Canada – Not the US

One of the fundamental aspects of running a business in Canada is that you are running a business in Canada.  It’s something that frustrates me significantly when I read ‘how-to’ guides or best practices on the web and realise that a lot of their discussions have nothing at all to do with the reality of the Canadian business landscape.  Yeah, we are very similar to the US but in other ways, we are significantly different.  Here’s a few examples of things that change how and what we do by a wide margin:

1. Smaller Population

Canada has about 35 million people.  California has 38 million individuals alone.  We have about 8% of the population of the United States, which means when you think about it, we have 1/8th of the potential target market than the US.   If you are in the US and catch say 1% of the market, you are doing extremely well.  Here, we’d have to catch 8x the number to just be equal.

It also means that when you look at potential employees, you have a significantly smaller ‘base’ to hire from which can lead to interesting hiring decisions.  What’s a legitimate market in the US might not be so in Canada, or at least, is very much more difficult to capture at a ‘reasonable’ size.

2. Fewer Suppliers

Here’s another fun part – smaller population means fewer suppliers.  If you get a bad supplier in Canada, you might just have to live with it because there’s no competition.  You also have fewer options in terms of geographic spread – many suppliers are smaller than in the US (e.g. Alliance and ACD are both multi-warehouse companies) and we often end-up having to ship from Ontario for our stock.  Again – no choice, few suppliers.  It also means you have much less leverage – you can’t play one supplier against another.

This is particularly interesting when you look at things like shipping or our card processors.  In the US, you could ship via UPS, FedEx, US Mail or do a combination system with local and international couriers.  In Canada, once you do decent volumes there is no better option than Canada Post for residential delivery.

3. Bigger Country

We are a much bigger country than the US.  Sure, 75% of our population is within a 100 miles of the border or so, but many of our customers actually live outside of that 100 mile border zone.  It both makes e-commerce businesses highly valuable (and has driven the adoption of eCommerce at a faster rate than in the US) but also means that the cost of delivery is significantly higher as the volume of products flowing is lower (less economies of scale).

I should also add we have Quebec in there – an entire province that we get relatively few orders (proportionally) due to the language barrier.  We could target them, but then we’d have to translate the site to French, stock translated games, etc.  And again, see earlier comment about population size – there’s really only so many suppliers possible in any one marketplace.

4. Higher Costs

Lower population, fewer suppliers, less economies of scale and a bigger country all lead to generally higher costs than the US.  Add in our higher overall minimum wages and various additional costs and your general Canadian business runs at a much higher cost level than your US business.  Worst, the smaller population means for a niche business like us means that it’s harder to spread the fixed cost around, meaning overall lower profits for a longer period in my experience.

So, what do you do when your costs are higher and your market is hard to reach – up your prices of course.  You need more revenue per person, and so long as the demand curve doesn’t drop off too bad, that should work…. Which is the explanation of why everything costs more than you’d expect.

5. Less Red Tape (mostly)

On the other hand (and this is mostly anecdotal); we seem to have a lot less red tape than in the US.  For example, our ta system is a lot less elaborate than the US’s.  Getting business licenses is relatively easy as is setting up a business and so-on, so-forth.  You can actually set-up and run your own business with a lot less hassle it seems than in the US.  Again, this is mostly anecdotal.

Agricola : All Creatures Big & Small Review

Agricola : All Creatures Big & Small is the two person stand-alone board game version of the award winning Agricola.  Surprisingly, the game manages to keep both the theme and essence of Agricola while shortening the game length and number of players.  Overall, I’m a fan and have added it to my (limited) number of 2-player games.

Appearance: Those familiar with the Agricola artwork will find no surprises here.  Keeping to the same artist, Agricola : All Creatures Big & Small has a clean, clear design that is easy to follow.  In addition, the main board and tiles are of a good card stock, though the player boards are rather thin.  The design is clear and simple to understand, with players able to grasp the main mechanics using just the symbols on the board.   In addition, animal meeples are provided in the game which make differentiating between each animal type and the resources quite simple, speeding up gameplay and adding a touch of cute.

Rules / Ease of Learning: In All Creatures Big & Small, players start with 8 fences, a farm board and 3 family members that they will place on the main game board each turn.  As a worker placement game, players place the family members on the main game board to take the allocated resources or actions immediately.  Actions that are available include:

  • taking resources (wood, stone and wheat)
  • building a stall
  • upgrading stalls to stables
  • building one of the 4 special buildings
  • building fences
  • taking new fences & a farm land expansion
  • taking animals (4 actions with different animals in each section)
  • adding a feeding trough(s) to their farm land

Players can only keep animals if the animals are either kept in a building or in a fenced off location (exception, 1 animal can be kept next to a free-standing feeding trough).  In addition, animals may not be mixed together and are limited by the building / space on how many animals that can be kept at the location.  However, feeding troughs do double this number and one feeding trough can be placed per spot on the farm land map.  In addition, at the end of each round any animal type that a player has a pair or more of will breed a single additional animal that must be properly housed.

The player with the highest victory points at the end of the game wins, with scoring based on the number of animals a player has as well as building victory points and the amount of additional land completely used by a player.  Each of the animal types begin scoring points after a certain number, with all animals costing 3 victory points if players do not have a minimum of 4 of those animals.

Gameplay: Dry rules aside, how does the game play? Pretty well.  It’s a fast two player game that runs between 30 to 45 minutes each game.  It carries much of the same flavor / feel of the original Agricola so players familiar with that game will find picking up All Creatures Big & Small much easier.  Action choices in All Creatures though do not feel as ‘tight’ and the lack of a feeding phase for your workers reduces the tension in the overall game compared to Agricola.

For all that, All Creatures Big & Small is quite fun.  It’s a compact 2 player worker placement game that plays fast so it can be brought to most locations including cafes and can still provide a lot of enjoyment.  The choices can still be quite tough and after a dozen play I’m still looking at different strategies for winning as I adapt to my opponents moves.  With so few spaces, some level of ‘blocking’ can certainly be added to the game, though in the games we’ve played so far it’s not as prevalent.  I certainly can see some instances (and have had some occur) where blocking tactics have been brought to play but they often seem to be incidental to your own strategic needs.  Admittedly, it could just be the way we have played the games.

The only real concern is that the game could get stale after more plays.  With so few actions and special buildings, there are only a finite number of strategies available.  Sooner or later, especially with more experienced players, all the options would have been ‘played’.  Certainly, the expansion (More Buildings Big & Small) seems to be something you’ll want to add soon enough to keep variety in the gameplay.

Conclusion: Agricola : All Creatures Big & Small is a fun two player game that plays fast and is compact enough to carry around.  It’s fun; but there are concerns of how much replay value there might be in this game.  On the other hand, it’s also a great introduction game to worker placement.