51 Mechanics: Commodity Speculation


BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?

The Commodity Speculation mechanic has long been a personal favorite. It combines aspects of other mechanics I like in ways that make all of these games that follow especially tense, strategic and difficult to manage. The upshot of these games is this: the player who wins is going to have the most of a particular asset (e.g. paintings, stock certificates) at the end of the game. The tricky part - the players are going to be making decisions over the course of the game that will determine the ending values of these assets. They don’t all have to start or end in the same place and generally won’t. The shrewd player will be able to manage the degree to which they are at the mercy of other people’s decisions while also forcing other people to act in ways that both help themselves…and you.

The Gallerist (BGG Rank: 67)

The Gallerist is one of these great modern games that comes in a box half-again as large as a typical “big box board game,” and weighs approximately its BGG rank, at this writing, 67 pounds. I jest only because if you are a hard-core gamer or wish to become one, this is the game to which you should aspire. The Gallerist is a relatively straightforward Set Collection and Commodity Speculation game embedded in the heart of a wickedly complex Worker Placement game. One of the most fun and most complex Worker Placement games I’ve every had the chance to play. You are an art gallery owner. With the help of however many assistants you choose to hire at the Unemployment Agency, your job is to find a few artists and then flog the hell out of them on the art market to make their stuff worth some sweet, sweet $$. Stay tuned for a new podcast featuring my partner and me discussing games we own but haven’t played enough of yet called “Game of the Week.” Our first episode will be about The Gallerist.

Modern Art (BGG Rank: 221)

I have sung Modern Art’s praises so many times and for so many reasons, I thought perhaps I’d leave it out. But it’s just too good a game to leave out. So it’s in the list! Now go buy it. It’s the most sublimely balanced auction game there is. What makes its balance perfect is the Commodity Speculation mechanic. There are five artists. How much their art is worth at the end of the turn depends entirely on how many pieces of their art were offered at auction. In the event of a tie, the artist whose work is more common in the communal deck loses out. Playable in 45 minutes. And replayable for a lifetime.

La Città (BGG Rank: 532)

La Città is an oldtimer on this list, published in 2000. You control two cities in the Italian countryside. Your object is to build them up over six turns such that they have attracted away the populations of your opponents far drabber and inferior cities. I’ve never won this game…no idea what I’m doing wrong. And it’s a bit long, but a slick design and concept.

Container (BGG Rank: 571)

There are lots of gamers whose opinions I deeply respect who say this is their favorite game of all time, period. For the right kind of player, I can see why. It’s fiendishly difficult economics engine keeps even the most subtle number cruncher at the limits of their brain processing power. Did I just mistakenly produce the wrong kinds of goods? Did I buy the wrong kinds of commodity’s off my competitor’s ships in a way that down the road is going to advantage the player on my left? I thiiiink so? A very fun brain melter.

Tesla vs. Edison: War of Currents (BGG Rank 1654)

This game deserves way more love than place 1654. Dirk Knemeyer has designed a very easy to learn but difficult to master game about the age of industry in the United States at the end of the 19th century. A player is assigned the role of one of the age’s visionary inventors (like Tesla…and Edison) and is put in charge of making sure that that company comes out with the most cash at the end of the game. The value of stock and both DC and AC technology shifts in response to player decisions, so it’s critical to keep a very close eye on what your competitors are doing.

La Città cover image from: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/172550/la-citta?size=large