You’ve been working your way through the series and honing your strategic planning, negotiation, and even payment skills, but you still haven’t found the right game because you are in the raw material supply chain and work for a jewellery buyer and distributor. You’ve searched and searched but firmly believe you’re not important enough to get your own game.
Great news! You are. In The Gnomes of Zavandor, you are a gnome with two great passions: sparkling gems and wondrous machines (and are thus likely displaced from Warcraft where gnomes are a short, intelligent, and inquisitive race with aptitudes in both the arcane and mechanical crafts or from Dragonlance where they are the ancestral race of dwarves who are constantly thinking of new inventions and defined by their life quest). Your goal is to become the most successful gem trading mogul in your community and the first to achieve the wealth that gives you this status (which is measured in victory points).
In The Gnomes of Zavandor you gain victory points by acquiring mining rights, jewelry made of precious gems, and inventions. You acquire mining rights, jewelry, and inventions if you can afford the cost, which is paid in precious gems. You acquire gems by buying them on the market for gold or by mining them with mining rights that you have managed to acquire. You start the game with 23 gold, come into a small inheritance of more gold at the start of the second round, but then have to trade and mine your way to success to survive, and win, the game.
The game consists of a sequence of alternating action rounds and mining rounds and continues until one gnome achieves victory. In an action round, each gnome has 3 actions, taken sequentially, where he or she can:
- buy up to 4 gems of a single gem type on the market
- sell up to 4 gems of a single gem type on the market
- draw 2 cards from the face down jewelry or artifact pile and keep one (which only that gnome can buy or build)
- buy a mining rights tile
- buy a face-up jewelry or artifact from the market
- take (or exchange) a trader (that allows you to trade one gem for another one-to-one regardless of market price)
- use a trader card
- earn 4 gold
Sounds simple right? Not really. First of all:
- market prices go up when you buy gems, buy mining rights with gems, or buy jewelry with gems (as demand for the gems has increased) and go down when you sell gems for gold or mine gems (as supply has increased)
- you can only maintain exclusive buying rights for one item (which is a piece of jewelry or useful artifact) at a time (as the market won’t allow you to have more than one call at a time)
- you can only buy mining rights in certain regions in a given round, and unless you pay for a a “soil sample” you have no idea what type of gem you are going to be able to mine
- while every artifact gives you an advantage, some advantages are only temporary and they don’t always outweigh the opportunity costs of doing something else
- you can only have one trader in your employ at any one time, which means you can only trade one of the six possible pairings of gems one-to-one at any one time
- if prices are low, earning more gold to buy more gems looks like a good idea, but the prices can skyrocket before you get a chance to buy
And then, just to make things a little more complicated:
- while market prices for gems only go up 1 gold when you buy, when you embed gems in jewelry (or artifacts) or buy mining rights, they go up by the number of gems used (as they are removed from the market) or paid (in expectation or surging demand)
- while market prices for gems only go down 1 gold when you sell, they go down by the number of gems mined (as the market has just been flooded)
- while you only mine 1 gem of a given type for a single mine that produces gems of that type, each additional mine for gems of that type produces 2 gems of the type (as you get efficiency gains)
- if you acquire the rights to a mine in gem-rich Diamantina (which is one of six mining regions), and are lucky enough to secure the rights to one of the gem-rich mines, you produce one gem of your choice in addition to one diamond every time you mine
- only 3 of the 6 artifact types are available at any one time, you might buy one only to miss out on something better
- if you don’t scoop up a trader that you know you will need later when you have the chance, the trader might be scooped up into someone else’s employ
And, finally, you can only buy mining rights in the district currently occupied by the wandering gnome, who wanders around looking for new mines to sell the rights to, or Diamantina. (He’s like the travelling gnome, but prefers mines to tourist destinations and transfers deeds instead of sending postcards.)
It sounds simple and silly, but it’s actually quite involved and smart. If you try to take advantage of a down market and buy too many units of a cheap gem, but no one increases demand, you become cash poor and unable to do anything but sit on what is essentially a declining stock portfolio until the market swings again. If, on the other hand, your opponents trade their gems en-masse for artifacts, mining rights, or valuable jewelry and their value sky-rockets, you can sell en-masse while prices are high, buy multiples of other gems, trade them for mining rights and jewelry that generate victory points, and take a clear lead. It models the real world conundrum of supply vs. demand in mineral, rare-earth, and gem supply chains — mine too little, and you don’t have enough to sell to pay for your costs, but mine too much, and you can’t sell at a high enough price to recover your costs.
The Gnomes of Zavandor is a great game for sharpening your mineral, rare-earth, and gem market making — and breaking — skills — simple to learn, but hard to master, just like the base market skills. The rules are simple to learn, but the real world timing and execution is very hard to master.