Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Cramming an economic game into nine cards

Farmers Finances is a weird game. It’s a commodity game that’s made up of nine cards. And two of them are basically just score cards! It’s a game where you buy and sell the same six cards over and over.

There are four wheat cards with bread on the other side, plus two cow cards. There are two score/money cards, one for each player or a spare to use as a timer if you play solitaire. And you have a market card which randomly determines basically if there’s a high supply or demand each turn.

On your turn, you can do one of three things: buy one card; flip one or more wheat cards over to their more valuable bread side; sell all of one type of card. If someone buys the last of the six commodity cards, there is an automatic sell phase where every card gets sold back to the market. 

The game ends when someone reaches seventy coins. If it’s the first player, the second player gets one last turn to try and exceed their score.

I went into Farmers Finances with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I found the idea of a minimalist economic game like this fascinating. Seriously, it’s a commodity game with only six commodities! That’s crazy. On the other hand, that’s crazy. I seriously wondered if the game was too bare bones, if it would fall apart from not having enough there.

After playing the solitaire variant several times... I still don’t know.

If Farmers Finances has any legs, the small footprint and short playing time will be a big part of it. The game is small enough you can play it on an airplane tray and still have room for drinks and peanuts. And I don’t think the barebones simplicity could support even a fifteen minute play time. But it might be good for five minutes and most games that short aren’t economic games.

I also have to wonder if the game can be easily solved. There’s an obvious of choice of either going for wheat to sell bread for the best return rate or going for cows which have a faster turn around. Of course, the market die roll will play crucial part in how much you earn or lose.

I suspect that bread is the better general strategy. Even if it costs you an extra turn, that can be the way of dodging a bad market role. But, in the two-player game which I haven’t tried yet, I don’t think anyone will be able to corner the market on wheat.

Farmers Finances has passed the first test of a PnP game for me. It has been worth printing out and laminating nine cards. It gets bonus points for me still interested in playing it. However, I don’t know if it will be a game that will still be interesting after, say, a dozen plays and I still don’t know how it will play with two players.

I don’t think it has the legs to be a part of my regular toolbox but it fascinates me enough that I keep on playing. 

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