Sunday, 5 July 2009


I played Container on 26 Jun 2009 at Carcasean boardgame cafe. It was a 5-player game, the ideal number I believe, with Chong Sean, Choo, Kevin, and Kevin's girlfriend (forgot to ask her name). I think it was the first time for all of us. I have read the rules before so I explained the game.

In Container, each player can produce goods. These goods can be bought and prepared for shipping. Then they are bought to be loaded onto ships, to be eventually shipped to a foreign island. So, only 4 steps - production, first sales transaction from a factory store to a harbour store, second sales transaction from a harbour store to the ship, and third sales transation from ship to foreign island. Where it gets interesting is these steps must be done by different players. If you produce the goods, you can't buy them yourself from factory store to harbour store. You price them and hope someone else will buy from you. Similar, if you have bought someone else's goods from his factory store to be placed at your harbour store, you can't ship them yourself. You have to price them, and hope someone else will send his ship to come buy the goods from your harbour store. When the ship containing (no pun intended) goods reaches the foreign island, the goods are sold via blind bidding. The seller can decide whether to sell to the highest bidder, which will earn him twice the highest bid, because the bank also pays a matching amount, or he can decide to reject the offer, and pay the same amount to have the goods for himself. It is usually better to not do the latter, because it will likely make you very cash poor, as opposed to being quite cash rich. So normally, goods in the game go through three change of hands - manufacturer to packager (I invented this title) to shipper to consumer.

My player board. From front to back: (1) the factory machines - you can have at most four, and each must be of a different colour, i.e. produce different goods. Numbers in circles are the costs to buy the next machines. (2) Factory store. The numbers indicate the price you want to sell your goods at. Factory store capacity is double that of your number of machines. (3) Warehouses. You start with one and can buy more to increase your harbour store capacity. Numbers on roofs are the costs to buy the next warehouses. (4) Harbour store. Again, the numbers are the prices you want to set for your goods. I didn't have any goods in my harbour store at this time. The capacity of your harbour store equals the number of warehouses you have. (5) The harbour, which only allows other players' ships to enter, and never your own.

The currency in the game. Graphic design is by Mike Doyle, and I think his work on Container is very good. Functional, and I love the money.

My ship.

The objective of the game is to be the richest. Other than earning money via the various transactions in the game, the containers that you own at game end probably makes the biggest impact. At game end you sell them based on a secret pricing card which you receive at the start of the game. Everyone gets one, and the 5 different coloured containers are worth different values to different players. So part of the game is trying to guess which colours your opponents want. There are some twists in the container values rules: (a) If you have containers of all 5 colours, one of the colours is worth $10 instead of $5 (prices range from $1 to $10, so $10 is a high price), (b) You must discard the containers of the colour of which you have the most (which means you can't just collect heaps of your $10-value containers).

When we started our game, we didn't have much idea what to do. In fact I did a very stupid move of sending my ship to Chong Sean's harbour, hoping to buy some goods later, forgetting that it was a complete waste. When you move to a harbour, you also buy goods in the some move. Since Chong Sean didn't have any goods then, I should not have sent my ship there and should have just waited for when he had goods. The poor lady next to me wasn't sure what to do, and did the exact same thing. Later when I realised my poor move and explained it to everyone we had a good laugh and I had to apologise to her.

Money was quite tight in the game. So we were rather stingy most of the game. You can say we were downright cheap. Most of us priced our goods very cheap to attract buyers. Once one player (and everyone would agree it was Choo!!!) started flooding the market with cheap products, the floodgate was open. The rest couldn't resist and had to sell at competitive (a better name for "dirt cheap") prices. Container is very much about group psychology and group dynamics, about supply and demand. The game mechanism itself seems rather dry, but it is actually all about how you play the players. It is about the mini economy that you and your fellow players create during the game. So it's all about how you interact with the group.

With Choo being the big manufacturer producing many goods and selling them cheap, Kevin decided to specialise in another field. He tried the big harbour store strategy. He built more warehouses, to allow himself to buy and store more goods, which would in turn allow ships to pick up more goods at one go. Ships have a capacity of 5, so if you can buy 5 goods at one harbour rather than 3 and 2 separately at two harbours, that's usually preferred. Unfortunately the warehouses were rather expensive, and in our cheap-skate game, this strategy didn't quite work out for Kevin.

Chong Sean and I were the ones who were earlier and more aggressive in buying the final goods, realising that they were a good deal. Everyone was being cheap, and prices were low, including for those final deliveries to the foreign island. But those containers were worth a lot at game end. Soon everyone was busy with shipping and buying the end products. However overall I still felt the prices offered were lower than they should be. That was good for me, because although there were a few times I paid much more than the second highest bidder to buy the goods, it also meant I managed to buy quite many batches of goods. I think this was the key to my victory later.

Once we started to have a grasp on the game, the game suddenly seemed to speed up. The game ends when two container types are exhausted. The game was not short. It probably took 1.5 - 2 hours. But we were very engrossed in the game and didn't feel the time passing.

Kevin (black T-shirt) and Choo (grey T-shirt) had some informal trade agreement during the game. Chong Sean (right) advising Choo on how to price his goods.

The containers and the warehouses.

Two ships parked at my harbour, and the still rather empty foreign island in the background. My (green) ship was the first to visit the island to sell the first batch of containers.

Kevin's warehouse strategy. He was the only one to have bought 5 warehouses. That's why he could have 5 containers at his harbour store.

The foreign island was getting rather busy.

Choo's very obvious manufacturer strategy. He was the only one with four (max) machines. All his goods were priced at a measly $1.

Container seemed a little dry when I read the rules, but it turned out to be more interesting than I had expected. Probably because we had a 5-player game, which I think is the ideal number. I likely won't buy it, because I rarely get to play 5P games. But I'd gladly play a 5P game again.


Frank Conradie said...

I really love this game, and we've had some fantastic and wildly varying 5p games so far. In one game 3 of us even went bankrupt - prices were too high early on, and we were not careful with loans.

I agree with you about the importance of the group dynamic, which almost becomes part of the "meta-game" if you know the other players well. All-in-all a game I will gladly play anytime anywhere, as it's, always challenging and interesting.

Aik Yong said...

This is a funky game where the game experience can very much depend on the player interactions. I did well in this game twice, all due to a so-called 'informal' agreement with another player to buy each other's goods at a high price to get a matching high subsidy... very sneaky move.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Heh heh... all's fair in the cutthroat business world. I can very much imagine how Container can become like Diplomacy - shifting alliances and betrayals.