Captains of Industry Review

Captains of Industry board game

After really enjoying a different TMG title designed by Michael Keller, I decided that I should check out his other TMG title - Captains of Industry.

In Captains of Industry, the players manipulate the supply, demand, and price of various goods in order to gain the most Market Share (Victory Points).  There are a few actions that you can perform: build a facility, expand a facility, run a facility, perform research, draw Captain cards, and build real estate.  Building, expanding, or running a facility all produce goods of a certain type, and allow you to adjust the price of your goods of that type.  Building real estate adds demand for a couple of types (you get to choose which) and increases your income.  Researching can help in a variety of ways, and any time that you research or buy a Captain card, you can adjust all of your prices in the markets.  At the end of a variable number of rounds, an Age will end, and then the game purchases enough resources to match it's demand (if they are available), and the rest of the resources go to waste.  At the end of the third Age, the person with the most Market Share (from selling goods) is the winner.

The first pro that I have for Captains of Industry is that I think it's very interesting that you are both making the demand and fulfilling it.  (Specifically, you have the option of making demand - you can also focus on manufacturing, and hope that you're able to make the right kind of goods.)  Any time that you build real estate, you get to place a demand card.  These demand cards, and their placement, determine the importance of each resource.  So, in order to play Captains of Industry well, you have to ensure that you are able to produce goods efficiently, but also you have to make sure that you build places to sell them.  After all, if you are able to produce 10 corn on a turn, but there is no demand for corn, then you have not only wasted your current turn, but you've also wasted all of the previous turns that you spent building up your corn factory (or "Farm" if you will).

image of Captains of Industry board in play
An ever changing consumables market

A couple of other pros that I have for the game are that I enjoyed how interactive the game was between the players, and also how different the game can play based on the group that you play with.  It seems like there can be quite a bit of "group think" in this game.  For example, one of the games I played viewed Research as critical.  Because of this, everyone produced a lot of Research, which caused the market to be flooded with very inexpensive Research.  Obviously, this meant that everyone had any of the technologies on the tech tree that they wanted.  In another game, most players didn't produce Research, and it made it so that Research was very scarce, and whenever a player did produce Research, it was purchased immediately at almost any price.  (Which was great for the player producing it, as you get a Market Share (VP) for each of your goods that is purchased by either another player or the bank.)  I enjoyed that the game gave me very different experiences, and I also liked the interactions that can be caused by players being interdependent - you most likely are depending on other players to produce some of the resources you need, so that you can do what you want on your turn.  (After all, even if you are able to produce everything you need, it will take several turns of production to produce everything you want, and other players may buy those goods from you in the meantime.)  As someone who can produce goods, you sometimes have to decide if you want to produce goods that you know will get bought, thus giving you money and victory points but helping another player, or if you want to do something else.

Something interesting that I found for the game, that I'm not sure about my feelings on, is how drastic pricing could be utilized in the game.  Specifically, if certain goods are regularly running out on the board, then you may have a hard time purchasing them.  In this situation, you are allowed to buy goods from the bank, but only if you start your turn with a good that could have been bought by another player.  This causes players to occasionally set their goods at the maximum possible price to dissuade others from buying them - thus ensuring (hopefully) that they can at least buy missing goods from the bank.  Alternately, when an Age is about to end, a player early in turn order may use his turn to adjust his prices to be all 0, to ensure that nobody can undercut his price, thus guaranteeing that at least some of his goods will get bought by the bank - for Market Share, if not for money.   (It can be debated whether this is the best move, but either way, it has been utilized to some extent in the games I've played.)

Captains of Industry components
Very nice components - though you may run out of markers
One thing that I want to point out about Captains of Industry that is neither good nor bad, but something to be aware of, is that the game encourages cut-throat play.  Specifically, if a player has not done the 0 move that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, then a player that goes later in the turn order can adjust prices on their turn to undercut their opponent, causing the game to buy all of their goods before they buy any of their opponent's goods.  And, if their supply is high enough, it will completely shut their opponents out.  This costs your opponents both Market Share and money.  I have seen this move cost a player 6 VP and $42 in one move.  I'm certain that as you play more, players will balance this some by pricing their goods lower to encourage their opponents to undercut someone else, but either way, the drastic nature of taking all of the demand from your opponent can be harsh.

Another thing that I haven't decided my feelings on is the variable Age end.  The game starts with a "Progress Deck" of 6 City cards and 4 Country cards.  At the end of each round, 1-4 of these cards are drawn, depending on how frequently real estate has been purchased.  Any City cards are set aside, and any Country cards are shuffled back in the deck.  Once all 6 City cards have been drawn, the Age ends.  (Yes, theoretically, the game can never end - but all of my games ended, so I can't speak much to that.)  What this can cause is an extra round in which none of the players have a very good move.  Specifically, if at the start of a round, there are 5 cards in the deck, and you're going to draw 4 of them, then there is an 80% chance that the Age will end.  So, you make your best "this is my last move this Age" action.  You don't set up for the next turn in the Age, because you're not going to get one (you assume).  So, if the deck does turn up all Country cards, thus giving you another round in that Age, then it's a round that nobody had really expected, and so it is basically just a duplicate of the previous one.

The only real con that I had for Captains of Industry was the Captain cards.  Specifically, I felt like they weren't balanced very well.  There are some Captain cards that can be worth 6 points - if you have a factory that is the biggest one in the game.  However, there are several of these cards, representing each of the different factory types.  And, if you get multiples of them, then most of them are junk, since you obviously can't have the largest factory in the game in two different types, and in fact, two different types can't be your biggest factory, either.  Yet, there are other Captain cards that might give you 10 points for something you were going to do anyway (like Research).  What's worse, you may draw a Captain card late in the game for something that you've already done (Research, not build Factories, build Real Estate) that can drastically swing the score - of course, you're much more likely to draw one that is completely useless to you.  I like that the Captain cards suggest a strategic path to take, and I like that you have to discard one at the end of each Age, thus sometimes making tough choices, but the overall execution of Captain cards left me disappointed.

Overall, I give Captains of Industry an 8.0/10.  It is a good game, and I enjoyed my plays of it (though they sometimes left me mentally exhausted afterwards).  However, I'm not sure how often I will play it going forward - especially as the cut-throat characteristics of the game will limit the number of people that I can play it with.

If Captains of Industry sounds interesting, you should also check out City HallFurstenfeld, and Power Grid.

I would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing me with a review copy of Captains of Industry.

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