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Mercantile Mechanic For Pirate Game

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RGaffney
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I'm just about to the playtesting phase of a pirate game I've created.

The game is based on a sailing and combat mechanic I'm happy with. It's on a hex grid with a wind direction, and d6s representing cannons. But I feel like it needs some flavor to give players something to do other than beat the snot out of one another.

I came up with a mercantile mechanic that will enable players to buy and sell commodities at market value, attempting to make a profit which enables them to upgrade their ships and gain an advantage in battle. This is a very familiar mechanic in computer games. Buy low, sell high, call it a day

I don't want to devote much head-space to understanding the mercantile rules; this is supposed to be a game about pirates after all. But I've found that the simple price fluctuations and compound arithmetic, is not as easy to reproduce as I originally thought. If I buy 20 of this, 50 of that, and then I want to spend all my remaining money... it gets more like homework and less like fun.

Initially I thought let each commodity be a polyhedral die. But that presents a practical and pricing problem, and the results from the dice are not ideal (too easy to make a 1200% profit) Now I'm thinking cards may be the best bet. There are no other cards in the game, but I can make a set of economy cards to be dealt at the beginning of the game to each of 6 ports. That means the prices per port don't actually fluctuate, but you can find different market values by sailing to multiple ports. I still have the math problem a bit, but I can do the math for common multiples on the cards for the players.

So for instance, each card would say something like:
Cocoa: (7 for 1) (35 for 5)
Sugar: (11 for 1) (55 for 5)
Tobacco: (12 for 1) (60 for 6)
Citrus: (19 for 1) (95 for 5)

And cards would be different at different ports within a range (with cocoa being on average the lowest price, sugar next, and so on)

I'm not sure; something still feels inelegant about it to me. Can I get some suggestions?

JackBurton
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To lead math calcs to a

To lead math calcs to a minimum you can:
- limit the number (not the types) of goods: every commodity pawn represents tons of that good
- expose +/- quotations in each port, one for each commodity:

Port #1
- Cocoa: Buy +10, Sell -20
- Sugar: Buy -5, Sell +5
...

Port #2
- Cocoa: Buy -30, Sell +10
...

If a Cocoa has a standard value of 100, then it is more convenient to buy it at Port #2 (for 70) and sell it at Port #1 (for 110). Your goal is to force players to travel a lot, so you should set the quotations accordingly.

To implement port quotations you can use, as you said, a card mechanism (1 card = 1 situation, which includes all the ports), which let you control the profitable routes.

Procylon
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I think you are on the right

I think you are on the right track with the cards, but I think going too deep with the numbers is not going to work.

Instead, how about trying to simulate the buying low and selling high by making the cards play off each other? You arrive in port with a hand full of commodity cards and you can draw event, market, etc cards that let you play your commodity cards differently depending on the situation. Your players can basically sell their goods in that port, or sail on and hope for better luck/prices.

Some event cards could even have you travel to the next port because they are paying crazy money for X good. Then, the opposing players could try and intercept the shipment for themselves, essentially stealing your card after defeating you in battle or through some other card related mechanics.

You could also use cards to make all kinds of events such as treasure maps, bounties, etc.

RGaffney
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I'm not sure I understand you

I'm not sure I understand you Jack, what do you mean by limit the number that can be bought?

I understand the idea of a standard value, but now with a standard value, plus or minus a modifier, times the number I want to buy, isn't that even more complicated? I just had one price for both buying and selling

Also, wouldn't I just buy all the cocoa at port 2, sell it back at a profit of 40, rinse, repeat?

RGaffney
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Proc, I like where you are

Proc, I like where you are going with this, but I just don't think it's for this game.

I could see a land based pirate game as you are describing it though. Mysterious island, buried treasure, cannibals, peg legs, There are shipping routes that will take you to any of several ports around the island to trade and battle, but you can also get out of the boat and accomplish missions. I'm seeing dotted lines to territories on what would ideally be a 3D board. I'm not sure what the victory condition would be, but I think the idea has legs.

What I have down so far is about 80% of a game about sailing around the carribbean, and positioning yourself into advantageous positions for cannon battles. I don't have commodity cards a la Catan, or an event deck. Winds change, but that's governed by a simple d6 roll. Ideally, the whole money system could be accomplished with a single denomination coin (because it feels more piratey to push around lots of coins, than exchange monopoly money). But my system isn't clean enough for that.

I feel like having 3 decks for commodity, event, and market, would overwhelm the game.

Between the two of you though, I'm hearing limit the number of possible purchase sizes. I'm getting the beginnings of an idea of batch cards. So instead of market prices per ton of each commodity, there are maybe 4 cards per port. 30 Cocoa, 10 Sugar, 20 Cocoa, 5 Tobacco. and all the cards always cost 5 gold. So I buy the 30 Cocoa card because that seems like a good deal, and then I... sell it... somehow.

Thoughts?

Procylon
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Well at the core, the cards

Well at the core, the cards would be used to move your player around the map in an unpredictable way. The reason the player moves is for the resources, upgrades only found at specific ports, or to attack other players en-route with valuables.

Say you show up at port A. Prices are set. You draw a card. It could give you a discount on buying certain goods at the port, it could give you a bonus for selling goods at another port(causing you to buy what the port has or plan a route through another port), or any number of things regarding buying and selling around your map.

Like sailing into Port A and finding out that Port B is paying out the wazoo for Y good.

You could even get rid of the numbers for commodities and have Small, Medium, Large, and Huge amounts of a good. Then you have different ship classes that can handle varying sizes of cargo.

JackBurton
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What I am trying to cut is

What I am trying to cut is the "number" part of the equation.
The number of commodity pawns is limited, so every player could load on the ship only a certain amount of goods (e.g. you have 9 boxes on a ship-sheet and you can fill them with a maximum of 9 commodity pawns).

Let's say you have 1 pawn which represents a ton of sugar and 2 pawn for 2 tons of cocoa: the exchange in a port is an easy matter: just add or subtract port quotations from the standard value of your commodity, one time for each pawn (3 times).

Hope I explained the concept better

Despot9
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The game Merchants and

The game Merchants and Marauders has a fairly simple and straight forward merchant mechanic. Basically there is a deck of goods cards. If you are buying goods you draw a number of cards (I think it was 5 but varied by location) then depending on how many cards of a given type where drawn you find out what the selling price is. All goods have a base price of 3 and for each additional copy of the card you draw you lower the price per good by 1. So, if you draw 1 card of a given good the price is $3 but if you draw 2 cards of that good the price for that good is $2 and if you draw 3 or more of a given good the price is $1 per good. Then the base selling price was $3 and if you went somewhere where the good was in demand the selling price is $6.

I'm using something similar in a game I'm working on called Trader of Sol. The major differences in my system being that the base selling price is lower so you generally don't want to buy goods in a port and immediately sell them but if you acquired them through other means it may still be worth it to do so, and that the increase in demand is more gradual rather than there is demand or there isn't. At the lowest level Demand makes goods sell for $4 in my game, and at the highest level its 8.

Its been a good solution for me.

RGaffney
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Proc, Do you mean something

Proc, Do you mean something like this
http://www.bgdf.com/node/12409

Cards lead you around the map on adventures, maybe first to a million wins.

I like the idea but i have only exactly that much of that game done. meanwhile I had something more like this
http://www.bgdf.com/node/12410
Only on a hex grid of course
https://app.roll20.net/join/128917/0XyvSQ
Is a playable demo is you have a roll20 account

Of course that's embarrassingly similar to the Merchants and Marauders map. I had never heard of that game, and I even tried to do the market research. Sigh.

Jack, I like the limit idea, still feel like I'm calculating 9(100-30)=X and if I start doing any comparison shopping at all I'm doing homework (which will make me more profit, cocoa or sugar? Well lets see...

Maybe I should rethink mercantilism altogether, and just give the players some NPCs to kill for money

RGaffney
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Proc, Do you mean something

Proc, Do you mean something like this
http://www.bgdf.com/node/12409

Cards lead you around the map on adventures, maybe first to a million wins.

I like the idea but i have only exactly that much of that game done. meanwhile I had something more like this
http://www.bgdf.com/node/12410
Only on a hex grid of course
https://app.roll20.net/join/128917/0XyvSQ
Is a playable demo is you have a roll20 account

Of course that's embarrassingly similar to the Merchants and Marauders map. I had never heard of that game, and I even tried to do the market research. Sigh.

Jack, I like the limit idea, still feel like I'm calculating 9(100-30)=X and if I start doing any comparison shopping at all I'm doing homework (which will make me more profit, cocoa or sugar? Well lets see...

Maybe I should rethink mercantilism altogether, and just give the players some NPCs to kill for money

Jethro
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This is my first post here,

This is my first post here, so forgive me if its useless to you!

What if each commodity sells for a base price (say 5 gold as an example) regardless where you sell it. And then each port had a commodity associated with it (cocoa in Madrid, spices in London, etc) and you can sell that specific commodity for double (in this example 10 gold). You can vary and change the in-demand commodities via cards. When someone sells the in-demand commodity to the associated city, the card is removed and replaced with another.

You'd only need as many commodity cards as cities plus a few. You could have multiple cities need the same commodity, or maybe none, depending on how many cities/commodities/cards you have in the game. And because its first come first serve, there's an element of urgency and risk as well...this of course depends heavily on the number of cities/commodities you use. You could even have a couple rare commodities that garner 3x the usual price.

I think this is mathematically simpler: since the price is per item you can count it out easily and because the multipliers are also low (and don't change based on quantity) it's easy for people to use simple shopping skills: "I get TWICE as much to sell in Amsterdam as opposed to Tripoli, awesome!"

I do wonder how a player gets the commodities in the first place and how many commodities you plan to have in all. I did see you have 6 cities, which seems like a good number - provides options, but not an intimidating amount...

Hope this helps!

RGaffney
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Yes, Yes, Yes! Jethro, you're

Yes, Yes, Yes!

Jethro, you're a genius. What games are you working on and how can I help you with them?

This is exactly what I was looking for, a simple elegant mechanic than can be explained verbally and played without taking over the game (which is about shooting stuff with cannons)

BAM!

Every port has a native commodity, and a wanted commodity

So Port Royal has Cocoa, and wants Gold.
Tortuga has Sugar and wants Spices
Port Au Prince has Citrus and wants Cotton
Barbados Has Gold and wants Cocoa
Curacao has Spices and wants Sugar
Carracas has Cotton and wants Citrus

Any port will trade 1 to one of any commodity for their home commodity, but 2 to one of their wanted commodity for their home commodity

Upgrades cost 1 of any commodity
You start with 1 of the home commodity of your home port
And you don't even need a currency!

questccg
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Not to discourage you... but...

Sorry I can't find the post... but it had something to do about games being designed. Basically it was saying is that there are TOO MANY Zombie games and merchant trading games.

Not to discourage you, since your game is a pirate game.

On another note, have you heard of the PC game called "Pirates!" (Made by Sid Meier's)? No? Well the map is similar to the image you uploaded at: http://www.bgdf.com/node/12410

The difference is that the left side of the map was the shoreline of Mexico.

Here is a WIKI about the game... It might give you ideas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sid_Meier%27s_Pirates!

I remember playing this game and it was GREAT. You had different types of ships, you could ram ship to for a fencing dual in which your crews battled while you dueled. You could marry different daughters of city governors if you had enough credibility. You could get a pirate map and hunt for hidden gold. The game was filled with a lot of *stuff*. And yes, I loved it!

Good luck with your game!

RGaffney
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About that...

Yeah, I'm really not trying to sell this game (or any game) to a publisher for profit.

I'm trying to teach myself game mechanics and board game design because I think they are an instrument of social change and global betterment. I'm planning on releasing all the game art and instructions for free, along with recommendations on how to use common items for tokens.

That's why I'm doing everything with standard d6s (8 for a dollar at the dollar store) I've found that ships can be well represented by binder clips with colored post it notes folded into triangles for sails. And I'm excited about this simple commodity system because instead of cards I can instruct players use sugarcubes, peppercorns, pennies, etc.

I know pirates are played out. they are also iconic, and a great way to get my foot in the door. I have to start at level one and use ideas I have. If I limit myself to only profitable marketable games, and avoid the themes of pirates, zombies, fantasy, sci fi, war, and real estate, I'm simply not going to be creative enough to get started.

Jethro
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Happy to help!

I'm glad my suggestion was useful to you!

I didn't even think of using commodities as the monetary unit, that's a neat concept. I'm sure you'll have to play test it to make sure it works...money may still be a necessity...but then again maybe not... Yeah that might just be a great system! Means you don't have to vary the ports desires and such. And it keeps the focus on the fighting not getting money! Could work really well.

Best of luck with the game!

Since you asked, I was working on a hero/questing game where you try to become the most renoun hero in the land to become its ruler. It got a bit too complex (though is still a fun play) with items and money and spells and characters. The idea was to gain renoun through quests, make your character stronger with items and use spells to augment encounters. Throw in some pvp and cooperation options and it amounts to a large learning curve...Plus I got stuck on the end game concept. I wanted to make it winnable for most players at the end with a final dual...lets just say I haven't found my solution yet...

I'm currently thinking of changing the game (or building a second game to work off the same pieces/board/concept) that is a more defend the realm type play. It's be more along the lines of a tower defense game, but with individual heros and various castles. I think it has more potential for accessibility, which was a problem before. Though my issue there is enemy spawn. Of course I've spent zero time working on it lately, so I'm sure a solution will present itself when once I do.

Eventually I'll start blogging on here about the games, but currently it's on hiatus as I have a couple film/theater projects happening.

Regardless, let me know how the new system works out! I'm very interested now!

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