Category Archives: Game On

The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part XXIV: The Builders (Middle Ages)

It turns out that you did such a great job building the city of OddVille that you have been recruited by another city as one of The Builders and it’s your job as a foreman to build the machines and buildings they need for their city.

In The Builders, you are one of the foreman pursuing your dream of becoming the First Builder of the Kingdom, a position that will be granted to the foreman who builds the most (valuable) buildings in the time allotted. This won’t be an easy task, as you will be vying against other foremen for the best buildings and will have a limited number of workers available to you. Each worker has a different skill set, and is capable of providing you with the different resources you need to build your buildings. Only by selecting the right buildings and the right workers will you achieve victory and become the first builder.

Another resource management city-building card-game, you have limited money to hire workers, each worker has limited ability to generate materials required for building, and you have limited time to deploy those workers. But you need to deploy enough workers to finish your buildings, as the only way you can become the First Builder of the Kingdom is to finish enough buildings to secure your victory. (Which is secured as soon as you build 17 victory points worth of buildings.)

In The Builders, you start the game with:

  • one apprentice and
  • ten coins

Then, on each turn, you can perform three actions. The actions you can choose from are:

  • begin construction of a new building or machine (by selecting one of the available five buildings)
  • recruit a worker (from one of the five available workers)
  • send a worker to work (on a building by paying his wages)
  • earn coins (by spending an action)

Just like in the real world when you are building a new Procurement department, you start with a small budget, one or two assistants, and a potential set of sourcing projects that you have to select from (as you don’t have the resources to do all of them); then you have to recruit new workers, task them with sourcing projects, pay them to tackle the projects, and hope you succeed in time. Also, if times are hard, you moonlight by taking on GPO work to make ends meet.

The complexity of the game is that, just like you experienced in OddVille, each worker has a different experience level and brings with him different resources (stone, wood, tile, and knowledge) that can be used in the buildings you need to build, and each take different amounts of different resources to build. Furthermore, you can’t assign two workers to the same building on the same turn (without sacrificing extra actions), your earnings become exponential if you sacrifice multiple actions (1 coin for 1 action, 3 coins for 2 actions, and 6 coins for 3 actions), and you can buy extra actions for 5 coins. Plus, every machine you are able to build before the game ends gives you an advantage. For example, the circular saw produces 2 or 3 wood, the crane produces 2 or 3 stone, the tile oven produces 2 or 3 tile, and the survey tool produces 2 or 3 knowledge, depending on the one that you build. These tools can be used like workers, but you don’t have to pay them.

Similarly, in the real world, each of your workers have different backgrounds and bring different skills with them; each sourcing project requires a different skill set; you add communication complexity if you assign too many resources to a single sourcing project (and pay for it with delays); building and maintaining a team costs money; and you can acquire additional revenue for your department by providing GPO services.

The game ends at the end of the round in which one player reaches 17 victory points (tallied as the sum of the completed building and machine victory points and the amount of coin possessed divided by 10).

Like OddVille, The Builders (Middle Ages) is a neat little game that, like OddVille, has the advantage that you can generally finish a game with 10 minutes per player once you get that hang of it. You can play multiple head-to-head games against your cube mate, or a couple of 3 or 4 player games in a lunch-hour.

The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part XXIII: Oddville

Do you sometimes feel like your Purchasing Department is the Island of Misfit Toys? Then OddVille is the game for you!

Oddly enough, several of you have been hired to build the city of OddVille, home to four powerful worker guilds. You will use your workers to obtain resources, coins and building projects in order to build the most valuable buildings and to gain the favour of guild members.

A city-building card-game, OddVille is a resource management game where, like in your real-world Purchasing department, you have limited resources to secure your contracts (buildings) and competing shareholders to appease (guilds). And you win by securing the most contracts (just like you typically win in OddVille by securing the most buildings).

In OddVille, at the start of the game, each player gets:

  • four worker cards in her colour (which may be used to obtain coin, resources, or building permits) which represent the classes of workers you have available to task
  • nine worker meeples
  • one resource (wood, clay, stone, or crystal)

Just like in the real world, you have a small team and limited resources to work with.

On each turn, a player can take one, and only one, of the following actions:

  • use an available worker (to obtain coin, resources, or building permits), dictated by the current worker classes available
  • build a building

Just like, in the real world, a Purchasing pro can only do one thing at a time — like executing a buy on contract to save money, building up the corporate intelligence, negotiating for a contract, or executing a contract.

The complexity of the game is that each worker, at a different experience level, has different skills, which means each worker can generate different amounts of coin, acquire different resources, and acquire building permits at different costs. Furthermore, once a worker has been committed to a task, that worker is unavailable for another task until your pool of available worker classes is empty (to model the amount of time a worker would be unavailable in the real world) or you are willing to spend coin to reclaim a worker class (as workers will work overtime for money). And, victory depends not only on which buildings are built but where they are built in OddVille (as bonuses can be obtained from orthogonally connected buildings and victory points are often dependent not on the building but its neighbours). (Similarly, sometimes the victory in a negotiation is not in the primary product or service being negotiated, but the value-adds or related products you manage to negotiate a deep discount on.)

Obtaining coin is straight-forward, a worker is tasked and coin is received. In order to acquire a resource, the worker must be given coin equal to the current cost of the resource and tasked with obtaining it, and to acquire a building permit, the worker must be given coin equal to the cost of the building permit desired. The cost of resources depends on how many other players are currently seeking that resource (and go from 0 to 2 coin, as the first seeker is able to acquire extra and sell enough to cover cost) and the cost of building permits depend on the skill of the worker who is negotiating them (and go from 0 to 5). In order to build a building, the player must have the required resources (shown on the permit) and a free worker meeple to staff the building. When a building is built, the player obtains any bonus associated with the building (such as a resource, coin, or guild member) and any adjacent connected buildings in the town. If the player gains the help of a guild member, he or she gets to use the special assistance of that guild member whenever applicable for as long as she has the help of the guild member. For example, if a player builds a building for the blue guild and gains the help of the Human Resources Manager, she can use any worker card to gain any resource (as her workers have access to the special skills of the Human Resource Manager).

The game ends when a player has placed her 6th worker in the city. Her score is the sum of the value of each building she has a worker meeple on, the value of the special guild members she has acquired the help of, and 1 point for each worker meeple on the resources board. (Similarly, the value of a Purchasing department is the value of each contract cut, the value generated for each stakeholder, and the value of value-added services she has managed to obtain on behalf of the Purchasing Department).

OddVille is a very odd little game, but has the advantage that, unlike many more complex worker placement games, you can generally finish a game with 10 minutes per player once you get the hang of it. You can play multiple head-to-head games against your cube mate, or a couple of 3 or 4-player games in a lunch-hour.

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XX: Le Havre, The Inland Port

You like being the harbour master, but getting in a rousing game of Le Havre is difficult because of the average playtime of one and a half to three hours and you want to get in a rousing game over lunch. Plus, sometimes only one person will dare to take you on. If only there was a more streamlined two-person variant, just like the All Creatures Big and Small variant of Agricola, things would be great.

Good news, there is! Based on the original Le Havre, Le Havre: The Inland Port is a streamlined variant of Le Havre that can be played by two people in thirty to forty-five minutes, allowing you to get a rousing game, or two, in over your lunch break as you both vie for the title of Habour Master — an important title given the importance of ocean logistics, cross-dock, and warehouse management in your supply chain.

As with All Creatures Big and Small, The Inland Port is simpler to learn than the full game, but is just as hard to master, especially since there are 31 building tiles and you will be able to play at most 12 each during the course of the game, and the order of play can change each game (as can the order of availability if you play a full random game).

As in regular Le Havre, the game consists of a fixed number of rounds (12 to be precise) and each round consists of a fixed number of turns (equal to 3 in the first 3 rounds, 5 in the next 3 rounds, 7 in the following 3 rounds, and 9 in the final 3 rounds for a total of 72 turns in all). As in regular Le Havre, one player has more turns than the other in each round, but each player still gets the same number of turns by the end of the game. However, the variable number of turns dictates that, in each round, one player will have one less chance to use available buildings, including two buildings that will become unavailable for use by the end of the round.

Le Havre, The Inland Port reduces the time and complexity required in the game by cleaning up the 3-biggest time crunches in Le Havre

  • Replenishment and Upkeep
    In Le Havre, at the end of every turn, available supplies are replenished and a lot of time is spent updating available inventory (and unlocking buildings now available for use). In The Inland Port, there is no replenishment phase as all supplies are increased (and decreased) through the utilization of available buildings (or the purchase thereof)
  • Feeding
    Although this is an important mechanic, as it represents the real-world need to maintain enough cash-flow to pay your workers, it is a time consuming one. In Le Havre, the feeding requirement is eliminated, but the net effect (of decreasing your cash reserves and/or food supply) is compensated for with the forced-sale mechanism. Any building that is built must be sold within 5 rounds at a loss equal to half of its value.
  • Resource Collection and Usage
    In regular Le Havre, when you use a building to take an action, you are often increasing or decreasing your available resources and moving a lot of resource markers around. In The Inland Port, you keep track of your resources using a resource board which only requires you to move a single resource marker to a different board location when a resource is acquired or disposed of (to buy a building, for example).

These three modifications, combined with the fact that a player has only two action choices on his turn — use an available building or build (or buy) one (along with the ability to sell an existing building at any time) — make gameplay fairly rapid once the basics of the game are understood by both players (and both players are familiar with what each building fundamentally does). The difficulty in this game is not in playing it, it’s figuring out what to do when to maximize your wealth. Proper building acquisition, utilization, and resource disposal sequences can generate tons of wealth (and a player can easily accumulate 200 Francs by the end of the game if she knows what she is doing and is not impeded by her opponent). On the other hand, poor choices will leave the player relatively cash poor throughout most of the game.

In order to maintain some complexity and keep the game challenging, The Inland Port maintains the unit concept, and extends it to all base goods. So, just like you’d waste one unit of energy using coal to power a building that took two units of energy (if you did not have two wood available), if you only have a 3-block of resources, and only need 1 or 2 units, you will have to over-utilize. This dictates the need to balance the utilization of buildings that give you 3-blocks of resources with the utilization of buildings that give you multiple units so as to maximize your resource utilization.)

Each building in The Inland Port:

  • moves one or more good counters a multiple of one unit or three units,
  • generates Francs,
  • exchanges Francs and/or resources for other resources,
  • sells one or more resources for Francs (at the end of the game), and/or
  • increases your wealth.

The amount of goods and/or Francs generated, exchanged, and/or sold varies according to the building type and each building available for use can be used 2 to 4 times by a player on his turn, depending on how long it has been available. (A building, which can only be in play for five rounds, can only be used in at most four rounds as it can not be used the round it is played. It can be used up to 2 times in the following, round, up to 3 times in the round following that, and up to 4 times in the final two rounds it is available for use. Finally, if used in the last round it is available, it also generates 1 Franc.)

It’s a complex little game, and one that will force you to balance your strategic planning and resource utilization skills, as your plans might not always come to fruition — just like wrenches get thrown into your supply chain at the most unexpected of times.

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XIX: The Gnomes of Zavandor

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.

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XVIII: Camelot, The Build and Carcassone, New World

While the focus of this series is primarily on economic, worker placement, and pick-up/delivery games which model the economic, labour, and logistics issues prevalent in the product and services supply chains that you manage day-in and day-out, other types of games, such as tile placement — which are reminiscent of supply chain design activities — and hand management — as you can only hold so much inventory at any one time — also model elements of your supply chain and sharpen skills that you need from time to time. Plus, many of these games can easily be fit into a lunch-hour, and regular (Euro) gaming against skilled opponents can help keep your mind sharp. (Much sharper than using a self-driven brain-training game that you can master with enough rote memorization – you can’t memorize, or even predict, what an adversary will do next.)

Today we are going to cover two tile placement games — Camelot, The Build and Carcassone, A New World — as they allow you to sharpen your resource management skills as both games give you a set number of tiles and a set number of options and you have to do the best you can on each turn. Plus, they’re quick to learn and relatively quick to play. Camelot, The Build typically takes 30 minutes or less and Carcassone, New World takes 30 to 45 minutes or less, depending on the number of players, experience, and skill. You can easily fit a game, or two, of these in during your lunch hour. Plus, the age ranges on these games are 8-10 and up, so you it won’t take long to learn the basic rules. (Mastery, on the other hand …)

In Camelot, the Build you are an interior designer in the time of King Arthur and The King needs help finishing the interior design and layout of his castle. The core structure has been built, but it’s up to you to layout the rooms and the hallways and finish things up.

In this game, designed for 2 to 5 players, you each get 10 tiles, of which up to 3 can be kept secret, and you can play up to 3 on your turn. The tiles you play are replenished (randomly) at the end of your turn (until all tiles enter the game). Some of these tiles are worth points, and some aren’t. Tiles that are worth points generate additional points when they are placed against one or more tiles edgewise. Tiles that aren’t worth points can generate additional points when they are placed in such a way as to border tiles that are worth points. In addition, if a player manages to play 3 tiles during her turn in a connected fashion, then she doubles the points she scored that term.

What’s the catch? There are eight types of tiles — blank, blank wall, furnished wall, rounded corner wall, furnished great hall, garden, small hall, and fireplace tile — and each type of tile can only be played in a matching tile space. Wall tiles can only be played on matching wall tiles, hall tiles on matching hall tiles, and blank and garden tiles can only be played on unwalled spaces. So there are a limited number of places you can play each tile. In addition, wall tiles can generate up to 3 additional points if correctly played, hall tiles up to 4 additional points, and garden tiles up to 8 additional points (as adjacent corner tiles also score points), so you have to balance between playing a tile too soon (for too little points) and too late (when a prime location has been boxed in and you can’t play 3 connected tiles to double your points).

In addition, as you can see at least 7 of the 10 tiles each of your opponent’s have, you can see how they can generate the most points and you have to balance between making the most points you can in a turn and blocking your opponents from making the most points they can. If your opponent has a play that could generate twice as many points as the best play you have on your turn, you probably don’t want to be playing a greedy strategy and instead use a blocking strategy that prevents your opponent from generating too many points. Finally, you don’t want to hang onto your best tiles for two long — points scored in the final round count against you! Just like waiting too long to sell on the open market can ruin you, so can waiting too long to cash in your victory points in Camelot, the Build!

In Carcassone, New World, you are exploring and settling the New World. Unlike regular Carcassone, where you get points for completing claimed roads, cities, and farms, and where the challenge is picking what to claim (as you have a fixed number of workers to claim roads, cities, and farms) and then getting your claimed roads, cities, and farms completed (because your opponents will do their best to prevent you from obtaining completion and deny you your victory points), in New World, where you also get points for completing trails, towns, and farms (and plains), the challenge is to not only complete the trails and towns and farms, but do so before you lose your ability to claim the points for doing so. Unlike regular Carcassone, where you can claim a road or city and spend the entire game extending it in an effort to maximize your points for the claim, New World adds two surveyors to the game and one surveyor moves “west” each time a trail, town, or farm is scored. If the eastern-most survey moves to a location that is west of the settler you placed on a trail, town, or farm, then your settler is returned to your supply and you lose the ability to score that feature. You could spend 7 turns working to complete your farm, in hopes of obtaining the 9 points it generates, and lose it before you get a chance to play your last tile because two opponents decided to finish and score their features ahead of yours and move the surveyors westward. It’s just like playing the real market, how long do you hold during an up-swing before you sell and take the profit in front of you. Sell too soon, and you make very little. Wait too long, and the stock crashes and you lose it all.

So, you have to decide between completing a feature now for a few points or waiting to complete it later in the hopes of scoring a lot more points (but with the possibility you might lose all of the points you hope to gain). When deciding to complete it now, it’s not only the points you gain but the effects on your opponent(s) you have to consider. If completing a feature now will prevent one or more opponents from scoring any points for a feature they claimed, especially if it is one they have been building up for a while, it might be worthwhile. If completing later could double your points, it’s worth the wait unless there’s a good chance your opponents could complete their features and knock you out.

Both games are great for sharpening your analytical and planning skills and they both provide a great interlude in this ongoing series.