Theme and What is it?
In Mercado, you are a rich and influential noble. You want to become more rich and influential. So what do you do? You go shopping, of course. However, so do all of the other nobles. You are competing to get those items with everyone else does. Since influence is fickle, you may be on top of the world one at one moment and then weeping as your rival purchased what you desired most out from under you.
You draw coins out of a bag that you will spend on your turn. You then place your coins by your corresponding color on the item you want. If, at the end of your turn, you have the highest complete bid, you gain the item, its prestige points and maybe something “extra” for your opponents. Next, move a marker around a track that keeps track of who is winning. You need to pay close attention to this since the cheaper item may end up getting you more points.
Shopping for clothes, jewelry and perfume is not something I do regularly. However, I had never realized the joy you gain upon purchasing an item you and someone else want so much. Black Fridays here in America make a little more sense. The hunt for what you need and then seeing that someone else needs it, makes you want it that much more.
Game Build Quality
The items, perfume and merchants tiles are on thick cardboard. The currencies are round wooden tokens a little bigger than a dime.They stack nicely, which is important for keeping a tidy player board. The gold and silver ones in the wrong light sometime looked like each other due to their metallic paint. The box is sturdy and everything fits nicely inside of it. The player boards are a little smaller than I like. However, the smaller size means you can fit everything in your bag for the next game, so it is a trade off I like. The bags are of a stretchy black material that easily moves the tokens in them around. This makes searching for your last few tokens much simpler. The give to the bags allows you to grab the last stubborn tokens. The drawstrings on the bags work well enough. The mini portrait on them, again helps with sorting but I tend to find they get in the way when I am trying to tie the bag shut. The points track is two sided and you can vary the starting spot for each game. The second side adds slightly more difficulty and player interaction if you want it. Being able to vary the starting spot helps to keep someone from always using the same strategy each game.
A few small changes I would make:
Use yellow and gray paints instead of the silver and gold metallic paints to allow for easier identification. Many times I found myself having to double check if I had silver or gold coins.
Getting rid of the drawstring player portraits and using different colored bags for each player or using only black. The portraits help with setup since everything you need is in your bag with your portrait, but they clutter of the playspace and make closing and trying the bags difficult.
Each player has a portrait board and bag token.They are unique and the fact that your character portrait is of a man or a woman for each color is a even better. The inside of the box has more colorful decoration that adds to the theme. The icons are clear and concise and allow you to easily understand what will happen when you see them. The rule book is laid out in a very logical manner. The colors for each player are distinct with little confusion. The physical placement of the colors in the same spot around each tile further helps with this. The points track is two sided and different that you can tell which side you are on with ease.
Each turn is like playing the grab bag games for prizes as a kid. Reaching in and and hoping you will pull out the money you need is very satisfying. The decisions to start bidding on something new or to keep bidding on what you already have provides a good tension. Turns tend to be short since there are only so many things you can do. This keeps the game moving.
Age Range & Weight
The entry level for the game is simple. You have two, or maybe three things you can do on your turn. The only thing that can trip up some players is the scoring track, since where you land can affect the game’s outcome. I have played with a 5 and 9 year old. The 5 year old has won many times, though she may not know why. The deeper strategies are lost on them, however the game mechanics are fun and the turns are short enough that they stay engaged. The box recommends 10+. This is a good starting point, but if your family plays many board games most younger player will not have a problem with the gameplay.
The game plays very differently as a 2 player game versus a 3 or 4 player game. Two player is similar in feel to checkers or chess, since you may be trying to put the other player in a tougher spot. The items also don’t refresh as often. Three to four player is a different game entirely and placing bids on items also means trying to calculate if you have a chance even to buy the item on you next turn. In many ways this was a game I didn’t think I would enjoy. Retail therapy isn’t for me in many ways. Mercado, however, shows that buying things can be fun even if it is just to snub your rival.