13 July 2018
Feels like work, but pays off
Remember the excitement of doing taxes? Or maybe the fun challenge of solving a ponderous math percentage problem? Oh, right, these things are not fun. Yet, Goodwill’s rulebook lives in an alternative universe where words like ‘net profit’ and ‘optimise processes’, along with other dry, convoluted language apparently entices players to try the game. While this may be in line with the theme, there is always a place and a time to get out of character. When the subject you are broaching is confusing and dry, perhaps a better approach would be to figure out how to make the investment and finances fun, rather than perpetuate these qualities, leading players to want to give up on the game halfway through the rulebook.
As for Goodwill itself, the game is a delight. It is by no means a realsitic simulation of the world of investment, getting a few principles backwards, but nor does it strive to be accurate. Instead, Goodwill keeps the overall spirit of investing, mixing it with bidding and auctioneering mechanics that are influenced by a bit of guesswork, probability and misinformation.
Players are investors with shares of three different companies at their disposal. The goal is as old as time: enrich your coppers by making sure that you have stocks of the highest value. However, events can influence the value of the company; a scandal might push the CEO to resign, the prices of goods may fall or rise, or a great feature in the newspaper may bolster the business’ prestige. The main trick of Goodwill is that no player has access to all of the information. Out of four events that will happen in the game’s year, each player is allowed to look only at two, and not all events may come to pass. The rest depends on how trustworthy their fellow investors are and if they are willing to engage in a bit of insider trading.
Armed with some idea of things to come, players proceed to secretly bid on the companies, buying and selling shares. While this could have been a stale affair, a lot of strategies come into this bidding round. Why is someone selling the shares of the Amber Company? Do they know that something is about to happen that you don’t? Or did they realise that others are overbidding, buying a share for much more than it is actually worth? Maybe they just need some cash? Like in any game where players have a secret agenda or information, the most satisfying part is figuring it out.
Goodwill leaves enough clues to piece some of the wider picture together – everyone’s capital and a number of shares are visible – while retaining just enough ambiguity to add a twinge of uncertainty for a more competitive edge. Shares are essentially Goodwill’s take on set collecting, except the value of each card may change on a round-to-round basis. At the end of the game, it is not so much about who has the most money, although winning is always nice, but whether you have been successful at predicting your opponents’ moves while masking your own.
Goodwill adds up the concepts of risk, bluffing and betting from the real financial world, but subtracts all the boring paperwork and complicated graphs. It might be hard to approach at first – it’s mostly hindered by the ponderous rulebook – but, after playing a round or two, the most complicated part of the game is remembering the meaning of all the symbols on the event cards; the designers could have really included a cheat sheet. The rest of the gameplay plays out logically and, despite the theme’s subject, feels easygoing. Goodwill may not be the Wolf of Wall Street of board games, but it can make you feel The Big Short-like clever.
Don’t let the looks and the rulebook fool you; Goodwill is worth a try. A sociable game of bidding and set-collecting, with the stakes always changing; Goodwill’s sum total is a good investment of your time.
Designer: Julien Dauxert
Artist: Vincent Burger
Time: 90 minutes