As a fan of Euro games, I prefer when my gameplay variation doesn’t come from a random number generator. I have very little interest in constantly rolling a dice and checking what happens, or flipping cards and making skill checks. In my mind, the best way to change game state is by player interaction. Allowing games to be radically different each time based on player choice offers a much more satisfying experience and expands replayability.
I consider Container to be more of a party style game, I don’t take it too seriously. This may seem odd given the game’s large price and very serious components and theme, but Container shines when players can take a light-hearted view on how the game is playing out. When talking about Container I laugh and say “It’s great, we’re going to be so screwed but it’s all our fault”. Games of container are determined by the level of greed of the players. There’s not dice that determines if things are expensive or cheap, if the money in the economy is high or low; it’s all decided by the players and it’s different every time. If no one has any money to buy anything it’s because of how we chose to interact with each other. It’s a fantastic representation of economies in that if I try too hard to make sure my opponents don’t have money, then who will buy from me? If every container on the market is overpriced, and no one has any money because no one was willing to pay a fair price on any auction, then we can just sit across from each other and reflect on what we’ve done while slowly trying to squeak out tiny bits of profit. The game isn’t at fault, we are.
Brass Birmingham also does a beautiful job of unfolding based on player choice. The classic supply and demand loop is controlled by the decisions of the player and can leave you in the dust if you don’t adapt. Even if you think you know what the ideal play is by someone else, if they don’t go that route then you were wrong. I managed to play a game with the lead designer Matt Tolman and he began the game by laying a neat canal next to Birmingham. A wise move, probably the ideal opening play. The rest of us picked our own corner of the map to expand from. I later commented that it was the second time in a row my games unfolded like that, he said that was very very weird. But in the end, we CHOSE to do that, the game didn’t randomly determine out starting location. Even game’s designer couldn’t predict what a group of 3 novices would do. Every turn could unfold the opposite directions. Turns can swing from “I really want to build this, but everyone’s dying for Iron and I can make a killing if I supply it” or “I was going to build this Iron Mine, but so many people are already providing Iron it’s not worth it”. It’s this system that allows Brass (Both new and original) to be replayed hundreds of times.
Variance is important in a game, without it a game stagnates quickly. The most satisfying games come from player interaction and the endless possibilities that spawn from the human mind. I don’t want to be given an experience, I want to create an experience. I want the way a game unfolds to be because of the agency my friends and I have in controlling its systems.