Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Greed, Incorporated

On 8 Jan 2010 I joined the Old Town Kopitiam Cheras gamers again, to play Greed, Incorporated. We had 5 players, the full complement, and it was the first game for all of us.

Greed is a game about businessmen building up companies, then wrecking them in order to gain personal profit in the form of big severance packages, and ultimately using this personal wealth gained to buy status symbols, like art collections and private jets. Everyone starts the game with no personal wealth, but each player is the CEO of a new company with $100 million cash. To make money, the companies can gradually acquire up to four assets. Some assets produce goods, which can be sold for profit, and some assets convert goods to other types of goods, which can usually be sold for even more profit. Companies can trade goods with one another. Every year (round), if any company does not earn more money than the previous year, there will be a blame game, and the CEO, CFO and COO will each pick a person to blame. Anyone blamed will be fired, and will get a severance package, and this is how the players gain personal wealth. Every round there are two status symbols that are available to be purchased, via open auction. The players bid for these using their personal money.

You can also start up new companies using your personal wealth. A player may control (i.e. be CEO of) any number of companies. A player can also be CFO, COO or board member for any number of companies. So trying to get yourself into positions of power and into profitable companies is important.

The red boot marker is placed on a company if it doesn't make more profit than the previous year. It means someone will be sacked.

Most of the main game board is for tracking the prices of the 11 types of goods. On the right (i.e. bottom of this photo) are the price change trends. The bottom of the board (i.e. left of this photo) are the two stacks of status symbols, and the starting bids.

The board of a company consists of CEO, CFO, COO and three more board members. The high-heel shoe, sports car and neck tie are player markers.

The rules are a little complex and there are many steps in every round. This reminds me of Die Macher. You really need a reference sheet for this. We all started the game without much clue. Henry was the first to have a decent company, producing valuable assets and making good profit. I think Jeff was the first to gain control of two companies. He started a lot of creative (i.e. dubious) business deals between his two companies. Later on Allen controlled 3 companies! There were even more creative business deals among those companies, e.g. goods being sold at dirt cheap prices. Heng was one of the earlier ones to be controlling no company (after getting himself fired, i.e. cashing out). Henry and I also at some point had no companies. Baaad idea. We watched in despair as Jeff and Allen's companies prospered and made profits that were unimaginable based on the kind of profits that we had seen in the first few rounds of the game.

Jeff was the first among us to discover the trick of populating the board with your own family members. It's a fantastic way of milking the company dry. Every year that the company is doing poorer, just point fingers at your CEO son, sack him by giving him 40% of the company's cash, then have your CFO son take over as CEO. The next year, just employ your next son (or son-in-law or daughter-in-law or nephew or neice etc) to the CFO position, ready to pull the same trick. There is a rule that penalises this, but the penalty (at least in our game) was small.

Towards the end game, no one could beat Allen's riches. He kept winning the gold status symbols, and Jeff kept getting the silver status symbols. Henry, Heng and I had no chance by that stage. I think we didn't even have enough cash for the starting bids. At game end, Jeff won the game with 29pts, from 4 status symbols won. He had started gaining status symbols earlier than Allen, who had 27pts from 3 status symbols. Henry scored in the teens, with 2 status symbols. Heng and I both had 9pts, he had one status symbol and I had two, but I think I had less cash, which meant I was dead last.

"I worked for this company for 10 years and all I got was some lousy corporate training!"

From right to left: one of the silver status symbol cards won; 2 asset cards (showing card back); currency (in small font: In Greed We Trust).

This is the game board for a company. The card on the top right is the company name. The four cards on the top left are assets of the company. Some produce goods (Coal Pit and Steel Magnate in this photo), some convert goods (Railroad and Builder). The bottom section are the three money buckets. The dollar sign token is always placed on top of the Last Year's Income bucket to remind the CEO never to touch this bucket. Money always goes out from the right (Free Cash) and comes in from the left (This Year's Income). The yellow Railroad card and the grey Steel card are goods that the company currently has. There are 4 slots along the right edge representing warehouses. From one round to the next you can store one good for free without selling it. Any additional warehouses used will cost you money.

Game in progress.

At one point we had 8 companies in play. The table at Old Town barely fit.

Greed, Incorporated is quite a tricky game. You really need to think ahead, analysing the types of assets available, the needs and products and situations of all the companies, who's who on the company boards, etc. Trying to manipulate your company to intentionally do poorer so that you can get yourself fired can be tricky. Each company has three buckets of money - (1) Free Cash is what the company can spend; (2) This Year's Income is whatever the company has earned this year, and money in this bucket cannot be spent; (3) Last Year's Income is money earned in the previous round, which the company also cannot spend. So cash flow can be quite tight because a lot of money can be tied up in this pipeline. Only once a round the money in the buckets are shifted forwards towards the Free Cash bucket.

The game is quite complex. I'd say more so that Indonesia (another complex economic game by the same publisher), and about the same as Die Macher. One thing that makes it feel more complex to me is the two layers in the game - the companies and the players. You need to switch between mindsets. While you are playing the role of company CEO's, you have to remember that making the companies profitable is only the means to an end - your own personal wealth and earning status symbols. You are playing two very different roles at the same time. I have a feeling I won't do very well in 18XX train games, because they too have two layers, the players owning shares in railroad companies, and the companies themselves. I struggle with managing these two layers. Chicago Express has these two layers, but then it's a very streamlined design so I can still cope.

Timing of when to cash out and when to bid for the status symbols is important. This depends a lot on how the group plays. You really need to watch your opponents and guess their intentions. There is pressure to cash in early and gain some cheap status symbols before others can afford them. However cashing in too early may leave yourself vulnerable, being unable to build up your earning power for later rounds. You may become uncompetitive in the later game, when the status symbols are worth more points.

How to wreck a company before you get yourself fired is a skill. You don't want your successor to milk more out of the cash cow. When you have an opportunity to take over another company, e.g. the company did poorly and your superiors are bailing out, do you want to take over as CEO, hoping you can turn the company around and eventually in the long term make more money for yourself, or should you just take a cut now and abandon ship?

The game is quite brutal. It seems to be very hard to recover if you've made some bad decisions in the early game. I felt that from mid-game onwards I was already doomed. Well, this was my first game afterall, so maybe if I play again I won't repeat such fatal mistakes.

There is opportunity for negotiation and trading in the game. I think this is meant to play an important role. In our particular game this didn't play a big part though, at least not for me. I did strike some deals, e.g. selling a good for less than what it was worth, because I wanted to find an excuse to fire myself. However for most of the game I was floundering, and the trades I did didn't help me much.

Overall I didn't like Greed, Incorporated as much as I expected. I'm probably a little biased because I did really poorly in the game. For me the sarcasm and humour from reading the rules didn't turn out to be so funny in an actual game. I guess I didn't really enjoy being evil CEO. Another recent Essen release that has caught my attention is Power Struggle, which also pokes fun at the business world, specifically the politics within a company, bribery, corruption etc. Now I have second thoughts about trying it out.


Oh who am I kidding, if I get a chance to play it I'd jump in without hesitation.


Aik Yong said...

Heng here, awww... you didn't like the game? The rules was quite heavy but not too-18xx heavy. I was quite used to being paid dividends from 18xx's good company governance so I did quite badly. Didn't shift my mentality to aim for severance package payout instead.

The rules did make the game more serious as we were kept busy analysing the best time to get fired. But after a few times, I'm sure we can grasp the mechanics and play faster and freer like pros. We can then taunt each other on our corporate trainings and personal jets!

The thing to note about this game is that it is not an optimisation game like Through the Ages, but more timing and player dynamics like Imperial or Die Handler. Do give yourself another chance on this game.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I'm lukewarm towards the game based on just that first game, but I agree it should be better the next time round now that I know the game better and have learnt the hard lessons. :-)

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Hiew Chok Sien said...

Normally I delete such spam comments, but I thought it was funny how this blog post attracted such spam. I guess it's those keywords like Last Year Income, Free Cash, cash flow, profitable, etc. So I'm keeping it here just to entertain my readers.

Aik Yong said...

I am strangely kinda jealous of that spam. I've written a lot of cash flows, earnings per share and dividends in my 18xx report and i didn't get that spam! :P

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Heng, maybe the missing keyword in your posts is "greed". :-D

Lord of Midnight said...

"Good governance"? Is that not an oxymoron? hehehe

Notso said...

That spam is funny. Well, Hiew, don't feel bad. After reading this post, I can tell I would hate this game. The fact that you need a reference sheet and the idea that it has "player dynamics like... Die Handler". Yuck, no thank you. I got Carssacone and Shadows Over Camelot for Christmas. I will stick to those.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Needing a reference sheet to learn the game is not an issue for me. I like Die Macher a lot, and it's definitely a game that needs a reference sheet. Die Macher doesn't have this "two-layer" thing in Greed Inc, so it was easier to grasp to me.

I haven't played Die Handler before, so, no comment.