02 January 2022
War. What is it good for? Absolutely coining it
This article originally appeared in issue 62 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
It’s 1861 – in the world of this game, not in real life – and you are a legitimate British businessperson only too happy to assist the brave troops fighting in the American Civil War. In fact, so committed are you to justice that you’re supplying both sides, just to be sure one wins. You and your fellow entrepreneurs can arm infantry, sell cannons, and even lay down railway to ensure one side proves victorious. Who do you want to win? Why, whoever will make you the most money, of course.
Profiteers is a deft bit of political satire in the form of a stripped-down, relatively simple card game. The central mechanic involves you and the other players adding cards, with various military resources on them, facedown, to either the Confederate or the Union side in the conflict. You can even back both during a single engagement. Since you’re committing troops and guns one card at a time, you might switch allegiance after seeing what the other players appear to be going for, so there’s a semi-blind bidding element to every battle.
Between battles, you can build factories – either Confederate, Union or British (this last type being more expensive, but able to produce troops for both sides) – and invest in special contracts, which give you extra financial incentives. For example, hiring an Undertaker earns you one gold per troop card involved in a conflict, as you clean up burying the bodies. On the other extreme, investing in a saloon means you want as many troops idle – and drinking – as possible, and you earn gold for cards left in players’ hands after a battle.
Each player also has secret victory bonds, which will earn them extra money at the end of the game depending on who wins the war. They might benefit from a Confederate win, a Union win, or they might do just as well if the war ends in a stalemate.
Profiteers is a notably ugly game. Not in the sense that it deals with the moral repugnance of capitalism and slaughter’s mutual dependency, but in the sense that it looks like butt. The design and artwork feel like they barely got past the prototype stage. It’s not that a game needs lavish production, big linen-finished cards or plastic miniatures, but the cards look like they were knocked up in MS Paint in an afternoon. The not-quite-realistic, not-quite-cartoony art style is tonal mess. Old facsimiles of union bonds are juxtaposed with lavender text and bright blue washes.
Griping about aesthetics might feel like nitpicking, but in a game with so few moving parts, the art’s doing most of the heavy lifting in terms of theme. Consider how another quick, compact card game, Love Letter, conveys so much flavour with so few components.
It’s a shame, because underneath the slapdash, amateurish presentation lies a promising little tug-of-war, where you and your horrible opponents are continually tussling to tilt the war in whatever direction will earn you the most gold. Figuring out how many resources to commit to either side, and what your opponents might be shooting for, is fun. There aren’t lots of complicated mechanics to learn, only a few types of cards, and the game plays out in around half an hour.
Even Profiteers’ small box is around 70% air, meaning if you transfer the contents to a small bag they’d fit inside your coat pocket. A simple, quick, travel-friendly card game with an interesting theme? Those are all great qualities. It’s just disappointing that more care and competence didn’t go into the presentation.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Profiteers is a diverting but underbaked title that, ironically, could have done with a little more investment.
Another small-box card game where you’re bidding while trying to manipulate the market is Reiner Knizia’s Wildlife Safari. Behind the odd presentation – a boxful of plastic animals – and not entirely coherent theme lies a snappy, cutthroat little game of speculation and trickery.
Designer: James Dickinson
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Time: 30 minutes
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