The games I grew up with had dice and cards. Lots of random chance that had us yelling in either joy or rage, blaming callous deities for the slight miss of a Yahtzee or the color in Candyland that sent you moping back to the beginning. No amount of pleading would get Princess Lolly to intervene.
Yet, along with my opinion of chaos in life, chaos in board games soured. What had been an opportunity for hilarity, for luck to obliterate skill like the jester executing the judge, seemed instead to be an easy crutch for game design that didn’t want to take the time and craft an intricate dance for its players.
Container does take that time, though the dance is a brash one, full of big molded ships and weighty pieces. There are no dice to be found here, and the one piece of chance, the dealing of secret points cards and the choosing of an opening type of production, are both dealt with randomly and equally. Which leaves the players, upon the opening round, with their own wits and nothing more.
Trades commence. Deals wheel. Production fills the game space with more colored containers while the ships themselves drift from port to port in search of the best deal. If you’re the only person making purple, maybe you price them high. But not too high, because then nobody’s going to be able to afford your luxury goods. Or maybe you want to discount them, try to get them sold off in bulk and make your profits through volume.
When you get those profits, do you spend them upgrading your harbor to store more of those pricey containers, or do you hold it because the Blue Player’s got a full ship and is heading towards the island, full of valuable cargo you want to bid on?
Container is a game of relatively few rules. Within a single round, most of the concepts are clear and strategies emerge. Table talk abounds as the whole game is interaction, though rarely of the negative sort. Most of the time, players won’t know who won or lost till the very end, which keeps everyone invested in shuttling the containers around.
If there’s a negative, it’s the game’s greatest strength. Container is pure economics, and people who don’t have a head for supply and demand, or who have lust for playing price games or trying to cajole someone to please, please, just buy something already are going to find themselves mired in debt and missing out on some of the action. No dice rolls to save you here.
Also, the boats. They’re fantastic. You actually load the containers on them. Talk about killing it with theme. Some nights, all you really want is a perfect distillation of a micro-economy that runs on boats. Container‘s there for you, no doubt about it.