The previous post gave a rough description of the population boards, and in this post we’ll have a look at the companies, all but one of which are involved in making sure the population has all the energy they need (and can pay for). This part of the game changed quite a bit between versions: the overall structure of the version used for Playtest 1 was based on models of the energy systems and divided companies into either producers or distributors of energy (two and three companies, respectively). As most of the energy used in the region is imported, this structure worked reasonably well for fossil fuel, biofuel, and electricity; for waste-to-energy, however, this was much too detailed, as what is in reality a single company working closely with the local authorities’ waste management department became two companies, one producer and one distributor. Thus, these two were merged for Playtest 2, and may even be merged with the waste collection department in the next version.

Setup of company boards for Playtests 1 (top) and 2 (bottom). This part of the game underwent quite a few changes between playtests: two companies merged, one disappeared altogether, and the general industry board was upgraded to a company, among other things.

Also, during Playtest 1 one member of the Control team noticed that many of the players wanted to talk to someone in charge of the ‘general industry’ board which I had placed on the sidelines as I did not at the time see them as directly involved in the energy system. For Playtest 2, I constructed a proper role and board for the export-oriented industry (called ‘Regional industries’ in the game) and gave them the role as the major employer in the region – the idea was that the population players, whose wages are paid for mostly by the export industry, would quickly notice when the export market began to fluctuate. This did not happen during the playtest due to time and scenario constraints, and so this connection will have to be tested in a future version.

The company boards are to be relatively straightforward: raw materials/energy is bought and then used in various types of building to make products/other types of energy, which are then sold to other players (or the market, in the case of Regional industries). Although this seems rather simple, I’ve found it to be rather difficult to implement in the game in a way that is easy to quickly understand for the players. This is partly because I’ve limited myself to using A3 boards – which are too small for the amount of cards and tokens stacked on them for some companies – but mostly because I’ve avoided going into designing game parts describing very detailed production/conversion mechanics, as this is to be a game that deals with the overall development of society rather than finetuning of specific mechanics: in short, more Diplomacy than Agricola.

Company board belonging to electricity distributor Conglomo used in Playtest 1. On the right side of the board, all the electricity purchased from the market (yellow tokens with lightning symbol and thin black board) and from two other companies (tokens with large lightning symbol and broad brown and purple boards). The card entitled ‘Electrical transformer station’ in the middle is used to transfer the electricity to the grid, represented by tokens such as the two on the left (yellow with mast/lightning symbol and broad orange board). This comes at a cost (energy loss due to e.g. heat) of 10%, which means that the 68 electricity tokens (each corresponding to 100 GWh, amounting to a total of 6.8 TWh of electricity) on the right result in 61 on the left, 59 of which has been sold to other players.
Company board belonging to electricity distributor Conglomo used in Playtest 2. In this version, the Electrical transformation station has been removed from the board and the energy loss-step skipped altogether, so that the electricity Conglomo buys is the same amount that is sold to other players. The two tracks at the bottom state available amount of electricity (brown) and the amount used/sold (blue). In Playtest 1, the Conglomo player spent most of their time trying to figure out where their electricity was sold to (almost all players in the room were their customers), so in Playtest 2 agreements had been added to the board, showing who bought and who sold electricity on a regular basis. Also, the power grid itself became two buildings with max capacity (a total of 60 at the start of the game) and maintenance needs (wrench symbols).

For Playtest 2, all companies were designed with three roles: CEO, salesperson, and operations manager. The CEO would be managing overall strategy and shareholders, the salesperson agreements to purchase the company’s products, and the operations manager purchase of raw materials/energy and the production/distribution buildings and their maintenance. As there were two players per team, they mostly took on all roles simultaneously and so this part of the system is relatively untested. An idea for next version is to expand the board horizontally so as to separate financials/shareholder happiness, available products/sales contracts, and production/maintenance, making for a more organized game experience.

Tracking progress of Conglomo during Playtest 1, inspired by Two Degrees to Midnight by Darren Green of Crisis Games. The price of the company’s shares could be increased by paying $10. The CEO was made a share holder of the company and their goal was to make sure their shares were worth as much as possible at the end of the game. This did not prove to be a strong motivation and this track was mostly forgotten.
Tracking the progress of companies during Playtest 2. All companies started with a share capital and at the end of each round would pay dividends to their shareholders (some of which were other players) as a percentage of that share capital. All companies started at 10%, and if they paid more than that (i.e. 15 or 20%), their shareholders would be happy and reward the company/CEO by increasing the total share capital; else, the shareholders would be unhappy and the marker moved down one step, decreasing the total share capital (repayment of which must be done by the company next turn) and eventually firing the CEO. Either way, the CEO/company had strong incentives to keep their shareholders happy – the logic proved to be somewhat difficult for most players to grasp, however, and it took quite some time to implement it.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the company boards in Playtest 2 was the profit/loss system as a motivator for CEOs to use the company’s money to keep shareholders happy rather than spending all on altruistic initiatives and blue-sky research. This has been a problem in other games I’ve constructed, and the share price track used in Playtest 1 was mostly ignored, likely because it didn’t do anything to the company, only to the final score of a single player in a game that is seen as being won by all players collectively (saving the world) or at least the team. The system used in Playtest 2 was confusing to get into, but at the end of Turn 2 was very noticeable – huge sums were paid in dividends and the companies that didn’t manage to were severely hampered (and very susceptible to invitations to use ‘creative bookkeeping’ to dip into next round’s earnings to pay for dividends this turn). A slightly modified version of this system will be used for coming playtests and the rules written down for CEO to study beforehand, so as to make it easier for them to plan ahead and set aside part of the profits to get ahead in the game of having enough money to spend on making changes.

A very interesting observation is that none of the players objected to this ever-growing-profit system, and only one company tried to plead with their shareholders using a promising plan for reusing waste as raw materials to keep them happy without having to pay steep dividends. In degrowth scenarios this will probably come to a point where companies need to choose between paying off their entire share capital with locally raised funds or going bankrupt, which will be interesting to see. It will also be interesting to see a game in which population players become aware of and begin questioning the system as it enriches some of them, but drains quite a lot of money that could have been used to aid in transitioning to a sustainable society.

In the next post I’ll be covering the local authorities boards and the waste management system, among other things.