Published on August 2nd, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Conglomerate: The Business Board Game
Summary: A competitive game for competitive people that delivers on exactly what was promised.
What if Monopoly were a decent game?
If you are reading this site, I feel pretty confidant in saying that you have played Monopoly at some point in your life. Monopoly is probably the most prolific trademarked game in the United States, if not the world, and its reach is surprisingly far. Most of the authors of this site when introducing themselves mentioned Monopoly in some capacity, mostly one of scorn or derision. I also feel safe in saying that most people don’t enjoy Monopoly, no matter what kind of nonsense license they slap on the properties, it is really just an antiquated game that takes forever and isn’t really any fun to play. So when Port Supply Company, the makers of Conglomerate, approached the site about doing a review of their soon-to-be Kickstarted game that seemed to be a modern take on that decrepit “classic”, I was dubious to say the least. After playing, I have to say that I am actually surprised at the level of thought and care that obviously went into what I can only describe as a love letter to a game that permeated so many of our childhoods.
(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make it clear that Across The Board Games received a free review copy of Conglomerate.)
I have to make another disclaimer at this point: the copy that we received for review is a Beta Version of the Conglomerate game. What this means is that though the photos you look at appear to be final products, these are only proof-of-concept at this point and many changes can and will happen between now and the end of the Kickstarter project that Port Supply will do. That said, I feel like the components that we got to play around with were of outstanding quality. The box was sturdy, the cardboard tokens were thick, the cards were all of an acceptable stock, etc. The paper money that you get is very much not at all like Monopoly money, which was a relief. Instead, the cash is the same size as US bills and is printed on a glossy paper. The component that really stood out though were the poker chips. Conglomerate uses these chips for part of its gameplay (more on that below) and when I opened the box I expected there to be some crappy little plastic checker pieces, which admittedly I wouldn’t have minded. Instead what came with the game were 60 actual poker chips, not the ceramic kind, but the high quality, heavy plastic kind that could be put into a sock and used for mafia work. Overall, the quality of even the beta version of the game was high, so I expect to see a lot of good stuff come from the Kickstarter version.
As far as the art goes, things are a little more hit and miss at this point. While the game looks pretty cool all set up, individual pieces aren’t that interesting to look at. The art on the Professional Service Cards is spot on and exactly what I’d want out of a corporate game. There is a variety of genders and races, with three of the professions being white men, one woman of color, and two men of color. The game’s graphic design could use some polish: the profession cards have a lot of white space, the game cash is all slightly different shades of off-green that make it hard to tell apart at a glance (like real US money) and the game board could be a little less busy. I’m pretty sure I understand the thought process behind all these decisions, but hopefully things will be revamped a little during the Kickstarter. With the quality of what we have so far, I feel that great changes are in the queue.
This is the real meat of it, you want to know how this baby works, the nitty gritty. I will say, if you’ve ever played Monopoly you will find Conglomerate like going back to your home town after being away at college for four years. There are many similarities to the way the game feels as it plays, even if the gameplay itself isn’t exactly the same. This is a good thing, in my opinion. It evokes a sense of nostalgia without relying on it to present the game as it currently is.
The object of Conglomerate is to knock every other person out of the game by forcing them into bankruptcy. Once you hit zero dollars you are required to sell off properties that you own to make up the difference, if you can’t, then you’re out. The middle of the board is a 5×5 grid that consists of the properties you will buy throughout the course of the game. The idea of the game is to move production tokens from the yellow “mine” level all the way through to the blue “retail” level by way of the “refinery”, “manufacture” and “wholesale” levels. Each tier of production also has properties of varying capacity, from 1 to 5. The capacity number represents how many production tokens, generated by mines, that a particular property can hold. A large part of the game consists of trying to move your production tokens up various tiers to the retail tier, where they can be “sold” to other players. A lot of the complication of the game comes from not being able to easily control how much token capacity you have at a given level, which means there are many bottle neck areas to work around.
Every player starts out with an amount of money and two random properties, then places their pieces on the starting space. The turn consists of a roll and move component, rolling two six sided dice (2d6) and moving that many spaces around the board. Half of the board’s outside ring is “good things” and half of it is “bad things”, divided along the sides of the board (ie: two adjacent sides of the board are “good”). Landing on one side of the board has you fill the mine space you landed on to capacity with production tokens (regardless if it’s yours or you want to do that). The next side has you paying taxes to the bank, taxes that scale depending on how many production tokens you happen to own at a particular production tier. After that there is a side where you have to buy production tokens that players have left in their retail squares, this is like landing on someone’s hotel in Monopoly and is potentially really bad news. After that is a side where you get to receive a random professional assistant of some kind (like a politician, a union leader or a lobbyist) that helps you in your cause.
While the game is not actually complicated in play, I feel like it’s hard to describe in words how the game actually plays. It feels a lot like Monopoly in that you roll and move, buy properties, get taxed and have to pay your fellow players for the privilege of landing in their space on accident. On the other hand, having each side of the board be themed in one particular way made it easier to gauge what you had coming up on your next turn. Also, the buying mechanic is totally different. Instead of landing on a space and buying it, you’re trying to buy properties in that 5×5 grid. So on a typical turn you’ll roll, move, do the tile operation and then look at the grid (which lines up perfectly with the spaces on the side of the board). The first non-taken property on the grid in the row/column you happened to land in is available to purchase. This means that you don’t always have to land in one particular spot on the board to grab that property you like, and it also means that selling back properties you own to block off certain rows/columns is a legitimate strategy if you want to be a dick to your other players (pro tip: you do).
One word of advice for playing Conglomerate: the more people, the better. Nicole and I played through the first time with just ourselves, and even the Sudden Death rules seemed to take a really long time. With fewer people playing it becomes easier to get all the different tiers of your business just by yourself, and then the game devolves into a roll and move “who can get the best roll first” kind of a game (particularly in regards to the “Free Parking”-esque corner spaces). In the beta rules we were given, trading, selling and buying from players, as well as making alliance and business deals were all explicitly encouraged. In larger games this is absolutely necessary to the proper functioning of the game, as there are really only so many properties. I personally like the idea of this mechanic, as that always seemed to be something people wanted to do in Monopoly but it never quite worked out. Once you add a bunch of people, everyone is missing at least one tier of production and then the real fun begins. Haggling, selling production tokens to other players, buying them back at a higher price, trading professional service cards for favors takes over at that point and then the real fun of the game comes out. Ideally I’d play this game with 5-6 people, but really the absolute minimum I’d play with is four- despite the box saying 2-6.
To wrap up this behemoth of a review I’d say this: Conglomerate is a good game. If you like intensely competitive games, this is exactly the kind of game you want. It takes all the feeling of Monopoly and makes it a game that is absolutely worth playing. Conglomerate is not without flaws and those who dislike competition or haggling will definitely not enjoy the game, but for those looking for some great cut-throat capitalist gameplay that genuinely adds new elements to the board game world, you should really do yourself a favor and play this game.