Top 5 Economy Based Board Games that Make You Think

by Xin Lu on 6 August 2009 22 comments
Photo: Agricola

My husband and I have a fairly large collection of board games that we play in our leisure time.  A good number of these games have an economic element that teach you to think carefully about how to invest your resources and best your opponents.  Here is a list of my favorite economy based board games.

First of all the following games belong to a big group of board games called  Eurogames.  This means that there is less conflict between players, less luck, and more strategy involved.  The antithesis to Eurogames is what board game players fondly call "Ameritrash", which are games that involve a lot of  rules, dice rolling, and all out bloody fights between players.  Those who like to play a bit slower and think a bit more  would enjoy the following games immensely.

Agricola

The premise of Agricola is that you are a farmer in a little shack and you have to build up your farm with your family.  You start with yourself and one other family member and then you have exactly 14 turns to make your farm as plentiful as possible with the basic available resources of wood, clay, reed, and stone.  Eventually you can also increase your family size by having babies, and also grow food and livestock.  This game is extremely interesting in that you have to formulate a slightly different strategy with every game you play since you are dealt a hand of possible occupations and improvements to your farm.  You also have to balance the food production of your farm with the improvement of your farm because your family members have to be fed every few turns. Every game of Agricola is different, and you could also play a one player variant where you try to beat a high score.

Puerto Rico

I like Puerto Rico a lot because there is almost no luck involved. Everything you do depend on what other players do.  Every player is a plantation owner that tries to build up the most valuable plantation in Puerto Rico while shipping goods from the plantation back to Spain  for points.  There are a set of occupations that the players can take every turn, and each occupation gives a certain bonus. Every player is then given an equal opportunity to do the actions of the occupation chosen.  There is also a pile of money that can be saved to upgrade the plantation.  You also have to manage your workers to get the best production results.  My general strategy in this game is to save up a lot of money to buy the best buildings because they give the most bonus, but it also takes some work to build up a viable income stream.

Power Grid

Power Grid is a bit like Monopoly with power plants, but there is a much smaller element of luck.  Every player is given 50 units of currency to start with, and then there is an auction for power plants.  Each power plant has a different minimum bid and they use different resources to produce different amounts of power.  Players also have to spend their money to buy resources and houses. The houses are placed on a map so there are also connection costs between the homes.  Once all the purchasing is complete players can use the resources they bought to power the houses they bought.  Each home that is powered generates more money.  This game is great for illustrating the laws of supply and demand because the prices of the desirable power plants go up as players bid, and the prices of resources also go up as they are depleted.  In the end of the game the player who powers the most houses wins, and in case of a tie the person  with the most money wins.

Caylus

I played Caylus a bit less than the others games on this list, but it is quite fun with more than two people.  The basic premise is that you are a serf to a king, and you try to win the king's favors by helping him build a castle.  In the meantime you try to collect resources and money for points.  You use your resources to build buildings in the kingdom and whenever another player uses a building you own you get a point.  You also get points for building castle pieces and favors.  Similar to Agricola, you have a limited number of workers to take certain actions, but you have to pay gold to take each action.  So in the entire game you need to balance the amount of gold you earn with the amount of actions you take because if you use too many actions it is possible that you cannot do much the next turn.  There is also a mechanic by which other players can screw up your plans by moving a marker that dictates where the actions end so you have to be wary of where you place your workers.

Le Havre 

Le Havre is probably the hardest one to master out of these five because there are a lot more types of resources to manage. You also have a lot of choices of actions to take with each turn so it is difficult to make a decision.  It can be described as a combination of Puerto Rico and Agricola since it involves shipping goods, feeding workers, and also purchasing improvement buildings.  Anyone can use the improvement buildings but some buildings require players to pay a cost to the building's owner.  This is also a game where the person with the most points win in the end, but you have to manage your money and resources carefully along the way to produce the best results.  This game could also be played single player.

Every year there are new board games being published so I am sure that I will be able to add to this list in the future.  I like these resource and money management themed games the best because they make you think of how to optimize an outcome with what little resources you have.  Although these games are quite simple compared to the real world, I think  you could definitely apply the basic principles in them to optimize and better your lives.  These games are also great for teaching older children the basics of money and resource management.

Are you a fan of any of these board games?  What's your favorite economy based game?

Disclosure: This post contains my Amazon affiliate links to the games. You could also get these games from your local game store and other reputable online retailers.  The games in my list are fairly reasonably priced and most are below $50 unlike the recently mentioned Cashflow board game which is in my opinion a money making scheme by the inventors. 

 

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Guest's picture
FMF

Great list! I'd be interested in reading a list of the best video games that have financial elements as well.

Guest's picture

My wife and I frequently play boardgames; we've found them to be a relatively frugal way to spend time together. We play San Juan more than Puerto Rico, and the buy-produce-trade element is interesting from an economic point-of-view as well: how do you get your economic engine going?

Another one we like is Monopoly Deal Card Game--this game clearly teaches to bank some savings before you invest, because you may lose your investments without savings in your bank.

btw, if you're on the Geek, look me up: "didaskalos."

Guest's picture

I love board games but I have never heard of any of these. Are they hard to find? Where can you buy them?

Guest's picture
Guest

There's probably a lot of places to buy them, even though they're not well known, but my favorite place is through Funagain.com. If you are used to playing a lot of board games, you can start with Agricola (it's pretty complicated). But if this is a start for you, you should begin with Puerto Rico.
With that being said, if you're experience is limited to games like Monopoly, Risk, etc., then I highly recommend getting "Settlers of Catan". It's probably the best "resources strategy" game, everyone loves it, the rules are simple but the strategy is very exciting. Of the games listed in the article, I'd start with Puerto Rico, then Agricola, then any others (PowerGrid is not really the same type of game, so save it for last).

Lynn Truong's picture

Hey Xin,

Which game would you recommend most for two players? My husband and I love Settlers of Catan (it wouldn't fall under your list, since it does include an element of luck -- dice), but it's no fun with just two people.

 

Guest's picture

Hi Lynn,
We love Settlers too, and found it a bit boring for 2 players. Carcassonne is a great game which is excellent for 2 players. It's not really "economics" like this game, but it is highly strategic.
cheers
Natalie

Guest's picture
Sailsa

Great Post! I am also an avid fan of Eurogames and own and have played everything you mentioned many times with Agricola being my current favorite. If you are looking for more economic board games, I would recommend several of the train games such as Age of Steam or its derivatives, any 18XX game (long and can be very difficult), or even things like Chicago Express. You could also try games such as Indonesia, Scepter of Zavandor, or Brass. If you ever have any questions about Eurogames, feel free to contact me on BGG, my alias is Sailsa. Happy gaming!

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi Lynn,

 

I think La Havre and Agricola are good for two players since they are fun to play with just one player.  Puerto Rico you need at least 3 and Caylus is definitely more fun with least 3.  Power Grid is a bit too easy with 2 players because the auction element is no fun with just 2 bidders. 

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Hi Mrs. Casanova, I posted Amazon links to the games on this post.  Some of them are actually quite cheap on Amazon.  For example, Puerto Rico is $30 with free super saver now.

Guest's picture

Of these five, Agricola is probably the best for two players. Be aware, though, that it's got a fairly steep learning curve. Be willing to give it a few chances - don't give up after one shot at it.

Lynn Truong's picture

Thanks, Trent. I'm a little surprised at the $50 price tag, but I can't pass up a good board game. =)

 

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Agricola has a lot of pieces, and if you think about it it is actually cheaper than a new video game.  There  are quite a few decent board game stores in the LA area that my husband used to frequent.  This is one that he went to a lot during college:  http://www.gameempirepasadena.com/.  Right now he uses cardhaus.com a lot, but shipping + tax could add up. 

Another cool place to browse in the LA area is Frank and Sons:  http://www.fs-collectibles.com/ .  They don't have a huge amount of board game dealers, but we have gotten a good deal on Battlestar Galactica the boardgame there. 

In the Bay Area we mostly go to Gator Games in San Mateo when they have 20% off sales, but even then Power Grid ended up being $38 because of high sales taxes. Power Grid is actually cheaper on Amazon right now.   Gator Games is a really cool little local shop, though, and the person in charge of their inventory  definitely has good taste in board games.   The hubby also has a 20% off discount at DJ Hobby in San Jose because he works for a game company and that's one of their work benefits. 

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

Carcasonne is a tile placement game .  It is a lot of fun and extremely easy to learn .  Alhambra is also similar to Carcasonne.

Guest's picture
Gina

Lynn--What's great about Agricola is that it plays different as a 2-player game than when you play with 4, so it's very versatile. You may really enjoy it as a couple but it will still serve you well if you have other board gamers over.

I used to balk at paying $50 a board game, too, but now that we've been collecting for almost 20 years and we're STILL playing some of them (like Settlers) with new friends, the cost vs. value ratio is fantastic. We also trade used games via BoardGameGeek and with local friends as a way to save money on this hobby.

Guest's picture
Amy

I vote for "Acquire" (the plastic version is better) and a bean trading game called "Bonanza", yes our board games cost more than all our furniture, but we make good use of it and it makes a good (cheap) night with friends.

Guest's picture
PseudoNoise

For those new to Eurogames, a lot of these games can be had on Amazon, but I also always check http://www.boardgameprices.com

My favorite on your list is "Power Grid" -- I like the supply/demand mechanism. I also hear "Container" is a very good (some say best) economic game, but I've yet to play it.

Guest's picture
Brian

One of my favorite games is "Medici." It's a bidding game that plays strongly upon supply and demand.

Guest's picture
Mark

A couple of other fun two-player games that my wife and I really enjoy are "Lost Cities" and "Set" - they're shorter/simpler, but a lot of fun!

Guest's picture
Simon

Agricola has been my favorite game since when it was first released in Germany. I spent about 6 hours putting together translations in to card sleeves so I could play it a year before it was released in English. It is definitely complex, but amazingly enjoyable and has a very high replay value. Try before you buy unless you are really sure, just to be safe.

Guest's picture
Guest

Just follow this link to boardgamegeek.com, they have a simple tweak for a 2-player setup, with all the game-play rules staying the same.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/48838

Guest's picture

I've just released an online adaptation of Puerto Rico called Tropic Euro. It supports the 2-player variant mentioned in the comments above and also the 2004 PR Expansion. It can be played for free at http://www.tropiceuro.com

Enjoy :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Battle Line is fun for two players and easy to pick up and play. Games are short. Games have a varying degree of luck based on what cards are dealt to each player. Close games can be very strategic. Carcassonne is fun too.