You can tell when a game is a labour of love. Tho' what we've been playing and what we're showing here on Board's Eye View is just a prototype, it's already a very polished product. The art by Enggar Adirasa and Tan Ho Sim is stunning and publishers Rogue Artist Creations have done a cracking job with the components, even if they have gone rather overboard with considerably more '25 platinum' tokens than you could conceivably need even in a five-player game.
Designed by Andrew Prowse and Sebastian Koziner, Merchants of Infinity is a worker placement game with an auction and market manipulation mechanic and an option to play with 'take that' sniping if that takes your fancy. The idea is that you're on the Mandelbrot Space Station, which is a hub frequented by various space-faring races. You'll be sending worker meeples out to various locations to collect resources which you can either sell in the market for the current price, take a gamble and sell for whatever you roll on a 10-sided die, or use to complete a ship order. Unlike many resource collection games, you don't ever carry resources over to the next round: in Merchants of Infinity you either use them or lose them. However, you can pick up, in effect, side missions by sending a meeple to the Vortex Bar. These don't consume resources; they pay out merely for having a meeple at the right place at the right time. This means that your optimal play will usually be to complete a Vortex Bar mission at the same time as you collect resources to complete a ship order.
One complication is that you're only allowed to collect three resources per round. Another is that there's a limit to the number of meeples that can be placed on most spots. Oh, and don't get too comfortable: the space station is located in an unstable space location affected by a Fractal Mirror... This is, in effect, an event card that changes the conditions applicable on the round. It might, for example, prevent any collection or use that round of a specific resource.
As you might expect in a worker placement game where players might well be competing for locations, turn order can prove critical. Merchants of Infinity recognises this through the use of a mini-game to determine turn order. Players start the game with a hand of five 'cog' cards. They will pick up a single further card each round and they can buy additional cards; they can also use a worker placement action to pick up 4 more 'cog' cards. At the start of each round, players decide how many cog cards they'll be playing and they each reveal those cards one at a time. In our first plays of Merchants of Infinity, we initially saw this mini-game as an unthematic distraction but we soon warmed to it. It can actually be quite exciting as the cog cards don't just have individual values (0-4) but some have effects on previous cards you've played or those played by one of your opponents (which is why cards are turned over one at a time). This actually makes for an entertaining side game that can involve poker-style bluffing (I may announce I'm playing three cards just to intimidate opponents from competing for first place that round, but I may only have cards of zero value).
Tho' the board looks busy, Merchants of Infinity is actually quite a light euro game. It's very easy to learn and you can even use it as a 'gateway' game for those who haven't previously been introduced to the worker placement mechanic. As more battle-hardened gamers, we didn't need much prompting to incorporate the additional 'take that' optional locations to ratchet up the interaction between players and to make the game more aggressive, but kudos to Andrew Prowse and Sebastian Koziner for making that an option rather than 'compulsory' element of the game: it further adds to this game's accessibility.
Merchants of Infinity plays quickly: we found games took less than an hour. It's designed for 2–5 players tho' it's at its best at the higher player counts because with 4 or 5 players the board gets crowded and the need to compete for turn order becomes all the more pressing. In addition, tho' there's a solo mode...
Merchants of Infinity is already live now on Kickstarter. Click here to check out the campaign.