I tend to enjoy the designs that Talon Strikes publishes, but I’ll admit I’m hard pressed to explain their marketing. They consistently publish interesting designs with clever gameplay mechanisms, but regarding weight and theme, they tend to be all over the map. From the lighter-weight Scouting game Camp Pinetop, to the mid-weight Cold War spy game Shadow Network, to the heavier Norse fantasy game Winterborne, the only commonality is the quality of the mechanical designs. That is, until recently, when they introduced their market series, which share broad similarities in weight and theme, and continue to highlight the company’s eye for interesting designs. Which marks an improvement in their marketing through marketing market games. Okay, that’s enough of that, I’ll stop now.
The first game in Talon Strikes’ market series, Public Market, was designed by Flatout Games’ Molly Johnson, Robert Melvin, and Shawn Stankewich. In it, players collected and stored fish, then sold that fish at the market to fulfill orders. It featured a combination of cleverly integrated mechanisms — bidding for turn order, polyomino tile placement, contract fulfillment — that fit the location of Seattle’s Pike Place Market well.
Night Market, designed by Adam Zwain, is the second game in Talon Strikes’ market series, and is centered on Taiwan’s night markets, which are street markets that operate in urban and suburban areas in Taiwan between sunset and sunrise. The designer, who at one point lived in Taiwan, said this about his goal in designing the game:
When I moved to Taiwan in 2010, it did not take long to fall in love with night markets—the vibrant colors, the bustling alleyways, and of course, the food. I quickly realized that the night market was a microcosm of Taiwanese culture. So, like many travelers, I made a point to visit the major night market in each city I visited to sample the regional dish that made each market “famous.” What I did not realize until after a few years of living in Taiwan is that night markets are ubiquitous. Every neighborhood has one. You could walk through a seemingly quiet alleyway and stumble across an absolute gem of a night market that features the city’s best beef noodles. This is what I wanted to capture in the design of this game: that the food of any small night market can easily compete with that of the major ones.
I also want to highlight here, as they do on the Kickstarter page, that Talon Strikes hired three cultural consultants to aid them in developing the game with an eye towards cultural accuracy and sensitivity.
While I played a prototype version of the game, the components were mostly finalized art and design. As is tradition for Talon Strikes, they have packed the box to the brim with content, and will also have multiple expansions that will allow solo play and additional variety and more challenging gameplay. I’m not going to give a detailed list of all the components — which include a main board, player boards, over a hundred tiles and another hundred tokens, a deck of cards, and some wooden bits — but I will note that the art helps sell the game’s theme without getting in the way of the graphic design. While there is a lot going on in the game, the graphic design is intuitive and clear.
Game Play and Initial Impressions:
Normally I separate these two sections out, but a) my thoughts on Night Market are so interwoven with its different mechanisms, this seems like the more logical way to tackle it, and b) this game is a solid medium-weight game, and I’m not going to attempt a detailed explanation of how to play it in a text preview (I will, however, recommend checking out Meeple University’s playthrough for a more in-depth look at how it plays). With that said, here are my thoughts.
Night Market is one of the more clever and unique takes on worker placement I’ve seen, as players are not only fighting over spots on the city board for goods and lantern actions, but also jockeying for specific placement patterns to achieve additional bonus goods.
Another aspect of the worker placement I found interesting was that getting an extra worker in Night Market — hiring a chef — wasn’t an action that immediately needed to be prioritized. The other lantern actions — building stalls, attracting customers — were also so important to the game that all of them felt like viable strategies, depending on your starting situation. This may not immediately sound that interesting, but it contrasts with many other worker placement games where getting extra workers as soon as possible is the clear alpha strategy.
Of course, the worker placement aspect is only found in the day phase of the game, as the other phase, the night phase, is conducted solely on the player boards. The player boards, representing the player’s night market stalls, are a challenging spatial puzzle requiring balancing goods, stalls, customers, and specific location requirements for each. While I completely understood the concepts during my first play, I suspect mastering them will require many more attempts.
As a whole, the gameplay — played over four seasons — has a satisfying arc to it. In the first season, the player boards are barren, and it seems difficult enough to satisfy a single customer’s order. By the fourth and final season, the player boards will be bustling with stalls serving signature dishes, and teeming with repeat customers. Win or lose, it is satisfying to grow a market throughout the game, and watch as it begins to generate income and trigger bonuses.
Overall, the combination of the worker placement puzzle on the communal city board, the spatial planning required on each player’s market board, and the recipe fulfilment demands of the customer cards make for a heady experience that players will want to come back to again and again.
Full disclosure: I received a preview copy of Night Market from the publisher.