Friday, 2 April 2010

Factory Manager

I think Factory Manager's reviews suffered from it being actually titled Power Grid - Factory Manager, because of wrong expectations. The game has nothing much to do with Power Grid, other than also being an economic / efficiency game. But I suspect the name helped it in terms of sales. So it probably is a wise move by the publishers. But I'll always think of it as just Factory Manager.

The Game

In this game, you, of course, play the role of a factory manager. Well, probably a factory owner is more accurate, because you decide what equipment to buy, whether to recruit temporary workers etc. Every player starts the game with the same factory (in terms of production capacity and storage space) and the same number of workers. Throughout the game you compete to upgrade your factory. You buy new equipment to improve production capacity, increase storage space, reduce the need for workers, and reduce energy consumption. Every round you earn money, and then use it to upgrade your factory in order to earn even more money the next round. At game end, whoever is richest wins.

There are quite a few types of improvements you can buy for your factory. For each type there is a wide range of models, cheaper ones being available at the start of the game but they are less efficient. Better models become available only after the poorer models have been bought. They are more expensive, but are more efficient. You can buy machines to improve increase production. You can buy storage equipment to increase storage capacity. You can buy robots, some of which increase production, and some of which reduce the need for workers, but you can only have as many robots as your have production machines. There are also specialised equipment that reduce manpower or electricity consumption, but you are limited to one unit per type, and you have to spend a worker to remove the older unit if you want to install a newer unit.

The two most crucial parts of the game are the turn order auction, and the market preparation. At the start of every round, each player has a number of available workers, which they use for bidding for turn order. The number of workers in the game is small, so this auction will not go for many rounds. Turn order is important, and so is the number of workers you have left after the auction, because this is the maximum number of improvements you can install for your factory this round.

The market preparation phase is basically each player choosing which improvements to be made available for purchase in the current round. You must always choose the lowest (i.e. poorest in each category), and the number of improvements you must choose is how many workers you have remaining after the turn order auction. Players who are later in turn order will be choosing the better improvements to be made available, but since they are also later in turn order when it comes to buying, they may not get to buy the better improvements. This part of the game is the most interesting. If you go early, you may want to pick improvement of the types you want, hoping that players who go after you will pick the even better improvements and make them available to you. Or maybe you'll intentionally pick categories that others don't need, so that you will prevent them from making available the improvements that they want. If you go late, you have to be wary about picking improvements that others who go before you want, because these improvements may be gone by the time you get to do your shopping. Should you make available many machines of the type you want, so that even if others do buy machines of that type, at least there will be some less-than-ideal leftover models for you?

The market, where machines and other improvements are placed at the start of the game. The number and types of improvements depend on the number of players. The top right chart is for tracking the energy cost. I like how this board is designed to look like a writing pad. The three tiles at the bottom are 3 randomly drawn starting improvements.

The Play

Michelle and I have only played one game of Factory Manager. The game was quite quick. You don't do many things in a round, and there are only 5 rounds. The market preparation part of the game does require some thinking, but it clicked pretty quickly for us. I guess with fewer players it is more straight-forward to analyse the game situation.

We had one lousy machine in the market that noone wanted to buy. So every round it kept returning to the board, and annoyingly occupying one spot. If we wanted to buy a good machine, we had to waste one worker to make it available for purchase, before we could use other workers to make other better machines available.

Money felt tight. Quite often there were enough good improvements available that we wanted, and we also had enough workers to be able to install them, but we didn't have enough money to buy all that we wanted. We had to prioritise. Every round we seemed to spend most of our money improving our factories.

Michelle suffered from the increase in energy cost more than me, because she was slower in controllng energy usage.

The restriction that you can only have as many robots supporting your production machines was an important consideration. It impacts gameplay more than I had expected.

I thought I did much better than Michelle, but when the game ended, although I still won, our scores were quite close.

My factory at mid game. The icons on the improvements tell you what they do. The box icon means production capacity. The crate icon means storage capacity. You produce (and earn money) based on the lower value of production or storage capacity. The man icon means how many workers are needed to operate the machine, or how many workers the machine can reduce. The yellow triangle with a lightning bolt means energy consumption / savings. The numbers on the lower right of the tiles are the base costs.

The two tracks at the top are for your production and storage capacities, and the one on the left is your energy consumption.

My factory at game end. I use plastic poker chips instead of the paper money that comes with the game.

The Thoughts

The game reminds me a little of Agricola and Le Havre, because of the fixed number of rounds. You try to make the most out of the 5 rounds. This is unlike Power Grid, and Puerto Rico, where you can manipulate when the game ends. I enjoyed Factory Manager. I am definitely biased by the artwork and the theme, which is very Power Grid like. It is not a very complex game. There is some thought you need to give to the market preparation. You need to evaluate your opponents' needs. The game has a tight economy, and sometimes you really need to be rather calculative. I like that the game gives me a sense of progress as I improve my factory. This is an "engine" game.

This box has Swan Panasia's logo! Swan Panasia is a boardgame company in Taiwan which sells boardgames and runs a boardgame cafe. I got into Eurogames through the owner Yoyo, a German guy who has been living in Taiwan for a long time. Swan Panasia recently got into publishing Chinese versions of Eurogames. The Chinese words 电力公司 to the left of the Swan Panasia logo is the Chinese name of Power Grid.

1 comment:

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