The description from Board Game Geek is as follows:
Merchants & Marauders lets you live the life of an influential merchant or a dreaded pirate in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy. Seek your fortune through trade, rumor hunting, missions, and of course, plundering. Modify your ship, buy impressive vessels, load deadly special ammunition, and hire specialist crew members. Will your captain gain eternal glory and immense wealth - or find his wet grave under the stormy surface of the Caribbean Sea?
In Merchants and Marauders, players take on the role of a captain of a small vessel in the Caribbean. The goal is to be the first to achieve 10 "glory" points through performing daring deeds (through the completion of missions or rumors), crushing your enemies (through defeating opponents and NPCs in combat), amassing gold, performing an epic plunder or pulling off the trade of a lifetime, and buying a grand ship. While some points earned from performing various tasks are permanent, players earn points for amassing gold, which can be stolen or lost (or at least diminished) if their captain is killed. Points due to gold are hidden so there's some uncertainty about when the game will end.
A big component of the game is whether (or when) to turn "pirate" or remain as a trader or neutral party. Both careers are fraught with danger: pirates are hunted by NPCs (and other players) for their bounty and blocked to certain ports while traders are hunted by non-player pirates as well as their opponents and generally have to sacrifice combat capability for cargo capacity. Although players can kill each other, there is no player elimination as players may draw a new captain (with a penalty) so it's possible to come back from defeat.
One of the things that appealed to me initially about this game was knowing that there were any number of paths to victory. While it is all about the VP (Glory Points), there are different ways to get them on both sides of the ampersand. To feel the game out, I took this first time playing to avoid marauding and stick with being a regular merchant. I did get involved in one big battle with an NPC but it was a pirate frigate and I was spoiling for trouble by steering near to it. It's well worth keeping an eye on where one can upgrade and repair your ship cheaply or for free. I don't think it is worth wasting too many actions buying and selling in ones and twos. Selling three of a kind where they are in demand is so much more lucrative and good for the glory points that holding out until that is possible is worth the wait, or worth setting up to make it happen. After I get another try at this game, I'll post some more about it with some new insights but that's really all I have so far.
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