- Rob DerrickUnited States
First, this discussion [on a Yahoo discussion group] has spurred some interest in FWM, and a request to play it at our next Southwest Games in August. One new person whose interest was spiked by the discussion and two of my previous FWM opponents that I've mentioned it to. So I got it out and looked at it again last night. What a beautiful game! But, I do think that a new quik-start setup player aid is in order. And, if I ever get my scanner fixed, some replacements for a couple of German-heavy components.
One of the things about the game, and something that CB mentioned last night, and something that if you aren't careful can bite you big time, is that unlike many other "trading/bidding/selling" type games, the profit margins in FWM can be quite narrow. Not only do you have to take into account how much commodities will cost you, i.e., how much can you reasonably afford to bid at market, and how little you can afford to bid to sell, but you also have to allow for the cost of transportation (tolls and losses due to accidents), as well as other random factors beyond your control. Players who are too extravagant could quickly find themselves too short of cash and commodities to adequately represent their 'company' in markets, and recovery could be fatally slow. Plus, there are these 'Privilege' temptations that come up throughout the game that would be incredible to have, but since for most of them you pay whether or not you win the bid for them, you don't want to bid too much. On the other hand, you don't want another player to get them for a pittance.
So, it is a game where the anxiety level can be quite high. It isn't one that I would consider to have a high analysis-paralysis quotient (but at the next playing I will look closely), but oftentimes all of the players at the same time will be lost in their own analysis.
If there is a worst aspect to the game, it may be that the changes in the game that make it not be exactly the same thing over and over throughout the game occur slowly. You have to trudge your traders back and forth across Europe from a city with an offer to a city with a demand, and back again. And then, gradually, you will find Noble buyers who will aid your advancement up the Nobility ladder, and these steps will give you advantages, in land and sea travel, in prestige, and such. And, occasionally a privilege will come your way through a bid that you hopefully didn't have to pay too much for, or, a bad thing or two will hit you when you least expect it. I recall one of the 'negative' privilege cards is awarded in one of those reverse auctions, like Bausack, where you pay to not get the card. Each player puts money on the card, doubling it each time, and passes it around the table until one player finally takes the money and the effect of the card.
One of the things I liked best about the game was the rather unique bidding system. Well, unique to me. If some other game uses it, I either have never seen it, or perhaps forgotten it (always a possibility).
FWM uses a secret bid, but you are bidding for multiple lots of up to three different commodities. Both the buying and selling of the commodities are handled basically the same way, just with the sense of the auction reversed. So, if you are bidding to buy, you can place multiple differing bids for the same commodity, bidding high enough that you hope to guarantee you some of the commodity, but low on further bids in the hope of getting a bargain. For example, if 4 lots of X are up for sale, you could bid 400 for 2, 300 for 1, and 250 for 1. If your '400' is the highest bid, you will get 2 for that price, but if someone else came in at 350 for 1, they would get the next one. Now, if your 300 is the next highest bid, you get it, and so you got 3 of X for 1100. But, if you tied for that 300, then whoever had precedence in the city (arrived first, or in their home city), wins the tie. That's basically it. In selling, it is of course the lower bids that win. The best of all worlds of course is when you are alone in the city, and then you simply take premium prices for everything.
But, with fewer that 4 players, this would likely happen way too often, and would remove a large amount of the game's tension. Losing bids to another player may be painful, but winning them all by default is boring -- so you have to have enough players to make the game shake. I think 4 is minimum, 5 may be ideal, and 6 would be mega-tense.
I guess what I like most about this game is the fact that it feels like it adopts the theme much more completely than almost any other trading game. You travel to the locations where the buying and selling is taking place. There is risk involved in moving commodities across Europe. There is higher risk in trying to move them more quickly. You compete in an open market for both the buying and selling, and the market resembles a real market more than other games. There is a unique long-term goal, and there are several steps, one after the other, that have to be taken first before you can attempt the ultimate goal, which is buying your own Castle! First you have to make enough money in the trading markets to be competitive with the other players. You then have to sell commodities to Noble buyers, but then forego your payment for privilege and advancement -- you essentially have to buy your way into the upper class. And, it is not at all possible to do it all at once, no matter how much money you've got. It's a little advancement here, and a little there. Once you achieve that, you have to then raise money like crazy, because not only will these castles be expensive, but you will have to compete for them, by secret bid, with other players who have also arrived at the place of Noble Privilege. And then, if you do buy your castle first, now you have to go and raise money like crazier, because when the next player buys their castle, the game is over, and between the two of you, whoever has the most money left wins.
And all of these things take place on a timetable. There is an event queue in the form of a yearly calendar, and upcoming events are represented on the calendar by a marker, which also corresponds to a matching marker on a card describing the event, and a third marker on the city where the event will take place.
Oh, and I forgot to mention the fact that you have to pay yearly taxes, and you also have to pay your employees. Whew!
Maybe D&F could look at Germanizing this game someday, figure out some way to shorten it, streamline some mechanics, smooth it out (and of course, publish it with both German and English components). It has too many cool and unique things to have it abandoned to oblivion.
On the other hand, you don't see copies come up for sale very often. I've never seen one.
rob derrick, owner of copy #478 of 1000
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