There they laugh and talk, 12 of them, the Knights of the Round Table. At their round table in Camelot, young England is ruled. But the realm is threatened. There are traitors in every corner of the land and they’re out to kill the knights. But with skill and enough influence and the use of the sword they can ward off the assassins. And then there is Merlin and he has nothing else on his mind but dancing around the table.
We had already written a first impression of Merlin shortly after we played it on the SPIEL. Now some time has passed and the board game even got an expansion. Time for us to visit the old warhorse Merlin and see if our first impression was confirmed or not. While we’re at it, we’ll also have a look if Merlin needs the expansion Arthur.
Merlin a rebel
As already described in the first impression of Merlin, you are a knight at the court of Arthur. You roll your dice. Then you can move around the table in a circle around the number of eyes on the dice. Thereby you trigger different actions, which give you shields, influence or even a piece of land.
After a few games of Merlin, however, the picture of the board game has changed a bit. Sure, at the beginning I was surprised by the board game. But with the time there were small cracks on the surface. But this does not make Merlin a bad board game. It makes Merlin a board game that I now look at slightly differently than when it was first explained to us.
Where Merlin can’t score as well is the number of players. If you play in twos, then Merlin doesn’t really get going. But that’s not the board game, it’s the character Merlin. Merlin is moved by the white dice, which in a two-player game is just a bit too little. Too often I get to the point where I move Merlin to unnecessary fields that don’t really get me anywhere. So it doesn’t help that I can move Merlin counterclockwise. And because I only have one opponent and his dice are open, I can already imagine the possible actions that are possible in a round.
It will be better if you play the board game with more players. With more players more movement and more uncertainty comes into play. I have to decide in time or wait for the right moment to move Merlin. I have to be honest with myself and just say that Merlin is better played by three or four players, also because actions like copying a player’s action field often make sense.
The downtime increases
While we were still raving about how little downtime there is, this has now changed. If we were still playing on instinct in Essen, because we didn’t know about the board game and its interlocking, this is now a bit different. If you know the board game better, you will think more about it. Now it suddenly makes a difference whether I move forward with the three first or with the four. Of course, this doesn’t only happen with me, but also with the other player and therefore the time it takes to play a game of Merlin simply increases. In my opinion that’s not a big problem, but you should be prepared for it. If you have brooding people at the table, the actually simple and quick game principle can be broken fast.
On the other hand, everything else remains the same as with the first impression: we still like the pure variety of points and the associated approach of being able to choose different strategies to win. Do I rely on missions that bring me points in the short term and increase my distance or do I build on a long-term strategy in which I rely more on expensive castles or the influence at court. This way the matches remain exciting and each intermediate ranking is a source of joy, because I got more points than I thought or frustration because I am far behind with a total of 5 points.
Merlin and luck
No doubt King Arthur is lucky to have a trusted advisor like Merlin. Of course, luck is Merlin’s nature. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. If the dice roll badly for me, then I’m screwed. If I only roll low, my knights just can’t get the fields I need, while my fellow players easily pass me and seemingly always roll the dice in a way that fits their strategy.
The board game also has a very strong factor of luck when it comes to missions. Some missions are easier to complete than others, but they also give fewer points. But over the course of the game, these small points can make the difference between victory or defeat. If I draw missions that are very difficult to fulfill in the beginning, I run after others and if the enclosed module is used, you get bonuses even with easy missions, which let you dominate the board game partially.
If dice bad luck comes along with mission bad luck, a game of Merlin can become very frustrating. I have to be aware of this and I have to be able to put up with such things. Thus Merlin is another representative of modern board games that rely on a strong luck factor, although it is actually a Eurogame.
And then Merlin met Arthur
So much for the basic game, let’s move on to the expansion. Only one year later, with the expansion Arthur, the board game around the mage Merlin was spiced up a little bit and even improved a bit. If you have the expansion, you will get a new roundel and new dice. Besides Merlin and your knight, you can now also control Arthur. Arthur brings his own actions with him and, as you would expect from a king, these are also relatively powerful. With Arthur’s help, you can easily replace one of your opponent’s castles with a castle from your supply, which can change the majority of your opponents’ castles and quickly cost him victory points.
Furthermore, the expansion now brings the Picts into play, which can be defeated with the help of Arthur. For every defeated Picts you get points, but also a bonus, such as additional flags or resources. During a scoring process, the points of the Picts are compared. The player with the most points gets bonus points, the one with the least has to bite the bullet and collect minus points.
Some of the flags are changing, too: The function of the flag colors black and gray from the basic game has been changed. With black, you can no longer kill all traitors in a stack, but only manipulate one die. With the grey flag, the action is no longer that you can do two missions per turn. You can now use cubes of the colour you need.
Arthur makes the game smoother but also longer
One more dice to place also means 6 more actions available to you. The bottom line is that it simply makes a game longer. However, this one dice also brings me something. Besides powerful new actions, the Picts also put more pressure on the other players. If I grab a Pictet, the other players have to follow sooner or later to avoid being punished with minus points. This unconsciously creates more competition and is good for the board game. Before, you were a bit too much restricted to your own little realm.
It’s a pity that the powerful black flags have been removed, but playfully it makes sense. Especially if you were lucky in drawing the traitors and several of them got into a stack, it only made sense to get a black flag. This is now defused and the possibility to manipulate the dice, the basic game would have needed. The fact that the missions are now more limited by the exchange of the grey flag completes the game. For me, the already described lucky factor of the missions has been weakened by this.
The Damned Two
The expansion leaves me a little bit torn when it comes to weakness in a two-player game. For one thing, there’s no longer that feeling of not moving forward. The third character Arthur adds another level, which makes the board game more interesting in 2-player mode. However, the problem of majorities in the two-player game is still there. Here there is still not enough dynamics, as it is simply the case in games with more players. Aggravating here are the Picts, a great idea for three players and more, again not so good for two players. Because with the Picts there is always exactly one loser and one winner and I can’t get out of this dilemma with bad luck.
In conclusion, the expansion makes Merlin an even smoother board game. But I have to swallow a small, sour drop, because the playing time increases. Also the nice gimmicks that Queen Games adds make Arthur a well-done expansion. Beside a tray for mission cards you now also get a tray on which you can use your dice to avoid getting confused anymore. I think it’s good that the expansion hasn’t changed the proven game principle of the basic game. Merlin remains a simple board game for experienced players, so that I can’t play it as fast as before. More dice and more actions simply cost more time.