The Game of Greed: John Company 2e - cutlassboardgame.com

The Game of Greed: John Company 2e

Shut Up & Sit Down
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In this nearly 50 minute monster, Tom is taking a thorough dive into John Company: Second Edition – a frightfully expansive game with lofty ambitions in both its mechanics and themes. Touching on some truly horrifying, very real history; this game pushes the limits of what can be comfortably represented on your kitchen table. For this reason, we’ve pulled out all the stops to comprehensively cover this beast of a box.

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Thank you to @hotcyder for his work on the most excellent thumbnail for this video!

RTFM’s How To Play of John Company:
Dan Thurot’s Review of John Company:
NPI’s Video Essay on Colonialism in Board Games:
William Dalrymple’s ‘The Anarchy:
Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Inglorious Empire’:
Molly House:

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240 Comments

  1. I pick up on an artistic likeness between Tom's recent videos and Tim Rogers' Action Button content and I'm here for it. These videos are wonderfully produced and fantastic entertainment about what happens around some cardboard.

  2. Interesting video about an interesting game.

    My problem with these kind of videos which want to tackle colonialization is that they often themselves remind me too much about parts of colonialization.

    English native speakers want to teach the whole world what the correct morale is, while speaking about their religion (art (art also is an abstract concept like god one needs to believe in, but of course people believing in it just behave as if thats the only way)).

    Yes english is, thanks to colonialism, the most common language in the world. but these videos are not only for english natives, they are for everyone to see. Yes you tackle a bit the part where you mention "this being close to heart has most likely to do with you guys being british", but you still keep on preaching your morals, the same way colonists preached their morale to the world.

    Its not even that I disagree. Yes what happened in the past is horrible and I think having satire like this about it is good, also to make people more aware of it, but dont act as if people HAVE TO care about this topic.

    Everyone has different things they care about, the world is not only English native speakers. And no one can care for everything. As an example you guys are pretty much pro travel, which is one of the most harmfull things a single person can do to the world. Should you care? Maybe, but as I said no one can care for everything.

    And there is sure not a need of more colonialism style preaching from English Speaking Natives in the world, its almost as if certain people only "learn" really specific things…

  3. So if Tom ever gets some time off board games, I would love to see videos of him diving into history and themes. This was thoroughly enjoyable, concise and has left me wanting to learn more.

  4. Absolutely impressive review and overview of this magisterial title. While it has all of the difficult elements of which you spoke, I can't imagine a more nuanced and intelligent analysis by another reviewer. I've always greatly appreciated your sense of humor, much of which stems from my four years stationed in your beautiful country.

  5. John Company and the Wehrle Bros have challenged my brain to learn so many new things that I don't even know how to fully explain that. Games where I learn more, especially outside of it, than just how to play it are my favorites. Games where you come away with feelings that are not just win or lose are fantastic.

  6. Bravo young man. A nuanced response to a game inherently designed to force the player to think beyond the interplay of components.

  7. Also on a lighter side when did Tom become Smeagol?

  8. review of a review: 10/10, a masterpiece.
    You are able to shout out so many other creators covering the same game, without fear of canabalising your own content. That speaks to the unique view you bring. And props for taking the political stance. And looking at uncomfortable Britisch history.

    Salute!

  9. Excellent video, so excited that this game is going to get more attention regardless of where people land on it. It deserves to be discussed if nothing else.

    Sierra-Madre was bought by Ion Game design, hence the weird non-functional website. Phil Eklund gave Cole Wherle a chance and from that we got these awesome more considered second editions. I definitely don't love his politics or essays, but am grateful for his weird board game designs and bringing another designer like Cole into the space. Ion for their part are trying to reign Phil in… with mixed success.

  10. This review was amazing, brilliant, fantastic. I watched it all, enthralled. What else is there to say but “Tom Brewster!!!!!”. (Of course there is probably a lot more to say – especially delving deeply into the content and ideas of this review – this review deserves our respect in the form of continued discussion. But “Tom Brewster!!!!” also needs to be said – with acclamation)

  11. I feel you and your friends: I'm German and I wasn't bothered too much by the theme of John Company. I know much worse as a wargamer. But I can't bring myself to play an Eastern Front WWII Game because I haven't found one yet that was able to include the horrors my ancestors inflicted there. Or a better wording probably is respect their victims. Barbarossa wasn't just a military operation but a planned and executed genocide. And every time I see a SS-Unit or Einsatzgruppe being part of just the military operation I get furious. And that renders most Eastern Front Games unplayable for me. Because they hit me and my countries history at a most uncomfortable spot. A spot those games don't respect enough.

  12. While it will take me a couple stops and starts to get through this video, I wanted to say that the pace of this video is waaaaaaaaaaaay better than the cut scene joke films that have come out lately. I love the team opinions, but the high pace, high energy of lots of videos lately has been too much for me. Its one of the reasons I love the podcast. Thanks for the change of pace video.

  13. Really well presented review, which I'm glad put a lot of thought into the historical context around the game. More revisers should do this

  14. This was a very costly video for me to watch. Not only will I be doing all I can to get my boardgaming friends to agree to play this so I can buy it, but now I feel obliged to support SU&SD – which I have enjoyed for years as a freeloader – just to make clear that this is the kind of review and analysis that I look for (usually in vain) and think there should be more of. Thank you SU&SD and thank you, Tom!

    PS (and just for the sake of argument) did the designers explicitly consider a more straightforwardly honest and didactic approach to the game where the suffering inflicted in the chasing of riches was foregrounded? If as you note, Tom, you can't take for granted an up to date understanding of Imperial history among players, would they get enough information through the cards and through the parts of the manual they "have to" read to play the game to ensure that they "get" the satire implied in the game? I was "educated" in the essential benevolence of the British Empire in primary school in the mid-70s and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. It wasn't until decades later I realized to my horror just how misled I had been.

    PPS you probably should have mentioned Dalrymple's Empire podcast and in particular the episode on Company rule in India as a way to get much of the vital info for free and in audio form. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/company-rule-in-india/id1639561921?i=1000576194196

  15. I genuinely think this is the best boardgame review I have ever seen and I have watched and read quite a few, an achievement in critical analysis for this artform.

  16. Paused at 12:20 to mention that the game probably refers to "loot" because it's actually a word taken from India. I learned this from the quite amazing Oxford Union debate with Dr Shashi Tharoor MP on "Britain Does Owe Reparations". Which you can find on youtube and which I'm sure will link nicely to the rest of this video.
    EDIT: oh hey there's the loot etimology coming up. nice. The recomendation stands

  17. Very well done video. Smart, well argued review. Thank you for doing this. I really appreciate Shut Up and Sit Downs videos and will continue to support you all

  18. Does anybody know the name of the piece in the video intro?

  19. I think part of the problem even for well-meaning games such as this is that (1) they still take the point of view of the oppressor and (2) playing as the victim isn't fun if you portray it accurately. We're already conditioned to mostly take the point of view of rich white men and games still tend to stay in that comfort area too. What about the difficulty of surviving during that famine? What about managing to keep one child alive when everyone else has been taken from you? Something that makes the person playing empathize instead of maybe sympathize or not even notice the plight of the little wooden pieces. And yeah that's a lot less glamorous and has a lot less control than eurogames tend to like. If you're the underdog, you really can't do anything to guarantee you'll overcome or even survive, you kind of are forced to respond to whatever happens to you seemingly at random. Statistically, as a victim you'll likely fail or barely pull through. There's no winning compared to how easy the oppressor has it. I think also games that want to do this should try to bring on at least one person from that oppressed group to give feedback and a target for the key emotions and points that should be hit.

    I think it would be good if these kind of games at some point flip the table and at the second act or suddenly thrust you into the point of view of the people living on the terrible world you've created if you weren't thinking of the consequences. Treat others as you'd want to be treated because… now the others is you. You are the others. And don't give too much information about what those consequences will be, just kind of give basic references somewhere and you need to work your emotional intelligence to figure out what might happen. Emotional intelligence is its own type of intelligence and skill- people that scoff at it are just pretty low in that type of intelligence and can't handle any sort of challenging puzzle related to it. They need more of an emotional intelligence equivalent of Candy Land. Maybe this could've worked as a hidden movement game where only one player was the East India Company with a whole lot of power to destabilize the region and everyone else were the warring Indian states with their own agendas who also are being oppressed by the British Empire.

  20. I'm only 1:12 in and I can't wait to watch the rest, but I just felt compelled to mention that Tom slipped an extra "o" into the word "boogie." I'm not passing any moral judgement, I am a simple objective observer and this seemed noteworthy.

    "booogie."

    Thank you for your time. I now return to my viewing.

  21. I feel like a fundamental question here is: Does knowing you are playing the bad guys offset the fact that you are intended to have fun playing the bad guys?

    I think time plays a lot into this equation. If the game was called Kampuchea and asked you to control commanders of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 then the millions of deaths a playthrough represents would not be nearly so entertaining as the millions of deaths of a game set in the 1700s.

    Satire in entertainment is a complicated thing. If you make something too fun or cool your satire collapses into just praise. Make it too ugly and unfun and no one wants to engage with it.

  22. I didn't expect a historical game to openly invite those participating in it to reflect on the impact of the history it retells and… relives. I don't have it in me to own this game because it's a kind of horror driven by the reductionist attitude the game's mechanics encourage you to take that completely removes the humanity of the people you are impacting in the game's setting, and I don't think I have an audience in mind for that kind of experience. That said, I think Tom has a point about the art on display here. For me, the horror is only so potent because you inhabit the nightmare yourself. It isn't the actions of another nation, your forebears, or something you'd rather forget. Suddenly, it's your callous and calculating actions on display.

    I didn't expect a game like this to be made, and I didn't expect a video review to take a very grounded approach to the impact and legacy of the game on show. It says a lot about SU&SD that you tackled a topic like this, and I'm very impressed. Keep up the great work.

  23. you preach here, but no one ever gives 2 hoots about playing a ww2 game!? seriously! shut up.

  24. This is a PhD. Everyone involved deserves a whole career based on this video involved

  25. Thank you for taking the effort to educate the community regarding not just the financial, but also, moral, corruption of John Company.

    Cole Wehrle is perhaps my favorite designer based upon his uniquely creative asymmetric game designs, as well as my perception of his incorporation of the human experience, for good and bad.

    I believe games allow for educational experiences, which we find in John Company. It is one thing to read about a time in history, but to approach experiencing it in a non-whitewashed format can force introspection through empathy, which may lead to a greater emotional state of sympathy.

    If nothing else, we are a vile species, and learning about such atrocities can manifest as a profound experience, as most profound lessons I have learned have not required teams of Ivy League mathematicians writing chains of equations on sliding whiteboards, but realizing the full impact of something that was in full sight and widely accepted at the time. This was the case of when I made the hardstop choice of being a vegetarian, but no more said about that.

    It is heartening to see Tom's professional style develop from forced comedic efforts laden with purple jester makeup and contrived Benny Hill themed segues running around through explosions, to this professorial engaging presentation style. Jokes are nice, but thoughtful content is what brings me to the yard.

  26. Great video! I have always found it odd that there wasn't a similar caveat on Brass Birmingham which has an abhorrent setting. Don't think about where your cotton comes from, the children working in the manufacturing plants, or people dying in the coal mines…

  27. At some point you young people need to quit being weak social stooges. Genghis and Kubla khan killed and enslaved more people than the world will ever know again… we play their games.

    The Monarchy of Germany, France and Britain killed and enslaved more people than you can imagine… we play the games with these themes….

    Hell, have any of you studied Chinese history??? There is a reason they decided that “hey communism sounds great!!”… but know none of you haven’t… we play ancient Chinese themed games.

    Suck it.

    Just bought 5 copies of this game and will love giving them as gifts.

    The world
    Isn’t as soft as you people.

  28. love this game as an art piece. Agree it is very uncomfortable while still fun. I am actually in India now for the first time for a friend's wedding and have been having a similar internal struggle with the history of the area. The effects of empire are very visible still and standing next to the vast poverty of many of the areas I visited, one can't help but reflect. I am looking forward to breaking out this game again when I return home and see how my real life travels effect my perception of the game.

  29. What a great video on a wonderful game. My friends and I are playing tomorrow for the 8th time this year. I'm definitely the "John Company guy" as I think I've taught it to at least one new person every time, including tomorrow, and I still find it a joy to teach!

  30. Thank you Tom for a very insightful and thoughtful review!

  31. for much of the formalized practice of history (the writing it down part), our tools for doing so have been largely narrative because those were the best mediums we had – painting, sculpture, oral traditions, theater, literature, etc – for making it relevant to the student in a form they can relate to; basically as a story, of a person or people that did XYZ. But that often underserves, or fails to play well with, a more 'modern' view of history as being the interactions of large socioeconomic systems, in which the peoples involved are under lots of influences and incentives to interact with those systems in different ways (often selfishly). I believe today games have become THE medium that makes this form of history relatable, accessible, HUMAN to people – because as players, WE experience those systems, those incentives, and the social/logical/emotional responses they engender. it's an abstraction, yes, much like a historical novel. but with games, by putting ourselves in the drivers seat, we get to understand those systems better from the inside out (how the rules incentivize us to act) in a similar way to how we understand a time or a place from inside the head of a protagonist, or by examining a specific, important event and the people involved. for a history of something like the EITC, a rat-king of political and financial operators playing with lives and swelling their accounts with reckless abandon, all being pressured and justified by everyone else in that system, a game is an ideal medium to explore this.

  32. Fantastic video! Easily one of the best on the channel. I loved this well thought out and reasoned analysis of this game, it's background and what it's trying to achieve.

  33. How anyone could look at John Company and think it's a "disgusting" game is beyond me. It's like looking at a person who has just given you a brief class about how horrible the east India company was and calling them an awful human because they… Mentioned colonialism exists? I will never understand.

  34. I'm thankful that more gaming companies are being critical of what their games are portraying and how they are portraying it. I was at a board game cafe with a group of friends (none of us were White and almost all of us where Indian or Indo-Caribbean) and when we were browsing the shelves we started joking about how many of the games were just "colonialism the board game." Oh, the spice trade…. the tea trade… plantations… settlers… It was a good laugh in good company, but its honestly a bit uncomfortable when you're the ONLY not-White person in the room (let alone the only non-man non-White person). Games are supposed to be fun, and personally I have a lot more fun when not having my or my friend's personal histories turned into a gamified reductionist whitewashing that opens up a lot of… unsavory "humour" from people who suddenly think all bets are off for human decency because we're playing a game. Adding some of the weight back into the stories games are trying to tell could hopefully limit some of the levity around pretty serious topics.

  35. I often have moral reservations about playing certain games.
    Particularly games about the American Civil War where you can "win" with the South or games about WWII, to play as the German army (especially as it's often a watered-down version of the German army, stripped of its Nazi trappings, for obvious reasons… as if the German army of the Second World War was "just" an army like any other).
    I don't have a definitive answer to this question. It's all intent and execution.
    Pax Pamir 2nd edition made me read books on the 'Great Game'. John Company made me question the 'romantic' representations of the East India Company and also read books. But then I'm not British.
    As a Belgian, would I agree to play a 'realistic' game about the colonisation of the Congo? In the first degree, certainly not (a video game like Victoria 2, for example, raises questions in my mind about its treatment of the 'race to Africa' issue). But executed like John Company, by making me feel sick of the stupidity and inhumanity of leopold II, probably yes.
    Anyway, it's complicated and I 'get' all opinions on the subject (including those who categorically refuse to even open the box) even if I don't share them.
    And when it comes to really well-made games on difficult subjects, Underground Rairoad comes to mind. But also, perhaps, Spirit Island: with a modicum of imagination, this game is for me a kind of anti-colonial pamphlet (but I don't know teh lore of it, if it was conceived that way).

  36. It's so good to see the banter dialled down a bit. The balance is perfect and reminds me of the SUSD glory days.

  37. Hi Tom, thank you for this video. It is one of the best board game videos I´ve ever seen. In my opinion, we should be thankful to the creators for bringing these products to the hobby. I think this elevates our hobby, artistically is an outstanding game, but it also makes us think, reconsider and incentivates us to research a part of history we have decided to forget,.

  38. Hooray for SU&SD creating a situation where its no big deal at all to refer viewers to other content creators, when those creators have made the best content on a specific topic.

    So refreshing to not have competitiveness get in the way of providing the best possible experience.

  39. It's really interesting to see Tom go from a more manic silly reviews about fun little games to a 50 minute monster of the review the likes of which I've only seen from a few videos on the internet. These sort of semi review semi commentary videos I normally can only find through the (as brought up in the video, truly fantastic) No Pun Included peeps, and I'm glad to see Tom interested enough in this topic to create such an insightful video.

    I know these types of videos are heaps of work but it's very rare to feel this level of satisfaction after watching a board game review, and I hope Tom continues with this style in-between the fun silly videos.

    Also my GOD the color grading on this video is fantastic, whoever edited this video deserves a round of applause.

  40. Noticed they keep changing the thumbnail and title of this one. It may be the 48 minutes putting people off

  41. On the off chance that anyone reads this and is interested in exploring more the idea of whether it's ok to play WW2 games, I'd highly recommend "Butterflies Pinned to a Board", an article posted on Goonhammer a few weeks ago that so powerfully talks about how close the horrors of the past can be, and how utilising them in gaming isn't just cathartic but importantly educational. Great video, by the way, made me tear up a bit.

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