Negotiation games put players into direct confrontation in a way that no dudes-on-a-map game can simulate. And the players that succeed in the genre aren’t the ones that try to scam away every penny and break their promises. No, it’s those that know how to make deals where both parties benefit. Even if the other side does well, you still do better than every other opponent who wasn’t part of the trade.
Here are the top five favorites of the genre:
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game
In the Game of the Game of Thrones, you negotiate or you lose. No one house has the manpower or supply to seize the Iron Throne on its own. At least, not initially. So the players must develop alliances. Some might be natural allies – perhaps Martel and Stark agree to squeeze Baratheon. Others might need more incentive. Perhaps Lanister promises to cede the Searoad Marches to Tyrell if they promise to turn their attention toward Martel.
But the interesting thing about the bargaining in Game of Thrones is that no promise is binding. You can say you’ll lend your support, but when the time comes you are free to double-cross. So the negotiations aren’t just about securing a non-binding assent. It’s about ensuring that the terms are sufficiently valuable that the other player has less incentive to stab you in the back. Of course, you don’t want to give away the farm – the Iron Throne seats just one, after all. Finding that balance is the key to every act of diplomacy in Westeros.
Image Credit: Fantasy Flight Games
Speaking of back stabbery, no game does that better than Intrigue. Each player is a noble who invites the others to send them various scholars. Those scholars will then send back a salary. It might be worth it to bribe the noble with three thousand dollars for a promise of a three thousand income. After all, you’ll make that money every turn.
But then a rival scholar comes who also wants to butt in and kick my guy out. The player who has two scholars at his door gets to decide who stays and who goes. Not only that, but they bargain with each of us in turn. So, they might accept a bribe from both players, or make promises to both. But only after securing all bribes do they decide which scholar is banished.
Everything is negotiable and nothing is binding. And, unlike Game of Thrones, the consequences are much more immediate. If you get betrayed, it happens before the ink on your deal is dry. But that also means there is merit to keeping your word and then building up to a big con later.
Image Credit: Mayfair Games
Bean farming. Bohnanza features hands of bean cards. Everything from green beans and black beans, to stink beans and wax beans. The goal is to plant and harvest them for points. But you can’t rearrange your hand. The order is set and you must plant the first in line. And you can only plant two types of beans at a time. If you’re forced to plant a third type, you have to uproot one of your others to do so.
Each turn, the active player first plants, then flips two cards and the trading begins. Players can trade cards from their hand to be immediately planted. “I’ll give you a black-eyed bean for that coffee bean!” The trades are furious and offers fly until a few pique the interest of the player and final terms are reached.
Trading is essential not just because you want to get certain beans planted, but because you want to get rid of cards in your hand so that you aren’t forced to plant them and prematurely uproot other fields you’ve been working on. The incentives keep everyone pushing to be part of a trade and that makes this a great game even for quieter types who aren’t sure of their bargaining skills.
Image Credit: Rio Grande Games
Despite the undeniably racial elements (Chinatown is full of laundromats and dim sum restaurants), this is one of the most enjoyable negotiation games. Each round, players get plots of land around the eponymous Chinatown. They also draw tiles of various businesses that can be placed on those plots. Each turn, they will produce income with bigger businesses producing more.
Every round, features a complete free-wheeling discussion where players can haggle over almost anything. If you have a Tropical Fish Store tile that I need, maybe I get that from you in exchange for an unused plot of land. Or maybe I outright sell you a plot of land with an established business. The goal is to get the most money and being part of as many deals as possible will ensure that you have the most green when it’s all over.
Image Credit: Z-MAN Games
Hands down, this is the best negotiation game out there. Called Traders of Genoa in some editions, this game is almost pure bargaining. Each round, a little tower of discs is placed on a random spot on the board. Then one player gets to move those discs, one square at a time, to various board spots. If you want a disc to be placed somewhere in particular, then you have to negotiate for that with the active player.
You get small and large contracts that pay out various amounts, and you can even gain ownership over the various buildings. If I want the player to go to the Tavern so I can get the goods I need, I might offer money. Or maybe instead, I offer a small contract or other card from my hand that would be worth more to him than it is to me.
The best part of Genoa is that each player, in turn, gets to control the stack of discs. So everyone gets a shot at being the big-cheese, the one to whom all the other players make promises and beg in order to get their objectives accomplished. Those turns are sweet. But if you abuse your power too much, it will be remembered when the other players control the discs and you have to approach them hat in hand.
Image Credit: Rio Grande Games
Do you like to haggle? Tell us about your favorite bargaining board games.
Featured Image Credit: Avalon Hill