All across the world, people want stuff! Interestingly, the places that those people who want stuff are located, typically don’t produce all the stuff that those people want. Enter: the humble shipping Container. The box that nearly every good is transported in across land and sea. These good, ol’ durable 40ft standardised steel crates flow around the world upon the largest sea going vessels, thousands at a time. In Container, you are tasked with operating a fledgling shipping company that produces and ships stuff around the world, but you have a different goal to that of a traditional company. Rather than delivering goods to consumers, you want to hoard them on a mysterious island in the middle of the sea. For points. And glory, probably. ‘The Island’ pays well.
3-5 Players| 2 Hours| Designed by Franz-Benno Delonge,
Thomas Ewert, Kevin Nesbitt
The original version of Container was published in 2007, and developed somewhat of a reputation among fans of economic games, being widely renown for its unique gameplay. Come 2017 and the 10th anniversary of the game, a newcomer to the hobby looking to pick up a copy might find it for $200+ on eBay second hand, it was long out of print, and in fair demand. Mercury Games decided to run a reprint of the game which was met with much acclaim within the community. The mention that it would be a ‘Jumbo’ edition sparked even more interest. The launch of the Kickstarter campaign generated significant attention within the community, and across platforms the game raised a decent amount of funding with a few thousand backers. The project was delivered in August 2018, roughly on time.
How does it work?
Container is an economic trading, negotiation and auction game where players compete to have the most money by the end of the game. It is unique in that players exert a high amount of influence over the economic engine of the game. Each player has a secret card with values for each type of container, and at the end of the game, containers they have hoarded on ‘The Island’ are worth money according to this secret card.
On a turn, a player may perform two actions from a selection of several. Players may purchase new warehouses (for storing containers in their port) or machines (for generating new containers). Whenever a player receives containers, either by manufacturing or purchasing them, they may choose the price they wish to sell them for, within a range. This allows players to attempt to attract business, or if in high demand, make a high profit from their goods.
Players can purchase containers from other player’s factories to put up for sale in their ports. They may also sail their container ship around the table to other player’s ports to buy containers and load them onto their ship. Finally, players can sail their laden ships to ‘The Island’ to initiate an auction in which other players bid for the right to hoard those containers in their area of ‘The Island’ for end game points.
The auction system in Container is interesting. Players bid simultaneously, and the highest value player is eligible to win the auction. At this point, the auctioning player decides if they would like to match the bid and take the containers for themselves, or take the bid plus 100% from the bank (double the bid!) as payment, giving the containers to the auction winner.
The game continues until a couple of types of container are exhausted, and at this stage, players tally up their cash in hand and calculate the value of their hoarded containers to determine the victor.
What do I think?
I’ve played Container five or so times now, with 4/5 players. I’ve got a lot to
rant discuss below. When I sit back and look at what I’ve said, most of my complaints are associated with this edition’s production, rather than the game itself. I admit I’ve never seen the previous version, so this isn’t a comparison.
The Good Stuff
- The gameplay of Container is unique. The idea of buying and selling things purely between players, interesting auction systems, and hidden set collection combines together well to make one of the best ‘stuff hoarding’ games I’ve played.
- I’ve never played a game before where the players have so much control over the economic engine of the game. While this is a bit two sided (the economy can sort of collapse with poor player management), it is also very fun and promotes heaps of table talk and negotiation when prices are being set and prospective purchases are being discussed.
- The game is extremely interactive between players. Pretty much anything you do needs to involve other players, or consider them. With inter-player actions benefiting both players mutually, there is little animosity between players, even some sense of teamwork (to a degree).
- The big chunky bits certainly give an impressive table presence to this game. It takes up a lot of space, and there is lots happening all over the table while playing.
- Container works really well at the max player count of 5 players. There’s more options available for buying and selling, making a variety of strategies viable.
- There are a lot of interesting and challenging decisions that need to be made over the course of a game. A big one is whether you retain or sell your containers at auction. The reward for selling them is extremely lucrative (double the auction price) but you will probably need hoarded containers to win. Pricing your containers is another interesting decision and one where other player’s comments can be factored in.
- The rules are fairly simple and straight forward. There are only a handful of things you can do during your turn. It’s easy to teach and learn Container.
- It’s always interesting to watch what is going on during each round and each player’s turn give you new things to think about. You hardly notice when it’s not your turn as there is a lot to pay attention to. Your planning will evolve as people do things, and you discuss and negotiate with other players over possible future actions.
- There are varied paths to victory which become obvious after a few plays. Simply pursuing the goal card might not always yield the most money. It can be surprising to find out at the end of a game how much money players who were doing different strategies can end up with – it’s usually pretty close!
The Bad Stuff
- Container‘s rulebook isn’t the greatest. It seems to suffer from what I call ‘old rulebook syndrome’ – if you look at eurogame rulebooks from 10 years ago, they are written like technical reference manuals, rather than something that is designed for people to learn a game from. It’s extremely long winded and round about, and due to the lack of clarity we missed a few rules the first couple of times playing the game. Despite these comments, I will say, the rulebook is very comprehensive. Every question we had while playing was answered somewhere in the rulebook.
- In my opinion, the art and design in this edition isn’t up to scratch for a 2018 ‘premium’ game release. I will 100% acknowledge this doesn’t affect the gameplay whatsoever, but we are currently in an age where consumers can expect a very high quality standard of art and design in their boardgames. This was an expensive game, AUD$120+. Many other games at that price point released around the same time had outstanding art and beautiful design. To draw a well known example, CMON’s Rising Sun had a comparative price, and contained hundreds of amazing pieces of art along with a unifying and thematic design that drew the game together. While Container‘s art is serviceable, it’s nothing special (and it feels very outdated). The graphic design is, in my opinion, on par with 1995 Photoshop 2.0 trend. Uninspired white lines and boxes drawn over the art, clunky embossed logos and text. I can’t understand the design choices and it feels almost like Mercury Games just didn’t even care to provide the consumer with appealing art and design. Or maybe they blew all their money on the (as I will discuss next) ‘oversized’ models.
- I think the production of the ships is a bit lacking. I will preface this point by saying, I don’t really know the costs and complications involved in manufacturing, but we have other examples in this industry we can look to. I will bring back the example of Rising Sun. This game was made available to consumers at a similar price to Container. It had probably 30 unique sculpts, all amazingly detailed and high quality. I know CMON is a much larger company than Mercury Games, but Container only has 2 sculpts. Why did the production of this game apparently cost so much and have such lacklustre results? You can clearly see the 3D printing artifacts on the ship pieces. I’m not sure why they needed to made of ‘resin’ when plastic would feel better and be more sound. There were a lot of issues with the production of the ship pieces during the Container Kickstarter campaign. Again, I’m not sure how founded my complaints here are, but just by looking at other ‘chunky piece’ heavy games, I wonder how adept Mercury Games is with managing manufacturing and production. They definitely appeared to put a lot of hard work towards Container, but maybe they need to update their connections, processes, and seek advice from their contemporaries.
Ok – some gameplay issues:
- Container is certainly a ‘beat down the leader’ game. Its very nature as a game where player decisions control so much of the game means that players need to work to keep other players from making too much money. There are a couple of issues with this. The first is that it is sometimes not obvious who is actually winning the game at any one time, and players may ‘beat down’ the wrong person. Commonly, players will stop buying goods from the perceived leader. This can be frustrating for that player, but doesn’t usually last long.
- The Investment Bank module just isn’t very interesting. There’s a big cost in terms of actions to use it (half your turn) for a limited, non-guaranteed return. Auctions move at a glacial pace, often taking almost two rounds to complete, and no other Investment Bank actions can be done during this time. I think it would work better if auctions were resolved instantly.
- The end game scoring can take a while to explain. It’s a bit finicky. We usually go over it several times during the game and people always ask over and over again for clarifications on it.
- When players make economic mistakes or get stuck financially, the game can stutter a bit, for them and somewhat for all players. In the first game I played, because we didn’t really know what was going to happen there was a race to the bottom on pricing and as a result the game stagnated early due to the lack of money circulating around.
I think it’s very important to note that despite my complaints regarding production above, the feeling I get while playing Container is that of fun and engagement. It is a superb game at its core. While I don’t know if I can necessarily recommend this version production wise I think it’s an amazing game and it’s so much fun to play. Give it a go if you see it out in the wild, or if it sounds like your sort of game, see if you can get a copy. I don’t regret my purchase because I love the gameplay. Hopefully Mercury Games or another publisher will re-release this again soon in a more accessible (not jumbo) and ‘pretty’ package!