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Gaming Mechanics: A look at the use of Trading in board games

Posted Friday, 15-May-2015

Contributed by Andrew Knighton


Trading-type games are among the most interactive board games. Exchanging goods with other players to get what you want, you have to pay attention to what they’re doing, and try to get the best deals for you.

They’re also one of the oldest styles of board games, going back to the first years of the 20th century.

Starting the Market: Pit

First released in 1903, Pit is a fun, fast-paced card game for three to eight players themed around trading on food markets.  The mechanics are simple and easy to grasp — you simply swap cards from your hand for equal numbers of other players’ cards, trying to collect a set of eight the same.  The excitement comes from trying to finish first, as all the players frantically try to corner the market on a particular crop.

Pit Board Game with Trading
Pit Board Game with Trading

Pit started the ball rolling on trading games, and is hugely popular, appearing in toy shops as well as specialist game stores. Its popularity set an example, although a simple one, for later trading games.


Building in Trade: Advanced Civilization

When big games with grand themes of country building appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, trade was one of the main mechanics they included.  Players would sometimes have to strike deals even as they expanded and conquered territory.  One of these was the classic board game Civilization, which included a commodities trading element in its game of classical civilizations.

Civilization the Board Game
Civilization the Board Game

Designers soon looked for ways to refine these mechanics, and Advanced Civilization restructured the game’s trading to create something many players find more satisfying.  This strategy game isn’t all about trading, as players seek to build the greatest civilization and control the board. But trading is a vital element, and what could be more satisfying than trading disasters along with commodities?


Settlers of Catan

One of the all-time most popular games, Settlers of Catan is a three to five-player board game in which you build settlements and expand territory.  To do that you gather and spend commodities such as wood and brick, but these are randomly generated and so you often have to trade for what you want.

Settlers of Catan
Settlers of Catan

Published in 1995, Settlers was one of the games that ushered in the modern board game boom, and in the process saw trade feature in hundreds of later games.


On into the Present: Bohnanza and Wealth of Nations

Trading games continue to be popular, with new ones released every year.

A card game for two to seven players and produced by Rio Grande Games, the makers of Dominion, Bohnanza features a unique trading mechanic.  You can’t rearrange the cards in your hand, and on your turn can only play those near the front.  Trading is as much about getting rid of what you don’t want as collecting your sets of cards with their whacky illustrations of cartoon beans.

Bohnanza Trading Board Game
Bohnanza Trading Board Game


Fittingly, one of the most popular trading games is named after the classic book on market economics, Wealth of Nations.  In this game, you become a national leader trying to turn your country into a global economic superpower, but no country produces all the resources it needs, making trade vital.

Wealth of Nations
Wealth of Nations

Whether trading with other players or with the bank, your actions will push prices up and down, making market manipulation an important part of the game.


What are some of your favorite Trading board games?  Tell us in the comments below!

Published by BoardGamePrices.com

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