15th Sep 2022 - Automobile

by RobinWed, 25 Jan (Updated at Wed, 25 Jan)

This week, we learned that the coolest mode of transport is the Viking longboat – according to John, anyway. Such was the sales pitch for Explorers Of The North Sea, in which the Vikings lay out the modular board on their voyages of discovery.

At the next table, things were altogether less cool in CO2: Second Chance, which is Vital Lacerda’s spin on the climate crisis. They were back for a second week: apparently the game was good, but the rulebook took a bit of deciphering. Sadly, knowing the rules wasn’t enough on this occasion, and the planet went unsaved again.

My table were doing our best to exacerbate their problems, thematically speaking, as we built our car factories in Automobile. This one seems to be quite well-known at the club; but I’ll give it a write-up all the same, as it’s one of my absolute favourites.

Automobile is an economic game of supply, demand and – above all – brinkmanship. You are building cars and selling them at a profit; the more cars you sell, the more money you make. But if you build cars that you cannot sell, you make a loss. You are selling to different markets (budget, mid-range and luxury) – so there will always be a gap somewhere for you to exploit, if you can spot it soon enough. The aim is essentially to sell as much as possible without over-producing: if you can do that, or at least get closer to it than anyone else, then you will win the game.

Liquidity is an ongoing problem: you have to keep investing just to be able to build the right cars. In our game we saw good examples of at both ends of the spectrum: Paul was a model of careful financial management, never going into debt, but producing fewer cars; while Andrew took every loan he could get, and used the extra cash to produce a lot. They ended the game separated by just $50.

Andrew’s strategy worked much better than I expected. He recruited a certain Henry Ford as his advisor, and set up his first factory producing Model Ts. He then went on to set up lots more production spaces. “You’ll never win like that,” I told him, as he opened his fifth factory before closing any of the old ones. And he didn’t – quite – win, but it could easily have been different. He certainly sold more than anyone else.

I can’t put my finger on why I like this game so much. It’s partly the theme, and the artwork – and the strange experience of hiring magnates like Henry Ford or Walter Chrysler to be your advisor/assistant. And the basic property of a good economic game, that your share of the market depends as much on other players’ moves as your own. But ultimately I think it’s the soft-landing take on a push-your-luck game: if you overdo it, you don’t lose everything, you just do a bit worse. Which makes the judgements – about who to recruit, what cars to build and how many of them to build – a great challenge!

Finally, elsewhere in our room, we had Lost Ruins of Arnak again; and a sneaky first appearance for Macao. I’ve not played that game before but it looked very nice, so definitely looking forward to giving it a go sometime soon.