The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Wealth of Nations

The first time I played 1830, I had no chance of winning. I didn’t know it at t the time, but I had no chance. By the third or fourth play I knew I had no chance of winning.  By the eighth game or so, I had a chance.

That’s because there’s a lot of new concepts, evaluating the game state is tricky and non-obvious. How much is this share worth? Is it dangerous? What are the risks? Rewards?  Am I optimizing my return on investment? (The critical questions for an economic game).

When I taught 1830 to a new group, they had no chance of winning (barring massive conspiring).

I say that all as a prelude so you’ll understand why it counts as a serious blow against Wealth of Nations that several of the gamers in the group love it, have a few games under their belt, and I won my first game.

There’s a lot to like in the game … a good market system, a realistic seeming way of handling credit, bid/ask spreads on prices, bartering and the like. But the whole isn’t a very satisfying game. A few reasons that popped into my head:

  • There are economies of scale, but players are dealing with multiple goods. So if I start producing labor (or ore, or food) then my next labor tile will be better. One labor tile takes one food and one energy to produce one labor. Two labor tiles take two food and one energy to produce three labor.  The main way you compete with people (apart from the area control aspect on the board) is by diversifying … which doesn’t make sense given economies of scale.
  • The area control aspect is also problematic. To compete for space you either a) hem yourself in or b) spend capital to relocate … which means you are weakening your position to attack another player. Not a clever strategy in a 3+ player game.
  • There are five types of good (not counting money) and we played with five players. This emphasized the economy of scale issue we had.
  • The bid/ask spread (price difference between buying and selling goods in the market) means that trading is optimal, so the default strategy (“everyone trades”) is rather boring. There is some room to maneuver by not trading, forcing the price up, then you do provide incentive for someone to diversify. But, like the area control nature, that hurts yourself and the market intruder, whereas other players will likely benefit (or, at least, not suffer).
  • Loans work like the real world enough to justify a basic economic lesson — if you have a good investment, to the zeroth order it doesn’t matter how you finance. (Some wag economist, when asked about the deficit, said “A mortgage is a good idea for a house, and a bad idea for spending on drugs. But even if you were paying cash, the house is a better investment.”) Given your excellent credit rating (as a state) and the number of good investments, you should just pump them out. In fact, after playing I went to the strategy section and instantly noticed JC Lawrence saying the best strategy is to take out loans and build ASAP, the only question is the exact number. That seems reasonable. The interest costs for this aren’t onerous enough to matter.
  • Which leads to the aspect I couldn’t quite put my finger on last night, but now seems clear. There is no conflict between short term and long term planning. In Wealth of Nations, if it’s a good investment, you should just do it. You do have to watch out that the game doesn’t end before you can recoup it, but otherwise, that’s it. If you make the best investment play each turn, you’ll probably do just fine.
  • The reason there’s no conflict between short and long term is that there are no ‘bombs’ in the Wealth of Nations economy. Goods get more and more expensive, up to a point. But they don’t run out (ala Power Grid). Built industries keep working fine (assuming you supply them food & power), but never have their infrastructure fail (trains rusting ala 1830 or maintenance costs rising ala B&O). You can’t have a rice company and spice company merge to make Siap Faji, which drastically alters the competitive landscape (and shipping requirements) of Indonesia. At most, there’s a bit too much of X (and the price drops) and a bit too little Y (and the price rises).

So, I just pretty much sat back, traded what I had too much of for what I needed (to avoid the bid/ask spread), decided what I wanted to build, and built it. I probably didn’t optimize everything, but there were no surprises and it was enough to win.


Written by taogaming

November 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Reviews

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4 Responses

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  1. That was very much my first impression with Wealth of Nations. Upon reflection I realized the trading aspect is just bartering over how to split the difference between the bid and ask. Totally not worth the time it takes.

    I would call the economics “good”, the trading “poor”, and the development “mediocre”. There are some terrible flaws, at least with 6 players. I would love to see a good trading game but this just makes me want to dust off Settlers of Catan.


    November 16, 2010 at 9:34 pm

  2. I really disliked Wealth of Nations, largely for the reasons you give, but also because it’s long and diddly without giving you enough to be interested in. I love many long and fiddly games, but they justifynthe effort.

    Eric Brosius

    November 16, 2010 at 10:25 pm

  3. Check out the new edition of the rules that came with the expansion. If fixes a number of the problems.

    For example, you can buy or sell 3 goods at a time (which makes using the market more attractive). There is now interest on the loans every turn. And I think there are a few other changes.

    You can find them here:

    Tim Harrison

    November 16, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    • We played with those rule changes. Even after four plays, I find the game to have complex rules and long gametime but with overly simply strategy – there are many other great games that take this amount of time but have more strategy involved.


      November 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

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