Arkwright is a heavy economic Eurogame with the industrial revolution in England as its setting. Players run factories, produce goods, and sell them to make money. At the start of the game you hold some shares of your company, and you sell some to the bank to get your starting funds. Throughout the game you can buy and sell your own company's shares from/to the bank. You increase your share price by doing good business. At the end of the game, your score is the value of the shares in your hand.
Selling goods is the most important thing you do, because it increases your share value. If you sell more than your competitors, you get a further boost. If your product has the highest desirability among all in the market, you get yet another boost. There are a few ways to increase the desirability of your products. You can upgrade your factory to produce a higher grade of product. You can improve the quality of your product. You can advertise. You can, of course, also lower the price. In terms of running your factory, you need to employ more workers if you want to produce more. You can install machinery to reduce your production cost, since they are cheaper to maintain than workers. One tricky thing about the employing fewer workers is if many people are unemployed, the market demand for your products will reduce too. The overall trend in the game is as your automate your factories, employ fewer workers and produce more goods, the market demand will gradually stagnate and even shrink, creating a more and more competitive market for everyone. This is what you have to contend with.
This is the player board. I have two factories - the clothes factory in the second row and the lamp factory in the fourth row.
This is the main game board. The top left section is the progress chart, marking the progress of the game and reminding the players of maintenance actions. The bottom left section is the actions chart. To execute an action you need to place your action tile here and pay accordingly. The central section is the desirability chart, which indicates how competitive the products of the various players are. The right section is the labour market from which players recruit workers. It is also at the same time the market demand chart. At the bottom right are the unemployed - workers who have been fired because their jobs are being done by machines now. Two of them will return to the labour market every round, which reduces the market demand for products.
These are the action tiles. You start with those in your player colour, and you may acquire the more powerful ones coloured greyish blue during the course of the game. From the top left: buy machines, buy/sell shares, buy machines (power version), improve quality (power version), recruit workers, advertise, build factory, improve quality.
The factories are the coloured square tiles. They are placed in the leftmost column. My clothes factory (white) has 1-2-1-/ written on it, which indicates how many units of clothing each of my departments can produce. I have two departments in operation, each staffed by two workers. So I am producing 3 units of clothing (1+2). I price my clothes at $8 (sorry, no Pound sign on my keyboard). My base quality is 9 (top right corner of my clothes factory tile). My quality is +2 (thumbs-up). My advertising is 0 (megaphone). The desirability of my clothing is calculated this way: 9 - 8 + 2 + 0 = 3.
At my lamp factory, two workers have now been replaced by machinery (wood coloured octagons).
There is as neutral goods producer in the game, representing low-grade goods competitors. This producer's goods are all of low desirability, but as the game progresses, the desirability steadily increases, creating an additional pressure on the players.
I played the game using beginner rules, which doesn't include technologies, events or overseas markets. I know there are such elements in the full game, but I don't know how they work.
The black cubes on the desirability chart belong to the neutral cheapskate factory. On the chart now, every product type is being produced by two players plus the neutral producer, thus three cubes in every column.
Allen, Heng, Henry and I did a 4-player game. We were all new to the game. Since we used the beginner rules, the first four rounds were predetermined. We raised funds and built factories following specific instructions. I think this made sure our game was balanced and we didn't make any stupid beginner moves which would make the game lopsided. The recommended setup ensured that for each product type there were two producers, so there was always competition.
The beginner game lasts four decades. With four rounds per decade, and the first decade being predetermined, that meant we only had 12 normal rounds remaining. 12 actions is very little, and every single one is precious.
I decided on a strategy at the start of the game. I went for the quantity over quality strategy. I wanted to buy shares often and early, while they were cheaper. Allen's big idea was to go for automation as much as possible. That would reduce his operating costs. I think both of us played with an experimentation mindset. We arbitrarily decided on a strategy, and stuck to it to see how well it worked. I didn't pay close attention to Heng or Henry's strategies, but I think they stayed more flexible, responding to the board situation more.
I didn't push my products' desirability much. I wanted to make money early so that I could buy more shares as early as possible. In hindsight I'm not sure if that was a good idea. The player with the most desirable product in each product type gets a bonus boost in share price. I had basically given up on that.
As the game progresses, you need to push the desirability of your products up to ensure you maintain competitiveness. Looks like Heng (yellow) is going the premium quality path.
Before reaching the middle of the game I could already see this game was a train heading for disaster. In the early game supply outstrips demand comfortably, but as the game progresses, you produce more, you employ fewer workers, and the demand eventually stops growing and starts shrinking. Everyone will be squeezed. The competition will become intense. Some people will be unable to sell all goods.
My approach in facing this dilemma was to stay small. I didn't want to ramp up production, because there was no point in spending more money to produce more goods when the goods were not selling. I upgraded my clothes factory, which allowed me to stay competitive till game end. I neglected my lamp factory though. Lamps are the highest end product in the game. I didn't invest much in my factory, intending to stay a small producer and being content as long as the low number produced could still sell out. Unfortunately in the last round Henry pushed his lamps' desirability so far above mine that I was unable to sell a single lamp. That killed me. I could not pay my workers and had to resort to selling shares. I could not increase my share price because I didn't sell anything. If I had run my lamp factory better I could have avoided such a disaster. I still think the buy-shares-early is a valid strategy though. My share price was not too far behind the others. If I had managed my lamp factory better I think I stood a chance of winning.
I have never upgraded my lamp factory (green). It is now obsolete, so I have to add two workers on its left, to represent higher maintenance costs. These two workers don't work, but they need to be paid. At this moment my factory is already automated as much as possible.
This is the progress chart. Each decade has four rounds, and in each round a different product is produced. We used the beginner rules for our game, so we only played 4 decades. We are now in the fourth decade (purple cube).
Arkwright is a game I should like - "heavy", "economic", "Eurogame" are supposed to be a killer combo. I didn't enjoy my first game very much. We played for a long time. It is an open information game, and I think we played rather slowly. The game has a narrowing feeling. You see the crunch coming, and you desperately do all you can to survive. Sometimes that involves killing your competitors. Depending on how you look at it, it can be restrictive, or it can also be quite tense and exciting.
I found that by game end our share prices were not significantly different, and our final scores were not too far apart. I wonder whether the game railroaded us to move within a narrow margin. It might be because we used the beginner's rules. If we had more freedom in the setup stage, things may be different. Also the additional elements in the full game like the events, the technologies and the overseas markets may give more freedom and variability. More rounds in the full game will probably allow the game to develop more too. The beginner's game feels a little staid. We ourselves might be partly to blame. In our game none of us ventured to build a third factory. We were conservative. Two factories was already more than we could handle.
Arkwright has some similarities to Martin Wallace's Automobile, which I like a lot. Comparing them, I feel that Arkwright has some mechanisms which could have been simplified or done away with, without compromising the overall package. Automobile has randomness and hidden information in the market demand for cars. Players cannot precisely calculate how many cars will be sold, so sometimes you need to go by gut feel a little. That is part of the excitement. Arkwright is fully deterministic (at least the beginner game is) and may encourage analysis paralysis.