Nathan Hansen Games

So I'm working on an economics game. Specifically, it is a medieval business simulation. When I started, I had thought I had a fairly decent grasp of what I would need to know in order to create the 4 market system I had in mind. I designed a system. I was proud of my system but something just didn't feel right. I posted on Reddit and Facebook to get feedback. I was right. My system was broken. Not in a mechanic sense, as I think it would function exactly as I designed it. But rather it was broken from a thematic standpoint. I didn't obey basic economic principles.

This was a depressing realization. I know I don't exactly have a background in economics but as a gamer and a game designer, I've been exposed to a lot of economic systems. Because every game in existence is an economic system. Sometimes they are more obvious than others of course. Such as games like the one I'm designing based on trade are clearly economic systems. Other times the economics are less obvious, such as the pieces in every abstract game. Every action players take in every game is a manipulation of the game economy to better their position within the game. Economics in a game is not just about money or converting resources. The position of a game piece is a resource. The action spent moving a piece is a resource.

That means a game designer is an economist. They design economic systems for players to interact with. And while I consider myself a good game designer... I do have to wonder how much my limited economics knowledge has negatively affected my game design skillset.

So what was broken in my economics game? In an attempt to abstract out demand (assuming demand to be constant in each market) and setting prices based solely on current supply I literally set it up backward. The good part about how I set it up was that players couldn't "break the game" by just buying and selling the same good at the same market. The bad of course is that it didn't obey the most basic rules of supply and demand.

I'm currently reworking the market system and doing a lot of research in the process, and have come up with 4 potential systems which I'm having trouble deciding between. I will likely have to flesh out each system and test them individually to see which feels right given the other elements of the game. Before I do that,  I would welcome feedback. The systems are as follows:

System 1

Each market has two tracks. One tracks the current relative price (actual price is found on a player aid), the other tracks the player purchases and sales this round.

Whenever a player buys goods at a market they move the Buy/Sell marker one space to the right for each purchase, and one space to the left for each Sale. Prices on the right are higher than prices on the left.

At the end of the round (all players have acted), the following steps occur in order:

  1. An event card is drawn for each market. This event may adjust the position of the Buy/Sell marker of a number of the goods at the market.
  2. The Buy/Sell markers of goods which are produced in that town will move one space to the left. (i.e. towards a lower cost/good as supply needs are met by the town's local production)
  3. The Buy/Sell markers of goods which are NOT produced in that town will move one space to the right. (i.e. towards a higher cost/good as supply needs are not met by the town's local production)
  4. Each Buy/Sell marker will move one space towards its price marker, then if they are not at the same level each price marker will move one space towards its buy/sell marker.

System 2

Each good has a single track on which each market will have a marker. With four markets that means each good track will have 4 markers.

Each position on each track will have a number to its left which represents the price that the good can currently be sold at if the marker is in that space and a number to its right which represents the price that a good can currently be purchased at if the marker is in that space.

Whenever goods are bought or sold, regardless of the size of the purchase, the marker moves one space to either the left (when selling) or right (when buying).

System 3

Each good has two tracks. The price track works exactly like in system 2 above, except that when you purchase or sell goods you do not move the position of the marker. Instead, you move the position of the marker on the other track. We'll call this the buy/sell track.

If a marker ever reaches the left-most space of its buy/sell track, the price marker of the associated good is moved one space to the left. Likewise, if a marker on the buy/sell track ever reaches the right-most space of its buy/sell track the price marker of the associated good is moved one space to the right.

Any time the price marker of a good is moved, the associated buy/sell marker moves back to the center of the buy/sell track.

System 4

The three above systems always allow you to buy and sell goods at a market (albeit at bad prices sometimes). This last system puts a hard cap on the resources in the game.

Each market will consist of a number of good spaces and a price track. The goods may be stacked in the spaces that match them. The more goods in a space, the higher the local supply, and therefore the lower the price. But, The price doesn't shift until a cleanup phase which happens every few rounds which are where the price track comes in. When the market prices update, you look at the current supply and use that information to set the local market value.

I don't want this to occur every round but I also don't think it should consistently be every X rounds either. I'm thinking a small deck of say 5 cards that are shuffled and then at the end of each round one is revealed. One of them has no effect, while the other four have you update prices at one of the four markets. Thus the market will respond to the players' manipulations but not quickly and not necessarily in a predictable manner.

Written by Nathan Hansen — August 16, 2016

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