[This is the seventh 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 foregoing entries have generally centered on real-life fundamentals and practices of the residential real estate sales business. With these in mind, we can now begin to look at the designed components and procedures of the game. First-draft game components include the following; these are considered to be the optimum numbers required and may be adjusted after playtesting:

  • 99 broker counters
  • 178 location cards
  • 55 prospecting/event cards
  • One economic cycle track and sphere marketing mat
  • Five brokerage office mats
  • Five project mats
  • 480 listing markers
  • 480 listing flags
  • 60 project phase markers
  • 60 farm markers
  • 10 office markers
  • 10 project markers
  • Assorted other promotion, game turn, visibility point (VP) and promotion and cost recovery point (P&CR) markers
  • Three dice (2x DR10, 1x DR20)10
  • A pad of location network maps for players’ planning purposes

Agent activity to be simulated with counters and cards

In accordance with conditions previously described, agent activity is partly controlled by the game system. In real life, the managing broker has little control over this activity. The game system is designed to automatically generate listing opportunities and sales based on characteristics of the agents deployed by the player as managing broker, shaped by the player’s strategic decisions, and influenced by uncontrolled, but predictable events. At their most basic, agents’ salient characteristics are their preference for listing business or selling business, and their social engagement. Agents are assumed to have social connections to certain geographic, cultural, professional, or business communities, and their initial assignments reflect these connections. Abstractly, we refer to these communities as “networks,” each of which in game turns are matched to “marketing spheres,” to be further discussed in the next journal entry (“Farming methods; market selection”).

When an agent is assigned at the beginning of the game, or subsequently drawn as a result of an event, that agent’s counter is placed on a track on the brokerage office card to indicate attachment to that office (and player). Starting and alternate farm locations are indicated on the agent’s card. However, other characteristics might be added that would enrich the presentation of agents in the game and further challenge players in ways that reflect the actual experience of a managing broker. The question raised in the prior journal entry entitled “Game Summary” of whether to offer the game as a commercial product, or as an internal training device offers insight into the evolving design of agent cards and counters.
Because the game was originally conceived as a proposal for an internal training program, it was understood that the agents in the game would correspond to actual brokers under contract with the brokerage affiliate. This implied both that the actual names of these brokers would be used, and that any distinctive attributes of those brokers be hidden from the game. It was speculated that the game might offer branding value that would be attractive to the brokers, analogous to an athlete being included on a fantasy football roster.

However, no benefit could be perceived when it came to assigning listing and selling related attributes to those broker identities. Even the question of who would be included (and whom to exclude) from a real-life complement of more than 300 brokers would be controversial. So, if actual named brokers were to be included in an internal version of the game, their attributes would be limited to their names, whether they were primarily focused on listing or selling, and in which geographical areas they had sold listings. A threshold of five listings sold by the named broker during the three years from 2017‒19 was considered enough to establish a pattern of sales in a neighborhood or community represented by a location card. These areas would be printed on the back of each agent card, with the broker’s face and name on the front, matching the agent counter to be placed in front of one of the tracks on the brokerage office mat when the agent is deployed.

Above: the original draft agent counters, with faces and names partly redacted. Fictional names will be used on final counters and cards.

The limitations of this approach should be obvious: some brokers are more skilled at listing and selling than others. Omitting these attributes from the game inhibits the game from reflecting a real-world environment. Furthermore, agents come and go, a fact of brokerage management that is reflected among the contingencies in the event cards. By the time the components are printed, some of the brokers represented among the components may have left, resulting in licensing and permission problems with the use of their names and images.

Consequently, and regardless whether the game is used for internal or commercial purposes, the only sensible way to proceed is by omitting the agents’ real names and faces, devising fictitious names and identities as substitutes; assigning these “agents” the productive geographic areas and demographic spheres among which real agents have worked; and adding in listing and selling related attributes reflecting those idiosyncratic to known agents. All these aspects of each agent will be printed on the card for that agent.

A few examples of agent attributes not currently reflected among the agent cards include the following:

  • Eligibility to open a farm in the First Generation/Foreign Buyers market sphere
  • “Luxury specialist”—The ability to upgrade a prospective result by one OC11
  • A favorable DRM (e.g., +1 DRM) on any selling roll
  • Aggressive pricing on any listing won
  • “CMA12 skill”—The ability to nullify any aggressive pricing requirement
  • “Ethics”—The ability to nullify a fraud event.

We should assume each attribute to be mature and unlikely to change behavior during the period covered by the game. This can be managed by simply writing attributes like these onto the agent cards and treat each as immutable for that agent. Another way would be to print them on counters that are randomly drawn and assigned to new agents, but this would add countersheets to the eight already required.

10 For readers unfamiliar with results tables, “DR” indicates a die/dice roll with the following number indicating the maximum count. E.g., A DR6 indicates roll of a single 6-sided die; a DR100 indicates a roll of two 10-sided dice in different colors, with one die indicating the digit for 10s and the second indicating the digit for 1s.

11 Bounded ordinal category of value (BOCV, or “OC”), described in the ninth journal entry, “More about marketing spheres; the economic cycle track (ECT).”

12 A “CMA” is a comparative market analysis provided by an agent to a prospective client to win a listing. The CMA is the broker’s estimate of value, usually based on a sales comparison approach.

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
  1. Farming methods; market selection
  2. More about marketing spheres; the economic cycle track (ECT)
  3. Economic cycle effects on marketing spheres
  4. Location cards: the Spheres & Farms™ “game map”
  5. Location card contents, office locations and maintenance
  6. The prospecting/event card deck
  7. Prospecting for listings and incurring events
  8. P&CR points: promoting and selling listings
  9. Construction projects and pre-sales
  10. Visibility points: accumulation and scoring
  11. Sequence of play