Friday, 6 January 2012

Games that currently intrigue me: MERCS


The other day I looked at the Mecha based game Heavy Gear Blitz, and today I'm looking at MERCS. No not the luxury cars produced by a German manufacturer. Nope, the wargame. It's another game that takes some of its aesthetic inspiration from Japanese anime. Yep a bit like Infinity and OK the previous game Heavy Gear Blitz. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a bit of anime stylings. I'll be honest though, when I first saw MERCS miniatures I was very heavily invested in Infinity (I still am), and my interest in it initially extended to a cursory glance at the game, and an almost instant dismissal. I mean, I already played one anime inspired future wargame and it was more established. Infinity's miniatures are also some of the very best on the market, it really is a miniatures range to die for. Plus with kick ass rules I was enjoying it way too much to look elsewhere at the time (I partly still am). That I believe is MERCS biggest problem, or hurdle right now. Despite some interesting and very different play mechanics, it doesn't advertise itself at all well. Or indeed do enough to differentiate itself very well from the current sci-fi anime game of choice Infinity, which is a shame because it is different. Very different!

Oooh pretty artwork, and shiny eyes! Plus it's a sniper and they're always cool!!!

Company: Erm they're called MERCS Miniatures I believe. God only knows how long they've been going, but if its more than two or three years I'll be surprised. However, I can now say that MERCS mini's are Keith and Ben, and they're from Indianapolis. So that makes them an American company. They're also not a full time business, as currently this is a labour of love for them, a side project. So I'd like to thank Keith in particular for actually taking the time to answer my questions about their game. However, I think it's fair to say that although their website looks pretty, it's not the easiest of websites to actually find useful information on. Now I'm not being a negative Nelly, just stating the fact that it was one of the harder games to find information out about. So I do worry that many people might just log on, struggle a bit and leave, which is a shame. So I was heartened to hear from Keith that the website will be getting an overhaul. I hope part of this overhaul will be being more upfront and forthcoming about the game and just who MERCS minis are, because us consumers like to know who we're dealing with. When we do know, the money is more likely to flow.

Website: MERCS minis

Starting cost: Well the set up costs for MERCS are actually really reasonable from what I can see. You only need 5 miniatures per side, which is a big bonus. However, like some others they've made the decision to not show off their rules via a free PDF download. Argghhhh!!! However, there is some good news as I've said above. They're re-doing their website and this will apparently include some PDF rules downloads. But for now here are some videos, that also aren't on the current website:

and this...

So I'm not asked at the very least to drop $34.99 on a rulebook that I know nothing about, totally blind. True it's not as good as actually having sight of the full rules, but it's not as bad as being totally uninformed. So the rulebook is £23 roughly in real money, individual miniatures cost around $9.99 (£6.50ish) and you can get faction bundles that cost around $60 (£39) for 6 miniatures and a deck of cards to play the game with. They also have some wonderfully optimistic deals with two or more factions in them starting around $120 (£77) rising to $350 (£225) for all 6 factions. Now it's great for them to offer all these bundle deals, especially for those of you who simply have to collect everything. But you know what? I'd just like a bundle that was offered with the rulebook, or maybe even some quick start rules. Truth is though it's currently not an expensive game to get into!

Game: Oh boy! I feel supremely bad saying this, but I had a really bad intro game of MERCS. Clearly the guy showing me the game was himself playing it for the first time as well. Or I hope he was because he wasn't exactly clued up. A number of times the game stopped while he frantically searched for what to do next, and it really dragged. In the end I wasn't really playing and he was playing with himself and seemed to be enjoying it immensely... I just don't enjoy watching other guys play with themselves! I on the other hand couldn't have been more disengaged if I tried. In the end I said thanks and walked away. I'm still not too sure he noticed you know. From what I can gather though from that bodged intro game, and the video tutorials, the game is played using these nifty cards to move and pretty much do everything. I wish I could tell you more about the mechanics and how it plays out, but I can't as I haven't really 'played' it. The video's should suffice for now though I guess for those of you interested in knowing more. I can't really tell you if these mechanics work or not because I haven't tried them out for myself properly. So it's really not right for me to comment. If there are any of you out there that live near the West Midlands who have any MERCS stuff and wouldn't mind running me through a proper intro game I'd be very grateful!

Miniatures: These aren't actually too bad you know. I had somebody explain the miniatures to me before I saw them for myself in the following way, 'they're what Infinity miniatures would look like if Privateer Press had done them'. That's not actually a bad analogy. They do clearly have some similar anime sci-fi stylings to the Infinity range, but they're not as refined or true scale, by that I mean they retain more over-sized or exaggerated proportions you normally see in anime. They're more the heroic scale you associate with Games Workshop or the aforementioned Privateer Press. That's not a bad thing, it's just a thing. I personally really like the aesthetics of the Yellow Jacket, KemVar and Sefadu factions in particular, they each have a unique look. I wander if there is a decent bundle for those 3 factions? Thing is, you'll know best yourself if these miniatures appeal to you. I have only seen some very briefly in my hands and they seemed cast well enough to me, but I'm again not talking from extensive experience here like I would when I have a product to review.

Background: This is actually the one part of their website that actually does its job really well. There is plenty of information on the site talking about the background to the game and what it's all about, check it out here. It's an interactive map that's quite swish, and takes you to the games first four faction pages, where you can get a pretty good feel for the games back story. The two newer factions the Keizai Waza and Sefadu are yet to be covered on the website. There's also this Timeline, which is handy too. The basic gist of their universe though is that our elected Governments and political systems finally stopped pretending they weren't in the pocket of large corporations. Good for them I say. Bastards! So we have these large corporations called 'Megacons' running around fighting covert wars against each other. A bit like Syndicate Wars if you ever played that game. It's a common and very popular sci-fi take on the 'dystopian future' theme, so there's plenty of other source material out there for them to draw on in the future as the game develops.

Some more cool concept artwork!


+ It has a low miniature count that makes it cheap to start up.
+ The background is quite detailed already for such a new game.
+ The miniatures aren't half bad. In fact as I said I quite like some of them.
+ The game looks to be quick to play, and in our ever busier lives that's a good thing.


- Everything I 'know' about the game is really from those video tutorials, and while they're useful it means I don't really 'know' anything about the game really as it's all second hand.
- I know nobody who plays it. This isn't a surprise to me given it's such a new game from a small young 'American' company. But it does mean I'd have to be the pioneer... again.
- I think there needs to be more information put out there about the game otherwise it'll struggle to differentiate itself from the growing pack of competitors.
- It remains difficult to get hold of here in the UK. I have no idea what it's like trying to get it in the States or anywhere else in the world. If you do drop some comments down below.

So in conclusion MERCS might very well be the greatest game I've never played, or it might not be much good at all. I just don't know. I guess part of the problem is that their mechanics are quite different to some other games out there right now. On the one hand this is a good thing as it means it can honestly differentiate itself form other games out there. However, on the other hand it also means it has to work much harder to promote itself, and convince others. So even with the information I have managed to glean it's difficult to get a handle on it as a game system. There aren't many familiar 'hooks' to compare it to other games. The website looks very pretty and professional at a superficial glance, but doesn't actually give you all that much information. It is totally style over substance at the moment, and its overhaul is clearly really needed. But I guess it's a struggle when you're not running the company full-time and I really appreciate that I honestly do, but will the harsh realities of the market and most consumers? And that's the issue for them I guess, they're going up against other companies that are full time. This is becoming a crowded marketplace and it'll get cut throat no doubt soon enough. I'm rooting for Keith and Ben and I'm hoping they can make a good enough stab at it to get themselves established, so they've engendered some good will on my part. But will that be enough?

I feel that their energies might not be as focused as they could be. You see, they've done some fairly professional looking videos. But the one that sticks out is the one that tells you loads about their rulebooks hardcover, UV matte varnish finish, and a bit about the game. Seriously guys, you got almost pornographic over your rulebooks vital statistics!!! But we need to see more of them. Maybe focusing a bit more on some very short specific game play examples, but keep them brief.  I accept that given the games card system a free PDF rulebook etc. might not really be enough to communicate the intricacies of the game effectively. Plus you can't just throw down with miniatures you already own to give it a blast because of the card based movement system. If I could give them one piece of advice it would be that they need to show more of the game play mechanics off on their website. Because at the moment they seem more focused on ticking all the wrong boxes than actually building a steady game system. Hence them having a MERCS Battlefoam bag already, guys concentrate on selling us the game via your website before you try going for these nice luxury add ons. If any of you can fill me in on this game I'd appreciate it, because as I say it has piqued my interest. Next up is Bushido. Peace out!


  1. Maelstrom are selling the Mercs range. Yellowjackets and the rules are out of stock at time of writing, but the rest is available.

    I'm kinda tempted by the Kemvar models and the Texican concepts, but have too many other things to be working on for the time being.

  2. @Fiendil, indeed the Maelstrom do sell MERCS stuff. But the rulebook has been out of stock since they first stocked it and the cards haven't been in stock whenever I've checked either. Never mind the miniatures. So it still remains quite hard to get in the UK. I also believe Wayland Games stocks it, but when I've tried ordering things that are supposedly in stock I get a refund and someone telling me its not in stock. So I've given up using Waylands Games as quite frankly I find using their online store really frustrating!!! Besides with any new game I like to walk into a shop and actually look at it in my hands first. Or if someone I know and trust tells me its good then that's normally enough, sadly when I walk into any of the LGS's in my area none of them have the stuff. Maybe next time I'm up at the Maelstrom I'll ask if they've got a store rulebook or something. If you get the stuff you'll have to let me know what you think though.

  3. I happened to be in, so asked, and the Maelstrom stock control dude says that Mercs is restocked regularly every fornight, but that the rulebooks get sent out to those who've placed orders, and any that are left tend to get snapped up straight away. If you wanted to put an order in for one, you'd get sent it as soon as the next order comes in.

    Don't know about a shop copy of the book, but some of the shop and warehouse boys picked up stuff for it, so might be able to do you a demo/let you have a poke through the rules with some advance warning.

  4. I only have one question for someone who may have played. Is the card mechanic gimicky in the sense would it just be easier with a tape measure?

  5. @Fiendil, I guess because it's quite a different mechanic I want to play it first properly to see if it works!!!

    @Ishibei, and that's the exact reason I want to play it. That is my primary concern, and without playing it myself I honestly can't comment.

  6. Ugh. I managed only a few minutes of that movement video before giving up. Also, it does look like just using a tape measure would be much easier.

    I'll wait until someone I play with actually notices the game, then I'll bother to learn it.

  7. At least in my neck of the woods, Mercs is still pretty uncommon. I've seen it at Gencon, but pickup in my LFGS is very low. I happen to have bought the book at Gencon 2011 (because I'm a dirty whore for rules books), and it's pretty nice, but obviously a first book (there's a hard to describe depth that seems missing).

    As for the card mechanic, it does influence many things, but yeah - a tape measure could have worked just as well in most cases, it seems.

  8. @Ant, yep I can understand that. They need to be shorter and more focused with their videos. However, given they have gone down this route I guess it's the second best way of showing people what the game is. The best obviously being getting people playing it for themselves. Like you, I think I'll wait and see if somebody gets this game before me and fancies running me an intro. I'm officially skint now and I have no money to spend even if I wanted too. This is a game too far for me maybe.

    @IceRaptor, Yeah I'm hearing a little bit of chatter on the net, but nothing concrete. I still don't actually know anybody who owns any stuff. Plus most people without seeing the card mechanic instantly think it's gimmicky. It might be for all I know. I'd still like to own the book I guess just because I'm a collector of rulebooks and I find them interesting to study as 'systems'. Maybe I'll take a look at it one day.

  9. Lil' hung over today....

    Well, color me curious (curse you, Frontline).
    Mercs looks....interesting.
    And yes, anime stylings are a weakness for me as well.
    I'm always fascinated by interesting, different mechanics (cards, in this case).
    This game needs a little market saturation push....and a rules PDF online.
    They ALL should have a rules PDF online.
    Asking us to shell out for a rulebook, without giving us a very accurate description of 'how everything works' is the 'old school' way.
    Gotta say I don't really roll like that any more.
    Mercs looks like one to keep an eye on.
    Let's see what they do.

  10. @SinSynn, you can count on me to keep my beady little eyes on it. Even if I'm not watching it as intently as other games out there I'm still keen to see where it goes and how it does. Of the two games I've shown so far, I have to admit despite me veing put off by the 'perceived' cost issues I think Heavy Gear Blitz looks like really good solid fun... and having had a perusal through some downloaded rulebooks and source books I have to say I really, really wish I had a job. The new game bug has bitten me quite hard.

  11. Oh...
    Like I said- Lil' hung over...
    My cat is all up in my face, meowing at me...
    SHUSH YOU....Daddy's head hurts.

    So I realized there's videos.
    Watched the cards.
    I kinda like having a units statline handy that way. Right there in front of you for easy reference....Looking up the info in books seems 'old school.'
    I have a compiled, single piece of paper for each Flames of War army I run (bless you,

    Don't know if I like the movement too much, however, but the video left some questions- do I have to move to one of the areas designated by the marks and cutouts on the cards, or can I move 'up to' the marks?
    They made no mention of moving over the barrels, or through terrain.

    I also think the turning mechanic will need marked bases and maybe a template.
    'You turned 46 degrees! I saw you!'
    Since turning more than 45 degrees costs movement points...this may get touchy at times.

    Damnit, Frontline...I'm all hurtin,' and you've got me...thinking 'bout stuffs.

  12. I think we have similar thoughts about MERCS. I've been looking at the models as well and thought "Those are pretty nice, almost as nice as Infinity". And to me "almost" is the key word. They look pretty cool, but not as cool as Infinity.

    As for the rules... I don't know. I like detail in my skirmish games, but as has already been mentioned the card movement system does seem a bit cumbersome.

  13. After reading the rules the card mechanic is a little quirky but kind of cool the biggest issue is that the game works better on a 2d playing surface.

  14. I must be the only person who does not like infinity. Mercs like infinity the minis are nice. Infiniuty minis are fantastic. It was the game play to sneaky sneaky i like it in my face. The thing that killed it for me was when the guy said i can see your hair, " my hair" he said yep,and now your dead. And the board was that full of crap i could'nt find my minis.

  15. @Pancake, if all he could see was your hair and he couldn't draw a LoS to any part of the body / center of your base then he was playing it wrong. Very wrong. You do need a lot of terrain in Infinity but that's what makes the game for me. It's not all sneaky, sneaky either... just ask someone who has faced a TAG or a Hac Tao with ML. lol. Nope It won't be for everyone but there are so many people who I've met who told me they didn't like the game because of X, Y or Z. Sometimes its just personal preference and they dislike something about the game that's core to it, but 9 times out of 10 it's because they've had a bad intro game or played people who didn't actually know the rules. Not saying it's the case here, it's just a thought. Another game I've found that's kinda like that is Dystopian Wars.

  16. Yeah its just not my cupa T......But the minis are great.

  17. Pancake, dude. You should pin down Rich B for a game at some point once he's back at H'n'A. I know he's got some Infinity, and you know he gives good intro game.

    (Roll on the Seraph. While I've not actually got em on the table yet, I've picked up some PanO knights, and the only TAG you get if you're going knights is the Seraph.)

  18. @Fiendil, I too want to see the Seraph, simply because their TAGs of late have been simply stunning and the Seraph sounds like an absolute beastie.

  19. I've played a couple of games so far, and really enjoyed them. By couple I mean three... which makes me a modern gentleman, I guess.

    I taught twice, and the third game was against a previous student. The game was a lot of fun - I've documented a few of them over at our wordpress blog.

    Thanks for your excellent site, and I hope you get a chance to try Mercs out for real sometime. The rules are really elegant, but a few things can seem ambiguous at first.

    1. Cheers for the compliment Ilan. I'll take a look at your Mercs articles. I too hope I get to play it for real at some point as it at least has some interesting ideas.