One of our favourite games is so underrated I bet you haven’t heard of it until now
The land of Axia is in financial meltdown- a once glorious place is now facing recession with political, social and economic turmoil leaving them on the brink of collapse. You and the other players take on the role of industrialists who must save Axia while looking after your own interests. In amongst the chaos there are opportunities for you to make your fortune- but be wary as your opponents’ failures may result in the demise of everyone.
Crisis is a game known as semi-cooperative, meaning you can all lose together if things go wrong (which they almost certainly will do at some point), but if they don’t then someone will win. Over the course of seven rounds, you must invest in businesses, get them working by hiring employees and providing the raw materials, then begin churning out goods, money and points in order to save the economy.
Each round there is a victory point target which you each must hit. Anyone exceeding this target will help the financial status, anyone below will harm it. For example if the VP target was 20, and I finished the round on 16 with Jess on 22, the net effect on the economy would be -2. If the financial status ever reaches 0 (bankruptcy!), everyone beneath the target loses automatically, which can be everyone! The financial status begins the game at 30, so you’ve a while before you’d go bankrupt, but the VP targets go up each round pretty sharply so it’s easy to get left behind…
So that’s how you win or lose, but how do you play? Well, at it’s heart it’s a fairly straight forward worker placement game, but the choices you make are so deeply entrenched in the theme I really think it’s one of the most underrated games out there.
At the start of each round you draw a card from either the green, amber or red event decks (which deck you draw from depends on the current financial status), that will provide slight rule changes for that round, such as blocking the ability to take loans that round (that really ruined my game the first time we played!), or requiring everyone to pay a tax for each business they own. Most of the time they don’t have too much of an impact on the game, but if the wrong comes out at the wrong time (e.g. loans!) then it can completely scupper your plans.
You begin with four workers (“managers”), with a fifth coming later in the game, and you take it in turns to place them across the 14 available locations on the board, with most locations allowing more than one manager. Once all managers are placed you work from the top left of the board to the bottom right, resolving the action spaces one by one. Sometimes you forget that you needed to sell your steel in order to fund the purchase of a new business, but the selling phase comes after the purchasing of businesses, leaving you in a whole heap of trouble.
The main thing you’re trying to do is buy businesses and get them working, and each round there are six available to purchase. Although buying a business gives you an immediate VP boost, the main reason to buy it is to make it produce things. Some businesses produce money (such as banks), some produce money and VP (such as resorts, freighters, restaurants) and others produce commodities such as electricity, food, chemicals, iron (such as power plants, farms, heavy industry). Most of them require input materials (usually electricity and something else), and a specific employee in order to function later in the round. You can also boost their production by hiring additional employees, and this is essential to maximise the benefit throughout the game.
The production phase (where your businesses operate) comes right before the Exports phase, where you sell the commodities that you’ve produced to the market. There are 8 “contracts” on display at each time, which have a commodity type and number which you may fulfil, giving you money and VP as a reward. If you don’t like what’s on offer, or need more cash than VP, you can instead sell to the black market. Selling this way gets you twice as much money as the regular markets, but because you aren’t helping the economy when you do this you get 0 VP. I got told off by my fellow players because I opted to sell four steel to the black market for 32 money instead of 16 money and 8 VP. This lead the economy to crash and we lost in the next round. Sorry guys, needed the cash!
After the exports phase is resolved you work out how far away from the VP target you are (either above or below) and change the financial status accordingly, before moving onto the next round. If the financial status ever reaches 0, everyone beneath the target automatically loses, and only those above are eligible to win. If you manage to survive the entire 7 rounds, the winner is the player with the most VP, once you’ve converted all your money etc.
There are so many reasons why I love this game- I really could have rattled on for hours about how to play it, but I fear you may already be bored so allow me to tell you why it’s good.
Well it doesn’t look great, I will give you that. Sure the artwork fits with the theme as it is meant to be bleak and dystopian and urban etc. but it doesn’t land for me (Jess doesn’t mind it so much). It’s too dark and the board is too shiny, sometimes it’s hard to see what’s what. The manager tokens aren’t great either but at least the resource tokens are cute and well made.
The gameplay however is superb- everything makes sense from a thematic point of view (more on that a bit later), and it has the best rulebook of any game I’ve ever played, it makes what is a relatively complex game feel very straight forward and logical- every worker placement spot is explained in the right detail, with examples if necessary, with a full glossary of businesses, employees etc. at the end. That makes such a big difference as games like this can be intimidating to learn and we found it a pleasure, it also is really easy to teach.
It’s the right amount of thinky. It creates some pretty interesting decisions around what businesses to go for, which businesses to operate (towards the end you might have 6 or 7 businesses but only choose to operate 3 or 4 of them), and when playing at higher player counts there’s a real jeopardy to which worker spaces will be available. There’s always stiff competition for the Domestic Industry spot, which allows you to buy a single commodity at face value (it’s really useful as so many businesses only require one commodity and one employee to operate, this is an easy way of getting that commodity), so you should probably go for that if it’s available, but there’s also a Skill Level 3 Engineer available and that would be so useful for your Power Plant as it would boost production from 4 electricity to 7. Usually you have to compromise, and that’s great. You can try and plan your entire round before you place a single worker, but you can be sure someone will come along and ruin it for you 🙂
One slight criticism of the game is that there are no adjustments to the board for different player counts, so at 2 players everything is rather open, leading to less competition for employees and businesses. Personally I’d have reduced the businesses available each round from 6 to 4, and the number of employees from 5 to 3, but there’s nothing stopping you house ruling that and it doesn’t take much away from the game as it’s still pretty cut throat.
Here’s the main reason I love this game so much: It fits so perfectly with the theme on so many levels! Attention to detail is fantastic, everything is in the game for a reason and it genuinely feels as though you’re all trying to save the economy. Here are my favourite ways it links to the theme:
-The way the labour market works is there’s a finite pool of skilled local labour which is free to tap into, but it’s limited to what labour is available in Axia at the time. If there are no bankers on the market you need to hire foreign workers to fill the gap, and these are more expensive.
-During the exports phase, if there is no contract for the commodity you produced, you can’t sell it to the free market, meaning those goods won’t get you VP (you can still sell to the black market for money only), which is true of real life. If there isn’t a demand for the things you’ve made, you can’t sell them and they aren’t benefiting the economy when they’re sat in your warehouse! We lost a game because I had produced 8 chemicals, but as there was no demand for chemicals in the market I had to sell to the black market and we fell short of the VP target.
-Another of the worker placement locations “Imports” allows you to buy commodities from foreign markets. Because this causes the trade deficit to increase, each resource you buy will cause that player to lose VP as they harm the economy.
-Loans. Loans are good and loans are bad. Short term gain for long term pain. Take one at the right moment and it can give you that cash boost required to buy the business that will produce enough resources to allow you to pay off the loan and then some. Take it at the wrong moment and your debts will spiral and harm the economy. Take them at your own risk!
There’s so much to enjoy playing this game, I really won’t forget the first couple of times we played as it felt like an absolute puzzle that we needed to solve and each time we lost, we lost by slightly less until one day we survived (and I still lost because Jess had created an industry empire!).