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James Clavell's Noble House» Forums » Reviews

Subject: They got a bank right here in Hong Kong...Mr.Wong. rss

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Graham Lockwood
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I'm a bit of a sucker for business games....well, I gotta admit I'm a sucker for most games. That's why they're slowly taking over the house, like The Blob. But I digress.
I purchased this game recently at a second hand stall at CanCon, for us in Oz it's our largest and most venerable games convention by far. It was in good condition, but later I found it was missing half it's event cards. Luckily, the gist of all its event cards were listed in the back of the rules so I was able to DTP the missing ones. Why did I buy this game? Was it because I'd read the James Clavell novel "Noble House" that it was based on? No. It was the game designer and publisher that interested me. L. Ross Babcock III and FASA. For those who don't know, both those names are synonymous with a line of great miniatures games that stretch waaaay back. Furthermore Mr. Babcock III's mate, Jordan Wiseman, was the founder and guiding light behind WizKids games and their ubiquitous click based miniatures.

So, let me start by stating that here is a very nice game struggling to come out of the closet. As the rules stand, I must say that the game is a bit too brutal for my taste. Also there are some broken rules that need mending, and some of these have been addressed on this very page by other 'geeks. I'll give you a run down on the game and what I did to mend it. Please note that I'm an inveterate tinkerer of other designers games....I just can't help myself.

For a 1980's game, the components are sans plastic (except for a dozen or so stock market markers) and I'm not sure to whom FASA was pitching this game to, being a little too complicated for a family game and a bit too light for the publishers' fan base. Anyway, let's look at the components. First a Hong Kong stock market tote board lays in the bottom half of the box and is raised so that plastic pegs can be inserted to mark the movement of stock. Why Hong Kong?....c'mon guys, stay with me. I told you this is based on a novel that revolves around the business dealings of several mega-corporations of the 1960's based in Hong Kong, didn't I? Next up are a bunch of event cards (144 of them, to be exact). These cards are the driving force and life of the game. For me, the money scrip provided was one of the nicest components included in the game. It's pretty much a facsimile of the real stuff, from what I can gather. Also included are some smart black 'portfolios' to keep track of the players' assets and are monogrammed with the various corporation logos. These have slots in them to keep the stock tabs in place when a player buys stock. Most other games of this type use 'stock certificates', but here is a different idea, with a small card 'tab', somewhat like the type that you would use to mark a sports league ladder or such with. Your portfolio will keep stock tabs, bank votes and cash notes from the prying eyes of your competitors...unless they play and event card on you that allows them some industrial spying! Lastly are a small pad of blank loan and lease promissory notes, and the industrial assets that are used to apply to the contracts cards you may win. These are small card illustrations of the various types viz., rail, airlines, shipping, human resources (services), land and industry. These smallish chits are placed on a contract card and are required to fulfill the contract in order to get its income.

Right, let's play the game. Everybody starts with some cash, some randomly drawn asset chits and a hand of event cards, also in each players portfolio lies 10mil 'voting shares' in five 2mil denomination tabs. Loss of these voting shares can end the game prematurely or seriously hinder a player. Guard them well, for while you keep them intact, you own exactly 50% of your corporation. Loose them, and there is a chance that you may be voted off the board and out of the game. They also provide major collateral for accessing loans from the various HK banks. As an aside, the voting shares are not subject to the whims of the HK stock market and are valued at a flat par rate, being preferential voting shares used at board meetings.

Card Phase.
The first phase in the game requires each player to take three event cards from the top of the deck. These may be played and acted upon in player order, one at a time until everyone passes. Right here is where I have to make my stand. A lot of these cards can pretty well break a player early on in the game, especially if a couple of players gang up on a third. However, based on the premise that what goes round, comes round, will probably give pause for thought for any prospective shenanigans since each player will have at up to eight event cards in hand in which to strike back. Since we wanted to build our financial empires rather than destroy them, we found the threat was of more value than the execution at this early stage of the game. So, I plopped in house rule number one - each player may play only one card in this phase. Similarly, this was adopted for all phases where event cards could be played multiple times.

Stock Phase.
Second phase revolves around the stock market. Each player now draws a turn order card to determine who will play first to last in each phase of this game turn. Multiple event cards can be played from hand in order to influence the stock market by moving the various stocks up or down one or two points (unless you are using the Lockwood house rules). After all cards are played, each player in turn order, may buy or sell one corporations' stock. This is called a stock round. There are a maximum of five potential stock rounds each turn (unless players pass and decide no further transactions are worth enacting), with the proviso that a player may not deal in stock that he already has bought or sold in a previous round. There are eleven corporations in which to invest in, with slightly differing returns. If a sizeable block of stock is purchased, this will have the effect of making that stock rise one point (a block of half-a-mil, to be exact). There is a maximum block size that can be bought, and this is a 500,000 tab, unless an event card breaks this rule. Conversely, when selling a stock, there is no limit as to how many can be sold in one transaction. This may well enable a player to trash another players corporation stock and could have the effect of breaking contracts that the corporation in question owns (since some of these may require a minimum stock price to enable the ongoing revenue from the contract to be exacted). Fortunately, a victim of this ploy may buy this stock out of sequence at a price point that allows him to cover his contracts...if he has the necessary cash. Let me state, that the stock part of the game is not the best potential money earner....acquiring sizeable contracts is. However, it's a great way of speculating with any spare cash and insider information you may have and adds another way of making money in the game.

Contracts phase.
The third phase starts with the play of event card contracts from hand, which a player may wish to make income from. Contracts have the information required to make a profit each turn and tell a player what assets are required (railroads, industry, airlines etc.etc.), the quantity of those assets needed (large contracts may require multiples of one or even two or more assets), the upward movement of a corporations stock on the market (either non, one or two points, depending on the magnitude of the contract), the stock price at which the contract 'breaks' (i.e. a minimum corporation stock market price at which a contract is required to make a profit each turn) and finally, the income derived from the contract each turn. Income, each turn, ranges from a measly HK$8mil to a whopping 85mil!

Right here is where I make my second stand against the rules. I totally agree with a few of the other 'geeks on this page that it is a much better idea to separate the contracts into it's own deck (36) and flip a quantity equal to the number of players face-up to be bid upon each turn. It's a more realistic mechanic and negates the problems that may arise as to the unfair distribution of these contracts whilst they are mixed into the event deck proper.

Anyway, back to the game. After players play contracts from their hands, event cards effecting this phase may be played, and again, I suggest the use of the Lockwood house rules to mitigate the sheer terror of seeing all your contracts expire or become unprofitable if you are winning the game.
The last part of the contract phase sees each player taking his contract(s) income from the bank and then paying a 10% maintenance fee on all his assets back to the bank, and to (hopefully!) turn a decent profit.

Bank Phase.
This phase allows players to take loans from the HK banks. And they're cheap too! The interest rate is 1%. In this fourth phase, interest is paid to the bank for outstanding loans first. Then players may try to negotiate a loan up to 100mil. This simply involves committing assets up to the value of the loan as collateral. A players' largest asset, as I have mentioned previously, is his voting shares. Each 10% block of his corporations voting shares are valued by the game at HK$24mil, and each player starts with 50% of these. 100mil loan, sir, no problem, sir! The problem is if the loan is called in, then a player must have enough cash on hand to cover the amount, or his assets are seized by the bank and auctioned off. Nasty!
This could happen if via events cards or if the bank executives call a meeting and instruct a corporation to repay its' loan. Didn't I tell you? Yes, you can become a director of one of the three major HK banks in this game, by the simple expedient of obtaining vote cards from the event deck. The three banks featured in the game are listed on the stock market, so are subject to being bought and sold during the stock phase and players may call bank meetings during this part of the turn if they are owners of voting cards for that particular bank. There are also proxy votes floating around in the events deck that can temporarily boost a players' bank votes or give him some if he has non. What's the point? Well, going for a loan early on in the game has more chance of success, since not many votes may be in play. If a players competitors have the majority of votes in that particular bank, they may cast them against him taking a much-needed loan, or even worse, call his loan in. Still, a suitable bribe may take place in order to persuade a fellow bank director to cast his votes your way. Yep, it's a no holds barred world here in Hong Kong in the 1960's. Anything is negotiable between players, excepting his precious voting shares. This makes for some nice wheeling and dealing and gives this game much of its character.
Cashed up? Well then, pay off your loan since it will be scored against you at the end of the game.

Asset management phase.
The last part of the game turn is one of the simplest. Players may buy or sell assets. However you buy at full price and sell at half-price. Hmmm.....better make sure that you can use that Railroad asset chit you bought since you must pay maintenance on it each turn or sell it for 50% of what you paid for it to the bank. Luckily, each player starts the game with five such randomly drawn assets, so you can always sell the ones you don't need to raise cash towards the ones you do need, or better still, barter 'em with your fellow players. These are the things you need to fulfill contracts, remember?

Ok, you've done well staying with me so far. How do you win, and what are these funny coin things that are seemingly cut in half?
I'm glad you asked.

Game end.
The game ends when a player gets voted off his corporation (this could happen if he has to sell his voting shares, or they get re-possessed by the bank and the corporation in question has such a low stock value that the shareholders get fed up of the CEOs incompetence and vote him off the board by a neat game mechanic of which I'll not get into, since this review is getting more substantial by the minute). That player ends the game with zip, nil, zilch and nada (well, whaddya expect for being incompetent? A gold watch?). Other players total their assets (shares, cash-on-hand and industrial assets) and subtract their liabilities (loans). The player who hath the most is the winner. Alternatively, the game ends when the last event card is drawn, and is the most likely scenario.

Now, these funny little half-coin thingys. They are to do with the flavour of the novel, apparently.
They are facsimile set of a HK coin that are cut in half in such a way that each is uniquely matched with it's other half, making a unique pair. One half is labeled 'favour' and the other matching half is the piece that can be called in to match the favour. It's a neat idea but just does not work well in the game. The coins are randomly drawn at the start of the game so that each player will get a favour half and a blank half that will match someone else's favour. The idea is that a player may call in his coin favour at anytime with another player. If the other players' coin matches the calling players coin then the favour may be called in to the tune of HK$50mil. In reality what happens is that everyone will call in their 'favour' at the start of the game and relieve each other of the debt in turn. Rather pointless really. So here's my fix. Use more coin sets then there are players (the more, the better). This may mean that a player may not even get a match during the game. Secondly, only allow a player to call in his 'favour' if he draws the first player card (the card with a one on it) and he is able to roll a six on a six-sided dice roll.

So there you have it, a very nice game for those who like the idea of being a CEO of a mega-corporation. However, some very suspect rules, but with a bit a tweaking it will come out of the closet. Oh, and it's well out of print, so if I've piqued your interest...you'd better get onto EvilBay and get yourself a copy. Happy trails.










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David G. Cox Esq.
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So you play a new game AND you don't invite me to join in?

This will be remembered.
 
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Graham Lockwood
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....did you really want to play a Hong Kong business game with Michael & Chen?
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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promuso wrote:
....did you really want to play a Hong Kong business game with Michael & Chen?


I'm sorry. You're a really good friend.

I owe you!!!!!
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Clifton Holland
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I own this game, and have since the 80s, and I find it to be a great game every time out. Your review covers it very, very well. The rule breaks are...well, broken like with an A bomb. Yet, with many different groups, the game does always seem to play well. It is fun, but not a regular in any rotation.

Great review, you got the essence of this one for sure.
 
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