Reviewed by: Greg J. Schloesser
(Tasty Minstrel Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, 120-150 minutes; $69.95)
Generally, I am not fond of economic games, tending to find them fairly dry and business-like. I am a businessman by profession, so playing a game that is about a business strays a bit too close to what I do for a living. I want my gaming to be about something different, more of an escape from the reality of my occupation and day-to-day life.
To be clear, I don’t mind finances or economics being a part of the games I play. Indeed, finances are part of many games that I enjoy. However, a game t
hat concentrates on operating a business or one that is primarily devoted to finances tends to be, for me, unexciting and often just plain boring. There are exceptions, including the classic Acquire from Sid Sackson. I also enjoy Ground Floor (featured in the Spring 2013 GA Report), another business / economic game published by Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG). I can now add another one to the list: Captains of Industry by designer Michael R. Keller.
The game’s name and rather uninspired box and board art did nothing to draw me in or evoke any excitement or anticipation for playing it. Everything has the appearance of a 19th century factory: dull, gray and foreboding. Fortunately most of the remaining components — counters, cards, etc.– are more attractive and inviting. The rules are also well organized, but they are somewhat dense and confusing to understand.
In a nutshell, players will be acquiring industries (steel foundries, lumber mills, oil wells, etc.), operating them, selling and purchasing resources and acquiring real estate, hopefully with the aim of dominating the various markets (consumables, durables and energy) by selling the most goods and products. Continuing to expand, improve and advance are important to gain advantages over your opponents, and, with the help of the “captains of industry”. will yield handsome profits at game’s end.
At first glance, the main market board is confusing. Understanding how it works is important, especially in terms of meeting market demand. Shaped like a giant gear wheel, the board has three main sections divided into concentric circles. The small inner circle is where players will sell and purchase technology. This is the only area that has no influence on the market demand or control of other sectors. The circle surrounding this area has four spaces for consumables: iron, stone, lumber and corn. Again, these are the areas where players will purchase and sell the appropriate commodities, but each of these areas will also feed consumer demand from the adjacent real estate markets in the outer ring. The outer ring is where real estate markets will be developed, which will affect the demand of both consumables in the central ring, as well as the energy and durables markets in the outer ring. There are also four energy and durables markets (two of each) in this outer ring. This arrangement is admittedly confusing and does take some time to get accustomed to its workings.
Players begin the game with a healthy supply of goods tokens, a meager treasury ($20) and four Captain’s cards. The latter provide end-of-game victory points if the conditions are met. However, one of these cards will be discarded after each of the three ages, but more can be obtained during the game.
A round consists of each player taking a turn, after which rent is collected, the player order is reset and a check is made to see if the age has ended. If not, a new round is conducted until the age does conclude. Each turn, a player may take one action from among the following:
Build or Expand a Facility. There are six types of facilities–oil well, factory, lumber mill, stone quarry, university and farm–each producing a specific good or commodity. The player must pay the indicated goods to build a facility (usually a resource, but some have no building costs), and likewise must pay the indicated goods to expand an existing one. Expansion is more expensive, as the costs are mostly cumulative, so it costs more and more to continue expanding. Expanding a facility, however, is quite useful, as it allows more goods to be produced when the facility is “run”.
When paying goods, this actually means that the player must first purchase them from the markets, which presumes the goods are actually available. If so, the player must purchase the least expensive goods (the process is explained shortly), and the player(s) selling those goods removes their market tokens from the market board and places them in their nifty 3-D bank. These are considered “market share” and will ultimately determine the victor at game’s end.
Establishing a strong presence in numerous facilities is vital, as it increases one’s production capacity, allowing more goods to be made available on the market. Further, the victory point conditions on the Captain’s cards are often related to the facilities one owns.
Run a Facility. When running a facility, the indicated number of goods are produced. A player may double this production by paying “overtime”, the financial cost being indicated on the cards. The corresponding number of goods tokens are placed on the matching markets on the market board. The player may split these between matching markets if so desired. Where to place these goods can be a tough choice, as players not only want them to be purchased, but are also competing for dominance in the various markets (consumables, energy and durables).
Once placed in the market, the player may set the sales price he is willing to accept for those goods. This price can be 0, 1, 3, 5, 7, 10 or, in some cases, 13. Since players (and later the demand) must purchase the lowest priced goods, there is often some angst in choosing the sales price. The price can be adjusted during certain actions (producing more of the same goods, choosing a new Captain card or performing market research), but there are often other actions a player would prefer to take. The pricing often causes conflict between the need to earn money and the desire to sell the commodities at any price, as sales translate into increased market share, which ultimately wins the game.
Market Research. This is the “technology tree”, which is a feature in many games. Players gain a variety of advantages by achieving various advances. As with many technology charts, players must start at the bottom and work their way up, purchasing and paying research for each advance. Some of the benefits are enjoyed during the game (extra market share or money when a good is sold or a facility is operated, drawing Captain’s cards, etc.), while others grant market share at the conclusion of an age for various holdings.
These advantages can be significant and should not be ignored. There are preset paths, but players can proceed along as many paths as desired (and they can afford). When conducting market research, the player may also reset any of his market prices, which can be a significant incentive to take this action.
Market Manipulation. The player draws a Captain card. As mentioned, these cards provide valuable end-game market share (victory points) if the listed conditions are met. At the end of each age players must discard a Captain’s card, so grabbing more during the course of the game is a wise idea. The action also allows the player to reset his market prices, which, as mentioned, is required often due to price-undercutting by opponents.
Build Real Estate. Real Estate fuels demand for goods and services from the three adjacent markets (consumables, durables and energy). Each of the four real estate sections draws from the three adjacent markets — consumables above, and energy and durables on either side. There are four locations in each section upon which real estate can be constructed. These locations are classified as bronze, silver or gold and they must be constructed in order. When building, the player selects the appropriate stack of real estate cards and chooses the one he desires to construct. He must purchase and pay the indicated number and types of goods listed on the board, after which he places the desired card onto that space.
Each real estate card lists 3 – 4 demands which correspond to the three market types (for example, a card may list two durables and two energy). This will add to the demand for those adjacent goods at the end of the age. Thus, it will behoove a player to have market tokens of the demanded type and quantity in the adjacent markets so they will be purchased, translating them into market share. This is just one of the challenges of the game.
Real estate holdings grant the player an additional $2 income at the end of each round. This $2 may seem paltry, but it can be vital, especially in the early stages of the game. Further, many Captains cards award end-game market share based on one’s real estate holdings, providing yet another incentive to construct real estate. Constructing real estate, however, does move the player to the back of the turn order, which can be disadvantageous. Sometimes, however, that position can be favorable, especially when the end of an age nears.
If real estate is constructed during a round, a progress token is placed onto the board. At the end of a round (when all players have taken their turn), a number of cards from the “Progress” deck are drawn equal to the number of progress tokens on the board. Thus, as more and more real estate is constructed, more cards are drawn. The Progress deck contains ten cards: 6 city and 4 country. Each time a city card is drawn it is set aside, while country cards are shuffled back in at the end of this phase. When a total of six city cards are drawn, the age ends. This usually takes awhile to occur during Age 1, but Ages 2 & 3 can fly by as more and more real estate is constructed.
Play continues in this fashion until a total of six city cards are revealed. At this point an age concludes and scoring is conducted. The scoring is admittedly fiddly and complex. Basically, each market in the center and outer circles are examined to determine demand. Demand is listed on the real estate cards in the adjacent markets. Once demand is determined, the least expensive market tokens are purchased … but not yet removed, as they will factor into market dominance. All excess markers (if any) are removed from the board.
At this point, dominance is determined. The market tokens in all four markets in the center circle are tallied to determine which player has the most tokens. That player gains five market share tokens, which are deposited into his bank. If there is a tie for dominance, no one receives the bonus market share. Ouch. This same procedure is then performed for the outer circle. Finally, all market tokens that are on the board are sold for their stated price, with the appropriate players collecting the income and depositing the market tokens into their banks.
The age ends with players scoring market share for any appropriate market research advancements and each discarding one Captain’s card. A new age begins, with rounds conducted in the same fashion as described above.
At the conclusion of Age 3, in addition to the scoring described above, a final scoring is conducted. Players earn market share from their Captain’s cards and end-game market research advancements, and the players with the most money receives 20 / 10 / 5 market share. Players then spill the contents of their bank and tally their market share. The player with the greatest market share rises to the status of “Captain of Industry” and, of course, wins the game.
Phew! That is a lot. However, even with all of this information, there are still more details, rules and minutiae. This is not a simple game to teach or learn. The round actions become easier to understand after a round or two, but the end-of-age scoring takes a while to fully grasp. Unfortunately, one must understand how items score in order to properly plan and execute one’s actions and strategies, so this is one of those games that players will not truly understand until they have a full playing under their belts.
While I am not predisposed to economic games, Captains of Industry is different. It is on a broader, more general scale than games such as Ground Floor wherein you are operating a business. This touches on both the local and broader economic picture, forcing players to take into account and even manipulate production, sales, research, real estate and market demand. The decisions to be made are tough, and proper timing can be critical. While you want to produce in order to have goods available for purchase by your opponents — thereby earning money and market share — you sometimes also need to produce to make sure the goods you need are available so you can pursue your own goals (real estate, market research, expansion, etc.). Of course, there is always the real danger that your opponents will purchase the needed goods before you can do so, thereby altering or even halting your plans.
The pricing mechanism is at first interesting, but it does devolve into serious deflation as the end of an age or the game-end approaches. Players will cut prices drastically — often to zero — in order to capture the market demand and make sure their goods are sold, thereby increasing their market share. While price cutting is a viable tactic in the business world, rarely do companies consistently give away their goods. This would spell doom in the business world, whereas it can spell victory in the game. As such, it is not an accurate market simulation, which is rather disappointing.
That being said, there is no denying that the game is challenging and has a fresh, different feel. I’ve been competitive in a few games, but was totally thrashed in another; yet, I still enjoyed the game and want to play more. That is certainly a good sign. I believe gamers who are inclined to enjoy economic games will find Captains of Industry to be one of the better ones in the genre. And that, to use a bit of business vernacular, is the bottom line.
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Summer 2015 GA Report Articles