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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.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Msample, Not Sure, mezike

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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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