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Cody Carlson
Mercante, from Alderac Entertainment Group, offers real competition as players seek to earn the most crowns and victory points.

The Tempest series of games from Alderac Entertainment Group has consistently impressed with engaging Euro game mechanics, fun themes, and thrilling play.

Courtier, the first game in the series, saw players competing to influence Tempest's royal court. Dominare, the third game in the series, saw players struggle for political control over the city-state of Tempest.

All of the games in the Tempest series are connected by an evolving story. Now, here's a look at the second and fourth games in the series, Mercante and Love Letter.

Mercante

Mercante, the second game in the Tempest series, takes place in the city-state's dockyards and three to five players take on the role of merchants who must buy and sell their goods for crowns. The action takes place upon a market board and a reference board, showing how much commodities are worth at any given time. Additionally, each player will use a merchant ledger that contains important information like storage space in your warehouses and keeps track of your actions.

Players also take on the role of one of Tempest's great houses that offer unique abilities to each player.

Each turn, players will take part in an auction. The phasing player will choose one of five face up cards that represent goods available in the harbor, like silk, ore, spices and more. The player may choose to auction off each commodity individually, or everything on the card as a lot. The phasing player makes the last bid, so he can pay more crowns for the items he really needs.

Next, the phasing player must collect his assigned agents from the previous turn, before assigning them again. The player's agents, wooden tokens, are placed upon specific actions on his merchant ledger. The player may buy a victory point, hire dock workers to carry goods from his warehouse to the market, take on a new contract (which offers crowns and victory points when completed), steal items from another player, and more.

Additionally, one player in every round will maintain the upkeep token, which requires some bookkeeping and additional opportunities to influence the game. Throughout the game, an event deck allows for enduring events that make up the calendar, which influences the market. Each time an item is sold at market, the price for similar commodities changes.

The game ends when any player earns 80 crowns, if the token on the reference track reaches the end, or if the shipment deck is exhausted. The player with the most victory points wins, though uncompleted contracts have victory point penalties.

Though Mercante is a light economic/worker placement game, there is a lot going on here. Players must keep their eyes on the shipment decks to find the commodities they need to fulfill contracts, but also must pay close attention to the ever-changing market. Buying or selling items at the wrong moment can seriously derail a player's strategy, and event cards offer some tense situations that may compel he or she to act fast.

Like Courtier and Dominare, Mercante is just a lot of fun. Though perhaps not quite up to the level of thrilling enjoyment as those other games, Mercante nevertheless offers tense game play and real competition in the great Euro game tradition. If players like economic games or solid auction mechanics they really should check out Mercante. Also, like the other games in the Tempest series, Mercante is a great intro into Euro gaming.

Mercante plays in about an hour and is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Love Letter

At the end of Courtier, the queen of Tempest was arrested for treason. In Mercante, the merchants struggled to control trade in the city-state. In Dominare, political factions sought to fill the power vacuum left after the queen's arrest. Love Letter continues the story. The princess is distraught over her mother's arrest, and two to four players must compete to console her.

Unlike the other entries in the Tempest series, Love Letter is a card game, not a board game. It's a rather small card game at that. Only 16 cards make up the deck in Love Letter, with a total of eight different cards. The cards include the princess, the king, the prince, the baron, the guard, and more. Each card contains a number in the corner and each character's text ability at the bottom. The higher numbers represent people who are closer to the princess and, thematically, are better able to smuggle her love letters.

The game is played over a series of rounds. Each player draws a random card from the deck, representing his or her hand. Each turn players must draw the top card from the deck, then decide which card to keep and which card to discard. The discarded card's effect then occurs. For instance, the king's effect requires a player to trade his or her hand with another player's, while the prince's effect forces another player to discard his or her hand and draw a new one, and the baron's effect allows a player to compare his or her hand with another player.

Some cards may knock a player out of the game. At the end of the round, active players compare their cards. The player with the highest ranked card wins the round and gains a token of the princess' affection, a red wooden cube. A new round begins until one player has enough tokens to meet the victory condition based upon the number of players.

It seems the recent success of Love Letter has started a new trend in gaming- light, quick card games. It's easy to see why. There sure is a lot of game in Love Letter's little package. Game play is intense and a lot of fun, and it is quick. The game plays in about 20 minutes, making Love Letter the perfect opener for game night or an entertaining contest for families and friends with a little time to kill.

Love Letter is not just a fun game, it's a revolutionary one. It's recommended for ages 10 and up, though some families may take issue with the princess' low-cut (although historically accurate) dress.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Centre Theatre and Off Broadway Theatre. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com