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Caribbean Trading Game

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Matt201's picture
Joined: 12/29/2010

Note: Chances are I'll write a wall of text describing my game, so you get a pretty good idea (hopefully) of how it works. If you don't want to read the whole thing, I have put my questions in bold, and if you can offer any help, it would be greatly appreciated.

Perhaps first a little history on the game...
It started off as a fan game of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" Movie trilogy (before I had seen the 4th one), and I intended it to be a wargame that worked somewhat like risk, but had speciality cards.

However, soon it turned into a trading game, and less emphasis was placed on the war aspect, and slowly but surely I moved away from the movies to a more historically accurate game.

What was a 2 player war game pitting the Pirates against the East India Trade Company has now turned into a (up to) 4 player trading game with the Spanish, British, French and Pirate factions competing to make the biggest profit.

The Board:
The board is a map of the Caribbean and Central America, stretching from "New Spain" (mainland Central America) to the Winward Islands (and Trinidad and Barbados being the east-most islands) and from Venezuela to Florida (north/south). Within the board there are 14 ports scattered around.

I am thinking of having the board in a hex pattern, giving players the ability to sail in 6 directions every turn. One possible element to add is wind factor, whereby you have a "compass" that keeps track of wind direction, and every turn when you roll a dice for movement, you roll a second d6 that either 'moves the wind clockwise (x2) [eg. if it is north, the wind becomes north-east], 'moves the wind counter clockwise' (x2) [eg. if the wind is west, it becomes south west], 'turns the wind' [eg. if the wind is east, it becomes west] or 'still wind' [eg. it does not change for this turn].
The idea behind the wind is that if you travel in the same exact direction as the wind [eg. if it is blowing north, and you move your piece up] you add 1 to your dice, if you move in the general direction of the wind [eg. northeast or northwest] the diceroll is how many you move, and if you move opposite the wind, you lose 1 to your dice roll (and 2 if it is directly in opposition, south in this example).

Do you suggest having a blue board with Green islands/landmasses, to reflect playing on a globe, or say a yellow/brown board with different groups of islands (eg. Bahamas, Leeward Islands, Jamaica, Cuba, etc.) different colours, to give it more of an "old world map" feel?

There are 14 ports spread across the board. I tried to be historically accurate as possible, and include all real-world ports, giving control to the respective teams at the year 1700 (with one exception- the French own Santo Domingo in Hispaniola, even though it was not under French control until 1795).

The whole idea of the game is to sail from port to port trading supplies to make a profit (I'll go into more detail a bit later). Each port belongs to one of the 3 European powers (the pirates are unable to conquer/have control of ports) with the exception of Tortuga which remains neutral the entire game.

If a player trades at a friendly port (they own it), they get the complete profit, however trade at an enemy port, and you have to pay a tax to the owner (a % of the total profit made, I'm not sure how much as of yet). Of course, you want to therefore trade between your own ports as much as possible, but enemy ports may offer a better price for your goods, and you'll have to make a choice.

As described below, some teams start with more ports than others, so I'm considering being able to conquer enemy ports. Do you think this is a reasonable idea and if so, what is the best way to implement it into the game?

There are 4 "factions" available for play in this game: Pirates, Spanish, British and French.

I want each team to have a different advantage in game, in an attempt to make each team unique and not just clones of eachother. Of course, I don't want one team to be overpowered, because that doesn't make it any fun for the other players.

What advanages can each team have?
Out of the 14 ports on the board, the Spanish start with 7, the British start with 4, the French with 2, and the pirates with none (see above). Tortuga is always neutral, so could be considered a 'pirate' port.

Obviously the Spanish have the greatest starting advantage, owning the most ports, and I am wondering is that enough of an advantage, or should the Spanish get something else? Due to the French's obvious disadvantage in regards to ports owned, perhaps they can collect a higher % in tax for other players using their ports? And the pirates have the ability to try and raid ports and/or enemy ships, which either exempt them from paying the port tax and/or getting goods for free. (Obviously they can't do this every turn, perhaps only if they roll a 6 and a d6?). I'm not sure what the British can do as of yet?

Obviously, these are only very basic advantages for each team. Do you have any suggestions on improving them, or even better completely new ideas?

It took me a while to work out a system of trade I was somewhat happy with. Obviously the only real way to refine it is by playtesting, here is the general idea, and you may be able to suggest improvements.

Now, of course I am not an economist, but I assume that the mechanic I have implemented is a VERY basic supply and demand model. There is more economic theory to supply and demand than I have implemented in my system, but hopefully it makes sense to you.

Most trading games I have played allow a player to buy as much of something as they can afford, and in theory this means there are unlimited supplies of any one item (or whatever you are trading). In my game however, everything you trade is already "on the board", and throughout the whole game, no new cargo is created and none is destroyed, it is just shifted around the board from port to port.

I decided to do it this way in an attempt to stop one player leaving the others behind, it sort of pulls the player in first back, and the last player up, to keep everyone in the game, and therefore there is no clear indication of who will win until they do.

Included in the game is a "price sheet" for each port, which includes a track for each of the 5 items available for trade (spice, rum, gunpowder, Tobacco and Timber). Depending on how much of something is available at the port depends on where each marker is placed.

Imagine a table that is 5 columns down (one for each product) and numbered from 0 to 30 across. Every 5 numbers is split (so, 1 2 3 4 5 | 6 7 8 9 10 | 11 12 13 14 15 | etc. all the way to 30+). Within each partition is a price for the commodity. Markers are used to track how much of anything is at the port (eg. if there are 12 units of timber at Port Royal, on the port royal price sheet on the timber track, a marker sits on the number 12, thereby signifying the price to buy/sell timber at that port)

That price is the buy/sell price for one unit. The less of something is at a port, the more money is it worth. So, imagine there are 20 units of rum at Havana and only 3 at Nassau. It would be wise for a player to buy the rum at havana (as it is cheaper) and sell it at Nassau for a better price (because there is less). If you were to buy rum at Nassau and sell it at havana, you would lose money. Does that make sense?

So to put it simply the more there is of a product, the cheaper you can buy it, and the less of something there is, the more you can sell it for.

Like I said earlier, this is all theory right now, and I won't know if it works until I play test it, but that's the sort of thing I'm going for.

You use a fleet of ships to trade, and each player starts with one, but as you make more money, you can buy extra ships so you can trade more (each ship is limited in how much cargo it can carry). And I assume the first player to reach a certain wealth wins.

I don't imagine the game would work without combat, but I can't really think of a simple combat system to implement (obviously I don't want a complicated one, because it is only a secondary/optional aspect of the game). The only thing I can think of is including "damage tokens" which are added to the hull after every hit, limiting the space for holding supplies. If there is no room in the hull, you have to throw cargo overboard (but then where does it go?) and if your hull is completely covered in damage tokens, it sinks. You can obviously sail to a friendly port and pay for repairs.

That still doesn't answer what actually constitutes a "hit" and what doesn't. Any ideas?

So yeah, I hope that makes sense. All help is appreciated.

Joined: 01/17/2011
Supply and demand

The supply and demand model you have described needs to be matched by production and consumption model. Without production and consumption, once all the goods are evenly distributed between the ports there will be no further possibility of profitable trade.

An example would be for each port to have a Production symbol next to one (or more) of the 5 goods. At the end of each round the produced goods go up by 3 and all other goods go down by 1. While such a system would work, playtesting may show that it is too "fiddly" moving the markers every round.

I have an on-again off-again game project going on about sailing ships trading goods between ports, and I've tried multiple systems to try to get simple enough to be playable while still having some semblance of realism. My intuition (based on playtests of my own game) is that your proposed system of supply and demand is a bit too much on the complicated side.

For starters, I'd recommend reducing the numbers involved to simplify the maths. E.g. instead of having quantities of goods ranging from 1-30 with 6 categories of price, why not just make the port quantities range from 1-6, and divide the cargo space of all ships by 5? Thus each "unit" of goods is equivalent to 5, and the maths is much easier.


Joined: 01/17/2011
Map and wind

Regarding map coloring, I wouldn't worry at this stage. Start with something really basic to get the mechanics sorted out first, then think about the coloring.

Regarding the wind, I'd recommend not implementing a wind system as you suggest. I think it is too much on the fiddly side, and also very random because you have 2 different randomisations in the movement phase. If you are rolling for movement points then you already simulate "favorable" vs "unfavorable" winds through the die roll, so there is no need for an additional random element.

But if you definitely want to roll for wind direction, then give ships a fixed move (say, 6 move points) and roll a die for wind direction (1=N, 2=NE, 3=SE, etc) with a set number of move points for moving with/against the wind. E.g. if the wind is blowing north, then sailing NW, N, or NE costs 1 move, sailing SW or SE costs 2 move, and sailing S costs 3 move. This way there is still only 1 random element in the movement phase.

Also or alternatively, you could consider researching the trade winds / currents if you want to use wind as historical flavor. There's plenty of maps on the Internet. The trade winds are quite predictable, to the extent that you can print them on your map board. Historically the trade winds (and currents) had a big effect on where the ships sailed, which in turn had a big effect on which ports became major trade centers vs backwaters.


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