Coupling Money and Victory Points in Mansa Musa

Money Queen

So plenty of games make earning the most money your winning condition. Plenty of games make earning victory points your winning condition. Some games combine the two into one unit of currency. Others include both money and VP, but each focuses on short-term and long-term goals, often at odds with each other.

In Mansa Musa, I was initially thinking of doing the latter, money being what gives you mobility across the map but not in itself leading to victory. Instead, I'm kind of doing this wobbly halfway thing that is inspired by Jaipur's bonus tokens. Imagine a set of currency as follows:

There are $1 bills, $3 bills, $6 bills. Each individual bill has a victory point value assigned to it on the back. In play, each denomination is shuffled and sorted into its own stacks as the general supply. You only ever see the money side of each bill. You only ever look at the VP side of the bills at the very end of the game. Say for example there are nine bills in each denomination, the bills' hidden VP values would be as follows.

$1      $3      $6
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      8p
1p      4p      9p
1p      5p      9p
2p      5p      9p
2p      5p    10p
2p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p
3p      6p    10p

In other words, four of the $1 bills are worth 1p, three are worth 2p, and so on. As you earn money, you also earn victory points, but it's never entirely clear how many points you've earned. Collecting lots of money is still clearly a good goal though.

The tension comes when you upgrade to a higher denomination or decide to keep lower denominations. Higher denominations offer much higher point values, but also make your short-term assets less liquid. Suddenly, making change for a $6 actually has tactical importance. You could accidentally be trading 10 VP for 6.

I think balancing this mechanic with some other methods of publicly visible point acquisition will make Mansa Musa a very interesting experience for economic gamers. Now, the perennial question: Has this peculiar money-and-victory-point mechanic been done before?


  1. Do spread the VP values a bit more if you use this mechanism. With these values, it's statistically more interesting to make change.

    Expected VP value of a $3 bill: 5
    Expected VP value of three $1 bills: 5.33

    Expected VP value of a $6 bill: 8.11
    Expected VP value of two $3 bills: 10
    Expected VP value of six $1 bills: 10.66

    Better VP values for these currencies could be:

    $1 : 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 2
    $3: 5 5 5 6 6 6 7 7 7
    $6: 12 12 12 15 15 15 18 18 18

  2. Yay! It's good to know mathematically inclined people. Thanks, Stéphane, this is every useful.

  3. Daniel, this is a very clever idea. I worry that Stephane's recommended values, though, might motivate players never to accept large bills until the very end of the game. Changing a $6 into a $3 and three $1 bills drops the expected victory points from 15 to 10.33. So making change for a $6 means losing 4.66 VP, which is the expected value of three $1 bills, and that's before you've spent money on anything. If I buy something that cost $1 and the only way I can pay for it is to break a $6, the expected VP cost of the $1 item is 6.11 VP - the equivalent of a $3 bill. If I buy something that cost $2 by breaking a $6, the expected VP cost is 7.56 VP.

    But I like the idea in principle. If you can contrive the players' situation to make them agonize between consolidating money for VP and keeping small change to avoid having to break the larger denominations for purchases, then I think you'll have a nice little game-inside-the-game.

  4. Paul, any recommendations for a better point spread?

  5. I totally agree with your analysis Paul and, to me, it's a feature, not a bug ;)
    The idea was to give the players a choice of locking their money into larger denominations for more VP.
    The thing missing from the design is that this should carry an opportunity cost, so that buying higher denominations can't be done at will. Maybe it's linked to travelling, a specific board state, other transactions, or maybe you just pay an extra $1.
    You could always spend your large bill if you needed to later on, but you'd have spent the opportunity cost, so it would no longer be a free action.

  6. For now the idea I have in mind is that moving one space is free, but you may pay to move more spaces. Perhaps you can only trade in your denominations by visiting a specially designated "bank" in a central location of the board.


Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.