[This is the fourteenth 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]

In the preceding journal entry, the events featured on prospecting cards were presented along with the draft event card directory. In this entry, we consider the prospecting features of those cards. Both aspects of the cards simulate the agent’s essential business of prospecting for residential listings.

Prospecting strategy

In the introductory first journal entry of this series, I mentioned that “the working model devised values locations based on their volume of sold listings” and that “money plays no part in the game,” whose objective is brand visibility rather than accumulation of commissions. There is another rather obvious reason for not pricing listings directly, and that is the overwhelming impossibility of computing prices in such volumes. Instead, the “price” of a listing is an abstraction based on the range of OCs available in that location, and the strategy employed by the agent to win and market the listing for sale.

Based on the drawn prospecting card and an assessment of the inherent risk, the player, acting as agent, decides whether to solicit the listing at the market price, or at an aggressive price. “Aggressive” here is not a synonym for “higher;” an aggressive price might be either higher or lower than the market price, whichever is perceived as more compelling to a seller than an offer at the market price. (Real-world equivalent situations might include competition from other would-be agents, an overambitious seller, or a home with deferred maintenance or functional obsolescence.) An aggressively priced listing contract is a bid to sell the house—and to that end, to win the listing—at an offered price that risks longer market time or potentially a lost sale. This is why certain events have the effect of converting the pricing of listings from “market” to “aggressive,” reflecting reduced marketability of those listings under conditions relevant to those events.

Above: an aggressively priced offer might be either higher or lower than the market price.

Deck management

The entire 55-card prospecting/event deck is shuffled at the beginning of play and set face down in a convenient place. Each card is divided into two halves, top and bottom. The top half of the card is used for prospecting, while the bottom half describes an event, possibly mandatory, to be invoked if drawn.

There is an active deck and a discard stack. The top card on the active deck is turned over and placed face up next to the rest of the active deck. The new top card is left face down atop the active deck. During play, as each player prospects for one of their agents, the phasing player can either play the face-up card, or draw the next face-down card from the top of the deck and play it. The drawing player must play both the top (prospecting) and bottom (event) portions of the drawn card.

There are noteworthy implications of this mechanic. Both the event and the prospecting results will be visible to the player before deciding whether to play the card or draw an unknown card. Importantly, the prospecting results will still vary by prospecting strategy, whether aggressive or market-driven, and must still be rolled for. We should expect a player to prefer a card with a favorable event if that event benefits that player, even if the prospecting results on that card are less than optimal. For example, a player who has farms on multiple cards with saltwater exposure may prefer a waterfront promotion event, even if that card’s prospecting results do not favor the current prospecting agent. The attachment of prospecting results to these events is not complete, because those results are still partly randomized by die rolls—i.e., the player must still roll for them after selecting or drawing the card.

If a drawn card is marked “Mandatory,” it must be played by the current player, including the indicated event; the deck must then be reshuffled. (This means that no face-up card will bear a mandatory event.) If a player plays the face-up card, the event is optional if not marked mandatory. If the player chooses instead to play the face-down card from the top of the deck, the event is mandatory regardless of whether it is marked as such. Whichever card is played is returned face down to the top of the discard stack.

One purpose of this procedure, including the up-turned card, is both to provide another element of choice that diminishes the randomness of events, as well as to provide some assurance that favorable events, especially the promotions, get invoked by players who can benefit from them. Generally, however, the procedure should not be expected to appear too random. Agents familiar with their communities know which homes are likely to be put on the market, and will also be aware of other brokers with whom they are competing for those listings. This insight will influence whether they will pursue a market-driven pricing tactic, or a more aggressive one. Whether this tactic succeeds is outside the agent’s control, and is therefore randomized by a die roll.

The 55th card in the prospecting/event card deck calls for the deck to be reshuffled and for the active player to draw and play the next card as a mandatory event. The deck is to be reshuffled immediately and re-set as the active deck, as it was at the beginning of the round. The event indicated on the next drawn card must then be played by the active player. Once played, this card should be placed face down to start a new discard stack.

Prospecting and listing procedure

The general principle guiding the interaction among the economic cycle, the markets, and the listings is that every demand token on the economic cycle track and among the marketing spheres represents a committed buyer. The players aim to convert those buyers into sold listings for the brand.

During the prospecting phase, players take turns prospecting for their agents, one by one. A player can prospect for any farms in play by any, all, or none of the agents on that player’s brokerage mat. Prospecting proceeds by farms on location cards or in marketing spheres for each agent, one by one, in whatever order the player chooses, according to the following steps:

  1. Select an agent, and a farm of that agent.
  2. If that agent’s farm is in a marketing sphere, examine the contents of that sphere to determine whether sufficient demand exists for that agent to farm (i.e., whether there are any demand tokens in that sphere box, and of which OC colors). If the agent has a geographic farm, the player may instead examine the geographic farming box for this purpose. Note however that the geographic farming agent may still prospect even without demand tokens in this box, as there may be demand to be captured directly on the subject location card. (See 6c below).
  3. The player follows the procedure described under “Deck management” above to draw a prospecting/event card from the deck. The card should be set aside, and the event instructions followed after this listing prospect is resolved. If the card calls for a new listing to be drawn, that should be done after the first listing is either added or lost.
  4. Each card shows the OCs of potential listings in two columns, one potential listing under a market-aligned pricing strategy, two under an aggressive pricing strategy. Neither of these columns delivers listings automatically. In either case, the player must roll a DR10 result at or below the indicated maximum. (As always, “0” results are 10s.) The player must select and announce a strategy for this agent before rolling. If the player selects an aggressive strategy, it applies to both rolls, and procedures 5 and 6 below are pursued first for one listing, then for the other.
  5. Before rolling for the listing results, the player proceeds differently depending on whether geographic farming or a marketing sphere is the source.
  1. If sphere marketing, the player consults the column indicated by the results to see where the potential listing is located and rolls for location on the indicated table. If the rolled location card does not exhibit an OC of the color(s) indicated on the card, that listing is lost (i.e., the player does not roll again for a new location). If an aggressive strategy is followed, the player rolls for each resulting OC, first identifying which is being rolled for.
  2. If geographic farming, the player ignores the table code on the prospecting/event card and instead rolls for location directly on the DR100 location table in the upper right-hand corner of the location card. This may result in a new location card being brought into play. Once the location is identified, if there is no color in the OC capsule on that card to match the prospecting card result, the listing is lost.
  1. The player now rolls for the prospecting result using the number on the prospecting card for either market or aggressive pricing. If the die roll result is at or below this number, the player does the following:
  1. On the listing track for that agent on the brokerage mat, places a listing counter with a stripe color matching the OC just rolled for on the first space of that agent’s listing track on the prospecting card, with the side indicating the pricing strategy used (“market priced” or “aggressively priced”) face up. The player should note the number on the face of this counter.
  2. The player then selects the triangular listing flag with the number matching that of the listing counter on the agent’s listing track, and places it on one of the listing dials on the target location card. This flag will be used to count turns until the listing closes or expires, by being advanced by one space during a clean-up phase at the end of each turn.
  3. Based on whether the listing originated from a farm in a marketing sphere or on the location card, the player then takes from either the marketing sphere box or the geographic farming box a demand token matching the OC color of the listing won, and places it on top of the listing flag. If the active agent is (a) geographic farming on that card, and (b) is indicated as a selling agent by an “S” on that agent’s ID card, and in the event that there are no matching OC demand tokens in the geographic farming box, the player can omit this step only if there happen to be any other demand tokens of that color on other current listings on that card. If any such listing expires and the OC matches that of another listing, that demand token may be transferred to any listing produced by this solicitation. This reflects the geographic farming agent’s selling ability and awareness of buyers active in that market.
  1. If there is a second listing opportunity on the prospecting/event card, the player then follows procedures 5 and 6 for that listing as well.
  2. The player then resolves the event on the card, and if the face-up card was chosen, adds it to the discard stack. That player then turns over the next prospecting event card from the top of the deck and adds it to the top of the face-up stack. The prospecting phase then passes to the next player.

(The prospecting card directory will likely need to be re-numbered before and again after playtesting, so that prospecting card results are well-matched to events on the same cards.)

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)
  10. Economic cycle effects on marketing spheres
  11. Location cards: the Spheres & Farms™ "game map"
  12. Location card contents, office locations and maintenance
  13. The prospecting/event card deck
  1. P&CR points: promoting and selling listings
  2. Construction projects and pre-sales
  3. Visibility points: accumulation and scoring
  4. Sequence of play