The Joy of Disappointment


The images in this post were taken by me using my copy of Merchants and Marauders and the Sails of Glory expansion.

Last night we played Merchants and Marauders for the fourth time. We tossed in the new Sails of Glory expansion, or at least about half of the modules from this. I bought this game a month or so ago and it has been a regular at game night. We just love it and we find the more we play it, the better we get, the more exciting the stories, and the more we love the game.

I've seen a handful of people discard the game after one play because it's too random, or too aggressive, or it doesn't appropriately reward min/maxing. With each play, I find those arguments to be less and less compelling. The truth is that while the game does have a bit of randomness, the amount of decisions you can make to better control the environment are vast. The person who wins the game is the best captain. Yes, they might receive a windfall, but it's important to observe how they leveraged that windfall.

I want to talk about last night's game, because it was really profound in how it affected me.

I was doing very well in the game. Early on I sunk a friend to gain Glory and deny him a bounty of 30 gold. I sent it straight to the ocean floor as his leadership and crew were far superior to mine. I decided if I couldn't have it, nobody could. I was the player that everyone kept saying was running away with it. The ocean was mine.

I bought a frigate early and had amazing Glory cards. I added a specialist who improved my guns, loaded my ship with heated shot, double shot abilities, had a few nice upgrades, and a captain that could sail directly into the rampant storms plaguing the Caribbean. I had a beautiful frigate and was the better match for anything on the board, NPC or otherwise.

I hit a point halfway where there were no obvious opportunities. I bought some bananas as they were in demand, though a smidge out of the way. I wasn't pursuing a merchant's path, but it was an easy point and there wasn't anything else to do at the moment.

The winds turned against me, and I mean this in a literal sense. There is a wind mechanism in the new game that creates head winds and tail winds and moves the storm around. I needed to go due west and the wind was in my face. Three turns in a row the wind went due west, and three turns in a row I took a plodding, sub-optimal turn.

The game was telling me that my fate lay elsewhere. The game was screaming at me to go east. Due east, with the wind filling my sails, was my lead opponent. She had a decent ship, but was damaged and was no match for me. She had a ship laden with gold. I chose to continue west and sell my bananas. I was afraid of her. Unlike my pirate persona, I cowered, I balked at opportunity, and I took the easy path.

She sailed into port, stashed her gold, and won.

I cannot express to you how disappointed I was. I wasn't angry. I wasn't going to flip the table. But, I was profoundly sad. I honestly wanted to walk to the corner and sulk. When my friends were setting up Pictomania, I almost asked to sit out for a game to think. Sit out. In my own house. At my own table. Like a petulant child.


I'm still sad this morning. Lady luck did not give me the winds I wanted, but when she was whispering the truth clearly in my ear, I ignored her. I made the decisions that sunk my chances for glory and I am the reason I lost. The game presented me with a AAA, movie-esque story to tell and I opened the SkyMall catalog instead.

I thought about how this made me feel, and it just felt so powerful. Games rarely do this. They rarely sit with me, especially when I fail. But, Merchants and Marauders just broke my heart last night. Wait, that's not correct. Merchants and Marauders gave me the platform on which to break my own heart.

What a magical game. What a profound gift!

I went to Board Game Geek this morning and moved my rating from a 9 to a 10. Something that affects me so is surely perfect, at least in my eyes. I shall sail again and by krakenĀ I'll take that chance next time. I'd rather sink on my burning ship than sell a bunch of moldy bananas.

Yo ho yo ho a pirate's life for me.