I would have titled this game Merchants and Knights instead of Knights and Merchants. You can spend 3 or 4 hours building up your town, interspersed with maybe 5 or 10 minutes of combat.
Now don’t take that the wrong way. I just have some issues with what is truly a fun game. If I could divide this game in two, I would give the Merchants side 4 Â½ GiN gems, but unfortunately I would have to give the Knights part of this game 2 GiN gems. Average that out and Knights and Merchants gets 3 Â½ GiN gems.
The merchants side of Knights and Merchants is Great. I just can’t say enough about the details. When you first open the box and flip through the directions, you will freak out. There are a ton of specialized characters, from farmers and stonemasons, to miners and blacksmiths. But fear not, all is well. The three main characters are serfs, laborers, and recruits.
Everyone else is assigned at a rate of one to each specific building, such as a baker to the bakery. Serfs transport stuff to the laborers and between buildings, taking stones to the laborers to build roads and flour from the mill to the bakery. Laborers do all the building and recruits become your military. Unfortunately you don’t get to exercise any control over the towns people, other than indirectly. The laborers build roads and plow fields before they even consider construction of buildings. So be careful when you lay out your city and don’t get a head of the builders.
The basic products are corn, grapes, trees and stone along with coal, iron and gold.
Lets take a look at what you can do with all that stuff, specifically corn in my example. The farmer grows the corn, then a serf comes by and takes it to the mill, the swine farm or the stables. The mill can grind the corn into flour to feed your people as bread. The swine farm feeds the corn to the pigs who can become sausages at the butcher’s shop or leather armor at the tannery. Or corn can go to the stables to produce horses for your military. It’s a complex little economy.
The best part is that when you look at a building you can tell almost exactly what is there. If you look at an inn with three sausages, two loves and five wine barrels, you will see three sausages hanging in the window, two loves of bread on the table, and five barrels stacked up inside. You even get to see the pigs at the swine farm grow in size. And you see the farmer go out and plant the seeds for corn, watch it grow and then go out and cut it down.
The sounds even change as you view different parts of the town. For example, if you are looking at the wood cutter, you will hear chopping, but as you move away to look at the farmer the chopping sound fades and other sounds become louder and fade out as you move about.
The one negative side to all this is that it takes several uninterrupted hours to build up a functioning town. And quite frankly that never happens. This happened to me several times. There I was sitting there minding my own business, working to get my sixth farm built so I could continue to feed my people while getting some horses and pigs produced — and the enemy attacks with a huge force of archers and scouts on horse back. All I have been able to produce at this point is a few militia (the lowest level of troop). Now I did start with a few troops that I placed around in defensive positions.
But by now most of them are dead and I am left with a small force of militia to defend my growing city.
This brings me to the knights part of Knights and Merchants. I found this part of the game to be very frustrating. I can understand that it takes a while to build up your forces, and I can live with that. But considering how important combat is to victory, I would like to have seen a better command and control system.
Your options are rather limited in this arena, which is fine in town construction, but not on the battlefield. You can have your troops in one single column or in a bunch of columns in one single long line that you can turn at 45 degree angles. Similar troop types can be joined in to one group, such as mounted warriors, bows and crossbows, or militia and axeman.
My complaints begin when you can’t control anybody once the unit enters combat. So if one guy at the corner of the line is attacking or being attacked, you can’t tell the others to withdraw or even to move in and support him very easily.
This is even more frustrating with archers and crossbow troops. You can’t have them attack, at least not how you are used to. No clicking on an enemy unit to start them firing here. When you do they run up and start hand to hand combat, which is death. Instead you have to walk them up so that they are within firing range, and let them choose their targets.
Until you have played the game for a while and get a feel for the distance it’s a stop and go procedure trying to get them into range. On the other hand, you can move them around during combat to protect hot spots or if you catch them before they go into hand to hand combat, you can move them out of combat, if it gets too rough.
To give you an idea of how quickly combat works, there are several combat only missions and I don’t remember a single one taking more then five or six minutes. The one nice thing about Knights and Merchants combat is that victory does not mean the total destruction of every building, like it does in WarCraft and Age of Empires. There is no "hey they aren’t beat cause they have a standing barn hidden somewhere in the wasteland." Victory is achieved with you destroy three key buildings.
As I said earlier, I really did enjoy Merchants and, er a, Knights and Merchants. It has a good story line and the missions make sense within the story line. And there are two tutors to help you get started, one for merchants and one for knights.
So if you are looking for a game where the concentration is really on resource gathering and town management, look no further. If combat is more your thing, stick with something like Myth.