Merchants of the Spice Islands by Chan Sing Goh

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Warning! Review may contain spoilers!

Merchants of the Spice Islands is an historical trading adventure entered for the Windhammer Prize 2013. We play a merchant on our maiden voyage sailing from Australia, through the Spice Islands and then onto home. You can bet yer wooden leg and lucky parrot we’ll be meeting pirates along the way.

Before we can set sail we have quite a few pages of rules to wade through. There’s a lot here to take in- rules on gun combat, hand-to-hand combat (which seems unnecessarily confusing) and ship combat. Add to this all the different types of specialists we can hire and their skills and it’s already getting a bit too much. It would have been nice if the book introduced these rules slowly to the reader one at a time as needed, instead of all at once before we’ve even left dry land.

But, as I am sure there will be pirates, getting through the rules will be worth it. I select my nationality: being in Britain I go for British (I’m not much of a creative role player). This gives us extra cargo space and a linguist. I will have to bring back lots of tea.

We’re guided by the first mate throughout our voyage, and he offers advice every now and again. It’s nice that the choices you make aren’t completely random. He does inform you which areas may be more dangerous or profitable than others, so it’s handy to have him along. Unfortunately, for a key character, he doesn’t even have a name, let alone a personality. And this is the biggest problem I have with this gamebook. It lacks charm and none of the characters are really introduced or developed in any significant way. It’s a shame because I am sure the book is historically interesting, yet we’re captain of a nameless ship with faceless crew and it’s difficult to care about.

“You there! Pansy man! Hows bout a arm wrestling ta prove your manliness behind ye fancy ole capt’n coat?” he barks at you

It’s definitely more gamey than wordy and may work better as a computer game. You have to do some pretty taxing mental arithmetic at times and the single combat I had was incredibly complex. I’m not sure I resolved it correctly.

Playing as a trader is a novel and intriguing idea, and I wanted to like this gamebook. I did finish the game with a score of 17,300 silver. This is a good touch – rather than an absolute win or loss you have a scoreboard of sorts. The only sad thing is I did not really find the book exciting enough to have another try.

Windhammer 2013 Review – Merchants of the Spice Islands