This game is published by the Canadian company, Valley Games, Inc. It’s initial launch was in Germany at Essen in 2007. This was their first original game design release. Prior to this, Valley Games was publishing updated modern versions of some well loved and classic out of print board games.
Container is designed by Franz-Benno Delonge & Thomas Ewert. Franz-Benno Delonge died in 2007. This was his last published game. The artwork is by Mike Doyle and gives a clean, modern, almost sterile, look to the game.
The game is for 3 to 5 players and is estimated by the publisher to take about 90 minutes to play. Minimum recommended player age is 12. On Board Game Geek this game has an overall rating of 7.1 / 10. That’s actually pretty good when you consider that the number 1 ranked game is rated 8.3.
Container retails for $59.95. I’ve seen it in-stock and available for purchase on-line for a little less than $40.00.
Container is an economics game. Each player manufactures, buys, sells, and ships containers of various colors. At a very basic level this game presents a clean economic model. The interesting twist, and what makes this game really stand out for me, is that each player must create the economic conditions that causes other players to buy and ship your own goods. You cannot buy or sell your own stuff. You need to create the pricing incentives to get the other players to take actions that can allow you to win.
It’s not a co-operative give, but you need the other players to do things for you to win. Container is actually a very competitive game that is fun to play. The rules are easy to learn, and like most challenging games, winning strategies are difficult to master.
Game Description by the Publisher
Container is a game about big ships and big production. Each player will play both the producer and shipper of goods. Players will decide which products they want to produce, and which of the OTHER players’ goods they want to ship out to a remote island. During these phases, players will be able to set the prices for their goods and try to maximize their cash!
Once the goods have reached the island, players will play the part of the purchaser for their tiny island. Players bid for the goods arriving each day by ship, and the highest bidder collects these goods for conversion into points at the end of the game.
Sounds simple? It is! But the real challenge is turning heavy industry production into goods for your island. Your government is willing to subsidize your purchases, but just how much money do you want to give to your competitors for that lovely crate of goods your island desperately needs?
What’s in the Box?
The box is attractive. It’s the same size as the Die Macher board game box, also published by Valley Games.
Inside, you’ll find several game boards, an individual one for each player and a central “island”. There’s also a well written rule book, many colored wooden pieces, a stack of cards, and some very cool looking Container Ships.
There are 3 card types. They are all about the same size as those found in other euro-games like “Ticket-To-Ride” and “Warrior Knights“. In the picture you can see the fronts and backs of the cards. The larger stack of tan colored cards are the Currency. They are all the same on the back.
On the front side of the Currency Cards you can see denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20. Players keep their money value secret from the other players, that’s why they all look the same from the back. There are also some Loan Cards.
Each player also receives one “Value of Containers” card. Each card is unique and kept secret. We’ll review game play later and explain how this works.
The feature components are these cool looking Container Ships. Each player gets one. They are made of a plastic resin and have an interesting weight to them. Some people have remarked that they feel gritty, or rough. It’s tempting to push your little Container Ship around the table top like a toy.
Here’s another shot of an empty ship. When we play the game we like to use a blue felt playing surface on the game table to emphasize the theme.
Obviously the Container Ships are meant to ship Containers. Here are 2 ships showing a full load and a partial load of the little wooden Containers.
Each player also gets one game board which matches the ship colors. You can see that color matching is not always as close as you would like. The “white” player board matches up with a cyan or light blue-green colored ship. The “blue” player board gets a very dark, almost black, ship.
The colors of the components are one of the only real complaints I’ve noticed about the game.
Container Ships deliver Containers to the Island board, where they are stacked on sections of the Island belonging to each player. Note that the player board and Container Ship colors are unrelated to the 5 colors of the Containers themselves.
The Containers are made of little wooden pieces. There are 5 Container colors. They are “tan”, “white”, “black”, “orange” and “brown”. You can see from my photograph that in some lighting the “brown” and “orange” pieces are a little difficult to distinguish. The photograph shown here is not very good and tends to exaggerate how close together they really look. The previous photograph in this review of a red Container Ship containing 5 Containers renders the 5 colors better.
The game comes with 100 Containers. 20 in each of the 5 colors.
Containers are manufactured by Machines in factories. These round wooden pieces are placed in player factories during game play. There are 5 Machine colors that match the Container colors.
The game comes with 25 Machines, 5 in each color.
The last set of wood pieces are grey Warehouses. These are placed on the player boards to represent harbor capacity.
There are 25 Warehouses available.
That’s it. The components are of a decent quality and look interesting when the game is underway. The colors do seem a little “washed out” to me. I really don’t think that’s what the game designers and artist intended. If you look at the box cover art, the colors certainly seem more vibrant. But this is only a minor complaint.
Game Play Overview
Here’s a quick summary about how the game economic “engine” works. Each player has a Player Board, and Container Ship. They also own a specific section on the Island board that matches their player color.
During the game a player can produce Containers at their factory from their Machines. White Machines produce white Containers, etc. It costs the player money to manufacture Containers.
Any Containers that a player manufactures are offered up for sale in their own Factory Store. The player establishes the prices for any Containers they make.
Players can purchase Containers from Factory Stores. However, you are never permitted to purchase from your own factory. Containers purchased from another player are then placed on your own Harbor Store. Again you can set the prices for these Containers however you like. Presumably you would set your selling price higher than what you paid. However, you may offer them at a loss to keep someone else from selling their same colored Containers.
Players can also move the Container Ships between the harbors and the Island. You are never permitted to purchase Containers from your own harbor.
Finally, Container Ships deliver a load of Containers to the Island and the other players bid to purchase the lot for placement on their own section of the Island. Ultimately, the Containers on your own Island section are worth money at the end of the game. The winner is the person with the most cash when the game ends.
At the start of the game, each player takes a Player Board and matching Container Ship. The Island board is placed in the center of the game table. Piles of all the components are set to the side where they can be easily reached.
Each player places their Container Ship out at sea, somewhere nearby on the game table, but not on the Island board nor docked in any player’s harbor.
The Player Boards are oriented on the game table such that the harbor side of the board is facing towards the center to the table. Other player’s Container Ships will hopefully come and visit your own harbor.
The number of Containers available for use by the players is limited at game setup. When there are 3 players, only 12 of each color are used. For 4 players, use 16 of each color. When there are the full compliment of 5 players, all 20 Containers of each color are available. The count of available Containers is important because when enough run out, it sets the game ending condition. More on that later.
The next row on the Player Board is for Warehouses. They are labeled “-“, and 4 through 7. The “-” location means that Warehouse is free. Every player begins the game with 1 Warehouse on their Player Board. When you want to add Warehouses, you pay the cost written for each one you add.
The next row back is the player’s Factory Store. These have prices marked of 1 through 4, and are written for the other players to see.
The last row, closest to the player, has 4 round circles. There locations are where you place factory Machines. The prices marked are “-“, 6, 9 and 12. At the start of the game each player also begins with one Machine in the “-” location. You can see that adding Machines to your factory is much more costly than adding Warehouses.
There is also a place on your Player Board where you would place any Loan cards you may have.
So, each player begins with 1 Warehouse on the “-” location on their board. Every player also starts with 1 Machine. At the start of the game, these are handed out randomly and each player must have a unique colored starting Machine. No two players can begin the game with the same colored Machines.
Each player then receives 1 Container matching the color of their factory Machine. It is placed in the section marked “2” in the factory store. That is, every player begins with 1 Container for sale at $2.
Everyone begins with $20 currency. Choose someone to play “Banker” to make this efficient throughout the game. Remember to keep your money secret.
Next, the Value of Containers cards are shuffled and randomly handed out. One card to each player. These also remain secret until the end of the game. Here’s an example card.
4 “orange”, 3 “tan”, 2 “white”, 2 “black” and 5 “brown”. Since you have all 5 colors, the “tan” Containers are worth $10 each. Since you have more “brown” Containers than any other color, you remove all the “brown” Containers.
This gives you an Island income of:
(4 x $10) + (3 x $10) + (2 x $6) + (2 x $4) = $40 + 30 + $12 + $8 = $90.
You can see that you will want to collect a majority, but only slightly, of the least valuable Container color.
I made a Player Aid sheet you can print out that helps to keep all this straight. It’s available here.
Play proceeds in clockwise rotation around the table. Each player, during their turn, takes any pre-turn action and then gets to choose 2 from any of 4 possible actions.
The pre-turn action is related to Loans. At any time, a player can take out a Loan from the bank. A Loan, when issued, gives the player $10. You can only have 2 Loans at a time. Before you begin choosing your player actions, you have to pay interest for each outstanding Loan you have. The interest is $1. Now that may not sound like much, but in this game money is tight. And if a player is unable to pay the interest at the start of their turn there are pretty serious consequences. The bank will seize a player’s Containers, valued at $1 each, to pay off the interest. These would be taken from your Factory Store, Container Ship or Island. If you do not have enough Containers to pay back the interest, the bank will seize Factory Machines and/or Warehouses. Running into trouble on the interest on a Loan can make it difficult to bounce back economically. A player should only issue a Loan if they are sure it makes economic sense at the time.
Once the pre-turn action is resolved, the player chooses 2 out of four possible actions.
1. Buy a Factory Machine or Warehouse action.
Pay the bank the amount listed on your Player Board. You are not permitted to own 2 Factory Machines of the same color.
The number of Factory Machines and Warehouses you own establish the capacities of the other sections of your Player Board. Your Harbor Capacity, how many Containers you are allowed to store for sale in your Harbor, is controlled by the number of Warehouses you own. Since every player begins with 1 Warehouse, they can only put 1 Container up for sale at their Harbor Store. If you want to sell more, you will need additional Warehouses.
The number of Containers you can sell in your Factory Store is constrained by the number of Factory Machines you own. You can offer 2 Containers in your Factory Store for every Factory Machine you have.
2. Buy Containers for Harbor Store action.
When you want to offer Containers for sale in your Harbor Store you must purchase them from another player’s Factory Store. Pay that player the amount indicated in their Factory Store for each Container you purchase.
A player may never refuse a sale. Remember that you can only store as many Containers as you have Warehouses. Once you pay the Player, you can place your newly purchased Containers in your Harbor Store for sale at whatever price you like. If you have any existing Containers in your Harbor Store you can change their prices at this time too.
It takes 1 action per player you purchase from. If you choose to also purchase Containers from a second player, that takes another action. You only have 2 actions per turn.
3. Produce Containers action.
This action may only be performed once per turn. For each Machine you have in your factory, you can produce a Container of that color. If you have 3 Machines, “brown”, “orange” and “white”, you produce 3 Containers, 1 of each color. This action does have a monetary cost. You have to pay a “Union Fee” of $1 for taking this action. You don’t give this money to the bank however. You pay the “Union Fee” to the player on your right. Producing Containers are cheap, but another player will make some money every time you do.
Once you produce Containers, you establish their selling price in your Factory Store. You may also adjust the prices of any existing Containers in the Factory Store at this time. Remember that you have a capacity equal to 2 times the number of Machines you own.
4. Move Container Ship action.
There are only 3 possible location actions for your Container Ship. You move the ship between these locations as 1 action. They are:
Move the ship out to sea, leaving either the Island or another player’s harbor dock. Nothing else happens after this action.
Move the ship from open sea to another player’s harbor. Remember, you can never dock at your own harbor. If you choose this action, you can immediately purchase Containers from the other player’s Harbor Store. They may not refuse a sale. Your ship can only carry a maximum of 5 Containers. Pay the player the amount shown for each Container you purchase. The ship remains in the harbor.
Move the ship from open sea onto the Island. In this case, it is assumed you have a Container Ship loaded with 1 or more Containers. The other players place a secret amount of Currency in their hand as a bid. They are bidding against each other for the entire contents of your Container Ship. All the bids are revealed simultaneously. At this point you have the option of either accepting the highest bid or rejecting them all. If you accept the highest bid, you collect that amount from the player and give them the contents of your ship. You also receive a subsidy from the bank that matches the amount of the highest bid. The winning bidder puts the Containers on their section of the Island. If you choose to reject the bids, you pay the highest bid offered directly to the bank yourself and put all the Containers on your own section of the island. No subsidy is given.
Once your 2 actions are taken the next player resumes. This cycle continues until the game ending condition is reached.
When the game started, an exact count of Containers for each color was made available for all players. The game ends when any two of the five Container colors are no longer available. The player who triggers the game ending condition finishes their turn and then the game ends.
The Island is “scored”. Each player also gets income for certain remaining Containers. They receive $2 for every Container remaining in a Harbor Store at the end of the game. They also receive $3 for every Container still sitting on a Container Ship. Containers left over in a Factory Store are not rewarded.
Add up the totals and subtract any outstanding Loans you may have. The winner of the game is the player with the most money.
There’s a built-in variant provided by the rules. Let’s discuss that one first.
At the beginning of each turn, when the player is performing the pre-turn action, one variant suggested for beginners is called “Domestic Sale”. This variant allows the player to take 1 Container from their Factory Store and return it to the supply for $2. If the player has no Containers in their Factory Store they can “cash in” a Container from their Harbor Store for $2. This option may not be played on a player’s first turn of the game.
I’ve tried this variant and don’t prefer it. Even with beginners, I avoid it.
There are 4 other variants I have used. Since the number of Containers at the start of the game control how long the game can last, you can vary that count. To shorten the game use less. If the game seems to end too soon, start with more.
Another variant I’ve used is to begin the game with each player having more money. Money is tight in this game and beginning with more makes it a little easier for new players. However, I think the game was designed and play-tested to work well with $20 for each player.
The third variant that I am willing to use for beginner games, is to add 1 more Container for each player at the start of the game. This extra Container is placed in each player’s Harbor Store priced at $4. The color is determined randomly. I like this variant because it makes more options viable in the early turns.
Sometimes I play the game with a variant concerning the auction when a Container Ship arrives at the Island. In ordinary game play the bids are done in secret and resolved all at once. A variant I enjoy is to play with open bidding. That is, each player takes a turn and openly states a bid in the auction for the Containers on the ship. The next player either raises the bid or drops out of the auction. This round-robin bidding continues until only one highest bid remains. Of course the player with the ship abstains from the bidding rounds. This variant tends to make the bidding interesting because a player can dynamically pursue a set of Container colors and hint a bit at their preferences. It also makes the bidding more uniform.
We enjoy playing Container in our family. The components are cool and the game-play can be very challenging. This is not a very forgiving game. If you make poor decisions you may never catch back up. It’s also quite interesting that you cannot win by simply your own efforts. Since you cannot buy your own goods, and cannot ship your own goods, you need to create an economic environment that makes it attractive for the other players to purchase and ship your Containers. Said another way, you need your enemies in order for you to win.
There is another aspect of the economic model to this game that should be mentioned. Containers are sold at whatever prices they are set to in the Factory Stores and Harbor Stores. If everyone gets greedy and sets prices high, the economy can come to a complete stall. Pretty soon no one is buying so there is no income. Without income no one produces and without buying and shipping no Containers make it to the Island. Now I’ve heard some people complain that this makes the game brittle. And maybe that’s one way to characterize this. But I also think this is very realistic. Without money flowing through an economy, things become stagnant. I make a point of talking about this when explaining the rules so that everyone realizes they have a vested interest in keeping the economic engine running.
You can also choose different strategies when playing this game. It’s easy to imagine a player deciding their best option for play is to be a Container producer and focus on factory output. Another option is to focus on buying and selling Containers. Or you could focus primarily on shipping Containers and selling them at the Island. Or maybe you will choose a balanced style of play and attempt to be focused equally on all components of the economic model.
Valley Games says this game plays in around 90 minutes. My own experience has been the games run closer to 2 hours. 3 hours for a first game. I don’t find that to be a problem, but you should be aware that 90 minutes is a bit optimistic.
I really like this game. I tend to enjoy economic games and Container offers an interesting implementation. The concept is very straight-forward. After playing a few times you begin to realize the economic model is really quite clever. My only complaint is that the paint colors chosen for “brown” and “orange” can look almost the same in some lighting.
I currently rate this game a 9 out of 10. It’s easy for me to believe that it could end up a 10 after enough plays.