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Cannabis farm development, pre-legalization

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SDHokie's picture
Joined: 04/18/2019

Greetings Design Community,

My idea is of a cannabis farm development and distribution game in which novice cannabis growers compete to build the most successful farm economy by using resources (materials and money) to grow crops and hire distributors while thwarting off busts and investigations.

The following information is all preliminary. Consider it a pouring of my thoughts to hopefully spark your interest and ideas. Below I will pitch the 5 W's to convey my vision of the player's experience in the game. Thank you for reading in advance. I hope to receive feedback and especially your first impression on what game type would best suit this theme. Feel free to run with ideas and dish them out.

Characters (AKA The Union) in the game serve different purposes along the production chain, from property owning to selling.

  • Real Estate Agents - Involved with The Union and caters to growers' needs. Will sell you property and upgrade your space when you have the money for it.
  • Homeowner - Collects rent/mortgage of your grow op property. Claims ignorance during busts. His hands are always clean.
  • Contractor - The 50/50 Partner; provides equipment and hires the grower or grows himself (likely not useful for the game)
  • The Grower (You!) - The head of the grow operation. Also the "fall guy" as he takes the hit in busts, though he can prepare for and thwart busts!
  • Clippers - Hired when the crops are matured. They cost a particular rate, perhaps based on unique abilities.
  • Broker - Buys the harvest for transport/shipment.
  • Border Jumper, Seller - Will take your product farther at a cost, however with larger returns. Less return if product stays in province. (Broker and Border Jumper can likely be the same character). Offers different means of transport, e.g. planes, trucks, cars, even air drops!
  • The Police! - Investigations and busts are inevitable. Don't get too lost in building your grow op without means to thwart or at least take a hit when the police arrive!

Of course, you depend on acquired resources beyond your associates above. You'll have to access these locations to get the goods you need.

  • Seeds
    • Seeds, of course! Sativa, indica, or hybrids are of interest, perhaps depending on changing demand. Hybrid not offered in the store? Use the other two to make your own!
    • Catch the periodic visits from seed sellers and clone growers to bulk up your stash for planting.
  • Hardware Store
    • Provides construction of materials (perhaps the structure itself) to set up or expand your grow op
    • Carpenters - Hire a carpenter ( a worker, if you will?) to build what you need... for a price!
  • Electric Company
    • Requires payment for of that power you're using, especially all of those lights you have running (more on lights below).
    • Electricians - Used to set up lights, wire electrical components, divert power perhaps?
  • Hydroponics Store
    • Visit your local shop to enhance your crops with for lights, nutrients, soil, etc.
  • Bank
    • Make sure you deposit your hard-earned cash so it's safe from raids. Just don't deposit too much at a time or you'll catch the suspicion of your banker.
  • Law Firms
    • Luckily, you happen to know a guy who will set up a holding company to do a bit of laundering for ya.
    • Oh yeah, and don't forget him when you weren't able to thwart that last bust. He'll make sure you get back on track.
  • Law Enforcement
    • Has a healthy budget to fight cultivation. The source of visitations from the local special task force.


To make the game interesting and not just another economic/worker placement game, the timeline should be either wholly in the pre-legalization age, or during the time that legalization was rolling out. The idea is that you are ultimately running a high risk-high reward operation and you have to do what you can to make sure your operation flourishes. Without being too mean, players can secretly call raids on other operations, or simply take resources before other players can access them. A legalization element could be used to affect demand and prices as the game progresses, depending on what laws are passed.


I'm tempted to call the project and game Humboldt :) My vision is that this game takes place in the northern regions of California where cannabis farms were/are abundant and raids plenty.


I feel this theme allows for an incredible amount of directions the game can go. It can scale in that it can be formulated as a card game, a dice game, or as I intend, an involved board game with player interaction on a main board. By adding the laundering and law enforcement features, the game offers new types of restrictions and challenges to work under. Also, adorable marijuana leaf meeples. Can you just picture that?!


How is this game played? Understanding that mixing too many game types is dangerous, I can't help but describe the game under a number of categories. I can see the game primarily as an economic builder, engine builder, and/or worker placement game. To be cliché and draw a parallel with a popular game, I would say that my vision matches closely to that of Viticulture. Just more of an underground operation theme, with appropriate mechanics involved.

I would like to avoid highest Victory Points as an achievement condition. I'm thinking of perhaps a greatest output value instead (it's all a number at the end anyway) when marijuana becomes fully legalized or all provinces to which product is sent are claimed.

Some mechanics and features I am toiling with are

  • Raids are random, likely from a deck. Players can also secretly call a raid if they have confidently set up a defense against it. No one is wiped out or eliminated from raids; everyone takes some kind of hit though.
  • Weed types have different value, and there is always a specific demand for a type(s) of product. Indica and Sativa are the primary crop types. You can buy hybrids or make them using your Indica and Sativa stock.
  • How you set up your grow area matters. You will need lighting (pieces) and irrigation supplies, for example, but you will also be billed appropriately.
  • You choose between a number of different types of characters from the list above. For example, you will have a choice on different clippers and sellers with unique abilities and weaknesses. Brokers can have different levels of corruption, relating to the high risk-high reward play. Same with lawyers. This will play into how well you can sustain hits to your operation from raids.
  • I don't want the game to be mean, but there certainly needs to be competition. I hope to create a game with player interaction despite the fact that players are building their own farms. I'm open to ideas on how I can involve some "elbowing" between players without full on elimination or total f*-overs.

OK, I think that's all I want to share at this time. I will probably wake up tomorrow remembering the other features I wanted to include, but this is good for now. Thanks again for reading and I hope to hear from the community very soon. I can't seem to shake this game idea!


Joined: 06/09/2017
hi i think there is certainly

i think there is certainly a market. stoners will buy almost anything with a cannabis leaf on it. (i live in cornwall where, despite it being illegal, teenagers insist on advertising to the police they smoke via the medium of t-shirt) and im guessing in the states where its legal the opportunity for merchandise is huge.
its also still basically farming so you can also make a "legal" version (selling regular crops) in places that aren't as relaxed about weed.
the problem you'll find is that stoners have poor short term memory, short attention spans and poor short term memory. if the rules get too complex it wont get played (or not properly). basically the rules will be explained by someone who can only half remember them to people who are only half listening.
if i were making a game with this theme i would go with some kind of trick taking or set collection card game. somthing that can be played in rounds that are more like a series of games, ie you can play 1 round or 20 and let the players decide when to stop. even better if players can sit out of a round or two (to prepare "refreshments"). each round could be a growing season, calender year or until the farm is raided.

SDHokie's picture
Joined: 04/18/2019
Reply to u/wob

Thanks for the reply. While I want to argue that players won't necessarily have indulged in hippie lettuce prior to playing, you are likely correct. Same goes for the fact that players won't necessarily be focus-challenged during the game; you are probably correct in that sense as well :) However, remembering only half of the rules is a bit of a stretch, but I get your point. If I were to choose a target audience, the age would at least be adults, or those who enjoy the Viticulture experience and wouldn't mind playing a similar game with an edge.

The real issue I suspect is finding a publisher that would want to put their name and logo on this game ha.

I would love to make a "legal" version, but I'm afraid that it would take the spice out of the game. Thinking out loud, if I were to do this, maybe I'd choose succulents which I enjoy. Now that I think of it, perhaps "raids" on your garden can be done by pests!

There are certainly options to re-theme this overall idea. You have my mind turning, especially with exploring different game types that would suit a crowd with a little less of an attention span (though sufficient enough).

Jay103's picture
Joined: 01/23/2018
Even where it's legal in the

Even where it's legal in the US, it's not REALLY legal, because Federal law still bans it. So you can always make the Feds the bad guys and be "current". I think that's probably important.. you'd want to be reasonably close to where things are in reality, not making a game about how things were 15 years ago.

SDHokie's picture
Joined: 04/18/2019
Reply to u/Jay103

Good point. I have been thinking that if I shift the timeline up, players can have the choice of making legal or illegal moves/plays in different parts of the game (e.g. steal power vs paying for it or disclosing to the feds how much you are growing). Illegal moves of course are high risk-high reward, but bring major penalties if caught. Or in terms of a modern timeline, as the game develops, cards can reveal legalization laws that affect players' operations and cause players to modify their strategies.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Target Audience?

Welcome to BGDF, SDHokie!

This is an excellent game concept you've described here. I think there's a way to include much of it, as long as you consider your intended audience for this game. From what I've read, it doesn't seem to me like you're completely sure about that. I do recommend you consider it, because that can inform your design decisions.

  • You mentioned that you're inspired by Viticulture. If that's the case, then yeah, go for a historical fiction vibe, with the Feds being the main antagonists as Jay103 suggested. I also do not recommend "raids are random." The players know that raids will happen (again, just like in the real world), and there should be some way for players to reasonably predict their frequency - at least early in the game. You point to a number of ways the growers leave their signature, perhaps collectively increasing their "heat" to a particular threshold and then a raid is resolved, and all growers need to endure it or suffer setbacks.
  • If this is a more casual game (and it doesn't seem like you want to go this route), then all bets are off. Use dice, use a lot of "take that," use simple mechanics borrowed from familiar, casual games like Poker or Uno or Yahtzee, and so on. Set it in the free-wheelin' 60's or 70's and use a lot of humor and cartoony, stylized graphics. Keep the game a short time length and/or a longer game broken up into several short rounds That build up a player's score over time.

The longer, strategic game is -not- one where your intended audience will smoke up, then play. The casual game is. The flip-side of developing a more casual game is that it won't be taken very seriously by anyone, and seems much more forgettable out of the gate compared to a more strategic game. It's also the easier route, and the target audience will be much more forgiving and gracious when it comes to appreciating your game.

Once you've decided on your target audience I suggest you design accordingly, taking the deeper-strategy route seriously if you -really- want to go for your Viticulture-inspired route.

Best of success on your design, SDHokie! :)

SDHokie's picture
Joined: 04/18/2019
Reply to u/let-off studios

That is some great input, thank you. My target audience is definitely one of the hazy elements in my mind right now. I should note that I am not necessarily targeting stoners, i.e. this is not specifically "a game for smokers." I want my target audience to be those who enjoy worker placement, economic builders, and/or deck builders in general. However, I suppose with my theme so established, it will drive the game into the hands of stoner groups (of course, stoners have to fall into game types they prefer themselves, which may include those above). I want fans--smokers and non-smokers--to pick this game up with as much alacrity as they choose Viticulture because they want to play a similar farming game with an edge, but the game in reality may instead be funneled into smoking groups as the replies here suggest.

Basically, I need to distinguish in my head those who I want to play this game and those who will play this game. That will drive how I design this game further so I can make the two meet: more in-depth play and heavier strategy, or quick to pick up with exciting plays and more uncertainty.

I will also consider your suggestion that raids are in some way predictable. I think a fixed raid frequency departs a little too much from reality, but I do like the idea that players will in some way know of impending raids and can better prepare a defense system.

Thanks again!

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