Friday, May 10, 2002

Business Games

I used to think I didn't like business games. I'm not sure where I
got that idea, but I was pretty sure they weren't my thing. One
possible reason is that when I was first introduced to Acquire I was
told it was a business game, and while I enjoy Acquire a great deal,
it isn't as much my kind of game as many others. I don't actually
think Acquire is a business game. Acquire is a stock game, and a cash
management game, but it's not really what I'm calling a business game.

So, since not everyone always agrees exactly what a
"<fill-in-the-blank> game" is, I'll define "business
game" for how I mean it. A business game is a game that at some level
attempts to simulate the operation of a business which produces some
sort of goods and sells them on a market. This operation may be at a
very low level (individual workers, products, etc.) or at a very high
level (product categories, growth rate, etc.). The level of
simulation may be anything from detailed accounting down to individual
units, or some high level general business strategy. The production
of goods may be of only one type (typical) or of a few different
varieties. The market may range from a mathematically simulated
market to draw of random "market" cards or the like.

Some business games I've either played a lot recently or played for
the first time recently include Industrial Waste, Funkenschlag, and
Schocko & Co. The last one in particular is prototypical of what many
people dislike about business games, but yet I like it a great deal.
Most business games are perhaps somewhat more repetetive than other
German games. Markets and production details and prices fluctuate,
but in many ways the conditions remain similar throughout the game.
Further, there is often a lot of simultaneous action, and sometimes a
reduced perception of player interaction. In Schocko & Co., pretty
much all actions are in parallel for all players, and the players
interactions is through a shared set of consumers and through playing
of action cards on one's opponents.

These properties are clearly not true in all business games. Vino,
another business game I particularly like does not remain the same as
the game progresses. The limited number of resources (vinyards) become
scarcer and more expensive until the end of the game, changing the
dynamic greatly as the game progresses. Others, like Funkenschlag,
have a slightly more complex marketplace that evolves over time, and
in an occasionally predictable way, allowing for some interesting
planning options. Further, a game like Merchant of Venus completely
violates the "simultaneous actions" principle, and players take turns
(which is, in my opinion, the game's biggest flaw). However, if
played with the alternate setup variant, it has one of the most
interesting "market simulations" in any of these games.

Some games that have many properties of a business game I wouldn't
qualify. Many of these I would categorize as stock games (Acquire,
Palmyra, etc.), while others lack the feature of any representation of
the business' operations. Samarkand is a fun set collection game, but
despite many parameters in common, it's not a business game.
Showmanager/Atlantic Star is in the same camp. It's got a lot of the
attributes: a shared market for resources (actors), a relatively
uniform environment, and a shared market for product (shows), but
nothing about the operations of the business.

Obviously, I like a lot of different kinds of games, but it is very
intriguing to me whenever I identify a common feature that makes me
like a game that isn't trivially obvious. I like certain themes,
that's easy. I like auction mechanics, and I was quick to identify
that. However, it's taken me a long time to realize that I really
like business games (operations, production, input and output

Industrial Waste, while on the lighter side as business games go, is
one of my recent favorites. Vino, I've been fond of for a long time.
Funkenschlag and Schocko & Co. both seem very good, if a bit on the
long side, and I'll see if they stand the test of time.

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