Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Jacob Marley

Jacob Marley is a board game  published by Cheapass Games in 2004. It no longer appears on the company's website, hence sadly is probably OOP. If the name sounds familiar to you, it is because Jacob Marley is a character from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, namely Ebenezer Scrooge's former business parter and one of the ghosts that appear to haunt him.

Jacob Marley is not a game about ghosts, however. It is a game about banking and money lending in Dickensian London - this is right up my street, finance with London history - what more can you ask for?

As a Cheapass Game it does require you to provide your own counters, money and dice. I ended up using old Risk and Diplomacy counters and some money from an old chocolate Monopoly set (all the chocolate having been consumed long, long ago).

My daughter is increasingly getting into board games and card games, particularly the likes of Cluedo and Monopoly and variants thereof. She does not like games about fighting and killing, which immediately excludes about 75% of my collection, and is not a fan of games where she can be pressured into a bad trade (Settlers of Catan). Jacob Marley fits the bill. Players travel the streets of London making loans to one of six different types of individual, ranging from criminals at one end to law firms at the other.

Clients are represented by cards, which include period illustrations, how big a loan is needed, and how much interest will be paid. It also includes some amusing flavour text (e.g. a shipping company that needs the money to finance a three year voyage to mature a cargo of rare cognac).

The game includes an interesting market matrix, which tracks the fluctuating fortunes of each segment of society, which impacts interest rates and the speed at which loans are paid off. The winner is the first player to score 30 points, but these can only be garnered when you hold loans in a sector that is doing economically well. This might cost you in terms of lower interest, and loans paid off early, but you do win those vital points.

The trick is to try to move the market up in areas where few or no other players hold loans. Hence, if you are the only player with an actuarial client, then you want to try to push actuaries into the comfortable zone on the market grid, as this will let you score points when no one else can. If everyone is lending to individuals, then there is less point boosting individuals, as everyone will score points. Indeed, if some players have more individual clients than you, they will score more points than you, even if it is not your turn.

Criminals and individuals are easier to lend to, as they typically require less money. However, they represent riskier loans, as they are more likely to default. In addition, these loans seem to pay off quicker, and it can be worth saving some cash during the game to be able to lend to the lawyers and actuaries sooner than your competition.

Jacob Marley is not a classic game, and has likely not sold as well as this company's other titles, like Kill Doctor Lucky, nor is it likely to be regarded as one of the better finance / business games. But it is a gentle game, not complex, and playable in under two hours, which makes it good for at least part of a relaxing evening.

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