Sunday 23 February 2020

boardgame chain

Oct 2019. I decided to do a minor purge of my collection. I got into the hobby around 2003, and over 16 years I had acquired about 250 games. Many of them had not been played for years. So I wanted to give them away to people who would play them. Why giving away instead of selling? I had thought about my objective. My objective was to have the games played. Boardgames should be played, and they should bring joy to people. I also wanted to declutter my home and make space. Another consideration was I didn't want to deal with the hassle. I imagined if I tried to sell the games, the buyer would ask for photos and component checks (which were reasonable). Finding buyers would likely take time too. When I listed the games as free, they were all claimed within 12 hours. Later, I found that even when giving games away, there was much effort required - making appointments, reminding people, needing to stay home to wait.

After picking all the games I was ready to give away, the first thing I did was getting approval from the board - my family. Sure enough, they vetoed a few games. Next, I offered the games to a few gamer friends. They claimed some. Finally I went to the Facebook group Board Games To-Go (MY) to offer the rest. I set two conditions. (1) You have to come pick it up yourself. (2) You will play the game within 30 days, take a photo, and send it to me. In every box I put a sheet of paper. On that sheet of paper I wrote my email address, as the first item of a list. I asked the recipient of the game to add his email, then play the game and take a photo, and finally send the photo to every email address on the list, i.e. to all past owners of the game. I asked that when he or she no longer played the game, to give it to someone who would play it. This was how I wanted to create boardgame chains. I set my own expectations that this might not work as I hoped. Afterall, the people whom I was giving games to were mostly strangers. These below are some of the games I gifted, and friends I made along the way.

These were the initially shortlisted games. Games vetoed by my wife and children were Monopoly Express, Rabbit Hunt, Carcassonne: Discovery and Confetti.

These are Spielbox mini expansions. Log from Meeples Cafe has been giving me copies of the Spielbox magazine for years, and I stash away every mini expansion that comes with the magazines. However I rarely get to use them, because I usually don't own the corresponding games. I decided to give these away. I offered them to friends I know, then fellow boardgamers I met at boardgame sessions, and finally I asked Meeples Cafe for permission to leave the box with them, to allow their customers to take any expansion they fancy.

Caesar & Cleopatra was gifted to Ong Dun Chuan. I bought this around 2003 when I was in Taipei. It was one of my earliest games, and there is certainly some sentimental value, but I am happy to see it get played again.

Sblap went to Yusup. This is a children's game / casual game and a word game.

Mykerinos went to Jason Law. This is one of the earlier worker placement games. It was published by Ystari (who published Caylus).

Zombie Tower 3D went to Sea Lin Yao. This is one eye-catching game because of that 3D tower.

Trias went to Abraham from Vivae Boardgame Cafe. This is an older game. It has dinosaurs and tectonic shifts. Something a little different.

Kingdoms of Crusaders went to Choe Chee Kong. This is a 2-player card game from Russia. It has some similarities to Lost Cities.

Victory: The Blocks of War went to C. E. Chua. This is an old Columbia Games block game. This has sentimental value too, because I bought it even before I became a boardgame hobbyist. I had only played it a few times. After I got into the hobby, I never played it again, because by then there were plenty of other games I chased after. So I never revisited it. It is great to see it played again.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Food Chain Magnate expansion

Plays: 4Px1.

Food Chain Magnate is a more recent title from Splotter Games and one of their bestsellers. When I heard that they were coming out with an expansion set, I preordered with no hesitation. I had had a bad history with Splotter Games (in a good way). For a few consecutive new releases I had procrastinated on whether to buy (since they were a niche game maker and their games were pricey). Each time I decided to wait and see, I ended up buying at a higher price eventually after trying the game. Now their games are by default a blind purchase for me.

The Food Chain Magnate expansion is a set of 16 modules. You can add just one module at a time, or you can play with a few at the same time. It's probably not a good idea to throw everything in though. The box is of the same size as the base game, and it is heavy. It is pricey, but I find it well worth the money.

I got Jeff, Allen and Kareem to try this out with me. We played using the new milestones module and the coffee module. These were recommended by the rulebook as good places to start.

The box cover uses the same retro style as the base game, which I like.

The small square in the middle is a coffee stand. Everyone has three. The brown piece above the coffee stand is coffee. That's the shape of a coffee cup.

The game board is randomly set up. In our game, the setup was a little unbalanced. We had a concentration of houses in the lower right. Allen (blue), Kareem (pink) and I (green) started our first restaurants in this area. Jeff (purple) started his near the top, away from us. There were only two houses in this part of town.

These are the new milestones. If you use the new milestones module, you will replace all milestones in the base game with a new set. The criteria for claiming them are different, and the benefits too. Some of them have a red marker on them indicating that they must be claimed by Round 2. They become unavailable from Round 3 onwards. To go for such milestones, you must perform some very specific actions in Rounds 1 and 2. There are three broad directions and you will only have enough actions to pursue one of them. At the start of the game you are already forced to make a difficult decision.

Milestones are an important aspect of Food Chain Magnate because they confer special abilities. You will be at a disadvantage if you have significantly fewer milestones than others. To claim a milestone you must be first, or be among the first, to meet a certain criteria. Once a milestone is claimed, it becomes unavailable next round onwards.

This reference chart lists all the new milestones. Some are in use only when a specific expansion module is in play.

These are the new employee types if you use the coffee expansion - barista trainee, barista and lead barista.

The early game milestone I went for was being first to use a recruiting girl. This gave me an Executive Vice President, who worked for free. He could supervise up to 10 employees, which was a big deal. For a long time I would not have to worry about not having enough employee slots to get people to do work. Having surplus employee slots would also mean an advantage in picking turn order. The more empty slots you have, the earlier you get to pick the turn order you want. My EVP gave me 10 empty slots.

The two red soda pieces on the billboard tile means this billboard will advertise soda for two rounds. Billboards only impact houses directly touching them, so this one will only impact one house. Allen's (blue) restaurant is just across the street. If he produces soda, this family will likely visit his restaurant.

This was Jeff's (purple) company. He went for a long-term strategy of deep investments, forward planning, capability building and eventually making a killing when his team was ready to roll. His early game milestone allowed him to keep employees even when he couldn't afford to pay them. He was going the startup route! His people were all super motivated, and he trained them intensively. They dreamed big, had a common goal, and were willing to work for free. For a long time in the early game he made no profit, but that did not dampen his Amazon-like determination. Jeff Au going for the Jeff Bezos strategy!

Many families demanded pizza (orange triangle) now, because of a special radio advertisement placed by Kareem. This was the effect of a milestone he claimed.

This house on the left demanded two pizzas and one soda. The family would only visit a restaurant which could serve them two pizzas and one soda. Otherwise they would rather stay home. I (green) had built a coffee stand next to Allen's (blue) restaurant. Kareem, Allen and I started our restaurants nearby, so competition was fierce. They managed to do discounts, and also adjusted their distance calculation lower. I lost out on these, and it became very difficult for me to compete. People who lived nearer to my restaurant were willing to travel further to their restaurants because their food was cheaper, and by some magic (i.e. milestone power) the distance felt nearer. So I decided to go into the coffee business. It was do or die.

This is how the coffee business works. Whenever a family visits a restaurant, if they pass by any coffee stand, they will stop to buy coffee. If they pass by multiple stands, they will stop to buy coffee every time. Yes, people are crazy for coffee. If there are multiple equi-distance paths to the restaurant, they will select the path with the most coffee stands. The base price of coffee is the same as other foods and drinks - $10. I built my coffee stand near both Allen's and Kareem's restaurants, because I expected most customers would be visiting one of them.

Later I built a coffee stand near Jeff's (purple) restaurant too. He was creating demand for burgers and selling burgers now.

The location of my first coffee stand (north side of the road) was suboptimal, so I built a second coffee stand at that corner. The first location was poor because if families from houses 5, 12 and 13 visited Kareem's (pink) restaurant, they wouldn't pass by my coffee stand. My second coffee stand addressed this problem. Afterwards we realised a rule mistake - you are not allowed to build a second coffee stand on the same map tile. Oops. My bad.

My company continued to grow. I decided I had to go into drinks, because I was falling behind on foods. I was first to use a cart operator, and this milestone gave me double the number of drinks when I collected them.

By now I had trained one of my employees to become a lead barista. He produced 5 coffee per round.

The lead barista is one handsome hipster.

At this point we had completed the first half of the game by exhausting the bank. At the start of a game, the bank starts with $50 per player. Every player must also secretly decide how much more to add to the bank for the second half of the game. He chooses between $100, $200 and $300. The total amount to be added will determine how long the game will last. How much you decide to add affects how you play. You need to observe how others play too to guess how much they have decided to add. The amount to be added affects one more thing - the CEOs' capabilities. In our game, Allen and Kareem added $100, because they were going for a run and gun approach. Jeff and I added $300. In Jeff's case it was because his strategy was a long-term one. In my case, it was simply because I wanted to see how a long game looked like. Previously I tended to opt for a short game. Based on how we voted, the CEOs' capabilities were adjusted to the high side - the $300 side - and they now could manage 4 direct reports instead of the initial 3. In the photo above, there is a card tucked below the CEO card indicating this.

Some new houses had been added to the board. The new houses all belonged to rich families. They were 3x2 in size and they had gardens. At the top left, the #10 house had an extension. The garden being added meant the family living here had been upgraded to a rich family. The difference between rich families and regular families is rich families may demand up to 5 goods, while regular families will demand at most 3 goods. Rich people are sometimes harder to please, but they are willing to pay when their needs are fulfilled.

There were more and more advertisements now (greyish blue tiles), creating more and more demand (pieces on houses). We had many rich families at the top right, near Jeff's (purple) restaurant. Kareem (pink) had built one restaurant in the area to compete with Jeff.

I was first to use a brand director. This was a milestone I managed to win in the mid game. Brand directors are the highest skilled employees in the marketing career path. You need them if you want to do radio advertisements.

My EVP allowed me to have many employees working at the same time. I employed many trainers to help me quickly upskill my teams. I trained one employee to become a Luxuries Manager, so that I could sell my stuff at double the price. I wanted to go the opposite direction from Allen and Kareem. They were going for cheap and convenient. I knew I could not compete, so I had to find a different way. I wanted to target customers they could not serve, and compete on quality instead of quantity.

Both these families wanted pizza and three different types of drinks.

My drinks department was strong because I had deliberately focused on it. I collected many drinks every round. Foods and drinks not consumed are discarded at the end of every round. I discarded many foods and drinks because of this. It was difficult for me to compete with Kareem and Allen's low prices and convenience.

This was a pivotal moment for me. At the bottom I had launched an airplane advertising campaign which promoted beers. Two beers, in fact. This created the demand for beers along the plane's path, affecting a swath containing many houses. Most importantly, I made the rich families at the top right demand more beers than my competitors could supply. As a result they couldn't sell to these rich folks, while I could. I made a killing because my prices were high. I had a monopoly this round. Even in the subsequent round when my competitors managed to supply the right combination of foods and drinks, there was so much demand in the market that there were still leftover customers I could serve, and profit handsomely from.

I still had my coffee business, and that helped a lot. In the early game, no one wanted to also go into coffee because (a) it would distract them from their strategies at the time, and (b) I was fumbling and was not exactly a threat. This turned out greatly helping me because the coffee monopoly kept me afloat for a long time. Later in the game, the others didn't want to go into coffee because it was a little too late and the effort didn't seem worthwhile.

This special version plane ad is available only with an expansion module. It allows advertising two products at once. In our game I specifically chose to advertise beer twice, because that was what I produced a lot of and others not so much.

The game board itself doesn't take up much space. It is the cards and the org charts (built with cards) which take up a lot of space.

These were the milestones I managed to claim.

This was a special, permanent radio advertisement I placed. I had this power due to my milestone. I advertised lemonade because it was something I could produce consistently and in high quantities.

My luxury strategy worked out well for me and won me the game. By boosting demand in general, with some emphasis on drinks, I managed to create customers for my restaurants. There was so much demand in the market, I could win a niche. The overall high demand also helped my coffee business, especially since I had a monopoly.

The Thoughts

The expansion modules present many different ways to play, new strategies to pursue, with new thinking required. Buying that one box feels like buying a dozen boxes of Food Chain Magnate variants. If you like Food Chain Magnate and have not bought the expansion, go buy it.