Wealth of Nations (Boardgame)

This Christmas we invested in a new board-game. I was particularly interested in one which has elements of the free markets in it, as I thought it would be interesting to see the free markets in action in a game.

There is a variation of Monopoly called ‘Free Market Monopoly‘:

Players may build houses on any property they own, even if they do not have a complete set. If a player lands on a property which has been improved, they can either pay what they owner asks, up to a maximum of the normal amount required, or they may instead pay rent to any other owner of one of the other properties in the group, paying whatever rent that owner requests. If the player chooses to pay a different owner, including his or her own property in the group, then the player also moves his or her token to that property.

This should add some competition and some of the free market to the game, but the game is already very much about owning rights to be the only person to do something. Moreover, this rule would slow down a game which gets already gets boring very quickly.

I looked on the Internet for other board games and I found one called Wealth of Nations. I had to import it from America, where it cost me $36 to buy, $28 for postage and another $20 for duty and handling fees. That’s £50. However, it is very, very good.

Wealth of Nations box

Wealth of Nations box

Presumably named after Adam Smith’s famous book, Wealth of Nations is about earning as much money as possible using the production and trading on commodities. The commodities in the game are Food, Energy, Labour, Capital and Iron Ore. These commodities can be bought from the market and sold to the market.

Buying something causes the cost of the commodity to increase whilst selling something causes the cost of the commodity to decrease. There is a difference between the buy and sell price (the ‘Buy/Sell spread’) although it is the same for each commodity. (In real life this varies depending on the commodity.) This encourages players to barter among themselves in order to make deals that and mutually beneficial (against the market price, by being worth more than selling one item and buying the other for both parties).

Wealth of Nations Crib Sheet

The 'Wealth of Nations' Crib Sheet gives the prices of the various industries

In order to actually produce goods, industries are needed. These are hexagonal tiles that go on the board and cost some resources to build, generally labour, capital and iron ore. The industry can be either a Farm (food), Generator (energy), Academy (Labour), Factory (Capital), Mine (Iron Ore) or a bank (produces money).

Each round each tile requires one unit of food to produce output, and also each block of tiles (of the same colour, connected, and owned by the same player) requires one unit of energy. Each dot on the industry tiles produces one unit of output. However, an ‘economy of scale’ is introduced by the fact that some dots are on the edge of the tile and so can be joined up with other tiles. For instance, one farm produces one unit of food, but three farms produce 6.

5 farms can produce up to 12 units of food

5 farms can produce up to 12 units of food when joined together in the correct way.

This obviously means that it is much better to have a group of the same industry than it is to try and produce everything. However, there is supply-and-demand to deal with. If you over-produce a particular resource, then you either have to hoard it, and thus it cannot be exchanged for things you actually need, or sell it to the markets. But if you sell it to the markets you decrease its market value. Other players will not value it so highly as they can already get it cheaper from the markets.

On the other hand, if you monopolise a commodity that people need that will push the market price up. If the price gets too high players may start to invest in their own alternative methods of production. Perhaps you monopolise an industry but are under producing. For instance, if you produce only enough energy for yourself but you are only player who produces any, another player will likely start.

If you predict that the price of a particular commodity is going to go up then you could speculate by buying the resources before it happens and selling it back afterwards. However, the markets in this game are irritatingly stable and the buy/sell spread is probably more significant than the movement of the market, so unless some rules are changed this is not a good strategy.

It is possible to trade in promises. For instance, you can trade with people a right to buy resources at a fixed price in the future, or make them pay (less than the market price) for the a resource that you will produce in the future.

A Game in Progress

A Game in Progress

Debts can be taken out. There is no repayment rate but amount you receive drops by $1 each turn. (I say dollars in order to show it is money, however obviously this is not the unit.) The first one gives you $20, the second $19 and so forth. Each one costs $25 to pay back and if you don’t your score is decreased at the end of the game, so it is important to do so. However, this presents a good opportunity to trade. Suppose you have a debt and you know another player wants to take one out. It will be the other players 4th and so they will only get $17. You can offer her to buy your debt for $20. This deal would make her gain $3, as she got a whole $20 instead of just $17. It would gain you $5 as you effectively repaid your loan for $20 instead of $25.

It’s a brilliant game and well worth buying. We’ve had a couple of three hour games which felt very short as time just flew by. It’s by far the best board game I’ve ever played (not that I’ve played many).

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