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Jim Hansen
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Hello! Welcome to my review of Corporate America. I’ll start off by going over the rules of the game, and then I’ll add my thoughts in detail. For full disclosure, I’ll let you know that I backed this game on Kickstarter at the basic level but have no other connections with the designer or publisher.

Rules Overview

The Basics

Corporate America (CA) is an economic negotiation game that takes a satirical approach to the relationship between politics and corporate profits in the United States. The game officially plays 3-6 players. I have played with 4 to 7 players, and the game gets better with more people. I can't see myself ever playing with 3, but 4 people works fine. 5 or 6 is the sweet spot, and you could definitely go up to 7 or 8. The listed play time is 90 minutes to 2 hours, but it depends a lot on how much your group haggles. My games tend to run about 2 hours. CA is the first game published by Nothing Sacred Games and was crowdfunded for $20,000 on Kickstarter.


Theme
In CA you are a corporation with the solitary goal of making as much money as possible. Like most economic games, you make money by investing in businesses and collecting their income. However, in CA the success (or lack thereof) of your businesses depends on which legislation gets passed and which industries are consumed. Your best bet for success is through negotiation, campaigning, and lobbying (a.k.a. bribing).

The businesses you can start are based on actual industries or companies (i.e. Myface or Bank of Shamerica) and the legislation is based on actual laws (i.e. Obamacare or the Patriot Act). The various industries are also subtly reflected in the mechanics. For example, sin businesses are cheap to start and produce good income but are prone to regulation and fines. Meanwhile, Green businesses are expensive to start but can be helped along by government subsidies. Also, businesses that pollute or exploit labor tend to have higher income but they can also be penalized by legislation.

If you follow American politics, you’ll find that a lot of the satire hits very close to home. For example, the presidential election each round is decided by whoever received the most campaign contributions. In the rare event of a tie, the election outcome is arbitrarily decided by someone not playing the game (called the “Supreme Court”. The designer recommends that kids make the best Supreme Court justices).

Components
Game Board
Rule Book
60 Business Cards
54 Consumer Cards, including 6 Protests
40 Legislation Cards
8 Executive Privilege Cards
1 Seal of the President
140 Bills



Game Play
One general rule that I wanted to explain up front is that money can be exchanged at any time. So, there is constant negotiation and bribing in almost every phase of the game.

Wall Street Phase
At the start of the game each player starts 3-4 businesses, depending on the number of players. During subsequent rounds, each player can build one new business. Each business has a cost to start and income that it will produce when its industries are consumed. Businesses have 1 to 3 industries that will provide income, but they can also have unfavorable externalities like pollution and labor. Industries include transportation, entertainment, media, luxury, green, sin, finance, home, energy, technology, health, and food. Some businesses also have other thematic benefits that are explained on the card. For example, the CNN card earns more money when people spend a lot on campaign contributions and the McDonald's card also generates revenue for health companies.



Main Street Phase
During the main street phase, players take turns revealing and playing consumption cards. When an industry is consumed, each business that matches the consumed industry produces income. Extra income is awarded to players that have multiple businesses in the same industry. This is called the synergy bonus and has an exponential increase depending on the number of businesses that match.

Players can spend money to reveal additional cards, but they can only play one of the revealed cards. This is where a lot of the negotiation comes into play. Money can be exchanged at any time, so players can “lobby” the current player to choose the card that benefits them most. If two high-value cards are revealed at the same time, the current player can earn a good profit by selling their card choice to the highest bidder.

There are 4 consume cards for each industry. There are also six protest cards in the consumption deck. When a protest card is revealed, it is set aside for later and a new card is drawn.




Campaign Trial
At the start of the campaign trail, 6 legislation cards are revealed. These cards represent bills proposed by congress. Some legislation cards are single events like bailouts and fines while other legislation cards are permanent laws. Next comes the real heart of the game…

At this point the players consider which bills they support and which they oppose. Whoever is elected president will get to pass 3 bills into law. However, if there were any protests revealed during the main street phase they must pass a bill that matches the protests ideology.

Players can declare that they are running for president and describe what their campaign platform is. This part of the game can take several minutes as people are entering or exiting the presidential race, forming alliances, or changing their platform to secure votes. In my games, there usually ends up being 2 or 3 candidates that have opposing platforms and supporters. Next there are three rounds of bidding where each player can make campaign contributions to one of the candidates. The contributions are face down, so you know how many bills they have bid but not how many dollars. If any player does not contribute for one of the rounds, they are not allowed to bid in future rounds.



After three rounds of bidding the campaign contributions are revealed and the candidate with the most contributions becomes the next president. Whether a player won or lost the election, all of the campaign contributions are returned to the bank. Ties are arbitrarily broken by an unbiased Supreme Court justice who is not playing the game. The rule book explains that kids make the best Supreme Court justices. If nobody else is around and you don’t want to call a friend to make the decision, you could always just flip a coin.

Next, two additional legislation cards are revealed, bringing the total to eight. The president now gets to choose three of the bills to pass into law while satisfying as many protests as possible. The president does not have to stick to their campaign promises, although it is a good strategy if you want to keep your allies for the rest of the game. The president also gets to draw an executive privilege card. The executive privilege cards allow the president to break the rules in a specific way and are worth $5 at the end of the game if unused.



Then the game returns to the Wall Street phase starting with the new president. The cycle repeats 3 or 4 times depending on the number of players, and ends after the main street phase when there are no executive privilege cards left. Whoever has the most money wins the game!

My Thoughts

Theme
CA does a fantastic job capturing the American corporate-political environment. The lobbying, campaign contributions, different types of industries and legislation, executive privileges, and protests are just fantastic. It is a refreshing breath of fresh air into a new theme that does not involve zombies, fantasy, sci-fi, or trading in the Mediterranean.

Another aspect that could become more interesting over time is the historical snapshot that this game provides. The businesses and legislation are based on the United States circa 2012, so it could be really interesting to play this game in 10 or 20 years and see cards about the Defense of Marriage Act, Stop Online Privacy Act, Obamacare, or the Bridge to Nowhere.




Components
Overall the components are very nice. The cards, board, and box are high quality. They all use thick cardboard and have vibrant colors. The Washington Monument is an amusing turn marker, although it can be easy to knock over and annoying to reach past if you’re trying to grab a card. I appreciate that the money is not paper and that it can be concealed. The art is simple, satirical, and clear. My one minor complaint is that there is a lot of which space on the business cards that could have been used for amusing company logos. But, given that this was a first time Kickstarter project, I’m OK with that.

The rulebook is clear and concise. There are some good jokes and thematic explanations in it that remind me of Vlaada Chvatil rulebooks (which is very high praise if you aren’t familiar with his work). Most of the special rules on the business cards are self-explanatory, but whenever I had a question the rulebook had the answer. There are quick reference areas on the sides of the pages and the back of the rulebook that are very nice. After two or three plays you’ll pretty much never have to open the rule book again.




Mechanics
The mechanics are simple and easy to follow. Spend money to start a business and earn money when its industry is consumed. There are very few exceptions to rules, and they are all clearly explained on the cards. The constant negotiation is great. It feels very similar to Settlers of Catan or Bohnanza in that respect. Every turn you are trying to make deals so there is no downtime.

The Wall Street and Main Street phases alone would make this a good economic game, but the presidential election is what truly makes this game shine. Every round is a blast as alliances are constantly being formed and broken. I can’t think of anything else to compare it to, but I can say that the election mechanic is one of my top 3 favorite mechanics in any game (in case you’re curious, the other two are the ship building in Galaxy Trucker and the action dice system in War of the Ring).

One minor drawback is that the game can run a little long. Especially if you have the kind of players that will spend several minutes haggling over $1. However, it’s not the kind of game that overstays its welcome (like Munchkin). It’s more that you should allow for 3 hours just in case people really get into the negotiation. You can always impose time limits if things get out of hand.




Approachability
Approachability isn’t something I would normally comment about, but Corporate America really shines here. First off, I’ll say that it’s been hard to get people to try the game. Some people don’t like to talk politics with mixed company. Thankfully, the game does not take any political stances. It makes fun of all ideologies equally. I would have no reservations about playing this game with someone of an opposing political ideology or someone that doesn't follow politics at all.

Also, some people fear that the game length will be too long and the game will be too heavy. Luckily the rules are very straightforward and anyone can pick it up. I’ve played with people that have only played Settlers of Catan and they had no problem with the game. Depending on your definition of the word, CA could be considered a gateway game. It's like if you took the strategy/weight of Settlers and combined it with the fun and laughs of [insert your favorite party game].

I wonder how this game would appeal to non-American gamers. I suspect that you can fully enjoy the game with only a peripheral knowledge of American politics. After all, corruption, negotiation, and greed are not exclusive to the United States.

I will mention that some of the humor may be inappropriate for kids or people that don’t like watching R-rated movies. There isn’t any profanity, but there are some suggestive references and innuendos.




Overall
If you’ve read all of my thoughts you should know by now that I love this game. The mixture of unique theme, tight mechanics, constant negotiation, and political satire makes Corporate America a real diamond in the rough. I feel like I can play this with any of my friends and it will be a fun, unique experience every time.

The best evidence I have that this game is great? Literally every single person I have played Corporate America with has asked when we can play it next. A handful of them have asked where they can buy it. I’ve probably taught 100+ games to people over the years, but I’ve never gotten this kind of positive response. If this game sounds even remotely interesting to you I highly recommend giving it a try.

Overall Rating (using BGG guidelines):


Please share any experiences, questions, or thoughts you have about the game. Also, feel free to give me any constructive criticism about my review because I don’t have much experience writing them.
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Dick Butler
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Fine review . . . one of the best I've read here on BGG. Corporate America is just as you describe it, attractive and colorful, easy to teach and learn, thematically fresh and interesting, and, above all, a lot of fun to play.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Falmouth
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Nice review and I love the satire this game is aiming for.

My only concern is the no holds barred trading and bribing. I think it could sour the game especially with players of varying experience levels. I guess the trading has to be there to counter a runaway leader, but it opens the door for kingmaking and other metagame arguments.
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Jim Hansen
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kaziam wrote:
My only concern is the no holds barred trading and bribing. I think it could sour the game especially with players of varying experience levels. I guess the trading has to be there to counter a runaway leader, but it opens the door for kingmaking and other metagame arguments.

Funny you should mention that because I almost included another paragraph about how this type of game is normally prone to kingmaking (which I despise and prevents me from enjoying most area control games). Luckily, Corporate America is able to avoid kingmaking pretty well. First, each player's money is concealed so you're never really sure who is in the lead. And second, even if you have great memory and awareness, money is constantly being spent, earned, traded, and anonymously contributed to campaigns such that it is near impossible to keep track of.

I hear your point about trading with varying experience levels. However, I don't think an experienced player has too large of an edge over a new player because most of the trades just involve cash. So it's easy for the new player to evaluate the value of a trade offer. Also, most of the time you would make a trade offer there is someone else making a competing offer. This good-old-fashioned capitalist competition prevents the experienced player from taking advantage of the newer player.
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David van Damme
Netherlands
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We played it yesterday with 5 and had a blast. It is not a game you want to take too seriously, so I would not worry too much about inexperienced players and kingmaking. And nobody is stopping you from offering the kingmaker money to try and prevent the kingmaking!

I had a general idea about who was doing well and who wasn't, but I was surprised at how close the scores where in the end.

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Jim Hansen
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DavidvD wrote:
We played it yesterday with 5 and had a blast. It is not a game you want to take too seriously, so I would not worry too much about inexperienced players and kingmaking. And nobody is stopping you from offering the kingmaker money to try and prevent the kingmaking!

I had a general idea about who was doing well and who wasn't, but I was surprised at how close the scores where in the end.


How was it playing with a group of non-Americans (assuming you played in the Netherlands). Did everyone understand the references and enjoy the satire?
 
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David van Damme
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Teamjimby wrote:
How was it playing with a group of non-Americans (assuming you played in the Netherlands). Did everyone understand the references and enjoy the satire?


We got most of it, there might be one or two we missed, like the Hanging Chads, which I looked up after the game. We had a good laugh every now and then, specially when one of our presidents was running a Porn Emporium as a side business.
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Mike
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Played the first game of this today. Had a blast. Everyone was laughing and getting into it. Exactly what you want to see around a board game of this type. It's on my "to buy" list now for sure.
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John R.
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I played my first game this evening with two other players and quite enjoyed it, especially the opportunities to accuse the others of corruption and failure to address the needs of the people. I was shocked that it took 3 hours, then I went back and checked the rules to find that you don't play with all of the Executive Privilege cards. This also explains why we started running out of money around turn 5. I look forward to trying it again with the correct number.
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Jim Hansen
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timeodanaos wrote:
I played my first game this evening with two other players and quite enjoyed it, especially the opportunities to accuse the others of corruption and failure to address the needs of the people. I was shocked that it took 3 hours, then I went back and checked the rules to find that you don't play with all of the Executive Privilege cards. This also explains why we started running out of money around turn 5. I look forward to trying it again with the correct number.

Haha. Yep, that would make for a long game. I like the flexibility of the game end. In one game we were running low on time, so we just took out an executive privilege card and shortened the game on the fly.
 
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