In 1988, Avalon Hill released Merchant of Venus, a game of intergalactic trade and exploration that was about a decade ahead of its time. Although the pun-tacular title character exists only as a legend outlined on the back of the box, Merchant of Venus maintains a loyal cult following. People have even created mods and upgrades, despite the game being long out of print. Multiple winning strategies and a great sci-fi backdrop are just two reasons why you should spend this summer prowling garage sales for a used copy.
Merchant of Venus incorporates all the great elements from 4X computer games (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) in board game form. The basic game is actually bloodless, but optional rules for combat make the game more balanced. Players spend their first few turns finding out which alien races populate the star systems on the board. Then they set up trade routes, monitor supply and demand and start earning cash, the accumulation of which is the game's win condition. Hey, it's the 32nd century, and there's money to be made.
Since cooperation is usually required to keep trade routes profitable, combat is used mostly as a last resort, but it keeps the other players in check if one of them starts running away with the lead. One player can take the role of the Rastur, a standoffish race that inhibits trade, while other races have their own attributes. Players can even find interstellar artifacts that will give them bonuses, such as faster ships. Maybe if enough people write letters to Hasbro, they'll put this classic back in print. Photos by: Avalon Hill.