Recommend
30 
 Thumb up
 Hide
15 Posts

John Company» Forums » Reviews

Subject: FIRST IMPRESSIONS - a fine game of delicate maneuvers. rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Douglas Damron
United States
Danville
West Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I will start by saying that I do not intend for this to be a full review. I haven't played every scenario, every length, and I have not played with the deregulation rules at all. If this post belongs in the general forums then, let me know! Also, I am a huge fan of Pax Pamir so this game was an instant-buy for me, though I'm not one to pretend I like a game because I was hyped for it.

In John Company each player represents a different family attempting to make money using the East India Company while raising through the ranks, with various family members retiring from high-ranking positions and settling into high society. Victory in this game is determined usually by the shares that you own, as well as how comfortably your family members have retired. There are laws that the players can vote on which make factories, governorships, and other things worth end-game points as well.

To accomplish these things, you are to either seize control of the company yourself, using shares, forcing other players to fight for your favor when promoting employees to Executive positions, who in turn will promote entry level employees to Senior positions, who in turn manage purchasing, and allocation of goods / ships / weapons / captains / and officers to various parts of India for trading and conquest. A player that is not actively negotiating or who is making decisions for the good of the company (rather than for the good of their family) might find that this game feels a little scripted. However, it isn't.

Some Examples:

If you are not a major shareholder - make a deal to be promoted to the most promising presidency in the company, where the Chairman would expect you to make trades for the good of the company and shareholders in return for a "bonus" equal to a dollar for every contract you complete (and in many cases you might), but when the time comes hold the company's sales for ransom! Either the chairman pays you a little kick-back to do your job, or you bring in no income, forcing the company into a bailout that may actually help your position relative to other players!

If you are finding that you are not making enough end-game points, as you are rolling too low on your attrition rolls and no one is retiring or getting fired, buy shares instead of the more lucrative captains, officers, factories or shipyards! Money is nice, but only if you have a chance to win the game with it. Instead, with shares, you can become Chairman, force the company to pay dividends (or not, if you want to hurt those with more shares than you) and drive the direction of the company. More importantly, in this example, the Chairman is 3 times as likely to be a victim of attrition (something the players will actually want at the end of the game) when compared to Senior officers.

If you can't make your way into the higher level offices, then take your opportunities where you can with Senior level position, which are not hard to come by as the game punishes nepotism, or promoting your own family members over others (the trick of the game might be finding out how to practice nepotism without the punishment). Become the Military Affairs officer and refuse to send troops to the locations that make sense for the EIC without some reward. As the trading officer you can see that one presidency is more likely than another to make successful sales in India, so you threaten to send all of your captains and goods to some other province that is less profitable and less likely to even complete the Sail action in the first place.

To me this game has been incredibly enjoyable. If it has ever felt scripted, I found enjoyment in forcing the script a little bit in the direction I would prefer. At other times I took joy in backstabbing, voting, bribing, running the EIC into the ground just enough that it kept limping along and I kept seeding high society with my cubes.

I say try this out if you enjoy heavier games at all (though honestly it is not terribly heavy, just quite different if that makes sense). Definitely try this out if you're that guy who would be just as happy playing Arkwright or Dead of Winter (I'm that guy), as it has a little bit of both while also being something wildly different. Even if the game wasn't for me, which it is, I would have to commend it for being as different as it is.
47 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Yani
Switzerland
Zürich
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Thank you for this great writeup. Did you find the game fragile, i.e. one non-competitive or non-cooperative player being able to destroy the game experience for all?

3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Douglas Damron
United States
Danville
West Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
coralsaw wrote:
Thank you for this great writeup. Did you find the game fragile, i.e. one non-competitive or non-cooperative player being able to destroy the game experience for all?

I hate to say it, but in 3 players yes. I've had to quit one game on turn 4 because one player was complaining so hard (he has a skill for doing that, though, when something unpleasant within an otherwise great game surprises him). I wrote that off as "his fault".

In my second game the other two players were competitive, but refused to do certain things to help themselves because they thought my genuine advice was game-winning manipulation. The funny thing is that not taking my advice was what lost them the game.

I would say it is a small, unlikely issue though. The game still flows, and I suspect that more players or more negotiation will fix it entirely even if you do have that one player. With two it is actually a lot nicer game than I expected - throw negotiation out the window of course, and it becomes a very cutthroat experience.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
John Company is quite a remarkable game that has really fascinated my group. We likewise haven't played with deregulation and yet there still is plenty of meat on the bone for us (and we are heavy gamers by nature).

Oh, John Company is not as fragile as An Infamous Traffic (same designer), for example.

This one is going to take multiple plays to get a handle on, one of those designs I just can't stop thinking about!
11 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Thibaut Palfer-Sollier
Norway
Oslo
Oslo
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Steve Carey wrote:
John Company is not as fragile as An Infamous Traffic (same designer), for example.
Wow, what could it tell about An Infamous Traffic...
My experience is that JC is insanely fragile. The most fragile game I have ever played, way ahead Container for instance. Which has a reputation in this domain.
I can acknowledge the destruction that an inexperienced player can cause, not even talking about multiple.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Douglas Damron
United States
Danville
West Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
So it turns out this game is more delicate with more players. I still love it but with three new players, one who played once, and myself having played twice with a third solo game, I had like twelve more points than second place.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Rex Gator
United States
Apopka
Florida
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I played 4 player with my regular euro group last night. Two of the players did not engage with the neogtiation aspect at all and one only at my initiation. I ended up being chairman across the entire game due to some low attriion die rolls and me buying shares to shore up the company after a bad series of sail rolls. This had the unfortunate effect of me making most of the big decisions and the rest of the players falling into a “I am just here for the ride” mentality. I enjoyed it, one other player found it interesting and the other two do not seem interested in playing again.

This is not meant as a knock on the game, I think it is fantastic. I do think that the heavy negotiation aspect is going to turn some potential players off so it will not have as broad an appeal as more traditional games.
8 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve
United States
Flagstaff
Arizona
flag msg tools
badge
come read articles and talk games on therewillbe.games
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
shootfr0mthehip wrote:
So it turns out this game is more delicate with more players. I still love it but with three new players, one who played once, and myself having played twice with a third solo game, I had like twelve more points than second place.
In what way, do you think? You'll have fewer players invested in the company's success since some won't have high positions?

It's so interesting when players engage with what *to me* is basically just a giant framework for negotiation (see promise cubes) without negotiation.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
rexgator wrote:
I played 4 player with my regular euro group last night. Two of the players did not engage with the neogtiation aspect at all and one only at my initiation. I ended up being chairman across the entire game due to some low attriion die rolls and me buying shares to shore up the company after a bad series of sail rolls. This had the unfortunate effect of me making most of the big decisions and the rest of the players falling into a “I am just here for the ride” mentality. I enjoyed it, one other player found it interesting and the other two do not seem interested in playing again.
Yeah, this is one of those games that is going to be group dependent.

rexgator wrote:
This is not meant as a knock on the game, I think it is fantastic. I do think that the heavy negotiation aspect is going to turn some potential players off so it will not have as broad an appeal as more traditional games.
Negotiation games are my least favorite, but here I find the entire process fascinating. Promise cubes add an interesting layer to the negotiations.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Douglas Damron
United States
Danville
West Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I think winning this game takes disregarding the company's success. Often, say as a president, sailing and conquering are great for the company but make a lot of money for other people while only making you a few bucks and possibly causing you to get fired on a bad roll - so often the wise decision is not to do it unless someone who will profit bribes you to.

Inexperienced players will just do what makes the company money, handing it to the players in control.

garysax wrote:
shootfr0mthehip wrote:
So it turns out this game is more delicate with more players. I still love it but with three new players, one who played once, and myself having played twice with a third solo game, I had like twelve more points than second place.
In what way, do you think? You'll have fewer players invested in the company's success since some won't have high positions?

It's so interesting when players engage with what *to me* is basically just a giant framework for negotiation (see promise cubes) without negotiation.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I've noticed a funny pattern as players gain experience. At first, as some have noted, players tend to play pretty generously, making sacrifices for the company and whatnot. The, usually after they've had a prosperous game, the knives come out and everyone is robbing the company as fast as they can.

Here's the critical thing though: in the early company scenario espeically, usually only one player has an interest in ruining the company. Even beyond that, a game where all the players are poor (regardless of how the company does) means that players will likely not have the liquidity they need to take advantage of scoring opportunities.

With a little more play, the company starts doing a little better. It's not a bonanza exactly--terrible things happen and usually you want the company teetering on the edge. But, destructive play is usually not in the best interest of your position.

Of course, that calculus changes quite a bit when you get to the other scenarios.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bob Long
United States
Woodbridge
Virginia
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hello
Question: Do you think that the negotiation aspect of the game would make it difficult for players that struggle with serious player interaction?

I knew the game had negotiation mechanic but it seems that JC's core mechanic is negotiation.

thanks
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Cole Wehrle
United States
St. Paul
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation"
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I know of lots of players who do not care for negotiations games who nonetheless really enjoy John Company. They will even find themselves (sometimes) tossing a promise cube back and forth. This espeically is true of the game at lower play counts (2-4).

That said, I wouldn't recommend the game for folks who don't care for serious interaction or who don't like the idea that a the result of a die could totally transform the game space.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Adam Deverell
Australia
Melbourne
Victoria
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Got in a two player learning game last night after picking up the game.

Honestly, I wasn't going to preorder this one because of the negotiation and economic angle of the game (despite generally preordering all SMG titles). Only the very generous bulk shipping discount and preorder price convinced me to order it.

We found it easier to learn than I had feared, as it is quite procedural and the rules are set out fairly logically (although I was using the pre-release rule book from BGG with obvious errors and a lack of examples). We worked our way through four turns without too many errors by the end.

I found it really enjoyable. Really like the co-op feel, while still looking out four yourself; the historical accuracy and the interaction. I also REALLY liked the success rolls for your actions/operations. Some have questioned the luck involved in these rolls, but I'm a big fan of op rolls (this is the missing link in the COIN games for me, for exmaple) in historic sims, especially here as they can be mitigated by spending coin to improve your chances - or by the use of prizes.

I initially thought this would NEVER get a run at our Saturday night gaming group, but I think the short scenrio could be a goer, especially as Cole mentioned above that players can actually be nice to each other and want to see the company succeeed. (I wonder if a total co-op company "survival" scenario is possible?. Just needs a Vassal module now.

Anyway, as with most sandbox games, don't expect to get a handle on this until you explore it half a dozen times. That's tough to do, as you need a dedicated group willing to slog through the initial few games, but I think it's well worth it. Looking forward to my next game.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Steve Carey
United States
West Coast
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
red_gamster wrote:
I also REALLY liked the success rolls for your actions/operations. Some have questioned the luck involved in these rolls, but I'm a big fan of op rolls... in historic sims, especially here as they can be mitigated by spending coin to improve your chances...
I totally agree - while Sierra Madre is known somewhat for their Chaos Theory of game design, here one can improve the odds by spending coin (constant decision-trees when managing a tight budget), but the rolls are always tense.

Not only is there success and neutral results, but failure as well where your official can get the boot (no opportunity for a prize for him).

The success rolls are deftly applied, and one of the best aspects of the design, IMHO.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls