Innovative use of deck building mechanic

There are always games that surprise, some because they were far less fun that anticipated, and others because they were far more enjoyable than expected.

I had expected Dale of Merchants to be a game I liked, it is after all a deck builder, and I love the genre.

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But I had not expected to like it as much as I have. Over at Board Game Geek I keep an evolving list of the deck building games I have played listed from best to worst. The list now included 30 games and when I slotted in Dale of Merchants it soared up to number six, a rather lofty placing for a game that comes in a tiny box with a relatively small number of cards.

“It is an age of great discoveries. New and wonderful items find their ways into the hands of the greatest merchants. And if there ever is a place those traders love, it is the town of Dale,” starts the fluff in the small, and concise rules set.

“There’s an extraordinary guild in the Dale founded by the greatest merchants. The tricky part is getting the membership since one must win the annual trading competition to be invited to the guild.

“Notable animalfolk merchants from all over the world have gathered in the town to take part in the event. Everyone has only one goal in mind – to be celebrated as the winner and the newest member of the legendary guild…

“The Guild of Extraordinary Traders operates from Dale, amongst the Alps. Although the guild is well-known, it is quite mysterious as the guild’s leader and vast majority of its members are unknown to the public. The guild’s famous associates act as diplomats in notable countries and courts, offering deals and favours.”

You will have noted the ‘animalfolk’ mention. This is a game with a certain level of whimsy, and the artwork reminds a bit of Kung Fu Panda in general styling.

This game comes with six unique animalfolk decks which offer some variability. In a game you include the number of animalfolk decks that there are players, plus one. So in a four-player game, five of six decks are used.

“Players take the roles of animalfolk merchants learning new techniques, trading goods, and managing their stocks,” details the game overview. “The player, who first manages to finish their astounding merchant stall by building and ascending stacks of cards in front of them, is the winner of the game and gets access to the guild.”

In some respects Dale of Merchants felt a bit like a deck builder meeting up with Spite & Malice, which is also about creating stacks of cards.

As in all deck builders players start with a small deck of cards which here include multiple rubbish cards named junk in their decks. Usually you can only use junk to purchase new animalfolk cards, which tells you this is a kinder game in the sense most deck builders, burden players with at least some totally useless cards to start. In Dale of Merchants “market keepers accept junk as payment only because they know they can resell it. It’s actually quite easy to sell pretty much anything to the uninformed citizens as long as you’re persuasive enough.”

The game is quick to set up, learn, and play which again is a nice change in terms of the genre as many require considerable time to do all three.

Overall, this is a definite winner that really is worth having as it uses the deck builder mechanic in a rather refreshing and unique way. Check it out at

Thanks to fellow gamers Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

For a bonus game review head to where a review of the game Grackles has been posted this week.

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