12th Aug 2023 Games Day - Arkwright & Automobile

by RobinMon, 14 Aug (Updated at Mon, 14 Aug)

My first experience of "proper" board games was with war games, through my dad. It certainly lit a fuse, though the fuse led to economic and Euro-games; and with a few exceptions I've not really been into war games since then. On this games day, though, there was something for everyone, with war games, economic games and an assortment of space games, plus Perseverance: Castaway Chronicles, which I can't think how to classify.

I guess war games come in all shapes and sizes. Napoleon 1815 is a 3-player game that claims to take 1-2 hours, though it turns out you can stretch that quite a lot further if you like, as the group playing on Saturday did. And there was Andean Abyss - the original COIN game - which apparently went on for 7 hours. According to Michel's summary, he spent much of this time figuring out how to play the game, then following some obscure strategic sub-plot that included trying deliberately not to win at one point - but ended up winning anyway. I guess we like our war games to run on a bit, which works well with the Saturday games day format.

While all that was going on, I spent the day on two consecutive industrial economic games, with Automobile followed by Arkwright. I know Automobile very well, while Arkwright was new to me; though they had a lot in common - particularly the challenge of anticipating market demand, and what share of it you could wrest from other players. Automobile is by far the simpler game - that mechanic of spotting the gap in the market and muscling other players out of it is the greater part, while managing your own resources is a niggling sideline. Arkwright by contrast has far more diversity in the resource management side - and far more different resources to manage - and is thus more complex.

I really liked Arkwright: it felt like a thematically faithful representation of the early industrial revolution. And it managed to do something quite clever, in retaining the importance of what other players are doing in the supply/demand tracks, while also allowing a lot of "building your own engine" mechanics, which gave a certain satisfaction regardless of how you were doing against your competitors. I felt that, even if I wasn't great at the direct competition element, I could potentially make up for it with how I built my production engine, to give me an alternative way to win. I would definitely want to try this one again.

That said, Automobile remains my favourite game. It uses fairly simple mechanics to create a challenge entirely out of the competition with other players, of anticipating what they'll want to do early enough to outmanoeuvre them. As usual, the soundtrack from my fellow players was a mixture of marvel at what a great game it was, interspersed with mental meltdowns as they tried to plot the best course at each decision point. I don't understand why this is only rated at 7.3 on BGG: I guess for those who prefer the "build your own engine" games, there's not much in it for them.

In both games I ended up following a similar strategy - broadly speaking, the "Ford" strategy, of manufacturing cheap goods in small quality and large quantity. In Automobile, this meant flogging more cars than anyone else in the "budget" market segment, while the others fought over scraps in the "luxury" segment. In Arkwright it meant investing in extensive automation and neglecting quality, and flogging my domestic surpluses overseas. So, very much subscribing to the ethos of these two games' respective paragons, Henry Ford and Richard Arkwright. It served me well in both cases.

All in, these two games ran for the whole 10 hours of the day, so we mopped up our melted brains and headed home. The general consensus is that the games days are a great success, with widespread calls for them to run more frequently. What with the depth and diversity of games that they enable, and the chatty, friendly vibe in the daytime, it's easy to see why.