The Black Market in MERCHANT OF VENUS
By Wesley Kawato
from THE GENERAL, 27, #6 pp 30-31

     At first, we of the Galactic Trade association considered the Rastur to be a mere nuisance, but not much of a menace. They often stopped our ships, demanding tolls and delaying shipments when their outrageous demands were refused. Many of our members grumbled at this, but we took no action, because most cargoes still eventually reached their destination. But then the Rastur turned rather nasty, forbidding trade upon the worlds they controlled. The response was as old as history itself -- most members turned to smuggling (or even less savory pursuits). And some, unwilling to face the risk, sought to work within the "law".

     In order to use the variant rules listed below, the Rastur must be in play. No goods may be sold at a ground city if a Rastur unit occupies the orbit box above, except through the use of the smuggling rules given below. For purposes of this variant, a ground city is "Rastur-controlled" if there is a Rastur unit in the orbit box above it. The principle also applies to Rastur controlled space ports. Other than altered by the variant rules below, all standard rules of MERCHANT OF VENUS remain in effect.
     Upon landing at a ground city, or a spaceport controlled by the Rastur, the player must locate a "black-market dealer" if he intends to sell any "Goods" (note that "Equipment" may not be sold as such). To accomplish this, the player rolls a single die and one is found on a roll of "6" or more. The player gets a "+1" die roll modifier for every $10 he pays in bribes (consider the player to be paying off contacts in various starport bars). This payment is made directly !o the bank. Only one attempt to find a black market dealer may be made per game turn. If the die roll fails, the player must await the next turn to try again. If the roll succeeds, the player may immediately make a roll on the Black Market table listed below, after announcing all types of Goods being sold, with the indicated results for each possible result strictly enforced:

Black Market Table

     1. Police Informer: You're arrested and your Goods confiscated (eliminate all cargos currently onboard the player's ship). Pay a $50 fine or lose your next turn.
     2. Rip Off: The dealer takes your Goods and disappears (eliminate all cargoes of the item being sold).
     3. Bad Luck: The dealer informs you the police are everywhere. He returns your Goods unsold (no effect).
     4. Quick Sale: The dealer sells your Goods for half the normal profit.
     5. Sale: The dealer sells your Goods for the normal profit.
     6. Good Sale: The dealer sells your Goods for twice the normal profits.

     A black market dealer may sell any number of Goods for a player. If a player has his Goods returned to him, he must make a new die roll next turn, to find a new black market dealer. Note that, when calculating the price, all usual bonuses and penalties are applied before halving or doubling the final profit.

     Another way to thwart the Rastur is through "blockade running". Available for purchase at systems with a Metaphysical technology is the "Cloaking Device". This item costs 40 credits and takes up half-a-hull space. Only one cloaking device may also be installed on the hull. Cloaking devices, like nova balls, are a one-use item. Upon entering any box containing a Rastur counter, the player may use his cloaking device to move past the Rastur without paying a penalty. Remove the item immediately after its use.
     Ships containing cloaking devices are subject to inspection at all Rastur-controlled ground cities, space cities and space ports. A single, unmodified die is rolled and on a result of "6" the player's unused cloaking device is immediately confiscated. Worse, the player must either pay a $50 fine or lose his next turn. (Cloaking devices are banned by the Galactic Arms Control Treaty.) As with any item of equipment, cloaking devices may be sold, or even jettisoned, if desired.

     Where there is invasion and occupation, there are always those willing to risk their lives to free themselves from alien rule. The Rastur expansion is no exception, and this kind of environment makes "gun-running", to various liberation movements, a lucrative sideline for some merchants. Through their activities, some locations may be "liberated" from the Rastur. In order to liberate a ground city, space city or spaceport from Rastur control, a certain number of arms shipments must be sent to that location. To determine the required number of shipments, divide the strength of the occupying Rastur unit by ten. (A quick inspection of the Rastur counters reveals that it'll take between five and 25 arms shipments to liberate a location from the Rastur.) An arms shipments consists of either one laser or two nova balls (e.g., a single nova ball equals a 0.5 in the tally). Players should keep a written tally for each location under Rastur control, for it makes no difference who delivers the arms shipment. Once the required number of shipments has been received, the occupying Rastur unit is immediately eliminated (going back into the Active pool).
     Players receive $200 for each laser delivered and $40 for each nova ball delivered. Before receiving payment, however, a player must roll on the Gun-Running table:

Gun-Running Table

     1. Arrested: The arms are confiscated and you must pay a 100 credit fine. If you can't pay the fine, you lose your next turn.
     2. Narrow Escape: You are chased by a Rastur patrol and are forced lo jettison the arms shipment in order to escape. Eliminate all lasers/nova balls and move one dot in any direction.
     3. Delivery Postponed: A frantic radio message from your contact on the ground warns of a trap at the drop point. You may not deliver any arms shipments to this location this turn, but may roll again on this table on your next turn.
     4-6. Deal Completed: You receive $200 for each laser delivered and $40 for each nova ball delivered.

     After awhile, the Rastur realized their inability to halt the smuggling and other "illegal" activities. Two solutions were suggested to deal with this dilemma. One school of Rastur society maintained that strict enforcement of current trade restrictions would eventually lead to an end to smuggling. The other maintained that the trade restrictions were un-enforceable and should be repealed. This led to plenty of vacillation, as one can imagine, with policies changing as new factions came to power within their system.
     To reflect this vacillation in trade policy, a die should be rolled each turn before the first player moves. On a roll of "1-4" there is no change in the Rastur trade policy. On a roll of "5-6", the Rastur trade policy changes. The Rastur may engage in one of two trade policies: "Free Trade" or "Embargo". Free Trade allows Goods to be sold openly on their planets; all the usual rules are in effect, with the exception that the Rastur will not interfere with player movement or Trade. An Embargo policy institutes the usual rules for the Rastur halt of trade, and allows players to engage in any/all of the variant rules presented in this article. At the start of the game, the Rastur trade policy is "Free Trade".

     Although some merchants strayed into the "gray" areas of trade, such as smuggling and gun-running, to compensate for the loss of revenue created by the Rastur invasions, others invested in advanced technology to speed up their trade runs to worlds still free from Rastur control. Recently, an engineer at Galactic Base came up with a package of innovations that makes it possible for a merchant to buy and sell goods without landing on a planet or a starport. The first part of this package is a trans-light communication device, which makes it possible to negotiate a purchase or a sale while moving in space. The second element of the package is a "transporter", a device that allows instantaneous pick-up and delivery of goods. In game terms, this package costs $500 and is only available at Galactic Base. The package is installed on the ship's hull and may pick up or deliver goods, weapons, drives or relics. Fares may not be picked up nor delivered using a transporter (because the device cannot guarantee the survival of a living organism). To use it, a player's ship must pass directly through (or the orbit box above if a ground city) the delivery/pick-up location. Each turn, a transporter may be used to deliver one item and pick up one item. The pick-up and delivery may occur at different systems. Spaceport and factory bonuses are still received by the owners of such installations on all transporter transactions. If the transporter/trans-light communications package proves to be too powerful during play, there are several ways to limit its use. One way is to make the package unavailable until someone rolls a "4" while rolling for the Rastur trade policy change (indicating a hardening of Rastur policies). Another is to make the package require more space, perhaps half a cargo or even a full cargo hold.
     Yet a third possibility is to make the device unreliable, making necessary an extra die roll. On a roll of "1", the device short-circuits and may not be used again until a stop is made at Galactic Base for repairs. Such repairs cost $50 credits. If the transporter short-circuits, the Goods go nowhere and are not damaged in any way. If this option is being used, a separate reliability roll must be made for each pick-up and delivery, even if both are occurring at the same location and at the same time.
     The method of limiting use of the Transporter/trans-light Comm package is left to the players of each game. Further, players are encouraged to experiment with other ways of limiting use of this powerful variant.

     There is no doubt that institution of each element of the variant presented above changes the flavor of the complex strategy of MERCHANT OF VENUS. Each successive element of "Venus Smuggler" makes the Rastur less menacing, and makes the solitaire game easier to win. But, for those players of this great game who are looking for something different, my group of gaming buddies highly recommends it. It certainly offers a wide variety of situations, with an even wider range of strategies now available in response. And, the challenge is always there of beating the Rastur at their own game.

Updated 14 Nov 04.

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