The History Behind Cargo: Dead in the Water


As you’ve read in our earlier blog posts, we came up with the idea to build a game around shipping and trade for a few reasons: we hadn’t played a game with ships before (other than battleship), ships are cool, and I had recently read a book on the Caribbean that focused on trade and pirates. We had picked our theme, but we also needed to pick a time period. The most logical time period was sometime between 1650 and 1730 because this is considered to be the golden age of piracy.

As I did more research on Atlantic Trade, I learned more about the city Port Royal in Jamaica. Port Royal was a major port in the Caribbean until it was destroyed by an earthquake, and subsequent tsunami and fires in 1692. I found Port Royal to be a fascinating place, which was known for its gaudy displays of wealth and loose morals. It was also the location where most of the world’s pirates congregated, and had to be included in our game.

As a Canadian, I also wanted to include a Canadian port city. The major export from Canada during this period was fur. Luckily, the Hudson Bay Company was founded in 1670, which fit perfectly with the time period that I was considering. So we had established that our game would take place between 1670 and 1692, now I just needed to learn about other major port cities along the Atlantic at that time, and the cargo that was shipped.

I started out by researching the major port cities. I figured that as I learned about the cities, I would also learn about what they imported and exported. After some time I had generated quite a list. The 8 cities that currently exist in our game Montreal, Boston, Port Royal, Bridgetown, Liverpool, London, Lisbon and Cadiz were all on that list, as were New York, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, Antwerp, the Slave Coast, and many others. With each city I also generated a list of their major imports and exports. Our game currently consists of 9 resources: furs, timber, textiles, tools, wine, rum, tobacco, sugar and coffee. Initially, I had also considered fish, wheat, cotton, gold, guns and the ever controversial slaves, which I will talk more about in a future article. The struggle now became narrowing it down.

The process I used to narrow down my cities and resources was fairly straight forward. The ones that appeared most frequently in my research stayed, while the others had to go. Our first prototype contained 12 cities, and 11 resources. As we play tested the game we could tell that both those numbers were too high and they were very quickly brought down to their current numbers of 8 and 9 respectively.

As you can see by the research that was put into our game, creating something authentic and historically accurate was very important to us. Although, not its intention our game could be used as an educational tool, giving it another dimension that makes it worth playing.

  • Stephanie MW

    Cool! Makes the game more awesome with the history involved.