Wealth of Nations ★★★

Wealth of Nations is the only game where my degree in Commerce has felt like an advantage. No other title I’ve ever played does a better job capturing classical economic theory, from supply and demand to lesser-known concepts such as the bussiness cycle.

As representation of economics through play, Wealth of Nations has few rivals. As a game, though, I’m not as certain

CREATING WEALTH

The goal of Wealth of Nations is to be the player with the highest net worth. As the leader of a nation during the Industrial Revolution, it’s your duty to dictate which industries to build and to trade with other nations both to sell the goods you create and to buy the ones you need.

The game features a fairly closed economy. Each industry in the game requires cubes produced by other factories in order to create goods. In turn, those newly created goods are used to either power more factories or to build more of them. The market allows for some leverage, but make no mistake: the only way to profit is to fulfill the need of other players.

I really enjoy that dynamic. It might very well be the best part of Wealth of Nations. It creates a paradoxical need to rely on your rivals and to help them to some degree. Without them, it’s difficult to keep a sustainable income and you need to have something to offer in order to trade in a benefitial manner.

Unlike other games, having a large automatized factory is no recipe for success. If others don’t need, does it matter how efficient you can make them? You’ll be forced to sell to the general market, driving prices lower and lower and eating your own future profits.

One of the implications of this dynamic is that cash flow is more important than power. That is, being able to keep money in hand and make steady improvements is more valuable than quick development. The game goes through cycles of production and expansion, just like a real market, and capitalizing on them is key to win.

ECONOMY ON THE TABLETOP

It’s a beautiful rendition of classical economics. All the elements are here, the capital, the trading, the way division of labour allowing for greater efficiency. One can understand how your actions will change the economic landscape, how your factories rely on imported labour and hungry industrial consumers.

But in play, it doesn’t feel as compelling. Building factories and expanding on the board is fine, but it doesn’t have the tense decision-making of other games. Money is tight, and appreciated, but the turn-to-turn decisions are similar and unexciting. There’s no goal other than larger and better efficiency, a slowly-moving snowball.

In that sense, the game works against itself. In the long-run all industries are played the same way. The only different industry are banks, which produce money. Of course, money is simply another commodity. Great teaching moment, not that interesting from a gameplay perspective.

Ultimately, while Brass and Power Grid may not be as great economic models, they are much better games. The problem with Wealth of Nations is that I respect it more than I enjoy it. It has an undeniable strenght but, at the end of the day, it’s not raw strenght that I want to see. It’s lacking a layer of trickery, of spontaneous fun, a curve ball amidst efficiency concerns.

INEFFICIENCIES AND FLAWS

It doesn’t help that it’s too long. While I gravitate towards longer, more involved experiences, Wealth of Nations is about 90 minutes longer than it should be, even with the improved second edition rules. Trading, which is vital to the market mechanism, soaks up a disproportionate amount of time and slows down the game for very little impact.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling I’m being overly harsh. Capturing economic theory is no easy feat. It is, in fact, a momentous achievement. Whenever I think of games that can teach us about real life, Wealth of Nations will always come up as an example. It’s a game I could see being used to teach classic economics in school, length aside.

Lastly, Wealth of Nations is rounded by rather poor components. While cubes and the market are of solid quality, the rest are on the thinner side. It’s certainly not a looker, with few illustrations and somewhat garish colours. Given the nature of the game, component quality is unlikely to be a factor. That said, take our your poker chips, you’ll need them.

WEALTH OF NATIONS (2008)
GAME DESIGN Nico Carroll
ART Gregor Benedetti
NUMBER OF PLAYERS 4-5 (Best with 4-5) LENGTH 210 Minutes

2 Comments

  • Great review. I thoroughly enjoy this game, as does our gaming group. We played it 4-6 players and had a blast every single time. From outmaneuvering other players forcing them to pack their business and leave, to go all-in on debts and try to build a triumvirate of banks from turn 2. Like you said, the perfect economic similator, including a perfect rendition of economies of scale.
    Thanks for bringing this (underrated) gem under the attention!

    • Thank you! You can actually see me being driven out of the capital market (black) in the game the pictures are from. I think I only ran my black tiles twice or so.

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