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Scott A. Reed
United States
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This is an admin move of the text that was the game description into the review section. The description was shortened for brevity.

Schoko & Co is all about producing chocolate in order to make money. Players are chocolate barons who have to contend with every element of the business from production to sales. Buy cocoa, convert it into chocolate and then sell it at sales meetings to big distributors, all along financing the staff and labor to pull it all off. Whoever is the most efficient gets the most money and the win.

The game has a solid feel to it, with the player having to start each monthly round by paying salaries, including half-pay severance for anybody having to leave. When you realize this, you understand how you have to complete contracts just to pay the wage bill next month. Players then call on the cocoa markets to maintain supply, with 5 bidding rounds to give everyone a chance. Do you bid high to secure the raw material you need, or wait and risk having not enough to turn into chocolate?

Then your workers turn the cocoa into chocolate and your salespeople attend meetings with buyers. This is a card deck of varying demands, from 10 tonnes to 60 tonnes and a minimum, maximum price. Players see a contract and decide whether to attend the meeting. This is crucial, since the size of your sales force limits how many meetings you can attend. If you get things right, you are the only player to attend the meeting and take the contract at the top price. Get it wrong and you are in the meeting with other players, and someone may take the contract at a low price before you. They get less money, but you could finish the month with NO SALES! No sales means no money, means a trip to the credit shark and a walloping 20% interest charge.

This sales element is very clever and important to the game (although a better bidding mechanism would speed things up a lot). Most business games assume that products get sold. In Schoko & Co, you have to actually sell the stuff you make. This builds on the realism and makes the game play quite tense. Do you attend a lot of meetings and sell small amounts often, or do you hope for a big score that only your factory can supply?

Next, your secretaries handle the contracts, one each, and pass them to your accountants, each of whom can complete 2 contracts a turn. Again this is neatly handled in the game. When you win a contract, the card and money are bundled up and pass from one section to another. Only when the accountants finish is the cash released from the bundle to you. So if you don't hire enough secretaries or accountants, your salespeople win contracts which sit in the back office waiting to be processed. Your cash flow is delayed and you may have to take a credit note. Maybe you're better off getting a few big contracts. Why did you hire those secretaries who are now sitting around with nothing to do?!

Then an event card takes effect, which may affect the cocoa market, or production and so on. This is a random element which could be better handled, but keeps Schoko & Co more like a game than a simulation. Finally, players pay interest on credit, or pay the loan off or put surplus cash into a share account.

This is another clever mechanism. You buy a share certificate which shows the buy/sell price which rises by 10% every month. You can clearly see that putting surplus cash into shares will pay off in the long run. But if you plans go wrong, you can sell and get some return on your money. The share certificate takes cash out of the game without penalizing anyone. It is much better than players having bundles of cash lying around and keeps the cocoa bidding down to reasonably levels. It's a good way of keeping the richest player from monopolizing the market.

In addition, players have some Express cards, special actions that affect certain or all players. This is a bit of a take-that tool to peg back a leader, but the cards are a little unbalanced and can add a malicious element. But they fit with the business theme; you might be able to snatch a contract from meeting, or make workers sick so they don't produce but still get paid.

Schoko & Co is an old style game that seems a little long by today's standards, but walks a fine line between business simulation and business game. It would really work as a business tool; it clearly shows you the balances that a director must control. It makes the sales force suddenly relevant to you as well. Even the secretaries and accountants, which seem at first as a pointless delay, suddenly make sense and place more demand on your managerial skills. But there are enough random elements and player interaction to keep it being a good game. Waiting to see how other players behave at the cocoa markets or in the sales meetings, watching their workforce rise or fall, seeing the contracts move to completion, it all fits together well and makes a good game. One player's factory has few staff, produces less but stays lean and efficient. Another player builds up staff quickly, wins more contracts, but can they get the cocoa and maintain the production cycle to pay the wage bill? Do you keep staff on and hope this month sees better sales, or do you cut staff to reduce the expenses?

Ambition is the title of the French language edition by the same publisher.
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