- For ages 12 and up
- For 3 to 4 players
- About 90 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Emotional Coping Skills
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Worker Placement & Area Control
- Child – Hard
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- The lines between hero and villan are blurred when politics and propaganda are involved.
- Game Geek approved!
- Parent Geek rejected!
- Child Geek rejected!
Political strife and civic unrest have finally boiled over. Justice is now in the hands of those who are strong enough to enforce it and to keep it. Change is needed, but those who want it are not strong enough to attempt to grasp it. That’s where you come in. You are a mercenary for hire, a soldier of fortune who, for the right price and the right cause, is willing to put your own life in danger to help others achieve their goals. When diplomacy has failed and the voice of the people is no longer heard, they send you in with your team to ensure that the masses crying out for justice once again have a voice.
MERC is comprised of 3 Rebel Aid mats (player’s aid), 1 Dictator Aid mat (player’s aid), 10 Encounter cards, 25 Dictator cards, 84 Equipment cards, 16 Map cards, 27 MERC cards, 2 black pawns (1 big/1 small), 2 blue pawns (1 big/1 small), 2 red pawns (1 big/1 small), 2 yellow pawns (1 big/1 small), 3 black 10-sided dice, 50 black mini Poker chips, 20 blue mini Poker chips, 20 red mini Poker chips, 20 white mini Poker chips, and 20 yellow mini Poker chips.
Game Set Up
The rules comes with two ways to set up the game. The first is “Normal” game set up and the other is the “First Game” set up. If you are new to the game, we highly recommend you set up the game using the “First Game” set up as it takes a lot of the early decision making out of the players’ hands and gets them right into the game. The “Normal” game set up is summarized here.
One player will be the Dictator and all the other players will be the Rebels. The Dictator randomly selects 14 Dictator cards and arranges them in the order they want them to be revealed in the deck of cards once drawn. It is very important that the Dictator be given time to organize their deck. As such, it is suggested that the Rebels complete the rest of the game set up.
Set up the map next. The map is a mix of Industry, City, and Wilderness locations. The number of Map cards used and the map size is dependent on the number of Rebels in the game. Once the Map cards are selected, the corners of the map must include Industries. Once the corners are set, build the rest of the map with the remaining Map cards. The remaining Map cards are no longer needed for the duration of the game.
The Dictator gets the two black pawns and the Rebels each get two pawns of the same color. For the duration of the game, these pawns represent the player’s teams on the Map cards and their current locations.
Place the Poker chips in a location where all the players can reach them. You can separate them by color if necessary, but keep the white Poker chips free for everyone as they represent a value of “5” on whatever color stack they are placed. Each chip color belongs to a player and corresponds to the player’s pawn color.
Each player is given a Rebel Aid mat and the Dictator is given their Aid mat. These player aids summarize the rules of the game and are great for quick reference.
Shuffle the Equipment deck next and randomly draw and place face-down a number of Equipment cards under each Map card equal to the Map card value. These are equipment stashes and are only available to MERCs. For example, a Map card with a value of “12” would have 12 Equipment cards located underneath it.
Shuffle the MERC and Encounter decks and place them face-down on the table and within easy reach of all players.
You are now ready to play the game!
Note: the rules to MERC are long and detailed. They are updated from time to time to answer questions, improve the rules, and add additional details were needed. Because of this, we will only summarize the game play and how the game components work to give you a good idea of what the game is all about and how it plays. For the full details, see the game’s official web site and download the rules.
A Typical Game Round
MERC is played in 15 rounds, where each round is considered one day. During a round, the Rebels go first followed by the Dictator. Each Rebel player can only do one of the following on their turn:
- Train Militia by adding a number of Poker chips equal to their MERC’s Leadership value
- Heal a MERC
- Hire a MERC
- Move a MERC or a Squad
- Repair vehicles
Note that the Dictator can do all the above, too, with the one exception of hiring MERCs. MERCs are hired through an action noted on a Dictator card.
Basic Training for MERCs
The MERCs you hire during a game and the equipment given to them will determine the player’s abilities during the game. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the MERCs and how the equipment can be used to augment or replace these abilities is pivotal to survival and victory.
All MERC cards have a number value that represents the MERC’s ability to perform specific tasks. These are Leadership, Marksmanship, Weapon Damage, Armor Rating, Medical, and Repair.
- Leadership represents the MERC’s ability to command troops on the Map cards
- Marksmanship represents the MERC’s ability to hit targets
- Weapon Damage represents the MERC’s base damage (without a weapons attached – also referred to as the MERC’s “side arm”)
- Armor Rating represents the MERC’s base armor protection (without armor attached)
- Medical represents the MERC’s medical skills in the field
- Repair represents the MERC’s ability to service vehicles in the field
As you can see, MERCs are an invaluable tool to the player and there are a large number of MERCs available, some of whom are very specialized. The MERC’s abilities, however, can never be improved during the game. In order to adjust a MERC’s abilities, Equipment cards are necessary.
All Equipment cards “attach” to a MERC. MERC cards have colored borders that identify what Equipment cards can be attached. Additionally, Equipment cards can also have other Equipment cards attached to them (adding a scope to a rifle, for example). Only a single Equipment card can be attached per card side making it necessary for players to carefully think how best to outfit their MERCs.
Equipment will either replace a MERC’s ability value (a new weapon will replace the MERC’s Weapon Damage value, for example) or augment an existing MERC or Equipment value (adding or subtracting to to the base value). Vehicles are special equipment that are not assigned to a specific MERC but to a Squad (the player’s pawns). Vehicles can take damage, require a driver, transport other MERCs and Militia, and can even contain cargo (Equipment cards). There is even a Sherman Tank to be had which has the ability to attack!
Movement, Squads, and Tactical Combat
Movement is always adjacent to the current Map card the pawns are located in. All MERCs in a Squad (represented by the pawns) move together meaning a MERC in a Squad that is moving cannot take an action later.
Movement into an occupied Map card will automatically start combat. Movement into a Map space with a Hospital will automatically heal all MERCs. If the Hospital is occupied, combat takes place first and any survivors get to use the Hospital.
If a Squad is moved into an unoccupied Map card, an Encounter card is drawn and resolved. While vehicles will allow for multiple Map cards to be traversed, an Encounter card must be drawn for every unoccupied Map location as well as combat.
Since all the Rebels get to go first, the players can coordinate their movement and attack against the forces of the Dictator.
Note that Militia never move and can only defend.
The Role of the Dictator
The Dictator is not necessarily evil, but because the Dictator represents a force of power, they have the unsavory position of being looked upon as “the bad guy”. The Dictator has all the same actions as the Rebels and is encouraged to be as aggressive or defensive as needed. The Dictator deck provides the Dictator the ability to hire MERCs, place Militia, and influence the Map cards.
All combat in the game is fought by forces located in one Map card and the opposing force in an adjacent Map card. This means that a player with two pawns located in the same Map card can either focus all their energy in fighting one adjacent Map card or split their Squads, fighting opposing forces in two different adjacent Map cards.
Combat is done using the following steps, using the cards and the 10-sided dice.
- Roll initiative, which determines who goes first
- Declare an action (fire weapons, use skills, other equipment, etc.)
- Fire weapon by declaring target or use equipment or skill
- Determine result of attack (critical hit, hit, or miss)
- Determine damage and account for target’s armor
- Assign damage and remove MERCs with health of zero
Combat continues until one of the opposing forces is eliminated or retreats. Note that Militia can never initiate an attack.
Victory in Battle, Winning the War
The game can end one of two ways.
The game can end after the Dictator completes their turn on the 15th round (the 15th day). The winner of the game is determined by which force occupies the most valuable land in the country. This is determined by adding the number value on each Map card owned by the Rebel players and owned by the Dictator. If the Rebels have more points, the Dictator is overthrown. If the Dictator has more points, the civil uprising fails and the Dictator remains in power.
The game can also end if the Dictator’s secret base is found and taken over by the Rebels. In which case, the game immediately ends and victory is given to the Rebel forces.
The MERC game expansion adds game components but does not add additional rules. The expansion includes the following:
- Additional game components to increase the total number of players to 7
- 13 additional Dictator cards that includes the lethal Assassin
- 14 additional Map cards
- 23 additional MERC cards
- 10 additional Encounter cards
- 84 additional Equipment cards
To learn more about MERC and read the complete rules (which I highly recommend), see the game’s official web site.
Combat games, especially those that have a theme about modern warfare, are difficult to predict. On one hand, there is the morality question that asks if it is socially and morally correct to play games that make light of people losing their lives. On the other hand, it’s just a game that deals with a theme and narrative that is unfortunately part of the world so why try to hide it? Clearly, the answers are very personal and should be respected, if not agreed upon.
For my family, games that deal with combat are not shun, nor are they trivialized. I play combat games to get a deeper appreciation of the difficulty of the challenge and the gravity of the event. It is one thing to read about a battle and a completely different thing to play a game that puts you in the place as one of the individuals in the combat situation. While a player’s life is never in danger, the act of being put in a difficult situation were lose and casualties hinder game play and threaten a positive outcome, do drive home the need to be as careful and as thoughtful as possible, ensuring that every turn is well spent and nothing is needlessly wasted. The stress of it can be palatable at times and for this reason, I seldom bring combat games to the family table.
With my Gamer Geek friends, it’s another story entirely. We greatly enjoy the challenge and the complex decision making necessary in order to play the game well. Wars and battles are first fought in the mind and then reenacted on the board using dice and cards. Sometimes the outcome is surprising. Sometimes the outcome is downright terrible. Regardless, all who participate in the game focus intently to observe the results.
For little geeks, this is way too much to handle and for Parent Geeks and non-gamers, the intensity and purpose is sometimes lost.
When I presented this game to my little geeks, I made sure they understood that the game was going to be a long one, difficult, and would test their intelligence as well as their stamina. My 4-year-old listened to my pitch and said, “No thanks”, opting to play with my Heroscape figures instead. My 7-year-old was up for it and I taught him the game which took 2 sessions to complete. A Gamer Geek will have no problem grasping the game, but for any person not familiar with combat games or has little experience with larger games, MERC is a lot to take in.
When I felt my little geek had a good enough grasp to play the game, we set it up and started. While I set up the game, I asked him his thoughts so far. He was quiet for a few moments before he answered.
“This is a difficult game and there is a lot to remember. I like how the cards attach to each other and how you move around the map, but I don’t think I’ll win.” ~ Liam (age 7)
I can appreciate his statement. MERC can be very intimidating to a player at first, as there is a lot to consider. Still, I give him full marks for sitting down and giving it a go.
A word of caution before you play a game that deals with combat with your little geeks. Understanding that the game requires the parent to attack the child is very important and needs to be addressed. Make sure your little geeks understands that when you attack their game pieces, it is about playing the game and not directly attempting to make the little geek feel bad. If your little geek does not have strong emotional coping skills, put them on a team so they don’t feel directly attacked. You should also take frequent breaks so the little geeks can decompress and refocus. Failure to do so might lead to a total meltdown at the table.
My 7-year-old did his very best to play the game and kept going all the way to the end. I was very proud of him and he demonstrated excellent use of strategy and tactics. When the game was over, he did not want to play the game again. The game made him “tired” and he walked off to go read a book. Because of his reaction, I cannot recommend this game for Child Geeks.
Likewise, my wife was not a fan of the game after we played because the game had players directly attacking other players in the family. The fake conflict resulted in real feelings being hurt. Sometimes people felt picked on, other times just frustrated. While victory was a welcomed outcome, it came at the cost of making family and friends around the table feel less that super. Because of this general response, I cannot recommend the game for Parent Geeks.
Gamer Geeks, however, greatly enjoyed MERC. Strategy and tactics were highly used and there was a more than enough to keep the mind occupied and working overtime. The game’s random elements always offered a chance for the tide to be turned in ways not possible to predict and the constantly shifting power struggle was a joy to observe and to participate in.
Gamer Geeks, MERC provides a somewhat chaotic but always different combat game experience. Every aspect of the game is randomized at first, making each game play session a new challenge and a fresh experience. The game can be very challenging and combat situations can go from good to horrible in a simple dice roll. There is a lot to plan for and to manage, making the game positively engaging and sometimes highly frustrating. The multiple ways to outfit the MERCs allows for many different tactics as well as specialization. The end result is a surprisingly fun cooperative combat game.
Parent Geeks, this game was rejected not because the game was combat focused but because there wasn’t much in the way of family fun. The game is competitive but a bit too chaotic to make it a game experience that the family could enjoy for a possible 2 hours at the family table. Family and friends will be on opposing sides and will be directly assaulting the other player’s pieces on the board which could lead to hurt feelings and a lot of frustration. The game is geared towards the more hardcore gamer and the game play and time needed to complete it clearly strengthens that point. If you do play with family and friends, it is highly recommended that all players at the table be experienced gamers.
Child Geeks, this game is going to be just a bit too much for you. There is a lot going on and very little you can do on your turn, making each and every choice exceedingly important. Keep playing games, and one day you’ll be able to play MERC with everyone else.
Though MERC was not well received by Parent and Child Geeks, the Gamer Geeks greatly enjoyed it, as did I. I found the game to be very interesting with my favorite part of the game being the MERC and Equipment cards. I loved equipping and managing my MERCs to make them the ultimate fighting force. The flexibility and customization of my soldiers allowed me to adjust my tactics during the game to go from heavy offensive to heavy defensive when I needed to keep control of territory. I also loved how each game was different with just enough randomization and luck to keep everything moving and interesting. I recommend MERC to any Gamer Geek who enjoys combat games and suggest non-gamers and inexperienced players try another game instead.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.