One can be - understandably - disheartened, indifferent, or even enraged when faced with this yet-another-Monopoly-clone game. When I was first introduced to it, back in 1996, I wasn't aware of the existence of "German games". Little did I know of the existence of all the clever game mechanisms that were in the shadow of the "mainstream" American games. If I did, I probably would not have bothered trying Busine$$ GO and would have miss a few interesting (and new at the time, as far as I know) twists on the Monopoly theme. Skeptical? Judge for yourself...
This is a standard "roll and move" type of game where you move around a board of 11 squares long on each side (44 squares). When you land on a country square (they constitute the greater part of the board), you can purchase a Business License for this country. This license grant you the exclusive right to build a corporation in this country. Before you roll the dice, you can build corporations for any business license that you own, but you can not build more than one for each country.
Furthermore, landing on a country allows you to roll the special dice to establish what products this country needs. If you have corporations on countries that manufacture the products in demand you can choose to make a sell by saying it out loud. Players that own at least one corporation manufacturing the product in demand can then choose to initiate a sale competition... and they usually do, the greedy swines! The winner of the competition is resolved by rolling the dice. Players who roll odd number totals are eliminated from the competition. A double will assure the lucky player an immediate win.
The winner receives money from the bank. Naturally, the more companies you have that produce the good you sold, the more money you harvest. Once a company has made at least one sale, you can convert it to an international corporation by paying the right amount. An international corporation will generate more money from sales.
There are a 8 types of special square on the board. I'll present them briefly.
- Boom allows you to sell three different products of your choice.
- Burnout is the classic Monopoly's Go to jail.
- Start is similar to Monopoly's Go square.
- On the Casino square, you can bet some money, throw the dice and win on even totals.
- On Charity Drive and Ecology you must donate money to the bank according to the number and type of corporations you own.
- Mail is similar to the Monopoly's Community Chest and Chance.
- The dreaded Operating Fees is activated each time you pass through it; you then have to pay an amount depending on the card you pick and on the corporations you own.
- The mighty Travel agency allows you to go to any country square on the board if you're willing to pay the modest travelling fee.
That's about it for the rules. Now, for some comments...
The thrill of it
If you survived through the rules description above, you may wonder where is the thrill of this game. Since the players never have to give money to other players, how can you push someone to the brink of bankruptcy (now, that's a thrill!). Well, you can't. In this game, everyone is getting richer by the minutes. It's a race for money, not a "ruined your buddy" type of game. This fact helps keep the game's length to a reasonable, and foreseeable, level. It does not drag more than it should considering the limited enjoyment it brings. Wow! That was harsh! Let me put it another way. Its controlled length makes it a much more well-balanced game than Monopoly will ever be (without tweaks). You won't find yourself caught in an never-ending boring succession of rolling, moving and paying. That being said, if you're not careful, you can get broke. It usually happens when you buy too much, too soon and draw costly Operating fees cards. So, at the beginning of the game, this incomes/expenses management is interesting and can even be exciting, to some extent, if you take chances. As the game progress, the expenses become less and less a concern and, as a result, the end-game can be a little monotonous. In fact, at a certain point in all the games I've played, we simply stop making sells of less expensive (and less profitable) products. It's not worth spending 30 seconds of your precious time for a few thousands dollars. It just doesn't matter when you're a multi-millionaire. I'm sure you know how that feel!
The rules include an international sales variant which states that you can't sell a product outside of a continent (one side of the board) until your corporation becomes international. I find this variant to be essential. It allows for a little more tactics than the basic game. For instance, you may refuse to make a sell of a needed product. Assuming that you're the only one to have an international company of that product, you can decide to wait for international sales, preventing an adversary from making a first sale through competition and transforming his/her company to an international one.
In my opinion, this is the weakest part of the game. Don't get me wrong, gambling can be fun. It could have brought something special to the game. A place where fortune could be made and, more frequently, unmade. The problem with the casino is that the odds of winning are greater than the probability of losing. More precisely, the odds of rolling a winning total are 50%. This is way too high. But, the worst part is that, one time out of six winning rolls, you will triple your wager (you recover your bet plus two times the betting amount). For the rest of the 50% (5 time out of 6), you will double your wager. Naturally, the pay off could be modified to a more reasonable (and realistic!) level. I consider this aspect of the game broken.
In general, the components are of good quality. The rules are clear and straightforward but the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. The layout is clumsy and it looks like they printed the rules using Microsoft Word and a Bubble Jet printer. The board itself is equivalent to the quality of the standard Monopoly board and the iconography is decent. The player tokens, in the shape of airplanes, are nice but somewhat fragile. The money is, again, of acceptable quality. On the other hand, the cards (business licenses, mail and operating fees) are under average. The cardboard they are made of have a tendency to worn-out a bit too soon and the graphic art seems more amateurish than the rest of the components. However, to some people, the corporation tokens will win the palm of amateurism : lego blocks! To be more precised, they're Mega Bloks; the Canadian Lego! Personally, I have no problem with that. In fact, it gave birth to a ritual before the games start; a sort of competition for who will build the most original structure with its corporations.
The fun of it
A part of the game that could have brought fun and laughter is the Mailbox. Unfortunately, The events of the Mail cards are rather trivial and dull; they lack originality.
As a whole, Busine$$ GO is definitely a light game, but still enjoyable and fun. It provides a nice hour of fun and an interesting play progression. It always keeps you in. There's no downtime. Although the interaction between players is limited, the game sessions are, most of time, lively. Of course, you have to be with the right people, those who don't mind playing these sort of games every now and then.
Giving the non confrontational nature of the game and the fact that it is a race for money, one could say it is a German-like game. I, for one, would stay far from this affirmation, but, in retrospect, I could say that it was the game that began my conversion to the world of "intelligent" games.
Oh! And I almost forgot the most important thing : the fart-factor of the box is rather low... and that is disappointing.
I have to agree with just about all that you have stated concerning Busine$$ Go! - yours is an excellent summary.
I play the game every month or so with my wife and, alternately, with to two other couples. What's the attraction? The enormous place that Chance takes in the game - a player can be nearly bankrupt well into the game and still, because of pure luck, climb back to the top. The game also requires very little attention, so we can crack jokes and jibe each other without losing track of what's happening. That caracteristic also makes it possible to play, and enjoy, a game with youngsters who don't master the art of negotiation required to play an interesting game of Monopoly against adults.
The game is very, very well-balanced, maybe too much so; there is, in my opinion, very little room for strategic decisions and the chance elements in the cards ( Expense cards and Mail Cards) can throw the game to any player's advantage instantly. I am considering writing a computer-simulation to verify this statistically (just for the fun of it). To add a strategic element to the game, we allow selling and trading of permits and companies between players.
And we just keep coming back to play it - in the hope that "... maybe this time, yes, definitely this time, I am going to WIN." - and get to write our name in our Hall of Fame scorebook, in which we record the game results after each game, with the funniest remarks made during the game.