Automobile, by Martin Wallace, is a game in which 3-5 players take on the role of early auto industry pioneers. They compete to build the most profitable car company in the dawn of the automotive age spanning from 1896 to 1930. To do so players will have to develop new models of cars, satisfy the public’s demand for various classes of vehicles, build production facilities, cover losses, and manage their sales force. Players will call upon the services of auto industry icons: Henry Ford, Charles Kettering, William C. Durant, Alfred P. Sloan, and Charles Howard to aid them as they struggle to turn their fledgling company into a legendary automaker!
Automobile is played over four game turns with each containing the same steps. Each game turn contains the following steps:
Draw Demand Tiles: Each player draws tiles that represent their picture of overall market demand for each type of car. As players only have a small amount of information about demand they must make educated guesses about demand as a whole.
Select Characters: During this phase players select one of the auto industry icons for the current game turn. This establishes play order and what special ability the player may employ for the remainder of the turn.
Player Actions: There are three phases of player actions. In turn order, each player chooses one action from the following options: Build Factories, Place Salesmen, Take Two R&D Cubes, Produce Cars, and Close Down a Production Space. Players perform one action until each play has taken one and then repeat this process two more times during this game turn.
Sell Cars Via Howard: If a player chose Howard he now sells any two cars he produced during the action rounds at full price. The man in the hat is a car selling machine!
Sell Cars Via Salesmen: Players who placed salesmen in the showroom may now assign them to which class of car they wish to sell. However, space is limited and if there are more salesmen than can fit in each class, or they player has none of the type of cars available to sell, they are discarded and the player receives a loss cube.
Executive Decisions: During this phase, in turn order, players may pass to determine character drafting order next turn or take one of the following actions: Close a Production Space, Buy One Advertisement Marker, or Take a Discount Marker. A player continues receiving executive decision turns until he chooses the option to pass.
Sell Cars Via Demand: All players reveal their demand tiles and based on which game turn they are in, assign the tiles to Premium, Middle-Class, and Economy cars. Starting with the most advanced factory in each class and progressing to the least advanced, players sell one car per factory (unless modified by advertizing or discounts) until either demand or the supply is exhausted. All unsold cars are discarded and players receive one loss cube for each of theirs that did not sell.
Losses and Interest For Loans: During this phase, players must pay for each of their loss cubes (cost is based on the round) and any interest due on loans that they have taken out during the course of the game.
End of Turn: The board is reset, demand tiles are returned to the bag, character tiles are returned, and the turn marker is advanced one space. If this is the last round the game is over and progress to the end of game step.
End of Game: At the end of the game all factories on the board are sold for full value. All loans must be paid back. The player with the most cash wins the game.
Automobile is a beast of a game that is both unforgiving and highly rewarding. Mistakes are brutal and as such players are severely punished for bad decisions. On the flip side, the game’s difficult nature makes victory taste that much sweeter! Automobile is an excellent economic game that is a fine simulation for running a business. I know this because I have played with bankers and small businessmen and we agree that this game should be taught as a class in school. It elegantly shows the way that competition drives innovation in the market. This forces the players to strive to be at the forefront of automobile technology and thus create the cars most desired by the public. A high level of money management skills are required to do well in Automobile as players must contend with production costs, losses, loans, manage cash flow, and the construction of factories. All of these factors combine to make Automobile a brain burning joyride that I rate a 9.0 out of a possible 10.
I can think of very few negative things to say about Automobile other than this is not a gateway game for those new to the hobby. Of course, one must also bear in mind that it was not designed with that as its goal. I would also say that there seems to be a shortage of actual strategies for players to pursue. My group, has thus far only discovered playing either a super tight debt free strategy, or aiming for the stars with huge production runs and the loans needed to make these things happen. However, just because a long-range strategy is difficult to implement, do not think for one moment that Automobile does not require careful planning. A strong mix of forward planning and short-term tactics are necessary to succeed at Automobile as players are forced to adapt to their opponents and seek to exploit any openings that present themselves. Lastly, I would avoid Automobile if your game group is math adverse. Players must make numerous calculations during play, and while they are only basic math, some people do not like games requiring this amount of arithmetic. I do not personally object to these elements being in a game, but I know people who do, and consider it worth mentioning.
In conclusion, Automobile is a great game! I would rank it as one of the finest economic games that I have ever played. I do not even consider myself to be very good at it, but I am always eager to give it a play. It is hard game to do well at, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to get better with each attempt. I have won a few games, but know that I have a long way to go before mastering this animal. It is a complex game for high level gamers and offers an excellent arena for engaging in intense mental competition. With little luck, and even less room for error, Automobile is an exciting and tense game that provides gamers looking for a challenge with one hell of a ride!