Merit is a Short Skirmish Game Crowdfunding on May 9th

Merit Cover Art

Armageddon, a Galactus style cosmic entity, has come to claim the infinite realms for himself. Deities of each of these realms came together and struck a bargain with Armageddon to host a tournament of the realms’ champions every cycle. The reigning champions are offered unfathomable riches and power, but those who lose have their realms sacrificed to Armageddon.

Merit Tabletop Setup

Merit is a team based arena skirmish game, where two to four players can engage in arena combat in a fight to the death between heroes from six different realms. Each of these six champions have their own player boards with unique skills and status, as well as a detailed miniature for each. 

At the start of a game, players draft their champions; three champions to a team in a two and three player game and two each in a four player game. Each hero has a varying amount of health, movement, and armor stats, giving players the opportunity to explore various character skills, builds, and combinations. Each character has unique abilities ranging from tiers one to four, represented on their board in rows marked by roman numerals.

Bog Troll Card

When setting up Merit, players grab the player board, miniature, and health dial for each of their champions, gaining health equal to the maximum printed on the character board. Likewise, players place a cube on the highest value on their character’s energy track; all other tracker cubes should be placed in reach of all players. Players each roll die to determine their heroes’ starting locations. Finally, players choose a level one ability to unlock for each of their heroes.

Rounds consist of three phases, beginning with the Level Up step. Players simultaneously unlock one ability from a hero of their choice for each Realm Stone currently in their possession. Once all players have made their choices, play moves onto the second phase: the Turn Phase.

During the Turn Phase, each player takes three turns, beginning with the player currently in possession of the Turn Dial. On any given turn, players may spend up to three energy to move their hero, use an unlocked ability, or influence one of the three Realm Stones on the board. Whenever a Realm Stone is claimed by a player, they either place a dice counter onto the the space and set the value to one, or increase the value of the die by one. This represents the strength of influence the player has over the Realm Stone tile. 

Lastly, during the Reset Phase players check to see if the win conditions were met. If not, each hero resets their energy to the highest value and prepares for the next round. 

The match ends during the Reset Phase if any player has control over all three Realm Stone spaces. If not, the game resumes and proceeds back to the Level Up Phase of the next round.

Merit Reset Phase

My team and I played three games of Merit to become familiar with the mechanics and heroes and I enjoy the core of the system and the characters provided. There’s a solid amount of ability variety between the six champions provided in the preview copy. Thematically, with the exception of Captain Teefs, the croc, most of the characters are horror themed. Since this is just the preview, I’m confident there are more characters that will be announced during the upcoming crowdfunding campaign.


  • Captain Teefs: a swashbuckling crocodile, proficient in looting and smashing through armor.
  • Joe Bokor: a witch doctor gifted in inflicting poison, forcing opponents to move, and ranged healing.
  • Elvira Violeta: a vampire with a talent for dealing damage that leaves her targets bleeding out, draining them for health, and inflicting damage upon herself in exchange for gaining additional strength.
  • Gargoyle: a living stone gargoyle capable of dealing heavy damage and guarding itself by increasing its armor value.
  • Dr. Wolfgang: a werewolf scientist who gains extra strength from the moon and inflicts bleed with his terrible claws.
  • Bog Troll: a slow and powerful toxic amphibian from the swamp who boasts the highest health of all of Merit‘s champions.
Gaining access to additional abilities has low requirements and therefore happens quite quickly, making character growth quick, forcing players to conquer Realm Stones quickly or be left behind. It maintains the steep curve of power growth that Merit offers.
However, what we like most about Merit is the lack of randomness. While there are dice present in the box, they are only ever used as as counters. The heart of Merit lies in the tactical use of hero abilities, positioning, and composition of heroes on each team.  It’s rare when I find a game with random design elements that I enjoy. In fact, the addition of events to Spirit Island in the Branch & Claw expansion is the only negative thing I’ve ever had to say about Spirit Island. So as far as I’m concerned, the less chance present in a game, the better and Merit really succeeds there.
While we enjoyed our experience, there’s a handful of things that I hope to see developed further following the crowdfunding campaign, most of which are rulebook clarifications. I’d like to see additional win conditions for starters. The rules as currently written crown a winner during the reset phase only if all Realm Stones are controlled. However, any heroes whose health drops to zero are removed from the game. It’s entirely possible that an entire team could be eliminated from play, without the game concluding or crowning a winner. It would be great if the rules would include the death of all opposing champions as an alternate objective.
The current version of the rulebook includes an alternate ruleset for a tournament mode, which I admittedly didn’t explore. But one thing that stood out to me as odd is that the number of heroes in play doesn’t change to reflect player count. A head-to-head game between two players requires three heroes per team. The same goes for three and four player games. But even when there are two people on a team, they share control of the same three heroes.
I find team dynamics of this sort often slow down the game tremendously when teams share control as every decision needs to be a discussion between players. I would like to see some rebalancing done to  make it feasible to play controlling one hero per player, which would arguably increase the maximum player count from four to six without a significant amount of additional down time.
Finally, and most naturally, I’d love to see more character options be offered. You could just as easily make a case for adding more characters as you could against it in an effort to prevent scope creep/expansion bloat. With each team being required to use a total of six heroes, it would be nice to have a large enough roster to explore character synergies on a deeper level.
As a whole, we really enjoyed Merit. While it’s not quite as deep as some other skirmish games like GKR or Aristeia!, it offers a quick and fun experience in a smaller box than most skirmish games. You can back Merit and follow along with its progress on Kickstarter when it launches on May 9th. 
A copy of Merit was provided by the publisher for this preview.