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Subject: Is Traders of Genoa a "Family" game? rss

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Joe Grundy
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Ok this isn't my usual "what's not to like" review series, but this question of playing Traders with family was directed to me recently and it's an interesting one. The person posing the question had been actively steered away from Traders in two different game shops, and wanted to know my thoughts.

Traders of Genoa ("Traders") is one of the most interactive games I know. Every step of every turn, every player is eyeing the board and vying for opportunities. Certainly "interactive" and "family game" have a lot of overlap, but there's a difference too.

Note that though I have gamed with people of all ages I haven't played Traders with many youngsters. I have played with several "non gaming" friends. If you feel this situation disqualifies my humble offerings, read no further!

Traders says "12+" on the box. I have played with a young teenager (13 I think she was) at the table... but curiously I resisted having her join in. Normally I encourage youngsters to stretch themselves and eg boxes that say "10+" I'll happily play with an 8 yo. As it came out I was surprised that the 13yo handled herself fine in the game. Point here being I can empathise with someone's instinct that Traders is not a suitable family game, but I'm not sure the instinct is correct.

Skills Challenges for the young or casual gamer. Traders is heavy on what feel like fairly mature skills... negotiation (instead of mere bidding) can lead to "it's not fair" stress, needing to see or failing to see future value can lead to "I let go something valuable cheaply / paid too much" stress, discipline is needed to pay enough to progress but avoid paying for your results several times ... eg in order to achieve a Small Order which will earn 40 ducats, you need to (probably in three separate turns)
(a) get the Order card
(b) get the Ware, and
(c) win the Action on the space.
It can be too tempting to forget to value that the Small Order space creates two Small Orders, the Warehouse creates two Wares, and that taking the action on the delivery space for the Small Order has some other value as well. It can also be too tempting to give away eg 40 ducats (cash!) to get the two Small Order cards, 40 ducats to get two Wares ("cause then I can fill these two small orders which are worth 80 ducats together") and then pay out some asset for an otherwise low value space to actually deliver the Orders... a lot of effort for little or no profit.

I've even seen adults who say, "if I'm going to give you the action in the Villa, you have to give me 10 ducats". Hmmm... the Villa is statistically worth eleven ducats to me, and you want me to give you ten of it, leaving me with one ducat profit??? Hardly fair trading. And yet such a person deals this way for the whole game and may accuse the table (silently?) of "refusing to trade with them".

Finally, some people could be frustrated to find that nobody wants to pay them to take the next step in the direction they want to go... and then be double annoyed when they step into the next building anyway (without a sealed offer) and someone jumps in with a 5 ducat "offer". ("It's not fair!")

On the plus side... even the 13yo in question was a calm enough girl and fair dealing enough that she really enjoyed the game. She had reasonable understanding of the value of things and joined in the negotiations well.

The "edge" in Traders is in the combination of offering fair deals or even slightly generous (to do the most deals at the table without killing yourself) with sufficient planning to manage to bring together multiple leverage from some of your actions.

Haggling Fatigue... Traders is highly interactive. People who view all the negotiation as (pejoratively) "haggling" can wear themselves out. The box says "60-120 mins" and our games are usually at the 120 end of that, sometimes more. (Curiously personally I hate haggling in real life but I thoroughly enjoy Traders... I approach Traders with an air of "finding a mutually beneficial deal" rather than trying to haggle the other players down.)


There is much that Traders players will need to understand to play the game fully. Not all of it has to come all at once before the first game even starts! But if a child or adult doesn't even have the capacity to accumulate the following understandings, they may struggle.

Finer Rules Points... There are a couple of finer points to the rules which even gamers seem to miss which would sour the game. Especially, players need to understand that negotation should happen before each step of the trader tower (and be willing to say "no deal, my turn ends here"). Players also need to understand they are not bound to take the "highest" offer, and that cash deals are less leveraging than deals in goods and wares.

Complexity
Your players need to be able to understand all the "bits". The conceptual groups of game "bits" are...
+ The Trader Tower
+ 4 trading/value cards... (small orders, large orders, messages, privilege cards)
+ 8 Wares, two ea in four categories
+ 5 types of "special cards" which do five special things... (bonus action, start any space etc.)
+ Owner markers (these are hard to use well)
+ Board spaces (which are in a grid but some "spaces" are multiple grid points)
+ Money (is victory points as well as the last resort for trading)

I assess there's about twelve to fiften items to understand. For comparison, in Settlers there's maybe twelve conceptual items, but five of those (the different Development Cards) can be introduced incrementally... a luxury you don't have in Traders. (Players need an idea of what they can aim for.) This is why the first game of Traders feels maybe twice as complex as Settlers even though the difference is really less than that.

So I reckon, be comfortable with your audience
+ If you're planning to play with kids, be sure they can last the two hours... many kids certainly can game for two houes or will happily play one game all day even, but some can't
+ You can shorten the first game by playing fewer turns (which I haven't tried)
+ Kids or adults, gamer or casual, I recommend play with people who are able to deal "fairly" and don't think every trade has to be a screw over
+ If non-gamers haven't tried Settlers of Catan then Settlers is probably a better place to start... there's a "recognise value, negotiate" aspect in Settlers too but Settlers is certainly lighter and with fewer things to juggle. If the negotiations and trades are running smoothly and frequently in Settlers you probably have a group of people who would enjoy Traders. (Even if they don't enjoy some other aspect of Settlers.)

If you go ahead with Traders with your less gaming friends and family you may be pleasantly surprised as they stretch to meet the framework of this excellent game.

Before you play I absolutely recommend... The rulebook is medium to long, but someone needs to read all of it sufficiently to settle questions quickly, and presumably that's you. The rulebook is organised with really concise reminder phrases in the margin summary... I recommend first time through you read the margin summary for each rule paragraph, then read the rule paragraph, then re-read the margin summary. Then when you come to explain it to other players, work your way through the margin summary. (The entire margin summary takes about five to ten minutes to re-read.) Exceptions and examples are noted in the margin summary in italics, but not quite everything is there. eg to fill a Small Order a player must win the Action in the building for the order (and they get to do the building's Action as well as sell the order) but the requirement to win the Action is not noted in the margin summary.


I hope all this helps your thinking! I look forward to feedback on family experiences.
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jbrier
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The phenomenal success that ToG had with some non-gamer friends of mine really surprised me. They did not like any other Euro games I tried to spring on them (I'm not even sure why they agreed to play ToG as they had long ago professed their complete lack of interest in playing any of my games).

Strangely enough, these guys REALLY liked it, and most surprisingly I wouldn't even consider them especially negotiation-oriented people.

Generally, I wouldn't think of recommending this game for total non gamers because it has more than a handful of rules and it requires players really getting into the bartering spirit of the game (overly passive or introverted players can and often will ruin the game experience)

But after my experience I would have to say that ToG might just be a great family game. I think the objectives in ToG are straightfoward enough that non-gamers can assimilate these and then dedicate the rest of their mental effort to negotiation and bartering. By comparison, your average Euro will appear to them to be entirely an intellectual exercise and thus it will bore them.
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Joe Grundy
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Thanks John. Re-reading my review, I think I should make it clearer that I have successfully shared Traders with several "non-gamers", and I haven't had a bad experience. I've been careful to pick my timing and audience though ... people with the inclination to have a go for a couple of hours, and the ability to negotiate in good spirits.
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Hunga Dunga
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Quote:
I assess there's about twelve to fiften items to understand. For comparison, in Settlers there's maybe twelve conceptual items, but five of those (the different Development Cards) can be introduced incrementally.

It's observations like this that really give me a sense of the suitabliity of a game.

Thanks, jgrundy!
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Brad Miller
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No
 
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Joe Grundy
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Windopaene wrote:
No
Just to clarify Windopaene, I believe you feel Traders is not really a game to bother with for anyone at all? (Rather than specifically no to "family" as such.) No probs.
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Michael Webb
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My experience mirrors the ones that John has had.

I would never call Traders a family game, because the complexity level of the title makes it hard for non-gamers to understand at first. I think the minimum age for this game is a conservative 12 as well. However, those things aside, it is a very good game for casual gamers if they have an "interpreter" to teach them the rules the first time out, and the same could be true for a family with teenagers.

The key thing about Traders is that you can boil the entire thing down: you're trying to make money. Because everything flows from that, the game becomes intelligible to people. The only thing that I think people really have trouble with, at times, is the concept of "Active Player has 1 action, anyone else can hypothetically have an action, but only if the active player allows it". If they can get over that bump in the road, then the rest of the game seems to be easy for the average person to grok.

I have played this game with several non-gamers, and have used it as an introductory Euro with...6 different people at this point, and it went over well with all of them. Casual gamers seem to love the negotiation atmosphere...particularly the ladies. The creativity allowed in Traders also seems to rub people the right way as well.
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Eric
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Great review. It has prompted me to add ToG to my wishlist!
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Hunga Dunga
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Well, I got the game for Xmas. My family was apprehensive at first, but we played it and we had a great time, one and all!

I'll be writing a review shortly, but just wanted to thank jgrundy and aanemesis for their recommendations!
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Joe Grundy
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It's good to hear it went well.

By the way I'm changing the granularity of my "complexity" assessments and getting ready to post several.

Under the new granularity, complexity levels are now...
Settlers: 12 to get started, 19 to play strategically
Traders: 21 to get started, 21 to play strategically

It's a similar conceptual result, but I'll be refering to complexity elsewhere and I just wanted to bring this in line.
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