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Subject: A game of Container, featuring... hyperinflation?!? rss

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Jeff Forbes

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I love Container. One of the best things about it is how you can play it with different groups, and observe how people interact with each other and the game. Today, I played a very "interesting" game.


In player order, Deron, Robyn, Patrick, Sara, and me were in the game. I have 10+ plays, each of them 1.

It started innocently enough. Deron grabbed a second factory and produced. Robyn bought a warehouse and an item or two to sell in it. The game started like any other amongst players with some experience. Different people went in somewhat different directions - there was plenty of diversity in our little economy after a few turns.

I like to take a wait and see approach. Container games can be weird with inexperienced players, as we will see...

At first, I balanced between selling a couple goods in my dock store, and running ships with 1-2 containers to the island. Still early on in the game, Deron had grabbed a third factory and was consistently selling at $2. Other players were trying to sell goods from their port stores for $3-4 regardless of what they paid, so I would generally refill my port store via Deron, and take a step towards shipping a load of containers. Deron was the only one with 3 factories in the early game, so he sold a lot of goods to me, and I sold a lot of goods to other people.

But then I noticed something - people were really competing on price! Others were buying the same $2 parts, and selling them for $3 from their port stores. Others were shipping a reasonable amount too, but I was the first to spot something very fishy that was going on. We were very clear on the end game + island scoring - nobody was confused.

At first, prices on containers were normal. Two containers? 7. 8. Sometimes 10. 11. Then? It started with Robyn and Sara. They decided that to win, I think that they would come out WAY ahead if they, say, paid $18 for a 2 container load that they valued at $20. You know, the sort of bids that are common when a round of Modern Art are coming to a close. Some game theory discussion here might be interesting.

After a couple ships started attracting Robyn and Sara like moths to a flame, Patrick got in on the action too! It seemed like the going rate, per container, was $8-9 on anything that went to the island! I swear, one person paid $20 for 2 containers!

Deron thinks he is doing something wrong. He voices some frustration at not being able to win any auctions - he is making reasonable bids, after all! (And he was!). Robyn was confused: Jeff, have you produced ANYTHING all game? Why aren't you even selling anything at all now? "Because the goal of the game is profit, of course". Every single turn, Sara would buy a couple more goods from someone's factory store, and plop them in to her harbor store for $3 each. A $1 profit. I would then take those directly to the harbor on my following turn, and make $$$.

Deron caught on second, but it was too late. All I was doing was buying whatever load I could get, and then bringing it to auction. If I had nothing to do, on occasion I bought some goods for my port store to help move the game along, but this was entirely altruistic on my part (If it were a serious game, I wouldn't have helped the others so!). I sold one load of 3 containers for $28. No joke. Sure, Patrick may have made $2 on the deal. But I made, oh, $49. Deron stopped producing, except to push the end of the game - he started to get in on the action too.. A couple of the other players were a bit oblivious - while this frenzy was taking place, a few people upgraded to 3 warehourses/machines, figuring they would get in on the action somehow. You know. The action where you make $2-3 from a transaction and not $50.

The economy in this game was very interesting. The other non-Deron players did not seem to realize that they weren't making much money on buying the containers. They were making money because the same people were bidding ridiculous sums to win them at their auctions.

End score? I might be off a bit here, but:

Jeff - $258 (!)
Deron - $165
Robyn - $152
Sara - $145
Patrick - $109


The dynamics of this economy were very weird. The other players generally had a good amount of cash because they were bringing a reasonable number of loads to auction, and were gaining a tremendous amount of money in doing so. But the benefit they were getting for actually buying them at auction was tiny, and caused a very weird case of "inflation", where the high auction prices made every other action worthless from a profit perspective.
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Tristan Brightman
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Hmm...

I think the problem here might be not the bidding on the island, but the price at harbour. You figured out that producing and stocking were extremely unrewarding, and took advantage of everyone else doing that to rake in the profits.

You might find that the next step is that people start valuing production and harbour goods more, which means that a shipping player can still make a lot from a sale, but has paid a lot more for the goods in the first place.

Also: A two container load valued at $20 should be extremely rare. The chance that another player might also value it this highly should be even rarer. The maximum intrinsic value of a container is $10, but it's only worth this much if you are certain that you won't pay any future penalty (in actions taken to avoid throwing it away)

There are 2 ways for 2 containers to be worth this much.

For 2 containers to be worth 20, they have to both be worth 10 (so either be 10 value, or the 5/10 and you are already in 5 colours (or completely sure that you will be)) and you have to be completely sure that you won't have to change actions later in the game to ensure these aren't your majority colour.
OR
You have to have too many containers that worth more, and desperately need these ones to prevent a throw away of your 10 value containers. Near the end of the game, throwing away 6 value 2 containers and keeping 6 x 10 value, instead of throwing away 6 x 10 value and keeping 4 at 2 is worth 52 points.
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Agent J
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That's the brilliance of this game, it's always different! Or always the same, depending.

As soon as something goes to 8 or 9 dollars per container on the shipment, people are most likely paying too much. Regardless, look at it this way - you bought it at $3, they paid $9, for a three container load that's $45 profit for 4 actions, $11.25 per action.

They bought 3 containers at $2 each, selling for $3 each. That's $3 per action.

The factory produced 3 containers for $1, and sold them for $2. That's $5 for one action.

Okay, now let's say he sells them at a much more reasonable $6 at the harbour store.

Factory is still the same, $5 for one action.

Warehouse is $6 - $2, $4 * 3 = $12 for one action.

Shipper makes $54, less $18, $36 for 4 actions - $9 per action.

So Factory adjusts and makes it $3 per container, now makes $8 for one action, warehouse makes $9 for one action, and shipper makes $9 for one action.

Now, as the factory and warehouse players, you need to adjust to what the bids are and go with it. A smart shipper will still buy, the factory owner is producing what he wants to produce so will still produce, and the warehouser will sell the goods because he's making the second-most money.

Now, as for buying, that $2 per auction won is only worth it if you are making the same amount of money as your competitors on your actions even with the big auction payoff going to your opponent.

So even with those prices, there is an equilibrium point that will be hit.

To be fair, though, I do not value 10's as 10's, ever, because I have to pay for them with at least one or two other good per 10. So they're really only worth 8 or so. To make a profit, I need to bid no more than 7 per 10 good. But then again, I need to win those 2's to throw away, and they are someone's 10. So in the end, I bid just about $3-4 per container, regardless of what it is, unless I need to signal someone to ship more of something.
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Jeff Forbes

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supertris wrote:
Hmm...

I think the problem here might be not the bidding on the island, but the price at harbour. You figured out that producing and stocking were extremely unrewarding, and took advantage of everyone else doing that to rake in the profits.


No - the problem was the bidding on the island...

Quote:

You might find that the next step is that people start valuing production and harbour goods more, which means that a shipping player can still make a lot from a sale, but has paid a lot more for the goods in the first place.


Deron tried this, but the other players were totally oblivious. Deron tried to charge more for prices at his factory store on several occasions. When he did, he was either ignored, or whoever paid $3 for a few of his goods would put them in their port store for... $3.

The important thing here is that three of the players were acting irrationally!

Quote:

Also: A two container load valued at $20 should be extremely rare. The chance that another player might also value it this highly should be even rarer. The maximum intrinsic value of a container is $10, but it's only worth this much if you are certain that you won't pay any future penalty (in actions taken to avoid throwing it away)

There are 2 ways for 2 containers to be worth this much.


Yes yes, I know what the value of containers on the island can be for different players. I didn't overtly state it in the session report, but it wasn't all of the colors that were selling for $8-9 per container at the island. It was only 4 of them.


All of the players succeeded in having more "2" containers than anything else, so they all got full value at the island. This is one reason that the scores were still fairly high at the end of the game.

The reason the prices were so high at the island was irrationality. The three high bidders were paying ridiculous sums of money, ekeing out only the tiniest of margins for themselves. They were literally seeing "Oh, this load is worth $30 on my island, so I really want this, so I will pay $28 so I know I get it! I will still make $2!)

The other problem was that the other players were not really responding in the other areas of the market.

Nobody tried to raise prices. I was having a hard time selling at the harbor store for $4 because several of the other players were totally oblivious. Because some of the players were totally ignoring what was going on, continuing to sell things for low prices, refusing to even raise their prices at the harbor store, things just got *silly*.



Quote:

So even with those prices, there is an equilibrium point that will be hit.

To be fair, though, I do not value 10's as 10's, ever, because I have to pay for them with at least one or two other good per 10. So they're really only worth 8 or so. To make a profit, I need to bid no more than 7 per 10 good. But then again, I need to win those 2's to throw away, and they are someone's 10. So in the end, I bid just about $3-4 per container, regardless of what it is, unless I need to signal someone to ship more of something.


Jay - you play containers at the island very much like I do, for pretty much the same reasons.

Sometimes, you have to throw *all* of it out the window, though!

I'm pretty sure I noted in my session report that I would have been happy to pay $6 at the harbor store, given what people were bidding at the auction. But it never came to it, as the other players refused to collude, and nobody had a big enough monopoly on production or warehousing to have any say on prices.


I've played in other groups where the valuations come out differently, and $6 is normal at the port store, $4 is a bargain, and $3 or so is normal for people selling from the factory store, and with bids for containers at the island in the $3-7 per range. The end scores are significantly lower because less excess money is brought in to the economy, but in those games the players are cognizant of needing to actually make a profit on what they do in order to win the game.

In this game that wasn't happening - some of the players were so focused on the island that they didn't realize they were a) drastically overvaluing things, and b) totally ignoring the other 2/3 of the game.

I had no production power. The other players could have stopped producing things and only shipped until there was nothing on the island. But everyone was still producing and selling at low prices!

I'm pretty sure I had a smirk on my face through the whole game.
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Agent J
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Yep. If bids are high on the shipping, drop EVERYTHING and ship!!!

You know that, because you're $93 over your next opponent.

The real question though, is will they learn? If the same thing happens next game, they either need to react or just stop it.

It is NOT irrational to make $2 on no actions, but it is irrational if you don't have that second source of points...
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Jeff Forbes

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Jythier wrote:
Yep. If bids are high on the shipping, drop EVERYTHING and ship!!!

You know that, because you're $93 over your next opponent.

The real question though, is will they learn? If the same thing happens next game, they either need to react or just stop it.

It is NOT irrational to make $2 on no actions, but it is irrational if you don't have that second source of points...


The other players' main source of cash was the same thing. Everyone got in on the shipping - the difference was that the other players continued being oblivious about the lack of money they were making elsewhere. They didn't drop everything else, so the market never dried up. At the end of the game, I was shipping every 2 turns, and they were shipping every 3-4 turns.

We chatted about the game at the end and I explained to the others where things broke down. Everyone seemed to agree that if we played the game again that it would have played out differently - but I can certainly say that I wouldn't have bought a lot of early factories or warehouses in the next game, either!
 
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A lot of people are so used to other games where you have to change money into VPs to win, that they will misplace in their brain that money IS VPs as well. That doesn't mean they didn't know the rule, it just means that they tend to want cool stuff instead of cash. Shipping every 2-3 turns in that economy is apparently worth about $100 over 3-4. I'm glad that they saw reason afterwards, but it just wouldn't be polite to tell them in the middle of them wanting to throw money at you anyway!!

'Because the goal of the game is profit, of course' Great line! Not the goal to produce stuff!
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Stephen Shaw
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This.

Jythier wrote:
A lot of people are so used to other games where you have to change money into VPs to win, that they will misplace in their brain that money IS VPs as well. That doesn't mean they didn't know the rule, it just means that they tend to want cool stuff instead of cash. Shipping every 2-3 turns in that economy is apparently worth about $100 over 3-4. I'm glad that they saw reason afterwards, but it just wouldn't be polite to tell them in the middle of them wanting to throw money at you anyway!!

'Because the goal of the game is profit, of course' Great line! Not the goal to produce stuff!
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Andrew Foerster
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You played 10+ times and all of them had only a single play under their belt? It would probably have been sporting to point out that their island bids wouldn't gain them much profit (especially taking into account your own profit and the subsidy).
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Agent J
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According to him, his opponents did know they were making $2 on their bids, and simply did not care that that was all they were making, as long as their opponents were not making it.

Container is really an economics lesson in a box and I don't like to tell people what they should be doing in order to make more money. They'll get it next game. If they want, they can pay me a consultant's fee to tell them, but I'm really very expensive. whistle
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Jeff Forbes

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andrewfoerster wrote:
You played 10+ times and all of them had only a single play under their belt? It would probably have been sporting to point out that their island bids wouldn't gain them much profit (especially taking into account your own profit and the subsidy).


I commented several times that the bids at the island were totally insane, but they noted that they were profitable (even though that was literally impossible for some of the bids), and that they were confident they were doing ok. Well, at least one of them did specifically say they were confident in their actions. I didn't explain their errors in detail or walk through everything until after, but the groupthink overrode any commentary and smirking that was plastered to my face through the whole game.

Container really is an economics lesson in a box. But it's also fun!
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Agent J
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Economics lessons that were not in a box were also fun for me, but Container is more fun.
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Tristan Brightman
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jforbes wrote:
supertris wrote:
Hmm...

I think the problem here might be not the bidding on the island, but the price at harbour. You figured out that producing and stocking were extremely unrewarding, and took advantage of everyone else doing that to rake in the profits.


No - the problem was the bidding on the island...


Let's do a quick breakdown of profit per action, just to check that you are correct in just abruptly dismissing me.

We'll compare the profit on 2 containers which sell at 20 at the island. There's a bunch of stuff about cash flow, investment, convenience and risk that we ignore, but it's a good way to get a simple comparison.

Cheap Goods:

Factory: Pays 1, sells at 4 = 3 profit per action (5 if he makes 3 things at once, but warehousers can stock 3 at once, shippers can ship 3 at once, and so on)

Warehouse: Pays 4, sells at 6 = 2 profit per action

Shipping: Pays 6, (sails sea-harbour, harbour-sea, sea-island, island-sea) gets 36, profit of 7.5 per action.

Buying: Pays 18 gets 20. Profit of 2 *no actions required*

In this situation, the two favoured actions are shipping, and buying up goods at the island (if you had the cash, you want to take as many "2 points for free" actions as you can).

Changing the bidding moves the last two lines to

Shipping: Pays 6, gets 24. Profit of 3 per action
Buying: Pays 12, gets 20. Profit of 8 *no actions required*

Wow. Okay. Let's assume that the prices at warehouses and factories can change.

F: Pay 1, sell at 6, profit of 5 per action
W: Pay 6, sell at 12, profit of 6 per action
S: Pay 12, gets 36, profit of 6 per action
B: Pay 18, get 2 *no actions required*

Much more reasonable.

I hope that helps you understand the underlying problem might be a bit deeper than the prices at the island. While you have the liquidity (and you say they had a high amount of cash) it's completely rational to take small profits for no actions. In your game, the lowball prices at factories and warehouses were subsidising shipping.

Another way to explain this is in evolution of strategy:
Rational actors would realise that they were making very little per action from warehousing, and start using more actions shipping. There would be a shortfall in warehoused goods, and someone would realise that the shippers would pay more for those goods to get them to the island and take advantage of the prices there. Factory owners would do the same, realising that if they keep spending actions for $3, when others are spending actions for $5-6, they will fall behind.

You end up with a situation where people are (rationally) paying high prices to get profit for no action cost, but the shipping profits (per action) are in line with the profit per action of warehousers and shippers.

There are layers of context and depth below this. Fundamental to this game though, is that if I get more profit per action than you, I will win.

I hope that's helpful.
 
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supertris wrote:
jforbes wrote:
supertris wrote:
Hmm...

I think the problem here might be not the bidding on the island, but the price at harbour. You figured out that producing and stocking were extremely unrewarding, and took advantage of everyone else doing that to rake in the profits.


No - the problem was the bidding on the island...


Let's do a quick breakdown of profit per action, just to check that you are correct in just abruptly dismissing me.

We'll compare the profit on 2 containers which sell at 20 at the island. There's a bunch of stuff about cash flow, investment, convenience and risk that we ignore, but it's a good way to get a simple comparison.

Cheap Goods:

Factory: Pays 1, sells at 4 = 3 profit per action (5 if he makes 3 things at once, but warehousers can stock 3 at once, shippers can ship 3 at once, and so on)

Warehouse: Pays 4, sells at 6 = 2 profit per action

Shipping: Pays 6, (sails sea-harbour, harbour-sea, sea-island, island-sea) gets 36, profit of 7.5 per action.

Buying: Pays 18 gets 20. Profit of 2 *no actions required*

In this situation, the two favoured actions are shipping, and buying up goods at the island (if you had the cash, you want to take as many "2 points for free" actions as you can).

Changing the bidding moves the last two lines to

Shipping: Pays 6, gets 24. Profit of 3 per action
Buying: Pays 12, gets 20. Profit of 8 *no actions required*

Wow. Okay. Let's assume that the prices at warehouses and factories can change.

F: Pay 1, sell at 6, profit of 5 per action
W: Pay 6, sell at 12, profit of 6 per action
S: Pay 12, gets 36, profit of 6 per action
B: Pay 18, get 2 *no actions required*

Much more reasonable.

I hope that helps you understand the underlying problem might be a bit deeper than the prices at the island. While you have the liquidity (and you say they had a high amount of cash) it's completely rational to take small profits for no actions. In your game, the lowball prices at factories and warehouses were subsidising shipping.

Another way to explain this is in evolution of strategy:
Rational actors would realise that they were making very little per action from warehousing, and start using more actions shipping. There would be a shortfall in warehoused goods, and someone would realise that the shippers would pay more for those goods to get them to the island and take advantage of the prices there. Factory owners would do the same, realising that if they keep spending actions for $3, when others are spending actions for $5-6, they will fall behind.

You end up with a situation where people are (rationally) paying high prices to get profit for no action cost, but the shipping profits (per action) are in line with the profit per action of warehousers and shippers.

There are layers of context and depth below this. Fundamental to this game though, is that if I get more profit per action than you, I will win.

I hope that's helpful.


Deja vu...
 
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Tristan Brightman
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Ha, a little yes :-).

I'm pretty sure that it isn't a glitch in the matrix - I just wanted to set those comparisons down, because I'm still convinced that if liquidity is generally high, profit from buying on the island should be highly valued.

In this session, I'm still of the opinion that the big problem was people were willing to produce and warehouse goods for very cheap prices. Bidding less at the island just means another player gets the no-action-cost points.
 
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supertris wrote:
re, but it's a good way to get a simple comparison.

Cheap Goods:

Factory: Pays 1, sells at 4 = 3 profit per action (5 if he makes 3 things at once, but warehousers can stock 3 at once, shippers can ship 3 at once, and so on)

Warehouse: Pays 4, sells at 6 = 2 profit per action

Shipping: Pays 6, (sails sea-harbour, harbour-sea, sea-island, island-sea) gets 36, profit of 7.5 per action.

Buying: Pays 18 gets 20. Profit of 2 *no actions required*

In this situation, the two favoured actions are shipping, and buying up goods at the island (if you had the cash, you want to take as many "2 points for free" actions as you can).

Changing the bidding moves the last two lines to

Shipping: Pays 6, gets 24. Profit of 3 per action
Buying: Pays 12, gets 20. Profit of 8 *no actions required*


Since you're calculating on a per container basis, shouldn't it be "gets 18" and "pays 9".

Or you could go with 2 containers at a time in which case the shipper "pays 12" to get the containers while the payout would remain at "36"?

Interesting analysis, I never realized this game is all about profit per action....as obvious as it sounds now...
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Well, that's your overall strategy there. Are my actions making the same amount as my opponent's actions? Also, did my investment into infrastructure create more profit than the other players'.

But tactically, this game is all about incentivizing your opponents to do what you want them to do instead of what they want to do with those actions. I find it a lot harder to do well on the island when I'm producing containers than when I'm harboring containers, because when you set up the harbor store you can get people to ship whatever you want. They just come and pick up whatever's there for the most part. When I'm doing factory, it's much harder to get a double-color load.
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Tristan Brightman
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aaarg_ink wrote:
supertris wrote:
re, but it's a good way to get a simple comparison.

Cheap Goods:

Factory: Pays 1, sells at 4 = 3 profit per action (5 if he makes 3 things at once, but warehousers can stock 3 at once, shippers can ship 3 at once, and so on)

Warehouse: Pays 4, sells at 6 = 2 profit per action

Shipping: Pays 6, (sails sea-harbour, harbour-sea, sea-island, island-sea) gets 36, profit of 7.5 per action.

Buying: Pays 18 gets 20. Profit of 2 *no actions required*

In this situation, the two favoured actions are shipping, and buying up goods at the island (if you had the cash, you want to take as many "2 points for free" actions as you can).

Changing the bidding moves the last two lines to

Shipping: Pays 6, gets 24. Profit of 3 per action
Buying: Pays 12, gets 20. Profit of 8 *no actions required*


Since you're calculating on a per container basis, shouldn't it be "gets 18" and "pays 9".

Or you could go with 2 containers at a time in which case the shipper "pays 12" to get the containers while the payout would remain at "36"?

Interesting analysis, I never realized this game is all about profit per action....as obvious as it sounds now...


Ah, I've failed at clarity. The whole analysis is following a batch of 2 containers through the distribution line. Factory produces (cost 1) sells them at 4 (2 each) and so on. All of the costs there are looking at that batch of 2 containers. (that's why the profit per action goes up to 5 if the factory guy makes 3 things at once). I should have made that clearer, obviously. Sorry about that!

Yes, I've found it fairly rare to find people who explicitly realise that you are limited by actions (not that I play a whole ton of container). Jay makes a good point about deeper play - it's possible to create situations where your actions tend to be more valuable - you can produce or warehouse or ship different colours in combination, you can ensure other people are liquid before you sell, and so on. When you are looking at the board to see what to do though, look at what each action is likely to pay. If a ton of people are happy to warehouse extremely cheaply, spend more actions shipping.
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J C Lawrence
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While the game is about profit per action, it is generally won and lost on profits made by other player's actions. This is why control of tempo is so important.
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