Posted by: gschloesser | August 10, 2011

Ransom

Design by:  Phil O’Neill
Published by: Self-Published
3 – 6 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

At a get together in Navarre Beach, Florida with gaming buddies Ty Douds and Ted Cheatham, Ty pulled out a small, VCR type case which contained a game entitled Ransom.  The small box declares ‘Card Game Inside’, which usually makes me skeptical.  However, since the rules were only one page in length and Ty & I had a bit of time before I had to head for home (Ted having already returned home), we gave the game a go.  Wow! What a hidden gem.  Over the next few weeks I was able to track down and secure a copy for myself.

Ransom is a fantastic real estate development and building construction game by England’s Phil O’Neill and is obviously based heavily on Sid Sackson’s Metropolis.  Players must compete for contracts to build various Manhattan landmarks, including Macy’s, Grand Central Station, the Empire State building, Bloomingdale’s, the Chrysler building, etc.  Problem is, in order to construct these buildings and complete the project, the proper land parcels, labor and materials are required.  Usually, you will require the assistance of your opponents in order to acquire all of the necessary materials, so much negotiation and deal-making will be required. 

The game is driven by the revealing of a card each turn.  As a card is revealed, the player who revealed the card has the option of purchasing it at the stated price or placing it up for auction.  The valuable Building Contracts, of which there are eight, cannot be purchased by the player outright.  Rather, they are auctioned using a ‘sealed’ bid method.  Trying to guess what your opponents will bid, while at the same time ascertaining the worth of the contract versus the potential cost for land and materials, makes this process an agonizing decision.

The cards can represent one of several things:

Building Contracts:  These are the contracts which allow the owner to potentially construct a Manhattan landmark.  Each building, however, comes in a distinct size and requires that the necessary land plots, labor and materials (bricks) be secured in order to complete the project.  The size of the buildings will vary from the four-square mammoth World Trade Center (which requires four adjacent land plots in a square pattern in which to be built) to the oddly ‘L’ shaped projects of the Chrysler building or Grand Central Station.

Land plots:  The game board has a 4 X 5 grid representing the various districts of Manhattan.  There are 20 land parcels which are available for purchase.  These land plots are critical as in order to construct a building and complete a contract, the appropriate land plots must be available.

Labor or Bricks:  Each Building Contract requires a certain number of labor and bricks in order to complete it.

Inevitably, a player usually will not possess all of the requirements in which to complete a building contract. Thus, negotiation and deal making with opponents is necessary.  This usually takes the form of splitting the profits from the contract in order to secure that last needed land plot or labor in order to complete the project. Of course, often times one will have the player desperately desiring to complete a project over the proverbial barrel, so the extortion factor can be severe!

Money is tight … VERY tight … in this game.  Loans are available in increments of $15 million, but must be paid back at the game’s conclusion at $20 million.  Further, only three loans are available to each player, so players must carefully weigh the amount they spend versus the potential payoffs.  The more money spent to secure the elements of the project (contract, land, labor and bricks), the lower the profits will be.  In fact, due to the necessary deal-making with opponents, many projects are actually completed at a financial loss.  Since money is so tight, especially early in the game, it is always wise to complete a project early in order to aid the cash flow situation.

Another consideration is that the large building projects have enormous payoffs, but require the most land mass and provisions in order to be completed.  As the game progresses, land area becomes increasingly scarce and it is quite possible that the large, four-plot contracts will be rendered impossible to complete due to unavailable space. Thus, the lure of the potential large pay outs offered by these large contracts can be deadly if the available land plots become unavailable, thereby rendering the contract worthless!

The game ends when the deck is exhausted and all contracts that can be constructed are completed, or all negotiations to that effect stall.  At that point, players pay off any debts (if possible) and the player with the largest bank account claims the victory and title of ‘Real Estate Magnate‘.

As mentioned, this game has much of the same feel as Sid Sackson’s Metropolis, but adds the additional requirements of labor and materials in order to complete a project.  Further, it plays in a much shorter time frame – a four player game can be played in under an hour.  And an added bonus is that the game packs very small – the size of a VCR case.

The components are also very acceptable.  The cards are high quality and the board, though very small, is very appealing.  Only the building markers are disappointing … they are simply thick, black cardboard pieces.  Oh well, I guess it was impossible to squeeze 3-D building tokens into a VCR case!

Ransom appears to be an individual release with no large company backing.  Perhaps that explains why the game did not meet with more widespread success and acclaim.  That is, indeed, a shame, as it is truly a hidden gem worth seeking out and adding to your collection.  Highly recommended.

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Responses

  1. Very good negotiation game. Deal making is a must. Have not played this in several years. 7/10


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