Good as Gold

Review Corner Writers

Posted by Review Corner Writers on Apr 1, 2016

It’s tax time, and either you have already blown your refund, paid the piper, or are like me and waiting until the last minute to file. No matter how you slice it, when April comes in these United States folks have their mind on their money and money on their mind. So it seemed like this would be a great opportunity for us to ask our writers to issue forth with their favorite games that involve money. Not “resource cubes” or games where the economics are all about converting said cubes into cubes of different colors. We’re talking about games where it’s all about making and spending cold, hard cash. Now, let me clear about something here. The official editorial position of The Review Corner is that money should always be represented in games by traditional, Monopoly style paper money. Money cards should be banned, as should any kind of money tracks. All of the fancy metal coins in the world still aren’t as cool as a big stack of play bills.

So let’s hear it writers- games about MONEY.


Hold up, I’m not going to wait for them. I’m putting this right up front. Sid Sackson’s 1964 design Acquire is the best money game ever made. Period. It is a seminal, hugely influential game originally published by 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, the folks that make adhesive tape among other products) and that remains justly in print today. Some folks don’t care for the latest edition, but only because the 2000 printing was so awesome with a big, plastic board with cool 3D buildings and lots of paper money. It’s a simple game about investing in expanding hotel properties, establishing majority shares, and either increasing their value by merging into smaller businesses or speculating on short-selling smaller properties. The strategies and tactics are clear and accessible, but the depth comes from the tile-laying gameplay and smart use of proximities. This is one of the foundational ur-games upon which this entire hobby is built.


Unlike a lot of Euro-style games, Power Grid is not a very clean design. It's filled with bits of upkeep that keep the game from falling apart, and it features an endgame that can often hinge on a single bad decision. But Power Grid is still my favorite game when I want to rake in that sweet, sweet dough. Although the money isn't the primary victory condition, it's the lifeblood that keeps the game moving. Every dollar is hard-won, and a huge part of the game is making sure your opponents will need to pay more for something than you. Maybe you'll do it by bidding up someone on that power plant they desperately need. Maybe you'll buy up all of the fuel they require, driving the price sky-high. Or maybe you'll take the city they needed to connect to their network, forcing them to pay through the nose to go elsewhere. And for those who want to keep exploring Power Grid, there are a multitude of expansions out there that all tweak the game in some vital way, creating incredibly varied and altogether brutal game states. I've been playing for years, and it still manages to challenge me and find new ways to make me sweat. Just be aware that, no matter what you need to do, you will always be one dollar short.


Breaking in and snagging the loot was the easy part. There was no way this team of criminals was going to have a problem with that part. Getting home with your share...that's where it got tricky. Ca$h & Guns is game of brinksmanship and deception where you and your opponents are going to lie, scheme, threaten, and sometimes shoot each other in the pursuit of that sweet sweet cash. It's incredibly simple to learn and pointing foam pistols at each other around the table makes for a very visceral experience. It's one thing to try to call your friend's bluff when she's claiming a card or a role, it's quite another when she's raising an eyebrow over the barrel of foam gun. It's tense, it's fun, and it's unlike any other gaming experience out there. Whether you play like Danny Ocean or Don Corleone, you're going to have a blast.


Greed is as sweet and smooth as the currency it asks you to manipulate. This is a competitive drafting game from Dominion hotshot Donald X. Vaccarino and it features slick and tidy engine building with an armored car's worth of variety. It's the late 60's and you're seeking property and gangsters to supplement income and booze. It does the whole 7 Wonders draft a card and play a card thing with much more pizazz and with much less hoop jumping. It's all about building CCG-like combos and cutting your way through a world of overpowered possibilities. When your plan comes together and you rattle off a huge action sequence you'll feel like you're pulling the strings on backroom deals and facilitating cash flow like Nucky Thompson.


There aren't many refunds, but there are deals to be made and money to be earned in Chinatown. While perhaps not the most culturally sensitive game on the market, it nevertheless provides a thrilling experience as players wheel and deal to create the most profitable shops. Nearly everything is negotiable, and clever players will vastly increase their wealth. In fact, even if two players seem close to working out a deal, you might jump in to sweeten the pot and snatch a good trade from an opponent. Earn your money through shrewd bargaining and growing businesses, and you just might become the richest player in Chinatown.


M.U.L.E. is one of the few games to successfully convey the meaning of money. It's not just victory points or a set exchange rate for architecture. In M.U.L.E., it's the stuff of life. It's the ability to acquire food, which governs your actions. It's energy to power your robotic farmers, smithore to make more of them, and chrystite to satisfy an indulgent galaxy. But more importantly, it determines who's the First Founder when the ship returns, and you're judged not only by the size of your wallet, but by the expanse of your land and the quality of the colony itself. Greed brings everyone down in M.U.L.E., as it does in the real world, and only those who truly understand money's utility can create a society we can all be proud of. Plus, you don't have to pay any damn taxes.


It's a blistering hot day in the desert and gamblers from all corners of the world have gathered around one of the great pyramids to lay down their money and wager on the fastest camel in a wacky, unpredictable race. That's the premise of this chaotic and adorable 2014 Spiel des Jahres winner. Players take turns wagering on the lead camel, setting obstacles in the paths of their rivals, or rolling dice from a pyramid-shaped cardboard monument to advance the competitors. The awkward critters have a tendency to pile onto each other when occupying the same space on the race track, and when a camel on the bottom of the stack moves, he brings those on top of him along for the ride! Money changes hands frantically, flowing in and out of pockets round after round in this fast-paced, ridiculous betting game where players are racking up the dollars for correctly guessing camel placement for each leg of the race (round), first and last place overall, or just for spending their turn to roll some dice and advance a camel. Incorrect bets will cost you a few dollars -- but how were you supposed to know that your sure-thing would end up flattened at the bottom of a camel pile?


Steam Park is a whimsical dice game that illustrates one of business’ core tenants: to make a profit, give the people what they want. Sure, in this case those people are robots and your business is steam-powered carnival rides, but the philosophy holds to form. As an amusement park entrepreneur you’re trying to rake in money through rolling dice and using the results to build rides, attract and keep visitors and clean up after them. The more you offer, the longer they’ll stay, the greater piles of cash you’ll roll in. Guests are particular, so you’ll need to build the right attractions when they show up. To that end a few well-placed kiosks just may boost your margins. Much of your ingenuity can go for naught, though, if you don’t maintain a clean park. And just like the competitive nature of the corporate world, the dice phase is simultaneous with bonuses going to those who are satisfied first. So you’ll have to decide if cutting corners with a less-than-ideal roll is worth the gamble or not. Because in the end Steam Park is all about the money.


More than anything else from Uwe Rosenberg's family of farming simulation games, to which this title about French shipping moguls somehow belongs, Le Havre is about prosperity in a purely pecuniary sense. While other games judge your success based on the diversity of your farm or your skills as a craftsman, Le Havre's only concern is your net worth, calculated as the cost (in francs) of all buildings and ships that you own at the end of the game, plus any loose change you have left over. Players take turns either collecting new shipments of goods from the harbor or using their single worker to activate constructed buildings. The single-worker system prevents one player from camping on a valuable spot the whole game, while the ability to use other players' buildings (for a small entry fee) requires you to maintain a certain level of liquidity while you build your asset base, as does the dreaded "feed your workers" phase at the end of each round. Some players have denounced the game as broken due to the extremely high value of a certain type of good (and hence a few specific buildings), but that merely makes competition over these spaces even tighter, forcing players to diversify their strategies when the buildings in question are occupied.


Money. It's all about the money. In a game packed with ill-gotten gains, from Glocks with missing serial numbers to duffel bags packed with dope, the only thing that really matters in Sons of Anarchy is how many assets you've turned into fat stacks of greenbacks by the end of the game. And that's the beauty of this grungy, overlooked gem: for something so dirty, its design is just so clean. Whether you're grunting "Ride!" whenever your gang rolls out or making everyone believe you're holding a bigger arsenal than you really are, it all comes down to how well you can manipulate the course of events to get filthy stinking rich. Half your gang might be rotting in the hospital or in the ground, the law might be breathing down your neck, and everyone at the table might vow to never trust you again, but so long as you bring home the bacon, you'll be making off like a bandit.


In Galaxy Trucker, your daring crews who fly rickety ships through the blackness of space are merely another expendable resource in your quest to get rich. Use them and abuse them efficiently enough, and you'll make just a little bit more profit than everyone else. The game encourages you, as a corporate overlord of a space truckin' empire, to take shortcuts, to cram just one more cargo bay on the ship instead of the shield generator you desperately need. It dares you to be a greedy penny pincher. The less you care about the lives of your employees, the better you will fare. Show up to the finish line with a burning hunk of metal, let everybody die--it doesn't matter so long as you make the most cash at the end of the day. And I can't think of a better way to convey a healthy sense of cynicism toward the ideals of a ruthlessly uncaring corporatism.