Economic Muddling - Income mixed with my VPs
Sheamus Parkes
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So I have quite the soft spot for Economic games. I was an econ major back in college, and I did it for fun. I like estimating risk-adjusted cash flows in games.

Many of the successful economic games make a distinction between money, income and victory points. Some don't though. I like Acquire a lot, but that game is really just all money. Saint Petersburg is probably the most obvious game that completely splits out money, income and victory points.


I find that splitting out all three sources, and sometimes even tossing in victory point generating assets, makes for an interesting decision set that even has some applicability to real life. For some reason though, some games like Saint Petersburg just fall flat for me. I think the my issue with St Pete has to do with how separate the income and the victory points are. When it's very clear that each action advances either your income or your victory points, then the rest of the game seems to boil down to deciding when to switch from income to victory points. If you time the switch better than anyone else, then you'll probably win.

I don't like having my game come down to a single decision. I like a steady stream of important decisions throughout the game. I find that some economic games offer me this by muddy-ing up the distinction between income and victory points. Primarily they do this by making all the assets have value for income and victory points at the same time. You still have the choice of "when to switch from income to vp", but it's not an on/off switch. Instead, you can gradually move from one to the other. So now you're constantly trying to walk that thin line of efficiency.

Let's explore some games that do and don't make you walk that line. Feel free to add more!

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1. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:48]
Sheamus Parkes
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Walks the Line

Let's start with the big daddy. My how I love this game. Much more than San Juan.

What was one of the biggest changes to RftG? The 6-devs do more than give victory points. Most of them are functioning sources of income. They're not just late game plays now.

Also, almost every card is worth at least a couple VP, and a variable amount of income in relation to the rest of your tableau. It's true that most of the strategy comes from getting a synergistic set of cards, but that doesn't stop the game from blurring income and VP. The best sets of cards make income and VP overlap to a certain extent.

I just love how many interesting decisions you get hammered with in this game. The first couple plays may be focused on income, and your last play will probably be points maximizing, but all the others fall somewhere between there. Just how well can you walk that efficient frontier?
 
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2. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Sheamus Parkes
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Falls over the cliff

I like Dominion a lot. But it does have some flaws. One of the big ones can be the large divide between income and victory points. All of the money cards are pure income. All of the green cards are pure victory points. There just is nothing in between. I can understand the design choice, but it gives each player that single cliff choice. Basically: "When do I stop buying Gold and start buying Provinces?"

Don't you think that this would be a bit more interesting of a game if there were a selection of cards that gave some income and some vp at the same time. And you could purchase from along this scale? Well, it would require a *lot* of re-balancing, but maybe it could work out. Suddenly it wouldn't be about who got the most provinces. It would be who could best blend their income into a solid number of victory points by the end of the game. I don't know for sure that it could work, especially with all the cards available from the beginning. But I'd like to think it over
 
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3. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:33]
Sheamus Parkes
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Walks the Line

Here's another case where it's pretty obvious that assets give you both income and victory points. Heck, it's printed right on the tiles!

This one is a little different since there are some tiles that give you only income (coal) and some that give you only victory points (ship yards), but even the "pure" tiles don't give you zero of the other asset.

Brass isn't quite as much about walking that efficient frontier IMHO. It's got a bit more opportunistic play. It's about being efficient in getting your tiles flipped. It's also often about being a rail baron

Still, I think this is a good example of a game that muddies the line between income and victory points. There is not a cliff that you turn on to switch from one to the other.
 
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4. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:229]
Sheamus Parkes
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Falls over the cliff

I know, some people are going to defend this one. And it all comes down to the Aristocrats. They are pretty much the only part of this game that blurs the income and victory point sources.

I've seen way too many people lose because they quit buying Workers too early though. I defend that this is a game all about building up your income and then eventually flopping over to buying victory points. There is a cliff, and you cross it the first turn that you elect not to buy available workers.

I think the expansion helps some. Hell, the Farmer is a pure example of blurring VP and Income, but it just doesn't do enough and adds too much time to the game.
 
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5. Board Game: Phoenicia [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1542]
Sheamus Parkes
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Walks the Line

I've only got to play it twice, but I think this game does a good job of blending income and VP. Each asset almost always gives you a little of both. It's not a pure income or VP choice.

Now, towards the very end, there are a few cards that come up and offer only victory points, but I think this is acceptable for the very end of the game. At that point, everyone wants victory points any way.


(Shameless plug:

I got really annoyed with the production values in this game and recently redid some of the cards. They're available here:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/384360

)
 
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6. Board Game: Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization [Average Rating:8.04 Overall Rank:25]
Sheamus Parkes
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Falls over the cliff

This is a good game. I particularly like the whole "seed the goals" bit of the full game. However, it's definitely got some cliff action going. Where to spend your rock and science is almost always a pure income versus VP choice.

You can invest in more rock (income) or drop some resources on harps (victory points). It does a little muddling since most vp is actually VP income instead of one-shot vp.

Still, I've seen people blown out of the water just because they didn't choose to stick with rock long enough. That smells of the game being tossed do to the wrong choice of timing.

Also in defense of this game, there are other resources to fight about. Food and happiness muddle up the pudding and save this game some grace.
 
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7. Board Game: Vegas Showdown [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:412]
Sheamus Parkes
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Walks the line

I love Vegas Showdown, mainly due to how shallow the income curve is. It's not a race to ramp up to huge income just because the total assets over the course of the game aren't that dependent to your income increases. (You start at 10 income and don't ramp much about 25 from memory)

Many of the interesting tiles offer a blend of income and victory points. There are a few that are pure one way or the other, but not a bunch.

So with this game, it's not about when to switch to VP, it's all about walking that thin line.
 
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8. Board Game: Cuba [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:415]
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Cuba has an interesting mix of resources for VPs and income.

If I were to use my Mayor card, I could choose between loading my goods onto a ship for VP, or receiving 4 pesos instead.

I can use my Marketwoman to receive a free item from market, or buy and sell products and goods. If I buy and sell, I can do it to generate income, or to get something I need that will give me VP.

I can use my Architect to build a building that will generate money, that will generate points directly, that will allow me to do something (load a ship) for VP, or turn one thing into another (tobacco into cigars) that will lead to VPs or money.

It's a whole whirlwind of choices, it's not linear, and the prices go up and down with supply and demand. Big supply = cheaper to buy, but also cheaper to sell, which I find more interesting than, say, the market in Pillars of the Earth where everything is a static price.

A fantastic game!
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9. Board Game: Oltre Mare [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:1192]
Bruce Padget
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Funny coincidence -- I saw this list just after finishing my third play of this one. My SO and I have only played it two-player, and like it a lot. We suspect it'll get a lot more interesting with 3 or more.

The game makes no distinction at all between money and VP. It threw us at first, since the rules refer to receiving "ducats," when all that actually means is moving on the VP track. I'd say it sacrifices a little in terms of theme, but VP and cash are completely blended, and at least on this one it works.
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10. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
David Gibbs
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Each time you complete a work, you have a choice -- do I take money, or do I take VP. How much money should I take? When should I start switching to VP? It can vary depending on what others are doing, as there are ongoing auctions to compete in.
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11. Board Game: Masters of Venice [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:2650]
 
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While not released yet, in Masters of Venice you can choose to get VPs or ducats when a guild order is completed. You also get VPs when certain other things happen on the shop boards. Finally, all ducats convert to VPs at the end of the game. Not sure how this walks your line (or not), though...
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12. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:16]
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Multidimensional Muddling

This new-classic has no one Money but 8 kinds of resources: persons, food (closest to a "numeraire"), grain, vegetables, wood, clay, stone, reeds; and the rest of the board situation: house, fields (and their vegetal endowments), pastures, stables and their 3 kind of animal contents.

The most obvious Muddled resource are new persons produced by Family Growth, with their essential instrumental value as new actions, besides their non-negligible 3 VP each. But growth requires a 'big lump' of co-ordinated actions, each of may be disrupted by other players, and increases the risk of coming short of food - begging is a severe VP penalty. The house is also an 'instrumental objective' to house working persons, besides some VP which most often are not enough reward for the major investment. Some cards and combinations may make a Big House a viable strategy.

There are many cards giving immediate resources, delayed resources, resources requiring an investment, economizing resources for a given use... and just VP at end, alone or when combined with other required game states.

There are both positive and negative feedbacks in-built.
Food is eaten. Animals grow if they have space. Crops grow but their harvest is given over time and must be re-sown etc.

And all given a multi-player environment which can be cut-throat or diplomatic, makes the 'economizing' aspect most unreducible to one dimension over time.
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