Age of Merchants
Age of Merchants (AoM) is set in a fictitious trading and piratical past. It employs two overlapping bonus structures: resource pairs held together with markets and/or factories; and ports held in conjunction with Pirate Cove. It is a very open map: there are few impassable borders and the ports each connect with over 20 regions, so it is easy to move around the map.
AoM was one of the first maps on Conquer Club to use developed thematic graphics and special features (such as bonuses based on strategic resources rather than bonus zones of contiguous regions). It is a good map to choose if you want to move on beyond Classic-style maps for the first time because you can learn the principles of its gameplay fairly quickly. And there are experts who play it frequently because the range of tactical choices gives fresh and interesting challenges in each game. The map’s flexibility makes it suitable for all game-types, with all spoils.
Size: Large (58 regions)
Bonuses: Medium. Complexity: Difficult. Features One-way borders: the 10 ports assault the 9 docks; the docks do not assault the ports. Ranged assaults: ports assault all other ports and docks; docks assault only connected docks. Starting neutral: Pirate Cove Strategic resources: bonuses are earned by holding resource pairs along with markets and/or factories AND/OR by holding ports along with Pirate Cove. Starting regions per player: 2 player – 19 regions (20 neutrals) 3 player - 19 regions (1 neutral) 4 player - 14 regions (2 neutrals) 5 player - 11 regions (3 neutrals) 6 player - 9 regions (4 neutrals) 7 player - 8 regions (2 neutrals) 8 player - 7 regions (2 neutrals) How to play Age of Merchants (AoM)
show: Gameplay, Bonuses and Tactics
Gameplay is determined by the open nature of the map and the bonus structure.
This is a very open map. Few regions are more than 5 regions away from any other region. There are no impassable borders; instead there are port regions with long reach. Each port (named Puerto…) can assault all the other ports and docks as well as the regions immediately adjacent to it. So each port assaults between 19 and 21 other regions, making them powerful regions. From a port you can assault or reinforce easily to most anywhere on the map. It is often good to stack troops on or near a port in order to create a range of threats for yourself and to break any developing threat from your opponent (for example Pirate Cove). The least accessible regions of the map are the small islands. PuertoModesto/Dorata/Pirate Cove is an especially important dead-end as you can use it to hold the Cove bonus or prevent an opponent holding that bonus. Puerto Tranquillo/Gringo is a standard dead end and Rompas/Pampas is another. The Rompas/Pampas island makes a cul de sac with Colato/Prisonero/Fort Hope - although there are multiple ways into these five regions, there is only one way out (through Churacas), so these are the most isolated regions on the map. Generally, if you have lots of troops in this area you should plan a strategy to move them out; if your opponent/s have lots, you should seek to tie them down. Bonuses are difficult to defend because they are based on holding multiple separate regions rather than a specific bonus zone of contiguous regions. But because bonuses are cumulative, a player who gains a small advantage can quickly grow that into an overwhelming bonus advantage. The resource pair bonus: Hold two resources (the pairs which give you a bonus are located on the same island or landmass as each other) along with a market/or factory on the same landmass to earn one additional troop to deploy. Hold both market and factory to earn two troops. Hold a bonus pair, a market on another island, and a port on each land mass to connect the two to earn two troops. Bonuses are cumulative – for example if you hold one resource pair with a market and factory on the same land mass and a market on another land mass, then you will earn 4 troops. You can earn an enormous total from these bonuses – up to 72 in total. The resource pair bonuses on the southern land masses are hard to hold because the resources on Santiago and Churacas are on dock regions which are open to assault from over 20 other regions. The bonus pair on the small central islands can be hard to conquer and hold because it is split across multiple islands which can be assaulted from many different points but are poorly inter-connected for defence The western bonus can be fairly easily broken through Rochas or Puerto Esperanza. The north and northeast bonuses are easiest to hold and so can be decisive, especially the north bonus, which is composed of four contiguous regions. If you are strong enough, the best way to hold a resource pair bonus is to hold the entire landmass on which a bonus sits and to stack the entry points to the landmass (the ports and docks) for defence. This way you hold additional regions, you may use your troop stacks offensively and may make connections to markets on other landmasses to build your bonus. The port bonus: a player who holds Pirate Cove earns one additional troop to deploy for each port held – this gives a maximum of 10 troops. The bonus structure and the open-ness of the map offer a choice of routes to victory: Region count advantage: This map may be played as a Classic-style map, seeking to maximise your bonus by accumulating more regions than your opponent/s, while keeping your opponent/s out of bonuses. Resource pair bonuses. These can often be taken with less risk than Pirate Cove, and the bonus works well with fighting for a region count advantage. In addition, bonus totals can be built cumulatively by connecting resource pairs to markets on other islands. To cove or not to cove? A player who can take and hold Pirate Cove and ports can build a significant bonus advantage – and at the same time take the important port regions which control movement around the map. The risk is that you must assault the three neutral troops on Pirate Cove, and then survive potential assaults by your opponent. The threat and potential hanging over the Cove throughout a game makes AoM intensely exciting. Pirate Cove is usually best held by a stack of troops on Puerto Modesto. This stack protects the Cove and assures you will receive a +1 bonus. The stack on Puerto Modesto may then be used to assault ports successively, allowing you to gradually build your bonus. Because the ports control movement around the map, if you hold enough ports you can dictate the pattern of play and so force victory. The choice of whether and when to assault the Cove is critical: assault too early and you may expose yourself to devastating counterattack; assault too late and you may miss the chance to win. Flexibility: To be successful on this map, you must choose wisely between these options. Better still, keep a number of routes to victory open and be ready to change between them.
show: Two Player
Each player starts with 19 regions, so there are 20 neutral regions including Pirate Cove. Uneven drops are possible, especially where one player holds a bonus on the initial deploy or has troops trapped behind neutrals. There is a first turn advantage as the first player may be able to reduce the second player’s bonus and force the second player into breaking a bonus. However, in general , this is a fair and interesting 2 player map. Each player is likely to have a range of bonuses to go for and an even wider range of assault options. This usually makes for an interesting game where skill is important.
First turn priorities should be reducing your opponent to 17 regions (and so 5 reinforcements) and breaking any bonuses they may hold. Going on, you may seek to build a region count advantage, and simultaneously take one or more bonuses. Resource pair bonuses are not valuable enough to devote many troops to holding them if this may limit your possibilities of obtaining a region count advantage, but bonuses held lightly in conjunction with many regions should give you the upper hand. Holding Pirate Cove and multiple ports may be decisive. However, do not assault the 3 neutrals on Pirate Cove unless you can afford to divert troops from reducing your opponent’s region count and you have good odds of holding the Cove and ports. If your opponent takes Pirate Cove, you should seek either to take Pirate Cove from them as soon as possible, or to control and reduce the number of ports they hold whilst building your own resource pair bonuses and region count. Be prepared to reinforce bonus regions to hold them, but concentrate on reinforcing troops from where they are not assaulting the opponent to regions where they can do most damage, very likely ports. With escalating and flat rate spoils, there is a better chance of holding the Cove. Time your assault for when there is a certainty or good likelihood that your opponent does not have spoils to cash, so there is a good chance that you may hold the bonus. Fog of war adds the possibility that you may hold a bonus without your opponent knowing or that your opponent holds one without you knowing, so it is important to watch the game log to track this.
Escalating gameplay is chiefly dictated by the open nature of the map: there are few obstacles to prevent a player with a large cash from sweeping the board.
As usual in escalating, seek to build troop stacks around the map, especially close to opponent/s you may target for elimination. For defensive purposes, you may wish to build a troop stack on the interior of an island or land mass as it is harder for your opponents to reach these regions. For offensive purposes, stack troops on a port of your own or close to a port that is not strongly held by an opponent. Because each port connects with over 20 different regions, there will be easy access from this port to assault your opponents. Indeed it is likely that with just one or a few troop stacks you will have access to take a run at all of an opponent’s regions. Because this is a large map, in 6-8 player games it is unlikely that you will be able to eliminate an opponent or be eliminated yourself until at least the second round of spoils cashes. The best opportunities for placing a block on an opponent (in order to trap them and to prevent a kill by anyone but yourself) are Puerto Modesto (blocks Dorata and Pirate Cove) Puerto Tranquillo (blocks Gringo) and Rompas (blocks Pampas) - also possibly Colato (blocks Fort Hope and Prisonero). You are unlikely to hold all the entry points to a larger landmass yourself, but if several players build up troops on the entry points they each hold, then they can block access to that landmass to players outside – especially useful if a weak player holds a region on the landmass. Bonuses can be useful as long as you do not lose too many troops in taking them or tie down too many troops in defending them. The resource pair bonuses can be useful in early rounds, if you drop holding one or with one that is easy to conquer. If you are lucky, you might even have access to the Pirate Cove bonus - this can be especially useful in smaller games. Later in the game, a combination of bonuses taken after a run can add up to a deployment that is as big as a spoils cash.
show: Flat Rate, Nuclear and No Spoils
This is a good map to play with flat rate spoils as there are enough regions that one or a few lucky (ie high value) spoils sets have less impact on the game than they would on a smaller map.
In flat rate and no spoils games, the best way to obtain an edge is through building a bonus advantage. Identify which resource pair bonus/es are easiest to take, and be prepared to change target if necessary. If you hold a resource pair bonus, try to take the rest of the land mass on which the bonus sits – this increases your region count, and you can defend the bonus with troop stacks on the ports and docks which are the only entry points to the island - and you can use the stacks on ports offensively too. With an island in your possession, you may then attempt to take a market on another land mass – holding that and two ports to connect it to your resource pair will give you an additional +2 bonus. The Pirate Cove bonus can be decisive in flat rate and no spoils. Possessing it may make you a target, especially in larger games, but once you hold it in strength opponents may be reluctant to risk the troop loss involved in breaking your bonus. A stack on Puerto Modesto protects Pirate Cove while allowing you to take and hold ports, which you should aim to do successively, gradually building the number of ports you hold so that your bonus increases each turn. The ports themselves may then become bases for assaulting your opponents, so you can take resource pairs and link between them. With nuclear spoils the biggest difference is that it is not advisable to place large stacks to defend bonuses in case those regions are nuked. (Unless you hold the spoil for the region you have stacked, in which case you can keep your stack there until there is a danger you must play that spoil). This particularly affects the Pirate Cove bonus as an opponent can deprive you of the whole bonus by nuking the Cove itself, with a single spoil, or can nuke Puerto Modesto, the region which is usually stacked to protect the bonus. It is best to concentrate on region count advantage and to hold bonuses lightly, giving yourself the chance to re-take them if they are nuked.
show: Team Games
Starting with 14 regions per player, AoM is an ideal size for doubles games as each team receives enough troops for successful assaults and it is difficult to reduce an opponent to 11 regions on the first turn (though it may be an objective to reduce your opponents’ second player to 11).
In doubles and triples, region count advantage is important. Choose regions to assault carefully. You may be able to accumulate regions and bonuses simultaneously, so try not to split resource pairs between yourself and a partner. It’s often a good idea for one team-mate to try for the ports bonus and for the other team-mate/s to try for a resource pair bonus. And keep a sharp look-out for which bonuses your opponents may be trying to take or hold. In quadruple games, similar tactics may apply, but with only 7 regions to start, often the best course is to target an opponent for elimination. This may be done immediately or after you have cashed spoils or conquered bonuses to increase your troop count. Pirate Cove can be the decider in team games. It is usually too risky to take it early in the game or if your opponents have a troop stack on a port from which they can retake the Cove. But if you can protect a member of your team while they take the Cove, that team-mate can then progressively increase their port count. Always try to let the player who holds the Cove hold Puerto Modesto – building a stack on Puerto Modesto to protect the Cove, they can use that stack to take additional ports to build their bonus. Play aggressively, especially in doubles: you will get the odds advantage of using 3 intensity cubes versus 2, or 2 versus 1, and if you establish a region count advantage or hold a bonus, then if your opponents fail to break it you will receive additional deploys next turn. It is not unusual to see a large number of regions change hands each turn. Build offensive stacks: use reinforcements and deploys to build up troop stacks on ports or at other strategic locations to give your team threats or to break up your opponents’ threats. It is very hard to defend against a stack on a port that may assault over 20 different regions. Conversely, if your opponents build troop stacks, it is often advisable to reduce them before they can assault you, so as to limit their tactical options. Choose wisely whether to assault yourself or to load a teammate: the open-ness of the map gives you good opportunities for deploying on and reinforcing to team-mates. Team-mates who play after you may be able to put in a big assault or series of assaults and may be best placed to break an opponent’s bonus, to build a region count advantage or take a bonus. However, be careful that you don’t allow a teammate to fall so low on troops that they may be easily eliminated.
show: Additional Notes
With manual deployment, as so many regions on the map have a long reach, the player to go first is likely to be able to stack in a region where they can reduce an opponent’s region count, take bonuses and/or reduce opponents’ stacks as they wish. Early possession of Pirate Cove is possible and may be decisive.
Some players regard AoM as one of the most complex maps on Conquer Club because the range of tactical options mean that a team or player with an advantage in skill or knowledge can progressively establish a series of small incremental advantages in position, heading them toward final victory. Because of this, fog of war gives a good advantage to more skilled players. There is the possibility that an opponent may hold a bonus without your being aware of it, but in larger games, with bonuses spread out over multiple territories, this is unlikely at initial deployment. More often fog can be used to disguise the accumulation of a troop stack. Pirate Cove can be especially advantageous to hold in fog: if you hold Puerto Modesto your opponents will be unable to see how many troops you have in Dorata or the Cove, so they don’t know whether to attempt an assault. Reinforcement variations are also fun to play: with adjacent reinforcement you must advance carefully so as not to leave troops trapped in the interior of landmasses, or to ensure you can reinforce to protect a bonus. With unlimited reinforcements, you can assault in one area and then, exploiting the map’s open-ness, reinforce to defend a bonus or to assault elsewhere next turn.