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Keeping Track of Cargo

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Matt201
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Hi,
I'm making a 18th Century Caribbean trading game.
In the game, players buy and sell different items (spice, gunpowder, rum, timber and sugarcane) between ports in an attempt to make a profit. The idea is that each port has a quantified number of each resource (each port has 5 "tracks" that track the amount at each port. The buy/sell price of an is the same (different for each port however), and the basic mechanic is the more of an item there is at a port, the cheaper it is to buy (and the cheaper you sell it). Ports lacking an item sell it for a high amount (and also buy it for a lot). In other words, you buy at ports where there is a lot of something, and sell it at a port where there is none.

So far that means there is a lot of tracks (as there are 15 ports, with 5 tracks each), so if you know an easier way to keep track of how much of an item is at a particular port, I would be grateful.

My other, more immediate problem, is how to keep track of the cargo on each ship? The idea is that each player starts off with one ship (with limited room for cargo), and as they make more money, they opt to buy more ships to transport larger amounts of cargo. I want the gameplay to limit it to around 3 or 4 ships per player, although there is nothing physically (besides lack of money) stopping a player from buying more.

Because each ship has a limited cargo, I need a way to easily keep track/symbolise how much room is on a ship. Originally I had a card representing each ship, with a grid that showed how much cargo it could hold.
I planned to have objects such as these:
https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts/barrel
https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts/wood

to represent 1 unit of different items, but the amount I would need to buy makes construction costs of the game far too high. I then thought to have stackable counters (different colours representing 1, 5 and 10 units), with the objects above on top of the stack (for example, if I bought 12 units of timber, I would get 1 red counter, and 2 white ones [or whatever the colours would be] and place a timber unit on top). This brings the cost right down, however, I don't see how you can easily track the room left for more cargo on each ship without having to count the counters each time you want to buy.

I'm in a bit of a pickle, and any help/advice/ideas would go a long way, and I would be eternally grateful! :)

Orangebeard
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Trivial Pursuit pieces?

I think the Gamecrafter has those pie / wedge shape pieces from Trivial Pursuit that could work. Each pie holds 6 wedges; maybe 1 pie for a little ship and 2 for a big ship? The little wedges come in a few colors to represent different types of cargo.

MarkKreitler
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Sounds fun!

This game sounds fun -- wish I could it already. :)

Couple thoughts.

1st, instead of custom pieces for each resource, identify resources by color and use colored cubes. Also, use cubes of different size for denominations of 1, 5, 10. Use these cubes to represent the available resources at each port. This allows you to eliminate the tracks at each port.

Replace all the port tracks with a single "market chart". The rows on the chart correspond to resources. The columns are the number of each resource. The space at the intersection of the row and column shows the market price for the resource with the given scarcity/supply.

Finally -- and this may require a small rule change -- go back to your idea where each ship is a card, but replace the cargo grid with 3 cargo tracks. Players need only place a single cube of the correct resource color on the track to show how much of that resource the ship carries. Unfortunately, this means a ship can carry only 3 different resources, but that may not pose too big a limitation, and may even force the players to make some interesting choices.

Hopefully, some combination of these can be of help.

Matt201
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Orangebeard wrote:I think the

Orangebeard wrote:
I think the Gamecrafter has those pie / wedge shape pieces from Trivial Pursuit that could work. Each pie holds 6 wedges; maybe 1 pie for a little ship and 2 for a big ship? The little wedges come in a few colors to represent different types of cargo.

I actually think this is a creative way to solve the problem, however later in the game, I expect players to buy a lot more than 6 (or 12) units of cargo per ship, so it may not suit the numbers I'm after.

MarkKreitler wrote:

1st, instead of custom pieces for each resource, identify resources by color and use colored cubes. Also, use cubes of different size for denominations of 1, 5, 10. Use these cubes to represent the available resources at each port. This allows you to eliminate the tracks at each port.

Replace all the port tracks with a single "market chart". The rows on the chart correspond to resources. The columns are the number of each resource. The space at the intersection of the row and column shows the market price for the resource with the given scarcity/supply.

Finally -- and this may require a small rule change -- go back to your idea where each ship is a card, but replace the cargo grid with 3 cargo tracks. Players need only place a single cube of the correct resource color on the track to show how much of that resource the ship carries. Unfortunately, this means a ship can carry only 3 different resources, but that may not pose too big a limitation, and may even force the players to make some interesting choices.

I really like these ideas! The coloured cubes are a great idea!
The central track for marking cargo prices would significantly simplify the whole process (in a good way), however my original idea was to have a different market price at each port (for example to encourage players to travel to ports near the edges of the map if they offer a better price, rather than just sail between the central ports. I guess the supply and demand element will achieve this, as players will be forced to travel out when the central ports run low on elements). Alternatively, specific ports can have slight variations from the market price that the players simply factor in (eg. port A has a 2% higher cost than market on timber, or port F is 5% cheaper than market when buying gunpowder).

MarkKreitler
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Local market fluctuations

Matt201 wrote:
my original idea was to have a different market price at each port (for example to encourage players to travel to ports near the edges of the map if they offer a better price, rather than just sail between the central ports.

Alternatively, specific ports can have slight variations from the market price that the players simply factor in (eg. port A has a 2% higher cost than market on timber, or port F is 5% cheaper than market when buying gunpowder).

Yup. You could include simple annotations like "Rum +1" and "Gunpowder -2" on the ports themselves to show locale-based corrections to the market chart.

MarkKreitler
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Subsidy vs supply & demand

Matt201 wrote:
I guess the supply and demand element will achieve this, as players will be forced to travel out when the central ports run low on elements). Alternatively, specific ports can have slight variations from the market price that the players simply factor in (eg. port A has a 2% higher cost than market on timber, or port F is 5% cheaper than market when buying gunpowder).

A couple more quick thoughts on this.

You are right that supply and demand will handle this naturally. If you want to call out this natural interplay, you can tweak the production rates of different resources at each port. Different rates of production will naturally give rise to the market differences at each port.

For example, assume ports produce resources like regions in Settlers of Catan. The ports that produce gunpowder on a 4 will usually have less than one that produces on an 8, and will therefore have a higher market value.

(I'm not suggesting you use this kind of production scheme. I'm just citing an example that most hobby gamers will understand without further explanation.)

Alternatively, you could use something like "+2 gunpowder" per port that show corrections to the market chart. This is more like a government subsidy and will affect the game in a different way.

To see the difference, imagine a game like Settlers where the dice go crazy and roll more 5s and 3s than 8s and 6s over the course of the game (it does happen -- I often chart the rolls in Settlers to see how the distribution fell over the length of the game). If you use the first method, where ports produce at different rates, you'll have dynamic shortages and surpluses that vary from game to game. In the above example, players will want to purchase from the 5/3 ports and sell at the 8/6 ports.

If you go with the "subsidy" model, the game will have less variation: the "+2 gunpowder" port will always be the best place to sell gunpowder and the worst place to buy it. Subsidies *will* change the players' behavior, but will do so in ways that run counter to real economics. For example, a port with a production shortage of rum but a -2 rum subsidy might still be a better place to buy rum than a port with a surplus and a +2 subsidy.

Hmm...this is getting super interesting at this point. This is a great model to demonstrate the wackiness of government involvement in the free market...

voodoodog
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Ahoy!

Shiver me timbers! This sounds like a real fun game concept that seems to be developing quite nicely. I can't wait to see what the final outcome is regarding this minor trading and transaction dilemma. It seems pretty rock solid to me, and who doesn't love Pirates. Rum and Gunpowder do mix!

Matt201
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Unfortunately I've never

Unfortunately I've never played Settlers. From your post, I gather that whenever a certain number is rolled, resources are spawned at a corresponding space? I can imagine implementing a similar system into this game with minimal trouble.

My biggest problem is deciding how many units of each resource will be available on the board. This is required for both the buy/sell prices and how many blocks to buy. Just for arguments sake, I have 75 units of each resource. To buy 75 8mm blocks would cost me €7.74 (x5 for each resource = €38.7).

That's getting on the expensive side of the scale, but my only option would be to cut the number of resources available, but then there aren't enough to go around. (Having 75 means there are a mere 5 of each resource at each port, assuming they are evenly distributed).

One way I thought of controlling the number of resources on the board (in addition to event cards; see http://www.bgdf.com/node/7391) is by having supply chains. Say there are one or two ports on the board that turn sugarcane units into rum. You trade sugarcane for a good price, and can buy rum pretty cheap. I just need a disadvantage, perhaps slowing the production rate to only a few units a turn. You could also use timber units to make repairs to your damaged ships. Just an idea I had?

MarkKreitler
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Touch one

Matt201 wrote:
Unfortunately I've never played Settlers. From your post, I gather that whenever a certain number is rolled, resources are spawned at a corresponding space? I can imagine implementing a similar system into this game with minimal trouble.

That's correct.
I wasn't trying to suggest you actually use that in your game, though. I was just borrowing the mechanic to explain my example.

Matt201 wrote:
My biggest problem is deciding how many units of each resource will be available on the board. This is required for both the buy/sell prices and how many blocks to buy. Just for arguments sake, I have 75 units of each resource. To buy 75 8mm blocks would cost me €7.74 (x5 for each resource = €38.7).

In addition to cost, this also makes it hard to put the resources on the board, physically.

If you have different styles of cubes for 1, 5, and 10 resource units, you would cut down on both problems. For example, if you had 5 tens, 10 fives, and 20 ones, you'd cut your money and spatial costs in half.

Another idea: use percentile dice at each port to track the number or resources, from 0-99. At each port, you'd have 2 ten-sided dice in the color of each resource. Each pair costs about $1.00 -- so less than a Euro, assuming the exchange rate hasn't gone crazy given the economic problems both over there and over here. :(

You'd still need a few colored cubes to track resources on the ships, but it's literally one per player per resource.

This system still isn't cheap. Tracking all resources is $5.00 per port, so if you have a lot of ports...

On the other hand, if you troll Craig's list, you might be able to find someone dumping his old D&D dice set on the cheap.

You could also have a single 20-sided die to track the number of resources at each port. At $0.50 a die, with 5 dice per port, and 15 ports, you're looking at $37.50. Still not cheap.

For prototyping purposes, you could use poker chips and a dry erase marker. At each port, place one chip in the color of each resource. With a dry erase marker, simply write the number of resources on the corresponding chip. A more "final" version of the above would be to place represent the resources at each port with a blank space in which you could write. Seal the ports with contact paper on which you can write with grease pencil or erasable marker.

Finally, there's always your original track idea. Have a "ones" track and a "tens" track at each port, and use two cubes in each resource color track the resources. This has a big spatial cost: the squares in the track would need to be big enough to hold 5 cubes, and manipulating them would be fiddly -- but it only requires 10 cubes per port to track all resources.

Matt201 wrote:

One way I thought of controlling the number of resources on the board (in addition to event cards; see http://www.bgdf.com/node/7391) is by having supply chains. Say there are one or two ports on the board that turn sugarcane units into rum. You trade sugarcane for a good price, and can buy rum pretty cheap. I just need a disadvantage, perhaps slowing the production rate to only a few units a turn. You could also use timber units to make repairs to your damaged ships. Just an idea I had?

Supply chains that turn resources into commodities is a neat idea in its own right (Cities and Knights of Catan does the same thing). I'm not sure how it slows production, though. I can see in your example that rum production takes more time, but what slows sugar production?

Making timber an upkeep cost for ships is also a good idea. You could extend this idea to allow players to create more ships of different types by expending resources like rum, timber, and gunpowder.

Regardless of your costs, you probably want resources to be no more plentiful than necessary to maintain the game's average pace. That way, players will "feel" shortages and surpluses. This suggests you want production to scale with the number of players. You probably also want the size of the board to scale with the number of players. This will let you balance the degree of competition in the game, no matter how many people are playing.

Here's a simple example (not suggesting you use it, it's just for illustrative purposes):

==============
The game board looks like empty ocean divided into large 10 cm hexes. Some hexes have a dotted white outline. These are scattered "randomly." Inside some are 2s, in others, 3s, and in a few more, 4s. Island ports are 10 cm chipboard hexes, colorfully illustrated, with 5 colored spaces for tracking resource totals.

When setting up the board, players can put ports in any space whose number is less than or equal to the number of players. For instance, in a 3 player game, they can populate any '2' or '3' spaces.
==============

The numbers in this example probably don't work, but you start to see how everything is interconnected:

-- The number of production dice (production rates)
-- The distance between islands (i.e., travel times, during which resources accumulate)
-- The size and number of ships (which act as resource sinks)

It sounds like you want to capture the feel of an expanding economy, with ships carrying many more resources later in the game. How does production ramp up over time? Do players build plantations in addition to sailing ships? Does the wealth of the islands increase over time based on some sort of trade index?

Or is production so high, initially, that islands are always operating at a surplus until players can build enough ships to move the loot? This will be a problem. If you have large amounts of surplus, the market will be low and the economy sluggish. Players won't be able to accumulate capital very quickly.

Ultimately, the number of ships should increase as production increases. This should be a natural expression of the economy. As resources accumulate, surpluses grow, driving prices down and allowing players to afford more ships which, in turn, more effectively dissipate surpluses.

Talking through this shows how important the distance between islands vs production dice can be. If you can balance it right, this will automatically handle the expansion on production over the life of a game. Initially, there are no goods in the economy. Production rates will eventually populate the islands. Shipping will dissipate production. As long as the time to sail to other ports is slightly less than production, you'll have a net surplus and the economy will expand. Once players build enough ships, dissipation will match production and you'll hit equilibrium. Once players over-build, dissipation will outrun production and the economy will shrink.

The trick will be to balance everything so the game ends right around the equilibrium stage. This will have the feel you described in earlier posts.

There are other ways to achieve this, too. If you can, play a few games of Settlers of Catan and Cities and Knights of Catan. These games have elegant systems for handling production and trade but are very different from your design in terms of feel. Lots of good mechanics in there to pick apart.

Matt201
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Growing the Economy

For reference, here is the gameboard I will be using for play testing (note: I've cut out three of the original ports, so now there are only 12. A number I thought would be easier to work with).

http://img825.imageshack.us/img825/2759/map2ae.jpg

Orange spaces signify ports.

It's interesting that you mention growing the economy. Originally I wanted a system simpler than that, but now I can see there is no other way to do it.

The two main supply chains are sugarcane into rum,
and timber into new ships/repairs. (You can also trade raw timber for a pretty good price).
Spice and gunpowder are outside any such chains, and I don't know whether to keep it that way, or substitute them for other materials than can be fitted into a supply chain. Timber could be used to make charcoal, which in turn produces gunpowder, but that is counter productive because timber is more expensive than gunpowder in my model.

I have the items priced (from lowest to highest) as spice, gunpowder, sugarcane, rum and timber. Does that seem realistic? (Perhaps timber and rum should be switched for gameplay purposes)

As for the economy, I suppose the board will start out with an abundance of raw materials [A] (sugarcane and timber), a reasonable amount of unlinked commodities [B] (gunpowder and spice) and none of the produced commodities [C] (rum).

A regenerates slowly, B regenerates at a steady pace and C regenerating depends exclusively on how many units of A the port receives.

I want my model to play out roughly like this: -players begin the game with one ship and some money. At first they can only afford to trade gunpowder and spice. They then begin to make money and expand out to the more expensive items. At first they can only afford a couple of units of any particular item, but as the game progresses they can afford more and more units, and make more money faster. (Your wealth doesn't grow steadily; it starts slow and picks up pace).

The "risk" of the game lies in events such as market crashes, piracy, having to pay taxes on the amount of cargo you're shipping, etc. that can devastate a players profit. It also means that one minute you are winning the game, and the next you are not. While some may consider this to be too "lucky" for a game, it keeps every player in the game because you don't know who will win until they do.

The catch is the most profitable markets depend on resources that are a lot more limited (i.e. don't regenerate very fast) and while at the beginning/near the middle of the game, players can make massive amounts of money transporting them, if they are not careful resources will be fully depleted and they will have to turn to spice and gunpowder. (a possible rule may be allowing players to fund industry (eg. sugarcane plantations and rum distilleries). They are expensive and all players can use them, but it keeps sugarcane production high, for example?)

The ONE problem I see in this model is how fiddly it might be to adjust the number of resources at each port at the start of every round. (Namely to regeneration of units, and the transformation of sugarcane into rum at specific ports). Not sure there's a way around this though, so I'll just have to keep an eye on that during play testing.

Maaartin
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Some more ideas

Matt201 wrote:
I have the items priced (from lowest to highest) as spice, gunpowder, sugarcane, rum and timber. Does that seem realistic?

This all depends on the units you use. I'd say, timber is the cheapest per weight or volume unit. OTOH the amount of wood you need to build a ship is much higher than your the weight of rum you sailors can drink (let's hope!).

On the third hand, the capacity of your ships is limited. In game you express it by the number of cubes, in reality it's the weight or volume or whatever. So your wooden cube should weight as much as your rum cube and therefore be cheaper (as 1 kg timber is cheaper than 1 kg rum). If you don't like it.... 1. either find a reason making timber expensive, 2. or simply ignore it (it's no problem).

Matt201 wrote:
Timber could be used to make charcoal, which in turn produces gunpowder, but that is counter productive because timber is more expensive than gunpowder in my model.

If making timber much cheaper could be fitted into your game, it'd be nice to have this additional production chain. You could also let 1 timber produce 2 gunpowder, or whatever.

Once I had a very similar idea to yours (but didn't come far with it). Instead of placing cubes in each port I had a single track per resource type per port. I wanted many resources, so I limited each port to maybe 3 resource types. I didn't need to track the available amount - tracking the price was enough. Each buy or sell changed the price immediately and the price was ranging from maybe 10 to 20. The available amount at a port was theoretically unlimited, but nobody ever wants to buy at 20, so this was no problem.

Each turn one resource and one port were randomly chosen and the corresponding price changed. In your game it could go as follows: When Tortuga+sugarcane get chosen, the price of sugarcane at Tortuga raises by 1 (capped at 20). When Cuba+sugarcane get chosen, the price of sugarcane at Cuba drops by 2 (let say they produce a lot; capped at 10). To manage this, you only need a single number per resource per port and either two small decks of cards (for resource and for ports) or a two dice and some numbering system.

Matt201
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Maaartin wrote:Matt201

Maaartin wrote:
Matt201 wrote:
I have the items priced (from lowest to highest) as spice, gunpowder, sugarcane, rum and timber. Does that seem realistic?

This all depends on the units you use. I'd say, timber is the cheapest per weight or volume unit. OTOH the amount of wood you need to build a ship is much higher than your the weight of rum you sailors can drink (let's hope!).

On the third hand, the capacity of your ships is limited. In game you express it by the number of cubes, in reality it's the weight or volume or whatever. So your wooden cube should weight as much as your rum cube and therefore be cheaper (as 1 kg timber is cheaper than 1 kg rum). If you don't like it.... 1. either find a reason making timber expensive, 2. or simply ignore it (it's no problem).

That's actually a very good point I didn't really consider...
I think for gameplay mechanics, I'm going to just have to ignore it, and have players assume that one "unit" of timber is not the same size as one "unit" of rum, for example...

As for keeping track of the cargo at each port; what if I had a single "market" track that had the price of each unit for each resource (or one track for each resource on a separate sheet, the same effect being achieved) with a marker representing each port? Rather than track cargo independently at each port, I could simply have a central system that kept track of all the ports at once. Of course, I would need to play test it to see if the track got too crowded if each port had a similar amount of resources, but there should be enough ports to prevent this from happening (i.e. the game is designed that some ports will have a lot of some resources, but lacking in others, and the number of resources is limited enough to prevent any one type of resource saturating the market).

stick
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Could you use dice in the

Could you use dice in the colors of the resource? for example a grey 6 sided could represent 1-6 gunpowder. Then each card ship could have spots for each dice. Which would limit the amount of cargo by the number of dice. Also adding an a unique mechanic that you have to take chunks of things and manage amount of each versus # of different resources. Just my quick idea.

ender7
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A few ideas. 1 - Each port

A few ideas.

1 - Each port has a resource track, and you use one different colored cube per resource type to show how many resources are available at that port. You'll need a total of up to 5 cubes per port, or 60 total cubes, and only one track per port since the cubes are different colors.

2 - Another approach is abstract the exact number of resources available, to help shorten the length of the track. Say the track has six spaces, ranging from "no supply" to "major surplus". If the cube for sugarcane was at "major surplus" a player could buy many units (I don't know your scale, but let's say 20) of sugarcane at a low price (the price could be printed on the track, or in a separate lookup chart - which would be helpful if you wanted prices to be different for each commodity), and could not sell any sugarcane at all. Once a player made a purchase, the cube would slide one step towards "no supply". At step 5, perhaps a player could buy only 15 units, but still fairly cheaply, and could sell up to 5 units, but for not that much. Keep going down the steps, which prices rising with scarcity, until you reach "no supply", where prices for resources are highest, and none can be purchased.

3 - Use the a ship card with a track for resources on each ship. You'll need 5 cubes, one of each color, for every ship. Assuming 4 boats and 5 players, that's another 100 cubes, for a grand total of 160 cubes for all your tracking purposes.

For prototyping purposes, I would just use paper and pencil to track each ship if you don't have the cubes lying around.

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