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Subject: Indonesia vs. The Field rss

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Buz
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I've been a fairly heavy game player for about four years now, and perhaps my favorite genre to play is the heavy economic genre. Though budget and game group have limited our sampling of titles somewhat, I think I can safely say that Indonesia is my favorite game.

In the interest of full disclosure, you must know that this review will stay away from extensive rules explanations and whatnot and focus on a more comparative approach. There are already several very good comprehensive reviews, but I have felt the need to add my own subjective piece to the puzzle. To grasp this piece it is a good idea to have some idea how gameplay works, having either played through a game or read a "rulesy" review.

The first thing that sets Indonesia apart is the merger mechanic. This phase either makes or breaks your outcome, and I would have to say your enjoyment of it makes or breaks your opinion of the game as a whole. Whereas in Power Grid you can count on having all of your assets available to you until you decide to trash them, Indonesia allows them to be pulled out from under you! Balancing between acquiring other companies and having enough liquidity to defend your own crown jewel companies can be a tough rope to walk. You also have to be willing to let your companies go sometimes. In my last match I was outbid for my Siap Faji plantation, but I was happy to reinvest that cash in buying out my opponent's rubber, which gave me a monopoly on rubber and quite a nice income throughout the game. That same game saw me undervalue a last-turn shipping merger that cost me the victory. The math in mergers is calculable, but not obvious, so that can lead to AP, but there is more unknown than in Power Grid, so we find that players are more likely to bid from the gut than calculate every last rupiah. The secret money helps this as well, though I can feel clearclaw over my shoulder disapproving of our playing with hidden information. However, there is much less multiplayer chaos than in Imperial. Since companies in Indonesia follow a fairly fixed pattern of operation (maximizing this turn's income relative to other players) the only thing you really need to watch out for is companies shipping to cities which may not be the closest ones in order to force other players to pay higher shipping rates. In Imperial, each power has hidden agendas which may not be obvious or easy to plan for. Exciting, to be sure, but I prefer the mix of predictability in calculation and instinct about the unknown present in Indonesia.

The second major calling card of Indonesia is in that most elusive of white whales, multiple paths to victory. While success in the merger market is key, acquisitions and turn order play a part too. Even within the company dynamic the balance of shipping relative to the other goods means that you can win going big shipping, high value goods, monopolizing rice and spice or some combination thereof. This compares favorably with Power Grid, where you have to maximize savings on real estate and connections, but the game revolves around turn order. Indonesia throws more variables and keeps the turn order tension, although it is much more important at the end of an era than in other turns. A die-hard Imperial player may correctly argue that Imperial offers much more choice among powers and how to play them, but I would trade all of that choice for Indonesia's elegance.

Perhaps the most vibrant payoff of Splotter's design choices is in the fact that you will always be thinking about your choices in Indonesia even after the match. There are pivotal, game-altering choices present in almost every turn. Should I bid up my spice merger to sell it for cash? Should I merge these spice to defend against a Siap Faji or should I try to acquire rice on the cheap to create my own? How do shipping costs affect this choice? What if I could acquire my own shipping line? And all of this just on turn two! Power Grid's choices are relatively straightforward: minimize expenditures. Yes, there are turn order considerations and plant auctions to keep in mind, but I find there to be more depth in the decisions present in Indonesia.

As in any game, there are things which could be better. For one, the time it takes to play limits the number of times it can hit the table. For another, it is relatively difficult to explain and takes at least half a game before the effects of your decisions can be foreseen. Other economic games are easier in this respect, Steam notable among them. The map could be clearer and the color of the wood pieces clashes with the beautiful art on the map and the money. However, the time spent in Indonesia is well worth it, as is the money it takes to purchase a copy. I haven't played anything else with its depth of decision making, mixture of known and unknown information and unique gameplay. There are many stock games, train games and economic games out there, but there is only one Indonesia.
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Pieter
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Excellent review. Indonesia is one of my favorite games, and you list most of the reasons why.

I do not agree with the assessment that it is hard to explain. In my view, it is not hard to explain, it is just hard for new players to oversee consequences. For instance, new players tend to underestimate the importance of investing in the ability to declare mergers, and overvalue the importance of the ability to have more companies. And it is very hard to explain WHY you should invest in the ability to declare mergers, it is just something that you should experience.
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I played Indonesia for the first time ever last week and I loved it. (with 3 other first timers)

Truly the ability to declare mergers was probably the most under-appreciated. It appeared that the one player who never R&D mergers was the most frustrated during gameplay when he got a couple companies stolen from him and was eventually left with 4 single-titled companies (and a pile of cash).

First turn all four of us upped our "slots", but I'm thinking back now that moving up "mergers" to 2 may be a better first move particularly if everyone else increases their slots. That way you get to wreak a bit of havoc. devil

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Ludwig Seitz
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I get the feeling you might appreciate the 18xx series of games. If your budget allows, try e.g. 1856.
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Richard Young
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Interesting review of an interesting game. I agree that it is one of the better economic competition games. We've found, however, that it lends itself to extensive decision analyses because there is enough, if incomplete, information to do some considerable number crunching over bids and merger calculations. This can be discomfitting to those who don't like that sort of thing.

You can play from the hip (or go with your gut if you like), but the game gives you enough to chew on that if you have folks who insist on doing so will draw things out a tad when the game enters key stages. In that case, avoid five players is all I can suggest - or play Power Grid?

Speaking of Power Grid, I was a bit surprised it was used as a running reference by way of comparison. Imperial is a bit closer but I wouldn't put PW in the same class at all. 1830 or 1856 spring to mind as good stable mates; and, although not an economic game per se, I would throw Die Macher into its weight class as well. Edit note: Oh, and of course Brass.

Thanks for the post...
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Richard Young
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GeneSteeler wrote:
I played Indonesia for the first time ever last week and I loved it. (with 3 other first timers)

Truly the ability to declare mergers was probably the most under-appreciated. It appeared that the one player who never R&D mergers was the most frustrated during gameplay when he got a couple companies stolen from him and was eventually left with 4 single-titled companies (and a pile of cash).

First turn all four of us upped our "slots", but I'm thinking back now that moving up "mergers" to 2 may be a better first move particularly if everyone else increases their slots. That way you get to wreak a bit of havoc. devil


One of the major decisions you are faced with right out of the gate (with lots more to follow)! Do you increase your slots or go for mergers? You want both of course, but in which order? Increasing your slots will ensure you can bag another company , maybe a shipping company to support your rice or spice company? Or, go for mergers early by upping your merger tech (mayhem is always fun)?

Turn order may help you decide. If a player early in the turn order goes for mergers, you might want to go with slots so you are free to bid on whatever the proposed merger might be instead of hoping your company will be the target (remember, anyone can bid on a merger regardless of his merger tech level as long as he has a slot open for the result) - but it might be tough to have to forego taking that second company just to have a free slot for a merger proposal that might not come. Or, if you are late in the turn order and everyone else went for slots do you go with mergers and see what they then do? Then again, the player who is planning on being a shipping magnate (say the only player with a shipping company so far) may feel another choice altogether might be beneficial.

So much to think about - and it's only turn one! This game is affected by group dynamics like few others. Every move by every player at every stage has consequences and can alter your calculations drastically. Delicious - I love it!
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Ray
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For non-shipping players I always found mergers overrated. Get a high enough expansion and if someone steals via a merger you either retain or make most of the profits from the sale. Then what you get as a new company can be right up to the same size quick. Its not uncommon for the winner to have 0 merger upgrades in my games
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Buz
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Bubslug wrote:

Speaking of Power Grid, I was a bit sdurprised it was used as a running reference by way of comparison. Imperial is a bit closer but I wouldn't put PW in the same class at all. 1830 or 1856 spring to mind as good stable mates; and, although not an economic game per se, I would throw Die Macher into its weight class as well. Edit note: Oh, and of course Brass.


I guess I used Power Grid and Imperial because those are the economic games with which I have had enough experience to feel comfortable making comparisons. I'd love to try an 18xx title or Brass, but our game group prefers something like Race for the Galaxy or Dominion, so it's hard to justify investing in something heavy that won't get played when we already have a few that we haven't played out.

Additionally, since Power Grid and Imperial are fairly commonly owned, I wanted to give a window into Indonesia to those who maybe aren't 18xxers. I agree with the responders who say I would like those games; I just need people to play them with.

Flyboy Connor wrote:

I do not agree with the assessment that it is hard to explain. In my view, it is not hard to explain, it is just hard for new players to oversee consequences.


I think this is a better way of stating my experience. It's not enough to have the rules under your belt, you need a sense of why you should choose a particular option. The rules really aren't too bad, it's just that if you want a new player to feel competent from the get-go some time spent in examples and for-instances can be necessary.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Flyboy Connor wrote:
In my view, it is not hard to explain, it is just hard for new players to oversee consequences.


I think the English word you're looking for in that context is foresee.

[edit] I should note that your English is superior to that of most posters for whom it is their native language. I assume that can only be a result of a great deal of effort, which is why I chose to point out that nuance.
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Pieter
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Sphere wrote:
I think the English word you're looking for in that context is foresee.

Thanks. I actually meant "oversee," but maybe that is just weird English. In Dutch, "gevolgen voorzien" (foresee consequences) means that you can anticipate. "Gevolgen overzien" (oversee consequences) means that you manage to foresee all consequences, even the ones that don't seem to be of importance right now. It's a subtle difference, that maybe does not exist in English like that.
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Greg Low
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wtrollkin2000 wrote:
For non-shipping players I always found mergers overrated. Get a high enough expansion and if someone steals via a merger you either retain or make most of the profits from the sale.
Firstly, by expansion, I assume you mean slots. Expansion is the tiles you grow by, not the number of companies you can own.

Secondly, I see your point, but disagree with your conclusion. I usually do non-shipping, atleast a few merger tech levels, and win far more often than I lose.

If you have mergers and others don't, you control the pace of the game. You also can propose multiple mergers (obviously not the same tiles) in the right order to raise the odds of getting companies on the cheap.

Yes, someone can pay through the nose to defend a company, but then their other tiles are vunerable.

Best,
-Greg
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Ray
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talrich wrote:
wtrollkin2000 wrote:
For non-shipping players I always found mergers overrated. Get a high enough expansion and if someone steals via a merger you either retain or make most of the profits from the sale.
Firstly, by expansion, I assume you mean slots. Expansion is the tiles you grow by, not the number of companies you can own.

No I meant expansion. That is to have companies with much more tiles and when getting new companies to grow tiles quickly. Reread what i wrote and it should make sense.
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Brendan Flood
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Good review! I've been really interested in trying/buying Indonesia due to its weight and economic genre. I love economic games but have only begun to dip my toe into the pool so far. My biggest setback has been the lack of willing gamers to play them with.
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ryan campbell
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Really nice post!

Flyboy Connor wrote:

Thanks. I actually meant "oversee," but maybe that is just weird English. In Dutch, "gevolgen voorzien" (foresee consequences) means that you can anticipate. "Gevolgen overzien" (oversee consequences) means that you manage to foresee all consequences, even the ones that don't seem to be of importance right now. It's a subtle difference, that maybe does not exist in English like that.


Interesting, with further explanation I can understand your point and it works. Without it, your point is probably overlooked for such an uncommon use; typically oversee is used for guiding other peoples actions and foresee would cover the intent of your phrasing.
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Played this game for the first time 2 weeks ago and tonight will get together for our second game. Loved it loved it loved it. 3player so went a bit long but gripping last turn.
Each played very different strategies
one guy went the way of big company baron.
another was the shipping magnate and I was the merger king but usually took the cash and then started up new companies next turn.

Going into the last turn I was way in front cash wise but had little of value in companies

In the last turn I called for a shipping merger that I personally had no interest in but it left the other two bidding furiously to avoid being screwed on shipping costs in the next production/shipping phase. Loved it. Both opponents in brain lock trying to work out how much they could afford to pay or lose. The looks of anguish were priceless.

But the double value of the last turn shipping screwed me right back. I shipped hardly anything while the baron made a killing with his massive production and (newly merged) shipping line, to come from last to first.

In the end only 80 rupiah separated 1st (the big company baron) from last (me the merger king) and each strategy could have worked. The difference was close enough that a bit more courage on bidding up a merger or two and I could have got the title.

Tonight round 2
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Mark Gilbertson
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Ludwig Seitz wrote:
I get the feeling you might appreciate the 18xx series of games. If your budget allows, try e.g. 1856.

... I agree, 1856 is the superior game in my opinion. GMT oughta do a reprint of that title next,,,
 
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