Mary Russell

One of the peculiar things about For-Ex that we've noticed over the years is that no one ever seems to remember how to play it until toward the end. I don't mean that players forget the rules, because the mechanisms are pretty simple and straightforward. What I mean is that no one seems to know how to use those mechanisms until the middle of the game. Mary and I were talking about the game over dinner recently, and that subject came up, and between the two of us I think that, at long last, we kind of figured out why that is. There is a structural reason for it. 

It has to do with the fact that the game, at the start, is very open-ended. There exists a sort of equilibrium between the seven currencies. Player actions will disturb this equilibrium, pushing and pulling the values of this currency and that one, but only slightly. If I invest in the CNY, then the CNY gets stronger, and all six other currencies get weaker but only in relation to the CNY. The values will change by a buck or a half-buck; it's hardly any different than it was before. In fact, it's simple enough to push the value back, and to restore the original equilibrium; if I invest in the CNY but then you invest in the USD, then the relationship between those two currencies is right back where it started. Of course, now the USD is slightly stronger than the others. So maybe I invest in the JPY, which pushes back against the USD and the CNY. In fact, it pushes back against everything. Another investment in the CNY, from another player, not only pushes back against all of these, but implicitly promises another adjustment when the Dividends are resolved, since right now more CNY certificates are in player hands. 

Eventually all these tiny, subtle little shifts will create a pattern. More than that, it creates a decision space in which the differences between a good move and a bad one are much more clearly delineated. Well, "clearly" relative to the beginning of the game, anyway. And so, the reason why players "remember" how to play the game somewhere around the middle is that up until that point, the "game" - the decision space - hasn't come into focus yet; the players are still constructing it, together and yet in opposition to one another, and in aggregate.

I'm not going to say that the early game doesn't "matter", or that it isn't fun, because I certainly think it does and it is. But the early game is, in a way, all about creating a middle and late game that will be advantageous to you and disadvantageous to the other players. Neither am I going to say that the game becomes "easier" to get hold of in the late game. But the structure is of necessity constrictive: in the early game there are possibilities branching off every which way, but by the middle of the thing enough of these slough off that it at least resembles some kind of tree.

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