Divide and Redivide
Yesterday, two to five oligarchs divided the planet to make space for their surplus mansion greens and car elevators. After World Splitters, World Exchangers, designed by Romain Caterdjian and Smoox Chen, jumps forward a generation. With humanity under thumb, what’s left for the ultra-rich?
They’re doing it all over again. This time, the stakes couldn’t be higher: for funsies.
Once a generation, our overlords come together to celebrate the one thing that unites us all. Christmas. Or commercialism. Same difference. For twelve months, they buy and sell the cities that are already theirs. Dallas for Singapore. Taipei for Maracaibo. Rio de Janeiro for Phnom Penh. I hear there’s great profit to be made from Mumbai next month. Better pick up Perth while it’s hot. The goal is to fill the soul-sized hollow in our dear leaders’ hearts. Barring that, to amass even greater fortunes.
Where World Splitters verged on the abstract, World Exchangers leans closer to the dystopian. Its protagonists are folks you’d suspect of hosting the most dangerous game if you bumped into them at a social gathering. It travels the world, but takes no joy in the sights, cultures, or peoples who inhabit those destinations. Its bonus track is for “propaganda.” Even its core gameplay loop is presented with all the razz of a profits quarterly.
Beginning with a handful of cities, each turn revolves around either selling a city you’ve already got or purchasing one that’s on offer. Twice per game, you can double that amount. To prevent this from being a zero-sum enterprise, in certain months cities will wildly appreciate in value. To give but one example, Havana is normally worth $100 but pulls $300 in months four, eight, or twelve.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Every added or subtracted amount is drawn onto your dry-erase board. This acts as a balance sheet, letting you know where your purchasing and selling capacity resides at any given moment. More than that, it also functions like a lightweight route-drawing game. Whenever your line intersects with a symbol, you earn it for the final tally. There are plenty to consider: orange, green, and blue icons that multiply the value of your corresponding cities; credit limits that spew out enormous bonuses if you accumulate enough; propaganda for persuading the world’s citizenry that climate migrants are a bigger drain on the economy than you selling and repurchasing Buenos Aires twice this year.
There’s plenty to think about, although like World Splitters it doesn’t always feel like it was soundly playtested. The market is the biggest offender. Everybody begins with a few starting cities, but you’ll want to trade those in for more impressive destinations before too long. But the market soon clogs with the stuff everyone has traded away, only resetting when it drops to a particular low point. There’s a mid-game reset, although since the turn order never changes that’s a bonus for the leading player more than anything. Especially in a game where you’re hunting for particular icons, the market comes across as weirdly limiting, and one wonders if it could have reset by breaking through the ceiling as well as falling through the floor.
Weaknesses aside, it’s the stronger of the two titles. It zeroes in on the thrill of letting your numbers and possessions tick upward while also highlighting the emptiness of blank ownership. In the end, there’s nothing tying you to Barcelona or Vienna apart from the green icons they award. Plenty of board games attempt to navigate the labyrinth between evoking what makes something special and the fact that these cards and tokens are, in the end, abstract mathematical additives to your final tally. World Exchangers doesn’t bother with the former. In its fiction, what you’ve purchased are not cities, not living spaces, not diverse and dynamic and, yes, sometimes troublesome locales. You will never enjoy them. For all intents and purposes, you’ve purchased receipts.
This satirical tooth doesn’t transform World Exchangers into a bigger or better game, but it does lend some minor quaver to the proceedings. The result isn’t bombastic or hard-hitting. Instead, it’s a quick-playing title that’s simultaneously amusing and fully aware of the cynicism that’s present in so many games of acquisition, let alone oligarchs swapping cities like toddlers trading chewed-up binkies.
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A complimentary copy was provided.
Posted on November 2, 2022, in Board Game and tagged Board Games, EmperorS4, World Exchangers. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
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