action, the opponent’s deck will represent all 3, deck, discard pile and stalls. Usually we will only interact with the top card of that Company’s deck. When a card says hand of cards, that means the top 5 cards of this Company’s deck.
This next video is the tutorial and playthrough of that solo variant by One Stop Co-Op Shop channel.
My Experience & Thoughts
There are a lot of deckbuilding games out there and Dale of Merchants is a bit different than most of them. Usually, if we play like Hero Realms, the main focus is just to buy cards as fast as possible and the other part just happen because the card states so. Maybe it will say attack the opponent, steal or draw more cards. Then suddenly, the game can end.
Dale of Merchant still has that aspect with the purchasing but not when activating the actions or Technique in this one. We have to be very mindful when deciding which action to use.
If we just keep buying cards, we will not win the game. In fact, purchasing cards that are not good can really clog up the hand, preventing us to access certain cards with specific value.
Of course, there are some ways to throw away cards so the deck will become thinner and other deckbuilding games also have that feature. But I find that it is less necessary in other typical deckbuilding games. If we do, it will still make the deck better and cycle through just stronger cards faster.
Somehow, I kind of miss that experience from the typical deckbuilding game. However, after playing it, it doesn’t have any depth. So, I was hoping that Dale of Merchants could be the answer where we don’t just mindlessly buy cards.
To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the experience of my first couple of plays. Buying cards and then try to remove some of them by building the Stall. There is a bit of puzzle to solve to make sure that we have cards from the same Animalfolk sets at the same time in our hand. That way we can use them to build a stack with higher value.
Obviously, if the sets provide the ability, we try to throw away Junk cards along the way. That kind of Technique is probably the first that make sense immediately after about the Passive cards.
At first, we probably just buy any cards, especially the most expensive that we can afford. Then, with more plays, we will be more mindful about the value and also collecting just specific Animalfolks.
Buying just based on Technique or action also doesn’t help. However, then, maybe we are buying cards that doesn’t help us with the action. Or at least, we think, it is not useful.
I feel like with 2 players, using just 3 different sets, the experience of focusing on one or two sets is not that hard. With more players, if we are not careful, then it will be more problematic.
One thing that I don’t like much in this game is the idea of choosing a card to lose now but can be beneficial later. In this case, either losing the card for Stall action or just throw away card.
For the Stall, it’s hard for me to judge and decide which card that I think is not that useful, so I can let it go now. At least by using the card as purchasing power, almost every card is still useful.
At the start of the game, I have to choose 1 card with a value of 1 from the Animalfolk sets used in the game that I will use as the 1st stack. That means, I need to know the potential that each card can do that may not be that obvious to me.
After playing the game multiple times, I feel like it’s not a big deal. Like there is always a way to build a stack using cards with other value. But it can still be challenging for me.
Depending on the sets, the choice can be easier. Or maybe because I just don’t know how to use that card properly. For example, I almost always use the value of 1 from the Panda as the 1st stack because the action from that card will only remove cards from the market. My reason is that there is uncertainty with the result and can be backfired on me if the next player gets access to a good fresh card.
On the other hand, I’m aware that there could be moment where it can be useful but very situational. The problem is that this is a racing game and if we just wait for the right moment, the opponent can just run away to that finish line.
That is also one thing that players need to be aware of. There is almost no way to catch up players who are already far ahead. Once a player has started building their Stall, maybe we need to do it as well and stop purchasing card.
As I said, cards with the same value from other sets might be easier to judge and make decision with. Or just use them for the Technique. So, it’s like once we have chosen which sets to play with, it’s like we need to make a plan between the sets.
Knowing every card can be useful. Maybe from this set, we use the value 1 and 2 for the stack and the higher one for the actions while the second set is the opposite. Or something like that.
If we are familiar enough and know how to utilize and make a plan around each card, that can definitely help win the game. The problem is that we don’t have access to information to all of the cards.
Especially for first time player of this game, they will only know cards that are in the market, then slowly learning new cards as they come out. Only those with brilliant minds can suddenly make long term planning.
I definitely am not one of them. Maybe I can if I try but when actually playing the game, there is a pressure not to take too much time. What happened for me was that if I think the card is even slightly too complex, I just ignore the card and use it for the purchasing value.
Is that the intent of the design? I don’t think so. Definitely, I have more enjoyment and excitement in playing the game after writing this article. At least the part where I wrote details of every card. That gave me more if not all idea in what I can do.
I think having a sheet that explains all cards from each set is kind of necessary. Even then, there is no guarantee that players will try to read them, especially within a gaming session. Unless they really like and play this game a lot. Otherwise, like me, I will just play the game tactically, wait for the moment while there is a potential to be strategic with long term planning.
Some Animalfolks sets definitely have more depths and more interesting to play. Before writing this article, I almost avoid using that Chameleon because I thought the copy mechanism is very situational. Now, after learning more, I feel like I have more interesting choices and opportunities.
That instant copying actually becomes both opportunity and obstacle. On the other hand, there is a possibility that players will not realize that there is a restriction instead of being an optional choice.
Is it really necessary to know all cards and the strategy to play? I don’t think so since I had the chance to play this with first time player and he did enjoy without knowing much.
As someone who prefers multiplayer solitaire type of game, I, of course, try to avoid anything that deals with other players, interacting with them. Especially if there is no guarantee of the result.
If that’s what we’re looking for in a game, then Dale of Merchants can become very dull. We can end up just keep cycling through the deck from start to finish, just waiting for the right card for the stall.
And it is possible when using all sets with low interactions that we don’t do anything at all to each other. Maybe besides hate drafting. I personally haven’t tried all of the possible combinations of sets, even from this 1st box. Again, maybe it’s not a big deal but I feel like maybe some combinations is not as interesting as others.
Also, I don’t think interesting means it has to interact with other players. Because interacting also doesn’t always help players reach that finish line. Sometimes, it’s just being an obstacle to the opponent.
For me, interesting is when we can use the card differently. Like Chameleon when copying and becomes different color or with Squirrels to utilize different sets to create stacks. I cannot say much about other sets not in this first box. They sound more complex but not necessarily that fun factor.
Another interesting experience that I find is when I can see a potential for combo. What I mean is when one action connect to the next, instead of just activating action individually. Placing a bad card on other player’s hand or deck is just a single individual action.
As an example, specifically from the Chameleon cards, I can make a stack from a different color, then for the next stack, the Chameleon can copy one of them to be part of that same type. Or something that we use to purchase previously and put them in discard pile. Then later, we can either take the card back or copy them.
The Panda has that similar potential where we can throw away 1 card from the Market then buy that card for cheaper in the same turn. Having combo in the same turn is actually harder because with the first action, we already lose 1 card. While with 2 turns, then, maybe we have totally different sets.
Of course, sometimes it is not planned. More like spotting an opportunity. Maybe that’s just me playing the game poorly. It seems for expert, there is a possibility to utilize the hand of cards, deck, and even discard pile.
Personally, I’m having a hard time doing that, especially if it involves multiple turns and other player can affect any of the cards. In that case, usually my mind just immediately ignore that kind of extended tactic.
Of course, we don’t really have to play that way. In fact, if we also play with less complex sets, maybe the easier one makes the complex one irrelevant. Or at least it feels that way. The good thing is that every small box will have a good combination of different complexity between sets.
But the bad news is, I’m not sure which one and I was hoping that the designer can say which. According to their Deck Selection tool, from this original box, Macaws, Raccoons and Squirrels are recommended for the first play.
While I agree that we can play them tactically and just use what is obvious. However, I do think some cards of these 3 sets, if not all, can have extra strategic depth. But the problem is again, unless we play the game a lot and love it, it is very unlikely that people will even try to discover it.
And this is a game where we need multiple players who have the same enthusiasm in getting good at them. Actually, if players are in different level, the better one can really take advantage of the others. Any losing player already has a hard time catching up to begin with.
Also combined with the fact that some abilities are very situational. That will require multiple plays assuming that situation can actually happen. For example, it is really hard for me to utilize ability that is based on discard pile.
Like search through a deck and throw away 1 card from there. Either I get that card and no bad cards in discard pile or vice versa. Sure, I can just hold that card but more likely than not, I should just use that card to purchase card. Eventually, that ability, not the card will get lost. I think that kind of ability is best with more players as we have more discard piles.
Also, somehow to actually get the combo, it seems require a good amount of memorizing. What cards that we have bought and what’s left in the deck. If the ability involves other players, we probably also need to memorize what they have bought.
It’s something that I probably cannot do that well. Some people can memorize played cards in trick taking game and maybe they can do well in this game.
Should we be able to experience all of them to make this a good game or enjoy it at least? Probably not. More like, there is something there but feels irrelevant.
From this 1st box, the designer also consider Panda sets as low complexity as well with Ocelots having 2 out of 3 while Chameleon as 3 out of 3. I think some cards from the Pandas are a bit more complex to get the most benefit from.
For Chameleon, I didn’t even realize until I started writing this article that there is a restriction of how the card must copy something. I thought it was optional and I suspect some people will not know that either.
For Ocelots, I really don’t know how to utilize this considering the random factor from die. Maybe if that’s all we have in our hand. Usually, I will just use them to build stack instead of the Technique.
The question is now, which is the best combination to play with? I have a bit impression that it depends on the players and what kind of experience that they want. After playing the game like 20 times or so, if somebody ask me, I don’t know which.
For me personally, I will use Chameleon at least. But that’s because I like the extra restriction which force me to think differently. Other players may not like it and also they can just ignore buying cards from that set.
I like the idea of chaos from Ocelots but even that may not happen. It can roll just 0 and it becomes irrelevant. Using Raccoons is actually much more impactful for the interaction. Very nasty and interactive, but then if the player is willing to use them. They can just ignore it and as I said, it can become boring.
Playing squirrels definitely makes the game end faster. Makes it easier to build Stall. Again, it allows us to use the card differently, more opportunity.
The Deck Selection tool from the publisher has some categories which doesn’t help at all. Maybe for expert players, they will get the idea when they read those tags but not really random people.
They should have explained each category a bit instead of just making groups. Also, explain the strategy of each set a bit more.
I appreciate the idea of plug and play system. We can just choose decks or sets and immediately play without additional rules. Maybe it’s not entirely true with sets from the Collection.
For me, who wants to explore every possible variation one by one, the idea of “just use whatever combination” doesn’t really appeal to me. I just with that there is a bit more directions so I know what to expect from every session. Again, it doesn’t matter if we are willing to play this game a lot.
As a deckbuilding game, this is much better than the typical standard game where we just buy the most powerful or expensive cards until the game ends. We have the choice to activate ability or use the card to build stall with all of the consequences.
I guess I’m not really a big fan of deckbuilding mechanism and Dale of Merchants doesn’t really help me much. While I eventually find the experience the I enjoy from this game but it comes from trying to learn the game and the strategy from each set.
In my opinion, it is necessary to get the most of Dale of Merchants. Knowing the potential of what every card can do and all players are competing for them, utilize them instead of just aiming for the end of the game.
Expansion and Accessories
Since the first Dale of Merchants was first introduced back in 2015, the publisher has released a couple of standalone boxes that can be integrated with the original boxes. Each small box has 6 unique animalfolks whereas the big box one comes with 8. There is also one mini expansion for one animalfolk set.
There are also some official accessories that we can buy to enhance the experience in playing this game. From playmats with various designs, including the bags and custom sleeves to help protect the cards. All of them are available in the publisher’s store page.
For those who love the story and setting behind Dale of Merchants, other games from this publisher also share the same universe with totally different gameplay. We can check out Dawn of Peacemakers (2018) and Lands of Galzyr (2022) to find out more.
Dale of Merchants 2 (2016)
In 2016, one year after the first one, the publisher launched another Kickstarter campaign for the second box. This is a standalone game which can be integrated with cards from the original box for about the same price.
The Era of Trade Masters is the subtitle of this one.
This version comes with 6 new Animalfolk sets, each with 15 cards and 20 Junk cards. It also has its own custom die and double sided market board. For these 2, the difference is just the color and design.
We can find out more from the publisher’s official page for this version, here. Or we can check the KS campaign page which raised more than $70,000 with the help of almost 1,800 backers.
The Animalfolks sets that come in this second box are: Experimenting Platypuses, Diligent Pale-throated Sloths, Intimidating Dwarf Crocodiles, Friendly Fennec Foxes, Reckless Marbled Polecats and Observant Snowy Owls.
For Experimenting Platypuses, the rulebook says that Card Control is their specialty. This got 1 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness.
Platypus set is actually recommended for the first-time play. It seems that some of the abilities allow us to control cards not just in hands, discard pile and personal deck but also manipulate the market and Stall.
For the Diligent Pale-throated Sloths, Delayed Action is their specialty. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness.
Almost every card will say “At the start of your next turn…” as their ability. This means, we activate them as one action in the current round and gain the benefit in the next round. It can be a bit tricky to use.
For the Intimidating Dwarf Crocodiles, their specialties are Threatening and Harassing. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 3 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness.
This one will activate passive effects that make things harder for the opponents. For example, one of them can increase the price of cards in market, and another that will increase the value required to build a stack. The harassing part can even take cards directly from another player. Very nasty indeed.
Friendly Fennec Foxes as the fourth one has “Helping” Others as their specialty. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 2 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness.
Most of abilities from Foxes will affect almost every player. For example, when activated, one card forces all players to search their deck to find one card and place it into their hand, then shuffle the deck. This can create chaos, which can help or mess one or more players, including whoever activated the ability.
The next one, Reckless Marbled Polecats, is the one that uses the custom die in this box. They are known for Taking Risks as their specialty. This got 1 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 2 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 3 out of 3 Randomness.
Similar to Ocelots from the first box, the die roll usually manipulate the value or effect of card’s ability. But this one the effect is more about who activates the ability instead of affecting other players, which is why the nastiness is 0. They are reckless.
Observant Snowy Owls is the last set from this second box. They are known for Reacting to Others. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness.
As the Reacting specialty, most of their cards are passive abilities that will give benefit after something happen. There is a card that will react after another player shuffle their deck, or activate ability or after making a purchase or after building a stack. So, players have to be aware of which card from this set that they have in their hand and pay attention to the other players.
These next videos showcase the gameplay by the publisher and unboxing for this product.
Systematic Eurasian Beavers Set (2016)
This is a single Animalfolk set that we can purchase separately and add it to any of the Dale of Merchant boxes. For about $5, we get the unique 15 cards from this set and 8 additional Junk Cards.
According to the publisher’s official page for this product, it also comes with 1 Portable Market Card. While we still need another box with its Market Board to play but with this card, we don’t need to bring along that board.
Most of Beavers’ abilities starts with “Next time you (do something)” then there is additional benefit we can gain. But we still need to activate it first and make a plan before activating it. Most of them will give additional action after resolving the effect. No Passive card in this set.
This is the video from the publisher where they play with Beavers Set and other set from Dale of Merchants 2.
Dale of Merchants Collection (2019)
Instead of releasing the third small box, the publisher introduced Dale of Merchant Collection. Not only they released 8 more unique Animalfolk sets, but this is also a big box to help gamers store cards from all Dale of Merchants product, including the third one.
This was also funded using Kickstarter platform, which raised almost $120,000 with the rate at the time, by the help of more than 1,800 backers. During that campaign, people can also order the content of previous 2 Dale of Merchants boxes but already inside this big storage. We can now purchase this game from the publisher’s website for $55.
The size of this storage box is the standard TTR box or about 29.5 x 29.5 x 7.5 cm. Inside the box, we will also get custom plastic insert that will fit all cards with sleeve. To help organize the cards, they also provide the Card Dividers and an Animalfolk Compendium as a reference.
This next video showcase the prototype of custom insert and how all components will fit in each slot.
As for the new contents, Dale of Merchants Collection comes with 8 new Animalfolk sets, each with 15 cards, 20 Junk Cards, 55 Large Character Cards, 2 types of tokens, 1 Market Board, 2 Custom Dice, 1 Cardboard Clock, 20 Trap Cards, 33 Specialty Cards and 27 Deck Selection Cards. Those are in addition to what I have mentioned previously with dividers and insert.
Junk cards and Market Board are similar to what come in any Dale of Merchant boxes. Deck Selection cards are basically a reference card for each deck. This will tell us the Randomness, Nastiness, Complexity and Interactivity Level of each Animalfolk set. We can also look this information online from the publisher’s page, Deck Selection Tool.
Large Character Cards will give each player a unique ability that only the owner of the card can use. Each player will get two at the start of the game. So even if each player will use and buy the same cards, they will now have something unique just for them.
In order to use the ability, sometimes the player must first acquire certain tokens and spend the minimum amount to activate the abilities. This is where the 50 Golds and 42 Game Tokens come in play. Two Animalfolk sets that come in this box also use these resources.
Some of the ability from Character cards also use Specialty Cards. Some of these cards will get into the personal deck cycle and use them like a Technique when they come into player’s hand. However, we cannot use them to build a Stack for the Stall. There are also other Specialty cards that will not get into the personal deck but the player can use them anytime.
Trap Cards is an optional module that players can add to their Dale of Merchants game. These cards come in 4 colors, one for each player. After player has chosen the color, they add the 5 trap cards of the chosen color to their starting deck.
What the trap does is if the card gets into another player’s hand that doesn’t own the color, they will suffer some penalties. Each Trap card has two parts. One is how the owner can use them like a Technique. Usually this will tell the owner where to place the card, either the opponent’s deck or discard pile.
The other is the consequences when the other player gets that card into their hand. Some can just give benefit to the owner of that card. After resolving that effect, the card should be returned to the owner. Each player will have a set of 5 Trap cards with identical use, just with different color.
Cardboard Clock and the 2 Custom Dice are related to the Animalfolk Sets from this Collection box. The 8 Animalfolk sets are Vigorous Emperor Penguins, Wealthy Tuataras, Enthusiastic Wood Turtle, Mischievous Tasmanian Devils, Fickle Giant Pangolians, Swindling Black-headed Gulls, Lively Slender Mongooses and Stealthy Long-Winged Tomb Bats.
Vigorous Emperor Penguins is known for their Powerful Abilities. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. With this set, we can spend tokens for various things like search cards from discard pile, buy cards from market or increase the value of the card.
Wealthy Tuataras is expert in Utilizing Gold. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. One card allows player to generate Coin in the next two rounds and we can spend them by activating the other cards.
Enthusiastic Wood Turtle is known for Finishing Later specialty. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. This introduces a new element, delayed action. Instead of going to the discard pile after activating the action, the card may stay still and will give on-going effect temporarily. Sometimes we can keep reactivating the card by spending the tokens.
Mischievous Tasmanian Devils is known for Tricking Others. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 1 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness. This one has a lot of abilities to mess with another player’s hand, deck or discard pile.
Fickle Giant Pangolians has Wrecking Havoc as their specialty. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 3 out of 3 for Nastiness and 3 out of 3 Randomness. This one actually uses both dice that come in the Collection box. The light green die is the source die and the dark one is the determines the destination. Both will show either deck, hand or discard pile. When we activate an ability with dice, we will have to roll both. Depending on the ability, both dice can refer to one or different players.
Swindling Black-headed Gulls is known for Gifting Junk. This got 1 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 2 out of 3 for Interactivity, 1 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. Specific for the Junk card, only one ability allows the player to take Junk card from the Junk pile and give them to another player. The rest is about discarding card from the active player’s source and give them to another player, which doesn’t always Junk card.
These last two will use the Clock component. Half of the clock will show Daytime while the other half show Nighttime. The ability usually can be activated only when the hand of the clock is in the specified area. The hand will advance one space out of 3 per area after the player has resolved the ability.
Lively Slender Mongooses is known for Daytime Bustling. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. Mongoose’s ability yields better result when activated during the Day than at Nighttime.
Stealthy Long-Winged Tomb Bats is known for Nightly Operation. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 3 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness. The Bats will have abilities that will target different sources depending on the time. Either the owner’s source during the night or other player’s during the day.
So, what’s in this box is definitely more complex and more content than in either small box. But those extra complexity comes in modules that players can turn it off. However, none of the Animalfolk set is recommended as the first play according to the publisher’s Deck Selection Tool. Some people also recommend starting with any of the small ones.
Update Pack (2019)
A lot of new stuffs added in Dale of Merchants Collection may create problems when used in combination with cards from the previous two boxes, Dale of Merchants 1 and Dale of Merchants 2. The publisher fixed it by offering new set of updated cards for those who already purchased the first two games with the older version, prior to Dale of Merchant Collection.
The recent printing already includes the updated cards so we don’t need to request this product again. If we are not planning to purchase and play Dale of Merchant Collection, we don’t have to worry about this pack.
More details about the change and which edition got affected can be found in this article. In that article, they explained how they replace the word used in older version and the latest edition. So, we can just read that article and put a note while keep using the old version.
To find out which printing version of Dale of Merchants our copy is, we can look at the back of the box and find a code at the bottom left corner above the barcode. Mine says SWG190104 which I assume, the 19 part indicates the 2019 printing.
The versions that require the updated pack are SWG150101, SWG16102 and SWG17103, printed 2015, 2016, and 2017 in that respective order. As we can see from the article above, there are 5 cards that got updated from this first Dale of Merchants game.
Dale of Merchants 3 (2020)
In 2020, the publisher launched the third small box Dale of Merchants game on Kickstarter. The campaign was another success, raising more than $120,000 funds with the help of almost 3,000 backers.
Like the previous 2 small boxes, this Dale of Merchants 3 is also a standalone game that we can play on its own or integrate with cards from other boxes. This one also comes with 6 Animalfolk sets which all of them are new sets, 1 custom die, similar Market Board just with different design, in the same size box.
The subtitle for this one is THE GRAND CONTINENTAL RAILWAY.
In this one, the Animalfolk sets are Archiving Desert Monitors, Discontent White-headed Lemurs, Scheming Green Magpies, Sharing Short-beaked Echidnas, Superstitious Snowshoe Hares and Prepared Grizzled Tree- Kangaroos.
Archiving Desert Monitors is known for Discard Mastery. This got 1 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. This has 1 ability to shuffle back the top cards from the discard pile to the deck and 2 abilities to search through the deck.
Discontent White-headed Lemurs is known for Replacing Cards. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness. Some of the abilities allow players to buy more cards in a turn but by throwing away cards as well.
Scheming Green Magpies is known for Guessing and Stealing. This got 3 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 3 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness. There are 3 abilities from this that include guessing. One will guess a set on the owner’s deck. Another is guessing a value of the top card from another player’s deck. The third is guessing the value of random card from another player’s hand. Usually, correct guess means taking that card to the guesser’s hand, which can be stealing from the target player.
Sharing Short-beaked Echidnas is known for Borrowing. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 3 out of 3 for Interactivity, 1 out of 3 for Nastiness and 2 out of 3 Randomness. Several abilities are about swapping the card from this set and the target source, either opponent’s stall, hand, discard pile or deck.
Superstitious Snowshoe Hares is known for Making Prediction. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 3 out of 3 Randomness. This is the one that utilize the die from this box. The die itself has 3 icons and this will determine the result of the ability, which most of them decide where to draw or discard cards.
Prepared Grizzled Tree- Kangaroos is known for Stashing and Protecting. This got 2 out of 3 for Complexity Level, 1 out of 3 for Interactivity, 0 out of 3 for Nastiness and 1 out of 3 Randomness. Some of the abilities will mention STORE, a new term in this game, which allows player to keep the card in separate storage. By doing so, the card is protected from being a target by opponent’s ability. This can also increase the hand size.
This next video is overview from the publisher themselves for Dale of Merchants 3.
Custom Sleeves (2020)
With the deckbuilding mechanism, in this game, we will shuffle the cards a lot. To protect the card, using sleeves is usually recommended and help for easier shuffling. For that reason, the publisher has their official custom sleeves pack that anybody can purchase for their Dale of Merchants cards.
This sleeve with have the same design as the back of the card. So, they are not transparent on both sides and probably won’t fit for other games. According to their store page, the sleeve will have a matte finish on either side to prevent glaring.
Snowdale Design is offering 2 different packages for this Custom Sleeve. We can buy either one pack for the small box or the pack for the Collection box.
The small pack, for about 9.95 EUR will come with 120 sleeves so we will get more than enough for the cards in the small box. However, if we also want sleeve for the Beaver mini expansion, we probably need more than one pack.
The Collection Pack, for about 19.95 EUR, will come with 180 custom sleeves and 130 transparent sleeves. The transparent sleeves are for Character cards that will not be part of the personal deck.
There is a discount if we purchase the sleeves for the entire game. We can purchase them from this publisher’s store page. See the video in the Playmats section to see the product from the publisher.
Playmats and Bag (2020)
Snowdale Design also has the official Custom Playmat for Dale of Merchants game. This is a mat for one player with the size of 35 x 25 cm (14 x 10 inches). At the bottom right corner we can find one of the Animalfolk and we can purchase any of the 27 Animalfolk characters in the game for 9.95 EUR each.
The playmat will have area for the Stall, discard pile, personal deck and extra space if we need to search through either deck or discard pile. We can also place the Character Card from the Collection box on the space at the top right corner of the mat.
According to the publisher, we can store the mat inside the Collection box but the lid will not cover the box to the bottom. Not sure for how many mats though. So, as a storage solution, the publisher also has an official Bag for these mats.
According to their store page, the bag is made of Canvas fabric which can store up to 4 playmats by rolling them. For 9.95 EUR each bag will come with a string to close the bag and carabiner if we want to hang the bag.
If we purchase a bundle of 4 Playmats directly from the publisher, we can get the bag for free. Check the store for this offer on this page.
Session Reports and Pictures
Usually, I share a session report of playing a game on BGG. Here are the links of each session for this game.
I also put turn-by-turn pictures of a session and unboxing pictures for every game on my collection that anybody can find on my Instagram. For this game, search for #DaleOfMerchantsAtHomeOfMark on IG for all of the sessions.
January 2023 session and more pictures of that session on IG.
November 2022 session and more pictures of that session on IG.
Dale of Merchants is one of the small deckbuilding card game for 2 to 4 players. The game is set in the fantasy world of Daimyria, a world filled with different Animalfolks. In the city of Dale, merchants are coming from around the world, trying to become the member of the legendary merchant guild by being the first to complete their Merchant Stall.
Like other deckbuilding game, players will start with a deck of 10 cards, filled with low value and junk cards. They can use those cards to purchase better and more powerful cards and put them in their personal deck. Players can keep cycling through this deck but eventually have to take some of them out to build their Stall. By using cards as Stall, players will no longer have access to the abilities from those cards or its purchasing value.
As part of the setup, depending on the player count, players will have to choose a number of Animalfolk sets to be included in the game, which is 1 set per player plus 1. Each set is unique but always has the same 15 cards with a value between 1 to 5. The value 1 from each set will be part of the player’s starting deck but the rest will be shuffled and become a Market Deck, from which players can buy more cards.
The Market will have 5 face up cards but the newest card to come out from the top of face down deck will cost extra between plus 0 up to plus 4. So, the cost of the card can be between 2 up to 9.
On player’s turn, as one of the 4 possible actions, they can purchase one of these 5 Market Cards using cards in their hand. Like typical deck building game, players then can put those cards that they used for the purchase in their own discard pile.
The purchased card, however, go straight to the hand, not the discard pile. This can be an important input for the opponent of what they can do to that player and probably what that players will do next with that card.
The second action that players can do on their turn is to use the Technique or the ability stated by any card in their hand. Each of 6 sets in the box has its own characteristic of what the abilities that they can provide.
Macaws is more about Hand Management, Pandas for manipulating Market while Raccoons will mess with cards from other players. Squirrels has more flexibility to build Stall. Ocelots will use the custom die, which players can roll to determine the impact of that action. Lastly, Chameleon will copy some cards from different target source like deck, hand, discard pile and stall from either the active player themselves or one of the opponent.
Which is why the combination of sets used in every session will provide different experience, different strategy and tactics to pursue since not all sets will be used. Maybe it is less so for maximum player count.
Some ability will end the turn immediately but most of them allow the active player to do one more action which can be multiple times in a single turn. The limit is eventually the cards in their hand. Trying to get a good combo of 2 connected actions is probably the most interesting part.
Once played for the Technique, the card will go to the discard pile. Players will then have to wait until they can cycle back and get the card back unless they have cards to make that faster.
Some cards also have Passive ability which will be active instantly when the card goes to the player’s hand. This can be increasing the hand limit by 1 from the 5 as the base. Most of them will give extra benefit only when doing certain actions like free purchase, flexible stall or copying cards.
The third action that players can do on their turn is the Stall action to build a stack. The Stall will have 8 stacks with ascending value from 1 up to 8 in the basic mode. There are only limited combination of cards to build those stacks.
Players can use any number of cards from their hand to build each Stack. However, each stack generally can only have cards from the same set and the total value must be exactly the same as the required target value of the stack. But different stack can have different Animalfolk sets.
Which is why, players might want to diversify the cards that they are purchasing a bit but also collecting cards from the same type. Since players will have to shuffle their deck everytime the deck runs out of cards, making sure that cards from the same set come out at the same time will be the challenge of this game.
To control that, players can use the 4th possible action which allows them to discard some cards and hold the other without doing other action.
This is also a race. Only the player who build their 8th stack first will win. The other players may not have equal number of turns. Trying to balance between buying cards, activating them and eventually let them go as the stack is the main idea of the game.
One thing that players need to be aware is that there is no catch-up mechanism from the game the help players that are left behind in building Stall. So, once a player has started, the other should consider building theirs as well.
At the end of player’s turn, like most deckbuilding game, they just refill hand and the market. Compared to typical deck building game, the number of cards that can be purchased is significantly lower. Having no cards to purchase from the market is very likely to happen but the game continues.
At that point, it will be harder or even impossible for players to win if they don’t have any stealing cards, assuming the included sets have some. The game itself can end fast but if none of the players are pushing the progress to that finish line of 8 stacks, the game will get stuck.
Some of the abilities have obvious use but it can also provide a deep strategy for players to pursue. However, some of them are very situational and easier sets can make the complex one irrelevant. At least for their abilities.
Also, making the most of some abilities seems to require a bit of memorizing. Not only about cards that one player is collecting but also about what the other players’ as well.
I feel like unless players love and play this game a lot, they may not find those strategy or even care. Those abilities from unique sets are what make this game interesting and yet it is possible to play the game by ignoring most of them. If then players assume that this game is similar to other typical deckbuilding game, they may not have an impressive experience.
For players who loves it, then there are enough contents from other standalone boxes, small expansion set or even Big Collection box. Each will have unique sets that they can integrate without additional rules or components.
More Similar Games
There are many tabletop games out there whether a board or card game that might share some similarities with Dale of Merchants. Some people may look for those similarities that they enjoy. It can be the mechanism or even just the same theme or setting.
Usually, a board game will have a lot of elements. It is kind of difficult find another game where everything is similar. Which is why, in this section, I try to break them into things that I enjoy from the game and point out games that share the same experience.
These next games are just some games that I have tried, played and written a review for them, up to this point. Check out the link to each article to find out more and also check this Complete list for more games.
Deckbuilding Games, Combo of 2 Actions
In a game with deckbuilding mechanism, players will start with identical deck, filled with low value cards. Every turn, players will start with a hand of cards from that deck and play them to purchase more valuable cards which then get added to the personal deck or the cycle. As the game progresses, the deck will become bigger but with more powerful cards.
Sometimes the card can have specific purpose but they need to come out at the right time. Which is why while we will always try to buy more cards, we have to be selective as which card to buy so the better one can come out faster.
So, there is a bit of resource management with which card to buy and which order to play them in this type of game. Playing the cards in the right order can trigger more actions and get some good combos.
In Dale of Merchants, the combos are mostly two actions per turn, very rarely get three. Unlike other deckbuilding games, in Dale of Merchants, we even need to plan what’s the next second would be. Not always, but clearly not just hoping for the next random card from the top of the deck.
Up to this point I’ve only played 2 deckbuilding games. The first one is Hero Realms. This is a simpler one with medieval fantasy theme which can be played competitively or cooperatively.
The goal in the competitive mode is to beat the opponent, bring their hit points down to zero before ours. Unlike Dale of Merchants where any cards can be used to purchase more cards, in this one, we need specific cards that will only generate coins. Then we can spend those coins to buy more cards.
The other types of cards in this one allows us to attack the opponent, bring down their hit points. At the same time, there are cards to block those attack or heal back the hit points.
For the cooperative, we will use that similar idea but to fight the opponent from the game itself. Either as a standalone game or through a campaign.
The second deckbuilding game that I’ve played is The Big Book of Madness. This one is only a cooperative game. In this game, players are wizards trying to fight against a series of monsters sealed in a cursed book that they suddenly opened.
Instead of buying cards with coin value, players are collecting 4 different type of elements. Players can only get higher value cards with one element type using the card with corresponding type. Different elements also allow players to cast a different type of spell or beat specific curses.
There is an interesting part with the cooperative aspect. Instead of playing on their own individual turn to achieve the same goal, players can share cards, place them in communal area during their turn. The other players can then use those cards during theirs.
This next game, Quests of Valeria is not a deckbuilding game. We don’t even have a deck but we still collecting cards over the course of the game. The potential action combo from the hand management aspect reminds me of a deckbuilding game.
In this one, the cards themselves only show icons and the bonus we can get for using them in specific way. During our turn, we can do 2 actions using those cards in hand and cards in our tableau. We will want to make sure that one of them will generate more cards for us so we can use them on the next turn.
While the second action can be used for the same or something else to help us win the game.
Another game where we will try to make combo, one action that can grant us more action is Imperial Settlers. This is a bigger card game and can be considered more of an engine building game.
In this one we will plan which building we need to build first or earlier in the game so it can give bigger benefit for subsequent actions or rounds. Usually try to get as many turns in a round as possible.
Another game with 2 actions per turn that we need to plan to create a combo is Micro City. This one with city building theme, has moving a pawn between spaces on a grid. We will get the two actions from the hand of card and the other is from the space where the pawn ends its movement. The movement itself is determined by the card we play first then we need to make sure we have enough resources to activate the better action from the grid.
Similar game to that is Adventure of D, but with medieval fantasy theme. This also has movement on a grid and hand management. There is a chance to get more than 2 actions but still limited by hand size, just like Dale of Merchants. The same cards are necessary for the movement and resolving actions on the target destination.
Racing with Player Interaction
For me, in Dale of Merchants, that racing element is one of the important aspect where we will try to be the first to build the 8th Stack of Stall. The challenge is that we cannot just go straight there. The cards that we use to build the stall are also necessary to buy more cards and do more action. So, occasionally, we will have to switch focus between preparation and back to the finish line.
Along the way, we might also try to mess with the opponent, to slow their progress, like by stealing their cards or forcing them to discard. Or something indirect interaction like removing cards from the market.
Most games that I’ve played will have that racing element but only to trigger the end of the game. Usually, we will still calculate points after that and whoever triggered the end of the game is not guarantee to be the winner.
For games with this racing aspect, I already mentioned Adventure of D. The competitive variant is a race between players to be the first to defeat the boss. Unlike Dale of Merchants, there is a possibility that a player can fail in the attempt to defeat the boss. At that point whoever was behind can catch up.
Along the way, players can intervene the opponent’s progress, usually by discarding the event that might be closer to that opponent. Of course, the opponent can do the same.
I also already mentioned Quests of Valeria. In this one, players will be competing to be the first to complete 5 Quests. There is a small amount of stealing cards and manipulating markets as interaction between players.
The next one is Mint Works, which is a micro game with worker placement mechanism. In this one, once a player gain 7 stars or points at the end of the round, the end game is triggered and players will start calculating points. It’s very rare that whoever triggered that end game doesn’t win.
There is no stealing, except for claiming the first player token. However, some of the buildings will give positive benefits to or from the opponent. Other interaction is mostly blocking worker spots.
OddVille is a tile laying game where all players will build on the same communal board. Using one of the variant, the end game is triggered once a player has built their 6th buildings in the city. There are a lot of interactions in this game, through multiple avenues.
One is from the resource board. Whoever goes first can gain the resource in cheaper price, denying the opponent and they will have to pay more. Then there is a competition to take cards from the market like a lot of other games. Players can also steal Character cards from their opponent or forcing the opponent to lose the character.
The biggest interaction comes from the tile laying aspect. Players will try to connect their building to the existing road to get the most benefit. However, each building has its own scoring condition like based on the number of building in the same row / column which doesn’t have to be from the same owner.
Or gain points from buildings of the same type, also not necessarily from the same owner. So, players can piggyback the opponent’s effort or at the same time, the opponents can take advantage of the player’s effort.
Villages of Valeria also has racing element with a lot of interaction. The end game is triggered once a player has 12 cards in their tableau. Player interaction comes from the follow mechanism.
The active player can choose which action that they want to do and the other players can choose to follow but with weaker version of the chosen action. Following is not always the best but for the most part, they are beneficial. If players do not use that chance and just progress slowly, there can be a runaway leader that will win the game.
With this mechanism, the gameplay is fast and players are engaged in every turn with no downtime. There are also some other interaction like stealing cards but very minor.
That is all I can share with you about Dale of Merchants, one of the popular deckbuilding game. Deckbuilding itself is not my favorite mechanism in a tabletop game but people seem to love games with this idea,
I may have missed something that I should have discussed regarding the game. Please don’t hesitate to point that out and share what you know related to this game and I will update this article.
I keep saying that these tabletop games can be a good way to spend some time without looking at the screen of our gadget. If we do have someone close, that we can play with, there are other games where we can play cooperatively or competitively but with a lot of player interaction.
The game can be very fast or like a filler type or it can take hours to play. Some games can also be played in solitaire mode and they are still more engaging than other entertainment activity. Some may say, it’s like a workout for the gray matter of our brain.
So, what is your experience on playing this game? If you know other games similar or even better than this, please do share via the comment section below. I would love to learn and play that game, assuming I can get a copy.
This article is just my notes about what I can find from the internet. Hopefully this can help anybody who reads it.
Thanks for reading.