[This is the tenth entry of 18 in a game design journal series introducing Spheres & Farms, a game about real estate brokerage branding in the Puget Sound region. Previous | Next]

The effects of economic cycle turns can be expected to differ broadly between geographic farming and sphere marketing, and differ as well among different marketing spheres. Data are insufficient to measure these differences—that is, MLS data do not track how agents encountered their sellers, or how they matched listings to buyers. We have scant information about who the clients are and how agents contracted them. However, we have guesstimated the dynamics and influences upon different marketing spheres and taken account of their effects in the listing generation tables printed on each marketing sphere box. These present a count of demand tokens available to agents with farming markers in those boxes; and those demand tokens are broken down according to their OCs based on the current economic cycle.

A change in the economic cycle may occur during the Buyers’ Interest phase at the beginning of any calendar year, or in any season immediately following play of the “Interest rate change” event card (unless the ECT has already reached the growth phase following a bust. For more details about this and other card plays, see the Event Cards in the future journal entry, “The prospecting/event card deck.”) In either case, the player with initiative, or the active player drawing an interest rate change event, rolls on the economic cycle effects table on the player’s aid card.

The demand tokens15

Home buyer demand is modeled on the track using 128 demand tokens equally divided among four colors: brown, teal, gold, and pink [though the colors may change based on availability and production requirements]. Each color represents an OC, previously described in “More about marketing spheres; the economic cycle track (ECT).” They appear indicated next to the letters “OC” in the gray capsule at the bottom of each location card. We do not call them “price brackets,” because they are not specific as to price. The underlying values, hidden by the game system, are assumed to be shifting over time with the effects of inflation and changes in the market cycle.

The demand tokens are matched on color to three other types of components: (1) the buyer demand in each marketing sphere, including the geographic farming box; (2) the listing opportunity indicators on the prospecting/event cards; and (3) the ordinal value indicators on the location cards. These each indicate, respectively: (1) the amount of buyer demand remaining in the market at different ordinal values; and the ordinal value of homes potentially available for sale (2) by potential sellers in a broker’s marketing sphere or farm, and (3) in each broker’s farmed locations.

Demand tokens are used in different ways for residential and tower (condominium) project sales. To track residential demand, tokens are removed from the marketing spheres or the geographic farming box (collectively, the “market”) when a listing is sold, or by a card event play. They may be restored later by a different card event play, or in the spring turn of each year. The number of tokens available is used to compute presales for each phase of a tower project; but in this case, no tokens are removed from the spheres or the farming box. (Design note: condominium demand is assumed to parallel, but remain separate from residential demand. Special procedures are used to schedule and close project listings that model the phased pre-sales of these homes in the real world, which will be presented in the journal entry, "Construction projects and pre-sales.")

Initial placement, collection, and distribution of demand tokens from the ECT to the marketing spheres

During set-up, in the Buyers’ Interest phase at the beginning of any turn following play of the “Interest rate change” event card, and at the beginning of any Early Spring (i.e., March/April) turn, all demand tokens remaining in marketing spheres or the geographic farming box are recollected in the current economic cycle track phase arrow. In this way, the ECT is refreshed with equal numbers of demand tokens in each of the four OC colors—brown, teal, gold, and pink—totaling to the amount indicated for the current phase of the economic cycle as indicated on the track (Boom, Growth, or Bust). Those tokens are then pushed to that box of the track on the left side of the white center line indicating buyers on the market.

Immediately before the Early Spring prospecting phase, those demand tokens are counted out into the marketing sphere boxes. Each marketing sphere box is printed with a table showing how many tokens of which OC are to be distributed, based on current economic conditions. These are drawn down as sales are closed (i.e., pushed from the marketing sphere box to the sidelines), and otherwise may be modified during a turn only by event card plays.

The totals of demand tokens by economic phase are arbitrary and can be adjusted with the results of playtesting. Ideally, and certainly in a boom phase, there should be enough to maximize listings in the spring and summer, with fewer in the fall and few to none remaining by the end of the winter turn. Agents can still prospect and place new listings, but may not be able to sell them until demand returns in the spring.

As for the results of economic cycle advances, these may result in changes to the number of demand tokens in the marketing spheres after those tokens have been distributed. Players should follow this procedure:

  1. Count the number of tokens remaining in the sphere boxes and total them.
  2. Divide this figure by the maximum number of tokens for the previous economic phase.
  3. Multiply the resulting quotient (a percentage) by the maximum number of tokens for the new economic phase to obtain a new total of demand tokens available.
  4. If as may be the case from a boom to a bust, the resulting figure is lower than the number of tokens in the sphere boxes, remove tokens one by one until this figure is reached. Proceed to the left and upwards, box by box from the bottom right to the top left, removing only pink tokens; then do the same for gold, teal, and brown tokens.
  5. If moving from a bust to growth, the new total should be higher than the current balance of tokens. Divide the difference to be added as equally as possible among colors, and add them box by box in reverse order from the above: to the right and down, from top left to bottom right; starting with brown, and ending with pink.

An alternative procedure for satisfying demand would be to transfer sold demand tokens from the marketing spheres to the “buyers-on-market” side of the ECT instead of the sidelines, then potentially return those to the spheres on certain card plays. We can experiment with this option during playtesting. It seems likely to produce boomlets late in the year that do not reflect the annual pattern of residential sales in more populated areas, which tend to peak early (although some exurban locations see a second peak in the fall).

15 The material or shape of tokens is undecided and might comprise small cubes or other blocks, or disks of no more than ¼” diameter. The size is more important than the shape, as the economic cycle chart will require at least 128, plus spares.

Schedule of entries

  1. Spheres & Farms™ design and strategy journal: Introduction
  2. The agent and brokerage as real estate brands
  3. How price and place matter
  4. Visualization, testing, and learning
  5. Spheres & Farms™ game summary
  6. Game procedures and routines in the context of agency law and practice
  7. Game components; agent counters and cards
  8. Farming methods; market selection
  9. More about marketing spheres; the economic cycle track (ECT)
  1. Location cards: the Spheres & Farms™ “game map”
  2. Location card contents, office locations and maintenance
  3. The prospecting/event card deck
  4. Prospecting for listings and incurring events
  5. P&CR points: promoting and selling listings
  6. Construction projects and pre-sales
  7. Visibility points: accumulation and scoring
  8. Sequence of play