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John Company

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13 Jul 2020 05:18 #311970 by mezike
Replied by mezike on topic John Company
Snipped from the TTS planning thread, as this seems a more appropriate place for discussion:

Gary Sax wrote: I've been dwelling on the zombie company we dealt with today. It's a weird jagged edge, to me, in this game. But it's obviously very intentional.


I'm actually okay with it.

Historically, it mirrors what really happened with expenses far exceeding revenue and the government constantly propping it up to the point where they could no longer uphold the pretence that it was in any way an organisation independent from The Crown. I figure that this nationalisation automatically occurs at the end of the tenth turn except for circumstances where the company is deliberately abandoned early, which I very much doubt ever happens unless players collectively want to Kevorkian the game due to an unassailable gulf to the leader.

Gameplay-wise it allows players to keep their family firms running, otherwise the game would nosedive sharply as all the shipping spots are taken with private shipping leaving an empty cupboard for the company and no way to generate income. Bailout is, it seems, inevitable, even with minimal expenses to cover. Even if family firms fail to ship and end up collapsing, they will come back as it's the single most efficient way to generate VP. If the company does manage to end up in profit then the Chairman is incentivised to spend it irresponsibly, as is the case with the few meagre pounds left over after each bailout. However, money keeps flowing into family pockets through tax, bonus and plunder even when the company is stuck in a bailout loop, so you'd have to really botch every single shipping roll for the entire game to shut down.

(I think that this is the sort of situation where shared ownership and takeovers are more likely to occur, as demonstrated in our game where NotSure had to give up 20% of his firm to you in return for a cash injection to reroll a botched attempt at shipping. Otherwise his firm would have collapsed leaving me with the only viable concern and the time and funds to buy a huge sailing fleet and completely corner the market with my own monopoly)

I find it a fascinating part of the design that player income skimmed away from company activities doesn't drop even when the company falls into deep debt. Tax is automatic, 'bonuses' come from local wealth generated by family firm shipping, and you don't even need cash in order to gain plunder - just officers and preferably a big stack of guns. This also feels deliberate for two particular reasons. Currency conversion between company and family wealth means that every coin in the company is equivalent to several thousand pounds compared to mere hundreds in your personal purse; family firm dividends should therefore generate more private wealth than anything you could skim from the EIC and therefore also be a more efficient way of generating VP. Then you have the avarice of the key players involved, where they lined their pockets well with scant regard for the viability of the ongoing business, secure in the knowledge that it was too important a political venture for the government not to keep afloat (failing to do so would quickly cede a great deal of power to the French and Dutch in particular, but also to other European powers aspiring to Empire in the region).

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22 Aug 2020 22:09 - 22 Aug 2020 23:02 #313405 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company
Not Sure, Mezike and I played again today and I don't want to speak for them but I found that the game is so rich now that we've played the campaign more than once. Your play of the early period, the scenario that is the only one most people play, is completely determined by what you know about what happens after it (if anything). The more I play, the more convinced I am that the game isn't really that fragile if the players are playing to win. The Company is not very fragile, even in the early Company scenarios when it can die. It takes many turns of bad behavior to do so, in the meantime you'll almost undoubtedly have been evicted from your position and lose against other players who are reacting to your sabotage. Our game ended with a tense final two turns between Mezike and Not Sure, with a zombie company operating in the shadow of the action of private firms. Final score ended up tied 55-55 and went to the first tiebreaker. There's a ton of richness in even how the complete fail company deep in debt provides opportunities to get the leg up on opponents despite it no longer the main event financially.

While I'm sure JC is missing some key elements in three player game, it still completely works for me. I like this game better than any other Wehrle joint---I think it pays off the general themes of his games like co-opetition, riding a collective institution together and remaining on top, temporary alliance building, etc better than his other games. Not all of his games are trying to do the same thing but there are strong through lines in even his simpler games like Root. This might be kind of a controversial statement, but I think a lot of the spaces that Wehrle plays in as a designer just don't work as well in a one to two hour game.
Last edit: 22 Aug 2020 23:02 by Gary Sax.
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23 Aug 2020 14:03 #313420 by Not Sure
Replied by Not Sure on topic John Company
You were the odds-on leader until that disastrous flip to depression disrupted your fleet, though.

In the full game, Company failure is nearly impossible after deregulation, and participation is pretty much mandatory, because you effectively can't score unless you retire from a position. There is that event card that reshuffles the deck, effectively preventing deregulation from probably ever happening, but in the absence of that the Company has to crash in about five turns or you're probably locked in for ten (or as long as anyone wants to pay $3 for a share to keep it alive).

That's a long-winded way to say that an edge case in the learning scenario came to dominate the general perception of how this game gets played. I'm sure we have some low-player-count myopia as well, but there's so much good game here it's amazing to me how it got overlooked.

I guess the fact that we're five or so games in and the whole thing is really just clicking together is difficult to get to. Being able to assess the deals so we're not leaving money on the table, and knowing how to set up for a few turns later is essential. But five games? That's twice the lifetime of most games now it seems. (4-5x if you count by playtime instead of play count).

Jc is definitely not a perfect design, there's some highly gamey stuff at certain points (especially the endgame), but the high points aren't in that anyway. They're in the general operation, taking risks, wrangling positions, all the action of the game. It makes for some thinking afterwards, and a strong desire to play it again.

I'm also really interested to see what the 2nd Edition holds, as he goes back to it with more experience and no bizarre 1kg Sierra Madre box limit. The first one is 90% lightning in a bottle.
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23 Aug 2020 14:17 #313421 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company
Great post, you're absolutely right re: an edge case dominating public perception.

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03 Oct 2020 16:54 #314806 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company


Cole's working on this hard, apparently. Timeline consistent with what he was talking about in that last interview stream he had on this.

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19 Nov 2020 13:38 - 19 Nov 2020 13:38 #316346 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company
www.twitch.tv/videos/803507245

Here's a good discussion of the next John Company from Wehrlegig Games. I still really like hearing them talk design... I don't know what to think of the new edition. So I'm excited about it; I'm definitely keeping my old version unless I'm blown away by the new one.
Last edit: 19 Nov 2020 13:38 by Gary Sax.
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19 Nov 2020 16:11 #316349 by Not Sure
Replied by Not Sure on topic John Company
Same here. The tweaks are definitely making it into a different game.

Thanks for that link, I remember them doing it, but I had other stuff going on at the time. I'll watch it sometime to what's going on.

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19 Nov 2020 16:30 #316350 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company
It's pretty different! I like some of the things they've IDed and changed. Prizes and powers have been separated, company debt and stock works way differently (looks better to me; the debt stuff is really interesting and the spiral can have consequences), a bunch of other stuff.

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19 Nov 2020 17:26 #316351 by Msample
Replied by Msample on topic John Company
I tried to watch the video but they....couldn’t....stop....moving...and clicking.....fucking Christ. Can’t they stay still onscreen for more than a nanosecond.

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20 Nov 2020 07:30 #316362 by mezike
Replied by mezike on topic John Company
fyi its around the one hour mark where they switch to TTS to show off the latest iteration, the first hour is interesting if you want to hear more about Cole's philosophy and approach to design in general.

Overall I like what they are doing. JC is a real hard sell which is a shame as the game is such a cracking good design and so rewarding to play. I think that this new edition will be all positive change as the barrier to entry is looking much lower without giving up the things that make it attractive in the first place. Although the trappings are very different the essence of the game is clearly still there. I like that so many things are being made less convoluted without losing functionality; as Cole says early on he is trying to instill a more naturalistic flow to gameplay whilst reinforcing the drama and interaction. I can dig that, the 'promise' economy for example is so opaque that it often slows down proceedings with what are eventually zero-sum results and having more tangible things to trade and greater visibility of what 'power' means is going to support the interactive side of play.

Events in particular are looking much better. The previous update with two card draws was in my view a step backwards, more complex and less clear than the 1st edition, but this is now so much more intuitive and I'm excited to see the art design that they will commission.

The map of India taking up nearly half the board is great, it's a good direction to go in, although I would prefer to see some kind of separation between London and India to reinforce the 'distant land' attitudes that were at play at the time and which the 1st edition manages to evoke. I love the way the elephant now works, it's so clear that the region where the elephant is residing is an aggressor towards the region the elephant is pointing toward. That is a perfect bit of usability design that makes the balance of power in India very clear to players.

I also like that they have abstracted goods away which in turn has simplified the shipping process, it was always a layer of complication that doesn't really add anything and the ability of the Director of Trade to interfere with shipping is still there (and maybe more pronounced) in much more intuitive form. Writers are now also more important beyond being a hedge bet against attrition and to soak up promises. The only thing that I am not sure about is the 'fatigue' mechanism but Cole asks us to trust him that it works and everything else is looking real solid.

I think I just love everything about this re-design. The 1st edition is great and some of our TTS games have been among my most enjoyable gaming experiences, but the 2nd edition is turning into something that is even more alluring to my particular tastes.
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20 Nov 2020 11:51 #316377 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic John Company
I'm most interested in the debt and the debt auction which I think looks great and could revolutionize how the game is played---you buy debt, you become a stockholder! If debt piles up too much, company goes under. The base game needed that dynamic, I think, to avoid the weird final 4 turns of -50 debt.
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