Type: Economic / Action Selection
Time to play: 90-120 minutes (Teaching: 20-25 minutes)
Best played with: 3-5 players (Best with 5)
(Image from BGG )
Container is a great economic game which frankly I think everyone trying to learn economics should be forced to play multiple times! The way that players become market agents as producers, wholesellers and essentially consumers (for the end game cash) is intriguing and sets about a dynamic that I really enjoy. Overall, for players who enjoy economic games or games full of negotiation – this should be a big hit, if you can get hold of a copy.
Diving into the game – one of the aspects that really appeals to me is that you start in a fairly symetrical position to all other players. Yes, with a different manufacturing but as all goods start equal this isn’t a material difference. However, I firmly believe that the interesting strategies here come about throught specialisation and timing. If this was a game where everyone built the same number of factories / warehouses and did the same amount of shipping, then I would find this game far less intriguing. This game really sings when around the table one player starts producing more goods, another becomes the most active reseller, another ships the most goods and yet another player bids more aggressively for the ship goods at the end market. Add to that the ability for players to take leverage and this game really comes together nicely.
I am also a fan of interesting auction mechanics that encourage “fair pricing” or perhaps “tactical pricing”. Just to cut to the mechanics for a minute – you will find yourself during the game, shipping goods which are auctioned off. You loaded those goods, you paid for those goods, but ALL players are about to get the chance to score the end game points from them – so long as they pay enough. Firstly, it’s a straight auction – one round blind bids. Okay, that’s not enough to make this interesting though. The highest bidder is then a decision for the player that shipped the goods – receive 2x this number (the bank subsidising the difference) or buy the goods from the bank at this price. If the goods you shipped were worth less to you than 2x this price (plus the price you actually paid for those goods!) then you should take the offer – but if the offer was a low level bid, then you can sweep up the goods for some more end game scoring.
This is fasicnating to me because you are trading money now for end game cash – each dollar is worth the same at the end. Plus you are trading based on what you need to maximise the end game score which requires you through one of the sets of goods away. That means you might be buying junk, but it stops you throwing away your most valuable goods at the end! These twisted motives add to the fact that you might be shipping when no one has any money in hand, or you might be shipping in an vibrant economy where everyone has been adding to the money supply by taking the 2x cash in their auctions.
Hopefully you have a feel for the character of the game, but let’s go back to those mechanics. In your turn you can other buy warehouses, buy anufacturing facilities, produce goods, buy goods (from another players boards) or ship. If you are playing with the investment bank you can also “call the broker”. Buying a structure (warehouse / manufacturing) allows you to store / produce more goods and this will allow you to scale up your role in the economy. Each building has an incrementally higher cost than the prior so be careful not to scale beyond the marginal benefit to your strategy or to do so too late in the game when you cannot re-coup your investment. Producing brings new containers into the game – this is the only way to bring new assets in and ultimately this is the end game triger, when two pools of containers run out. Being in control of production means being in control of the pace of the game – no single player fully has control but a player with three or more production sites exerts a lot more influence.
Buying goods feels like the main part of the game – buying them from one players manufacturing to put them in your warehouse, or from another players warehouse to put them on your ship. However, I think this is a bit of a smokescreen. There’s a lot of movement, and there’s marginal amounts of money being gained – i.e. you resell the manufactured good for more than you bought it, or you make more on the shipping than you paid for the good from the warehouse. However, in my mind this is a marginal gain. The main aspect of this part of the game is controlling the price and often the avaialbility of certain resources. Pricing certain containers at a high level will reduce the interest from those shipping them, and refusing to buy goods from certain players who are manufacturing them will visibly stiffle their economy (they can’t produce more in some cases!). This is the influence you have to exert. Afterall, it’s in the end game where the last few shipped containers will have a very big marginal impact on results – controlling the warehousing and the supply of goods to the end market is of value.
The shippng action – moving your ship to port, back to sea, and ultimately to the island to trigger an auction – perhaps is more intuitively linked to my comments above. However, I think the shipping player is less bothered about which goods are in the supply, and more focused on (i) which goods are on the island already, and (ii) whether players have cash. Goods already oversupplied to the island will fetch less bids and ultiamtely less money. At first any good is useful to all players, by mid game players often have cash and want most goods, but by the end game players have cash but only for certain goods. The mid game shipping is therefore critical. Also, if you want to keep the goods then the second dynamic comes into play – you want to ship when no one else can afford the bid. This is the time for you to pay less to ship the goods to your port.
With teh 10th anniversary edition, I recommend playing with the investment banker – this allows you to recycle the loan interest in the economy and to use the action “call the broker” to bring goods or cash back into the player hands. This is useful because this process might just get a player who has overplayed to one strategy back in the game. Don’t see it as a catch up mechanic (although in some respect it can work that way), but rather a dynamic optimisation tool. You went heavy on production but no one was buying your goods – sell them to this AI like player who has cash. If other players out bid you by selling more of their goods for that cash then at least there’s more cash in the economy and you can still sell your goods.
All-in-all, I hope that helps you get a feel for the game, but because there’s so much player interaction here – who you buy from, when you ship, how much you bid – the only real way to get a feel for it, is to get it to the table.