Business Studies 101: buy low, sell high
I may not be a trader or dealer but this maxim seems good advice to me. But how can I put this into practice without getting my financial fingers burnt?
Trade Nation is a new card game by Dark Realms Games. It involves resources and markets, and plays for two to six players. This game will soon show who in the family should hold the purse strings and who can only be trusted with the small change. It is due to be released as a Kickstarter later this month.
This game is all about accumulating resources, manipulating their value, and selling at the right time. All the while, players try to prevent others from gaining the upper hand, perhaps by devaluing their stock. If this sounds a little cut-throat, it probably is no different to the real world, where only the most financially astute can survive. This is a compact game that will take about 25 minutes. Think of it like a filler game, or something to start or finish a gaming evening. It has a small footprint and can be played around a coffee table. If you want to see if you can release your “inner Branson” then read on.
Trade Nation Gameplay
At its heart, Trade Nation is about set collecting. The deck of 120 cards contains 6 resources; ale, barrels, bread, bricks, leather and rope. There are a number of value cards that determine the starting price of each commodity, and a series of trend cards. These will increase or decrease the value of stock. Finally, there are a handful of event cards that have the ability to make significant changes to a resource or resources.
Players all have a hand of seven cards. The remainder form a draw pile. On each turn, a player can choose to play one type of card. This might be starting to open a commodity for trading (laying down one resource). Once a commodity is open, the other players can set the starting price, and others play cards to push the value up or down. The aim of the game is to sell your commodities when the price is high. This is only possible if a player has collected three or more of that resource. These three cards are sold and their value added to a player’s tally. Sometimes a player cannot wait until three rope (for example) are collected. A “Flash Sale” of just two of that commodity can be made- but with a penalty. These quick-sell cards act almost like wildcards in collecting sets of resources.
Events cards may be played which can affect a stock’s value. Sometimes this may push a commodity to a lower value or prevent others from raising its price. Only one event may be played on any one commodity. This means whoever chooses to affect a resource should realise that this effect will remain for the entire game. The final round is played out once the draw deck is finished. Players' scores are then finalised and any resources still in the hand are only worth half of their normal value.
I am grateful to give my thoughts on Trade Nation prior to its Kickstarter launch. The demo copy I have been lent is of excellent quality. The box holds the cards nicely. The front and back graphics of the box depict some of a game in progress. Dark Realms Games suggests 15 to 30 minutes for a game. This seems correct. Most of our two, three and four player games are drawing to a close within this time frame. This put Ttrade Nation firmly into the “filler” category.
The box and cards have a nice quality and feel. The cards are shiny with the Trade Nation logo on the back. The fronts are clearly printed. The commodities have almost a clip art look to them - clean and uncluttered. My only observation is that the leather goods look just like brown rags. Yes, they are sufficiently different from the other resources, but I wonder if another material could have been chosen? (wood, steel, coal or coffee) This, however, does not detract from the gameplay. Perhaps it allows scope for expansion cards or stretch goals in the future. The rules are clear. The game is not complicated - with one single read through of the rules, the game was sorted. There are a couple of scoring examples which I found particularly helpful.
This is a good game. As with any trading game (and with stocks and shares in real life) there is an element of luck. Your ability to sell a resource is dependent on what is drawn. However, good traders make their own luck. This is where Trade Nation is a step up from other card trading games. During a game, if a player feels that things are not going too well, they can discard all, or as many of their cards as they want. However, to do so then reveals to others the cards that are no longer in play. An alternative is to “go slow and steady”, perhaps only exchanging one or two cards. This means that you keep sensitive information to yourself, but have a lower probability of getting the cards that you need.
Dog Eat Dog
The event cards are a useful addition. This means that if a set of cards is not coming up (because someone is sitting on a stash of them) then you can severely dent their profits. Playing a few negative trend cards and an event card can cause a market crash and this somehow feels justified. After all, this is business and you cannot have your rivals profiteering from your misfortune.
Here is the other challenge and fun part of the game. When is the right time to sell? If you cash in your three resources early in the game there are a number of advantages:
- It clears your hand ready for new cards
- You make a quick buck
- You can start to push down the value of that commodity before others can cash in.
Waiting a while, however, will allow you to push up the value for a later sale or even acquire more cards for a better sale. But this will give other players an inkling of your schemes. They might try to devalue your cherished goods, leaving you to rue a missed opportunity.
Timing it Right
As with any business, this is all about having a feel for the market. The game is billed for two to six players. I have played this now with many player-counts, but I cannot comment on a six-player game. Some games have a sweet spot. For Trade Nation this seems to be three players. With just 10 cards of each commodity, I do have a little concern with increasing the player count beyond four. The outcome can become more luck-driven and dependent on the cards drawn. Yes, one can mitigate against this and change your whole hand, but with six players there may only be half a dozen rounds to play.
Despite this concern, it strikes me that even in large player counts there will still be a sense of tension and anticipation of what is drawn. You are all in the same boat. Ultimately, it is how you manage the odds and keep tabs on what is played. Then you will know which cards to keep or discard.
This is the sort of card game that easily takes a second or third playthrough. There is a feeling that “next time I will choose a different strategy to win”. Certainly, by playing a number of games back to back and keeping a running total of all the scores, players could enjoy a longer game. Then the game’s focus could be to reach a certain target value or the highest score after three rounds.
Final thoughts on Trade Nation
This is a well sorted card game. It is compact with good quality components in its pre-Kickstarter guise. Being so compact, it can be taken and played almost anywhere. It is suitable for children and introduces the concept of the marketplace in an understandable way. After a few games, it is soon clear who can read a market and who is financially savvy. Certainly, Trade Nation is a game that we will be backing later in the month and should be one to look out for when it is released.