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Ideas for 17th century trade goods

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kos
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Joined: 01/17/2011

I'm working on a board game based around 17th century trading ships, and I would like some opinions from the community at large about the selection of trade goods and the valuation thereof.

First, some background on the mechanics:

Each player has a fleet of ships which they sail around the world trading at ports to earn money.

I have tried to narrow the range of 17th century trade goods down to a small enough number to handle in a board game. I'm doing initial playtesting with dummy goods (A, B, C) to get the mechanics sorted out, but next I need to decide which historical goods fit the theme.

Each trade good is rated as "Low", "Medium" or "High" value, which corresponds to a value of 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

Ports that produce a trade good sell it at base value; ports that demand a trade good buy it at 2x base value.

The trade goods I have so far are:

LOW VALUE:
Wood (ebony, mahogany, cedar, etc)
Fish (smoked or salted for transport)
Grain (includes wheat, barley, rice, corn, etc)
Slaves
Crafts (everything from beads to paintings to statuettes)
Alcohol (includes wine, beer, rum, sake, vodka, etc)

MEDIUM VALUE:
Metalwork
Textiles (includes wool, silk, cotton and the articles made thereof)
Furs
Tobacco
Ivory
Beverages (includes tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar)

HIGH VALUE:
Gemstones (includes jewelry and decorative items made thereof)
Spices (includes pepper, cinnamon, etc)

(Note: Gold and Silver are treated as Coins in the game, not as a trade good per se)

So, my questions are thus:

1) Have I missed anything obvious that was a major trade good in the 17th century? Note that the map covers the whole world, but is limited to maritime trade.

2) Are there some trade goods that I have included which could safely be omitted? The list above is bordering on too large. For the purposes of game mechanics, I'd be happy to have less types of trade goods but I'm not sure which ones to cut.

3) Have I made any obvious blunders in categorising the relative value of the goods? Note that this is the value of a "ship-full" of goods (e.g. comparing the value of a ship full of grain vs a ship full of ivory). For the purpose of game mechanics, I'd be happy to bump a couple of the "medium values" up to "high values" to even up the numbers in each category.

Regards,
kos

ReluctantPirateGames
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Joined: 09/27/2011
Some good ideas

So first off, I like the overall idea here. The in stock/in demand model is a fun idea for a maritime trading game. But anyway, the goods.

I was a bit confused when you said that you wanted there to be different goods with different quality levels. This was furthered when you listed your first good as "Wood (mahogany, cedar, etc.)." This led me to believe that each good in the game would have several quality levels, which I actually like a lot. But reading down the list, it seemed that you weren't thinking that. I actually think that this could be a really interesting way to go about it though. If you had a small number of goods (let's say 5), and each good came in 1-3 quality levels, that might create some interesting scenarios. You could set a base price for the good, and then have some sort of mathematical rule for the upper values. Perhaps level 2 is 150% and level 3 is 200%, or something like that. Here's one possible good set.

Wood 1: Pine
Wood 2: Cedar
Wood 3: Mahogany

Grain 1: Wheat
Grain 2: Barley

Textiles 1: Cotton
Textiles 3: Silk

Alcohol 2: Rum
Alcohol 3: Wine

Fish 1: Salted Fish

Ivory 2: Ivory

Spices 3: Spices

So I realize that is in fact 7 goods. But I just did it to demonstrate that you could have goods with full range, goods with 2 values, and goods that stand alone. That way, a harbor with "wood" in stock presents you with the opportunity to buy three different levels of wood. Also, a harbor seeking "Textiles" could be sold cheap cotton or expensive wool. Not sure exactly the implications of this, but it seems possible that it could be cool.

J. Alex K.
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Joined: 09/06/2011
I think you have a fairly

I think you have a fairly exhaustive list, but I just want to encourage you to not use slaves. It may be accurate, but it's morally reprehensible and not something you want associated with your game.

J. Alex K.
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Also, have you played Puerto

Also, have you played Puerto Rico? It too is about shipping goods in the colonial era, and their value progression (from least to most valuable) is Corn-Indigo-Sugar-Tobacco-Coffee. So, you may or may not want to stay away from those goods depending on how much you want to differentiate your game.

kos
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Joined: 01/17/2011
Historical slave trade

J. Alex K. wrote:
I think you have a fairly exhaustive list, but I just want to encourage you to not use slaves. It may be accurate, but it's morally reprehensible and not something you want associated with your game.

I agree that the slave trade is both reprehensible and historically accurate, which creates a dilemma when creating any game based on historical trade. I have flip-flopped in my own mind several times on whether to include it or not, so I welcome opinions from others on the subject.

I've done quite a bit of research on historical trade goods and trade routes, which includes the slave trade. The thing that shocked me as I read more into it was just how widespread it was, not just limited to the well-publicised taking of slaves from Africa to the Americas. In just one example amongst many, for centuries the Europeans sold their fellow Europeans as slaves to the Arabs (because their religion banned a Christian from having Christian slaves), while at the same time the Arabs sold their fellow Arabs as slaves to the Europeans (because their religion banned a Muslim from having Muslim slaves). To a modern thinker the hypocrisy is astounding, but apparently at the time it seemed perfectly acceptable to both groups.

Back to the game, a component of the game is "Enlightenment" cards, which players can purchase to get victory points (rather like the Development cards in Settlers of Catan) and each of which applies special rules to the player who played it. One such proposed card would be "Abolition of slavery", which gives the player victory points and also bans all their ports and ships from buying/selling slaves.

So my follow up question is: Would you still recommend not including the slave trade in a board game, given that (a) as a player you can simply choose to trade other goods, and (b) the game mechanics reward you for banning the slave trade?

The alternative is that I can substitute other goods at those ports that historically sold slaves, to avoid the subject altogether.

Regards,
kos

dobnarr
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Don't do it

Don't do it. I'm sympathetic to your desire not to ignore this important part of history, but I don't think a game is the way to do that. Unless your game is just to make a point, like Train ( http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/63933/train ), but then the game's not the real purpose anyway.

A game that included slave trading would be a lightning rod, and not fun to play, because that one issue would trump whatever other goals you set for the game for most people. Use other goods, and put a statement in the rules that games are meant to be fun, and that you're using history as you wish it were rather than as it was, not as an attempt to forget the past but to make the game suitable to be a fun pastime.

J. Alex K.
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I think I would agree with

I think I would agree with dobnarr in the recommendation to stay away from it. Games are fun because you get to take the role of an important person during some interesting era of history (or future). If you have players avoiding a particular strategy or game element because morally they disagree with it, this is going to create an unwanted imbalance in the game. I think it's just better to avoid any sort of human trafficking and not ask your players to participate in the slave trade in order to win the game.

It may still be okay to have game elements (like cards) refer to it, but I'd recommend not forcing your players to participate in it.

kos
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Thanks for your input

Thank you to dobnarr and J. Alex K. for your input. Making points about slavery is not one of the goals of this game, and you are probably right that a mention of slavery would distract from the rest of the game.

The point of the game, aside from to be fun, is to try to recreate the experience of being the captain of a trading fleet in the 17th century. At the time most of the trading fleets were state-sponsored, and this is recreated by being able to "claim" ports for your faction in the game, as well as taking them off other players. Another part of history that the game recreates is the way that the trade routes were dictated by the natural currents and wind patterns, for example you can sail from Cape Town to Indonesia but you can't sail direct from Indonesia to Cape Town. Finally, the game recreates the scenario where if the players take all the money out of a region without re-investing into the economy they will effectively destroy the local economy and make it not worth trading there any more.

The point of the different trade goods is to incentivize players to travel around the map. There's plenty of spice to buy in south-east asia, but nowhere there to sell it. So the players have to take it somewhere that wants spice, and bring back something else.

The point of the different values in trade goods is to recreate the scenario where certain trade goods are worth sailing half-way around the world to sell, and others are not. Nobody sailed from Asia around to Europe with a cargo full of fish, because there's not enough profit to be made. But trading fish on short trade routes is worthwhile because you can make lots of little profits.

For the mechanics of the game it makes no difference if I can buy spice in London or textiles in Tidore, but I'm trying to make the selection of trade goods as historical as possible.

Regards,
kos

stick
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Joined: 01/30/2012
After reading your list I had

After reading your list I had a few ideas that sorta fit into your categories but could be different. Just top of the head stuff, I didn't do any actual research into them but I could see all of them being traded for sure.
Jade
Weapons
Animals or livestock

I will edit later if I think of any more.

P.S. Regarding slaves I think any game on historic "earth" is a no-no but sci-fi, future or otherworld leaves the door open. Doesn't help in your case but I thought it might be worth mentioning.

kos
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Joined: 01/17/2011
Good input

ReluctantPirate:
I had not previously considered having different valuations of the same trade good. I understand what you are saying, and it certainly makes sense particularly with things like textiles and alcohol which have widely varying values depending on quality. I hesitate to implement such a system, however, because it may add more complexity to the game. If anything I am trying to remove complexity. Nevertheless, it is a good idea which I will give some more thought.

Stick:
Good suggestions. Jade I had rolled into Gemstones, along with amber, lapis lazuli, pearl, coral, and literally dozens of others. I realise that some of these are technically neither "gems" nor "stones", but they fit the category. Weapons I had rolled into Metalwork, though a case could be made to keep them separate. I'll have to think about that one some more to decide if it warrants its own category. Livestock is a good one and is in fact my planned replacement for Slaves, since many of the ports which historically sold slaves also had herds of cows/sheep/goats.

Regards,
kos

lewpuls
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Absolute crap

This notion that because something is reprehensible or evil you shouldn't represent it in a game is absolute crap, and can lead to "sanitizing" of history that does no one any good. Slaves were very valuable and the slave trade was massive, you can't make a historical trading game and ignore it without losing all credibility. Ignoring it also is disrespectful to the people who suffered through it or died in the trade. Are you going to pretend they didn't exist?

Grow up and face reality.

I once designed a gangster game, and included prostitution as one of the rackets (controlling which, of course, is a major activity of gangsters). But it isn't an historically accurate game, though more realistic than most gangster games, and when people suggested I should leave that racket out, I tried it and it worked as well with three rackets as with four. Yet I cannot imagine trying to represent 16th-18th century trade without the slave trade.

Spoken, I admit, as a person with a Ph.D. in history.

Lew Pulsipher

jirmen90
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Slave Inclusion

I don't think that any player who wants to win will avoid any strategy that he/she thinks will help them score more points. Many people seem to have no problem committing heinous crimes in many video games and I think that most of us are able to separate reality from our games.

Also, what lewpuls said:

lewpuls wrote:
This notion that because something is reprehensible or evil you shouldn't represent it in a game is absolute crap, and can lead to "sanitizing" of history that does no one any good. Slaves were very valuable and the slave trade was massive, you can't make a historical trading game and ignore it without losing all credibility. Ignoring it also is disrespectful to the people who suffered through it or died in the trade. Are you going to pretend they didn't exist?

Ecarots
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Joined: 08/23/2013
spices

salt
pepper
sugar

tea
coffee
rum

davidwpa
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Joined: 12/05/2008
Slave issue

In the 1600s slavery was a big commodity and to ignore it because it is wrong makes no sense when the most popular video games have no issue with the player killing and maiming opponents as a rule of thumb. Yes the two are not directly comparable, but the morality being shown here is quite subjective and tainted with the lens of modern view. Slavery is reprehensible, it's wrong, but it still happens today. It is part of the human condition and will happen as long as people fail to live peacefully on this planet.

Games have different objectives. If this is a light hearted trading game, then yes, I would leave it out, but if it is more an advanced strategy simulation style game, then I would say it goes in because while slavery may offend people, I think a far more reprehensible crime against society is to sanitize and censor its history because of moral guilt.

jirmen90
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About how many of each level

About how many of each level of trade goods do you want to have? I'm sure we can cut some out of your list and make sure you've got the most interesting items on it.

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