Container 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition! is as expected from the name a re-release of a 2007 container ship themed, economic, board game. Designed by Franz-Benno Delonge, Thomas Ewert and Kevin Nesbitt this new edition, from Mercury Games, sees 3 – 5 players thrown into a tight economic game full of big ships, coloured containers, factories and warehouses. Playing in around an hour and a half and being about getting small profits and purchasing containers, Container might not sound the most riveting title. However, does the game deliver? Let’s find out!
At the offset of the game each player will take a port player board, put the foreign island at the centre of the table and form piles of money and coloured containers within reach, with the amount of containers being determined by the player count. Players start with $20 and two $0 cards, with value being secret but not the amount of cards, and a unique scoring card that’ll indicate what each colour of container is worth in victory points to them. To give the game a bit of a needed boost each player starts with one warehouse, one machine and a container of matching colour.
Container might look like it might be a heavier economic title, and feel it from the weight of the box, but the gameplay boils down to one compulsory action followed by a choice of two from four actions. The mandatory action is paying interest to the bank, $1, for each loan the player has. Then, the player gets to perform two actions, either different or the same actions, from: building a warehouse/machine, purchasing containers for your harbour store, producing containers or sailing your ship.
For these actions it is important to understand the player boards. Looking at your own player board from bottom to top, as it is more logical, there is a row for building machines, a factory store row that machines produce into, a row for building warehouses, a harbour store row for containers brought from others and finally the port for others to sail into. Effectively you’ll build containers, others will buy them and store them in warehouses, those containers will then be finally brought, sailed and auctioned.
To produce containers, the only action you can only do once, you must pay the player on your right $1. This might seem odd but the rulebook gives loose reasoning that they are your union boss. This doesn’t stop it being odd but mechanically it’s in the game to add additional movement to money. By doing this you produce as many containers as you have machines, one per colour of each machine. There is a maximum number of containers you can have in your factory store, equalling double the number of machines you have built. Once built you can price/reprice all of your factory store containers.
When taking the action to buy containers for your harbour store you’ll be paying another player for containers they have produced into their factory store, with it being key to remember what you’ve paid in the long run. After getting the containers you want/can afford you are then able to price up the purchased containers, placing them into price slots on their harbour store. This is the same process as from factories but is further up the player board. One key difference is players cannot have more containers in their harbour store than built warehouses (not the 2:1 ratio seen for the factory store).
When purchasing a warehouse or machine there are a couple of limitations. For both you must have the room and there be an available building in the general supply. Machines have the additional caveat of only one per colour per player, to stop one player forming a monopoly on a colour. The cost is always indicated on the player boards, being the next number cost denoted by the next available space. The money is paid to the bank, reducing the overall pool of available money from players hands.
The final action is to sail, with there being three distinct location types: the open sea, players’ harbours and the Foreign Island board. The open sea is considered to be anywhere that isn’t a harbour or the foreign island, with ending movement here doing nothing. Moving onto another players harbour allows you to purchase from their harbour store, with purchased containers then sitting on top of the purchasers container ship. Note: it is not mandatory to purchase anything, this simply gives you the option to. Finally, by sailing to the foreign island a single auction is triggered for all containers a ship carried there. This ends your turn, even if it was the first action you took.
Auctions are where victory points will be earnt… well where they will be purchased. After consulting their scoring card players will secretly bid for the containers on the ship. Once ready everyone reveals their bid to determine the highest bid, with draws seeing another bidding round commence. Now, the shipowner has a choice, to accept or reject the highest bid. Accepting will see the shipowner get the money from that player and the same amount as a subsidy from the bank. However, the shipowner can instead decide to pay the bank equal to the highest bid to keep the containers for themselves!
Taking containers to the foreign island at the right time is vital, as go when money is flowing and the bids, thus your return, will often be bigger. Taking the bid and getting double the money also sees new money being added into the economy, otherwise even more is drained away. The game continues with players taking turns until the pool of two colours of containers has been reduced to zero.
At this point points are calculated, though Container has two twists in store for players. Firstly, players determine if they have managed to acquire at least one container of all five colours, as one colour on their scoring card will features a point value of 5/10. Have all 5 colours and it’ll be worth 10 points, otherwise containers of that colour are only worth 5. Finally, before calculating who has won, each player must discard all the containers of the colour they have most of. This tiny rule makes players eager to buy containers that’ll score them minimal points, an odd sounding concept. It is a unique scoring system, but one that makes each auction important.
At points in the game, as a free action, players can gain $10 from the bank by taking a loan. Once doing this it is almost a rush against time to get it paid off as you’ll start to bleed money, via the pre-turn action of paying interest. To make matters worse they’ll even count as -11 points at the end of the game. It is only possible to double up to a maximum of two loans. Doing this puts the player at risk of defaulting, where you are unable to pay the bank. This’ll see containers seized from your area on the foreign island, ship or harbour.
Container: 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition! can firmly be placed at the far end of board gaming indulgence, though despite the cost not everything included is perfect. Each player gets their own resin ship that has 5 slots for containers, that feels chunkily awesome as you push it around the table – garnering the childlike excitement of pushing a toy car around. Mercury Games might refer to these ships as miniatures but coming in at just under 7 inches I’m not entirely sure that is an accurate description. As these ships are huge the containers are also able to be large in size, making grand piles on the table or in warehouses.
The size isn’t just for show as it does result in components that aren’t in the slightest bit fiddly, something that small ships with regular cube sized containers could have been. I haven’t played the original, though from imagery this doesn’t look like it was an issue but the increase in size has occurred anyway, certainly rocketing the price of the game up. Unfortunately, the warehouses and factories aren’t much to rave about when seeing them next to the resin components, thus are acceptable at best.
While I must commend the developers from making the container colours and the player colours different, the dull colours used for containers can be somewhat similar. On a couple of occasions players have struggled with the beige and light grey containers, if not in decent light. Just make sure everyone is aware exactly what is on offer in the auctions and the impact of this issue is negated, or controversially turn a light on.
I like quality art as much as the next gamer, perhaps more… What adorns the boards of Container: 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition! would be fine for a £40-50 game. At that price I wouldn’t be bowled over but I’d not feel let down. However, this edition is double that price tag and I’d expect something special, that bit of art flair, that is missing. The UI of the boards is very much designed to be functional over being visually pleasing. Still these shouldn’t be exclusive terms especially in an edition like this, it should manage to be both.
To end on a component high the cards are decent and the inclusion of a $0 card for bid bluffing is brilliant. This simple addition adds tension and mystery into the bidding element of the game. Player not being able to determine what others have bid often sees bid increase faster, injecting more money into play as the game progresses. This isn’t always the case though as everyone could be using their $0 in an effort to throw opponents off and have a money based advantage.
Included in this edition of Container is an expansion module named The Investment Bank. Trying to get players excited to play Container is a hard enough task, with the dry theme not hiding itself. This is without mentioning the riveting expansion of investment banking. Asking the same players that have already left their prejudices about large ships in the open seas to go another step is almost too much to ask. This is especially the case when the investment bank module adds a potential step to each and every turn, slowing the game down. This certainly will be staying in the box in the future, as the core Container experience doesn’t need banking to make it more attractive.
One change from the original is a reduction of the container pools from 100 containers, split into colour groups of 20, to 85. While backers and those that pre-ordered were given the ability to purchase the additional 15 containers, to preserve the experience, the same cannot be said for retail customers. While the dynamic of Container would shift, due to a longer game, no one will miss out on anything from the experience with only 85 in play. On top of this, unless you’re playing a full player game not all of the containers are in play. While I doubt 100 would make the game overstay its welcome, the amount included allows for everyone to go through phases of relative affluency, penny pinching times and feel like they have made progress before two piles run out.
While the price shouldn’t affect the enjoyment of a game, there is simply no getting around the fact that Container: 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition! is large and expensive. The gameplay experience is easy to recommend, effectively being a few simple steps added together to construct an exciting economic experience. One game can be a tight slog to drive any profits; while in another, only a few windfalls of cash can see palms greased, at least moderately. Some will be put off by the low numbers and the sense of not getting anywhere fast but it is a nice change from point salad like games. It all comes back to the issue that the production is a mixed bag, something inexcusable for a game with this price tag. If your gaming budget allows it there is enjoyment to be had, it’s just a shame not to be able to recommend getting Container shipped towards more gamers’ shelves.
[Editor’s Note: Container: 10th Anniversary Jumbo Edition! was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game, which has an RRP of £109.99, is are currently available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]