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Baron: The Real Estate Simulation is, as the name suggests, a simulation of the real estate industry. The game is undoubtedly the best simulation of this industry I have ever seen, and given its release in 1987, has stood the test of time very well. Baron puts you not so much in the shoes of a real estate developer as a real estate investor: someone whose focus is on buying and selling properties and making money from them over time, not on developing a piece of property to attract tenants (a side note: real estate development games have been quite popular in Asia, particularly in Japan, but sadly only SimTower and A-Train (which lets you build up a sizable property portfolio) have been released in English outside Japan). The game's narrow focus on only one industry will no doubt make it appeal to a very small, niche group of gamers: fans of "hard-core" business simulations who are more interested in depth than breadth. This means if you enjoy games like Capitalism Plus but not stock market simulations, you will most likely dislike Baron and find it boring and tedious.
The upside of the game's narrow focus is that it allows the designer to focus on creating a realistic economic and business model that truly simulate the industry. And Baron is indeed realistic. The game gives you a very realistic range of options that real estate investors face in the real world. The game is turn-based, with each turn representing one month. You start the game with roughly $245,000 in cash and nothing in your property portfolio. You will first concentrate on buying attractive properties that are for sale. The description of each property up for grabs includes all key information, including a short description, location, price, the amount of down payment, mortgage amount and rates, and the amount of operating expenses per month. If you like a property but don't want to buy it now (because you are short of funds, or think its value will go up), you can place an option (essentially buying a call option) to purchase it at a later date. Baron is not very realistic in this regard: the game doesn't show option premiums and it doesn't show you the values of those options, i.e. the properties you placed options to buy don't show up at all in your portfolio. But while Black & Scholes might be grumbling, this tiny inaccuracy/omission won't distract much from the fun of watching property prices rise and fall, and your portfolio with them.
In addition to buying and selling properties, you can also make alternative investments such as in the secondary mortgages market, REIT, or "Uncle Herman's R.E. Project" (which I could never join, so I don't know what it is -- presumably this allows you to invest, i.e. become a partner, in your uncle's real estate project). Descriptions of key terms in the game (e.g. mortgage, land) and major real estate locations are also included, probably to help beginners, but you would still need a basic understanding of the real estate market to be able to get a high score (i.e. high net worth) and climb the status from "Broker" to "Baron." Every turn (month) brings new news events that affect the property market, so it is important to recognize what their impact are so you can adjust your strategy appropriately.
Overall, I find Baron a fun simulation of one of the most interesting industries today. But I'm speaking from the perspective of an investment banker who loves text-based business simulations that others find boring, so your mileage may vary ;) If you enjoy realistic and 'deep' simulations of a business, Baron is well worth your time. You might even learn a thing or two about the real estate market (such as how high operating expenses can get). If you think the prices look ridiculously low, remember that the game was made in 1987.... convert it back to today's dollars and you may be surprised ;)
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Baron: The Real Estate Simulation screenshot
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