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Dan Blum
United States
Wilmington
Massachusetts
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The famous Princeton International Enterprises real-estate game, made from pure unobtainium. Actually, it has pretty chintzy components - think of a Winsome game where someone has mounted the board professionally and you'd be about right. The board shows an 11x11 grid, divided into variously sized named plots. You get a variable number of buildings in two sizes and five colors (representing houses, offices, etc.) - based on responses from others I determined the most likely correct allotment to be 10 of each size and color. You also get money, loan notes, and cards - year cards, action cards, title cards, and "list" cards, which are used to randomly choose a plot when necessary.

The game starts with the auction of 7 of the 17 plots. Everyone then gets a chance to build buildings, and the real game starts. The game is driven by the action cards - you start with a certain number of these in the deck, and add more in years 2-6 (of 10). On your turn, you build, demolish (rarely done), take loans, and then draw an action card. There are cards that cause buildings to pay rent, that cause undeveloped land to pay out (by growing crops), that cause players to pay various taxes, and that cause random events. The year ends when the End of Year card is drawn. After 10 years, the winner is the player with the greatest net worth (cash minus loans, plus the build cost of all buildings and the appraised value of all land).

The way the buildings pay out is a little unusual - a building pays based on how many other colors of buildings border it - nothing for no other colors, up to $500,000 for all four other colors. This means that the one and two-space buildings are fairly balanced - the one-space buildings allow you to have more buildings, but the two-space buildings make it easier to get bigger payoffs per building (both types cost $500,000).

The game is better than I thought it would be based on reading the rules. It IS fairly random - you have no idea when rent, tax, and interest payment cards are going to come up, to say nothing of cards that strip a plot bare (with payment to the owner, but still rarely a good thing). On the other hand, loans can be taken on fairly flexible terms, so it's generally possible to survive setbacks. Money is pretty tight in the early game (you start with no more than $2,500,000, 5 buildings' worth, and you have to buy land with some of that), which makes it important to invest wisely. The rent rules add interest to the board play, as it isn't always obvious what to build where to help yourself and hurt others (granted, it's not the most difficult thing to figure out, either).

The game did go a little long (3 hours) for what it was - in the future, I would probably play fewer than 10 years, and tweak a few of the card effects. Overall it's a fun enough game - whether it's worth collector's prices is something else again.

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