Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser
(Tasty Minstrel Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, 2-3 hours; $59.95)
Some subjects are just too boring for board games. While there might be lots of intricacies and fascinating options in real life, the subject matter just seems bland or boring. For me, business is one such topic. I have been a businessman for nearly twenty-nine years, and have operated by own business since 1995. As such, playing a game about operating a business holds little excitement for me. As my good friend Ty Douds once said, “I operate a business every day of my life. The last thing I want to do is play a game about running a business.”
I guess personal axioms can have an exception. In my case, that would be Ground Floor by designer David Short and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Ground Floor places players in the role of CEO, challenging them to build and expand their business both physically and financially in an effort to become the dominant player in the market. Short manages to transform what I normally perceive as a mundane and dull subject into an exciting and challenging affair.
Players must maintain a steady cash and information flow in order to expand their physical office, hire new employees and produce and sell goods. These tasks are primarily accomplished via worker placement – placing employees on various locations within their office and onto the central board. The large central board depicts a downtown city landscape featuring numerous skyscrapers as a background to the numerous worker placement spaces and charts. During the game players will place their workers onto various locations onto the board and their own business in order to execute the corresponding actions. Placement areas are generally limited or grow more expensive with each placement, so there is keen competition for the prime locations.
Each player receives a personal board that depicts the ground floor of his business which is comprised of six departments. Each department produces unique benefits but employees must be placed there in order to reap those rewards. The board also has a space for hiring new employees which also determines the amount of income a player receives each turn. The more employees, the more time resources a player will have available. The cost, however, is a reduced net income. More nifty, however, is the building aspect. Each player board depicts an actual office, which grows larger as each new department / tile is purchased and added. While it is not three-dimensional, it is still quite neat.
Players begin the game with a limited supply of money, information, time markers and a single supply token. Each player beings by upgrading one of their basic departments, which gives them a bit more output when that department is activated. Each turns follows this sequence:
Receive Income. Income is determined by the number of workers a player employs; the more workers, the less income. Indeed, if a player hires all five employees, he will actually have to pay each turn instead of receiving income.
Hire Employees. The cost to hire is based on the job market status, which varies with the economy. The stronger the economy, the more expensive it is to hire workers. Each employee hired drives up the price for the next employee, as they are now in greater demand. Employees translate into time markers, with each new hire giving the player three more time markers to place during the “Schedule Business” phase.
Hired employees must be trained, so a player needs to spend some time on training that employee before he can be utilized.
While it is highly desirable to have more time in order to take more actions, employees reduce the company’s net income. So, it is a balancing act that requires frequent adjustments.
- Schedule Business. The bulk of the action occurs here and in the next phase. Players place their time markers onto the various departments in their business and/or onto the central board. This is done in turn order, which is based on the popularity track. Most tasks only require one time marker, but many require the expenditure of multiple time markers. When placing time markers on their own business, the tasks are resolved immediately. The rewards of the central board, however, are delayed until the next phase.
During this phase players may pay to remodel any of their basic departments. The cost is paid in both information and money, but the enhanced benefits are generally worth this outlay.
- Conduct Business. Each area of the main board containing time markers is resolved. A quick explanation of the central board’s areas is helpful.
- Consulting Firm. This is the main area in which to earn information, but it is risky. It is a two-step process wherein a player pays cash to the consulting firm and hopes that on a subsequent turn another player will visit the firm, too. Otherwise, the player will receive no information for what is a considerable outlay of funds.
- Advertising Agency. This is the area wherein players can increase their popularity, which determines player order and serves as a tie-breaker. Players can move their markers to networking, print and/or broadcast in order to gain popularity. The cost for print and broadcast is greater, but popularity is achieved quicker.
- Warehouse. Players can acquire a new supply cube here (or produce them in their own business). Supply cubes are needed to sell in the retail shops, which is usually the main source of cash. The cost is paid in cash and information, with the cost rising for each subsequent placement. Place here early and you get the better price!
- Factory. Placing here will allow the player to move his goods to the “Retail Outlets” section during the Conduct Business phase. It costs cash, information and a supply cube to place here. In placement order, players move their markers from the Factory to the retail outlets, hoping the economic forecast will be favorable so that they goods can be sold for handsome profits. The economy changes each turn, affecting the number of customers available, workforce and other items.
- Retail Outlets. Each turn a specified number of customers will visit the retail shops to purchase goods. This will be highly dependent upon the economic forecast, which will vary from depression to boom. Players know the forecast, but not the exact number of customers. Players can earn from $6 – $16, depending upon where they placed their marker and the number of customers. If they fail to sell their good(s), the markers can be immediately liquidated for $3 or reduced in price for a hopeful sale on the next turn.
- Construction Company. This is where players purchase improvements and new floors (expansions) for their buildings. The cost is hefty, and rises with each floor a player already possesses. Additional floors and improvements generally bring additional options and benefits for the players, and many also grant victory points. A limited number and type are available, so competition for the prime expansions and floors can be keen. The bulk of a player’s victory points will be earned from these improvements, so players should tailor their actions and strategies towards acquiring these as quickly and efficiently as possible.
At the end of each turn, players’ markers are moved back on the popularity track, unless a particular enhancement is purchased which prevents this setback. This is an interesting turn-order mechanism, as it encourages players to continuously advertise so they can compete for the prime spots in the turn order.
The game is played over the course of nine rounds but can end early if one or more players construct a fifth floor in their building. Players earn prestige points for their remodeled rooms, tenant improvements, floors / achievements and cash and information sets. Any ties are broken by a player’s rank on the popularity track. A typical game can be played to completion in two hours but it takes a bit longer when playing with five or six players.
Ground Floor accomplishes something that, for me, is quite laudable: making a business game exciting. I am partial to the “worker placement” mechanism, and it is used to great effect here. Players must give attention to numerous aspects of their business: hiring and training workers, raising capital, gaining information, producing and selling goods, advertising, expanding and upgrading their operations and more. On most turns, there is not enough time to accomplish all of these tasks. Optimally allocating one’s time resources is critical.
Players must not ignore expanding and upgrading their business as this is where the majority of victory points are earned. The problem is that purchasing these new expansions and upgrades is quite expensive. Players must accumulate an ever-increasing amount of cash and information, as the cost for each expansion rises based on the number already possessed by a player. This requires players to implement sustainable methods to insure a steady supply of cash and information. This often means taking risks at the consulting firm (information) and retail shops (cash). The old business adage “no risk, no reward” applies here.
As the game enters its final three rounds, players can acquire achievements which are expansions (floors) that can bring a considerable amount of victory points. Many give bonuses for achieving certain goals. The number of achievements is very limited, so players should position themselves to acquire as many of these as possible as soon as they become available.
There is a palpable tenseness to the proceedings as players jockey to grab the most beneficial and least costly locations, hoping to secure the most coveted expansions and achievements. Most turns are very exciting and challenging. There are occasions, however, when there is little to do with one’s time markers. This usually results from a lack of cash and/or information but near the end of the game – particularly on the final turn – there often is not much useful a player can do. This is the only real disappointment in an otherwise excellent game.
Ground Floor succeeds where many other business-themed games have failed. It takes a subject that I find generally unexciting and mundane and makes it challenging, exciting and fun. That is a tremendous accomplishment. I look forward to many more days in this corporate world.
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Spring 2013 GA Report Articles