Buy Low! Sell High! Eat Your Commodities Before Their Expiration Dates! Whatever your stock market strategies are, this week we talk about two board games that approach the subject: The 1937 game Stock Ticker and Friedemann Friese’s much, much more recent Black Friday. We also use our advanced Friesian analysis techniques to explore our excitement over his upcoming game 504.
This week, what with all the economies falling apart, I thought it was appropriate to discuss a couple of market games I’ve had for a while but only sat down and crunched through in the past week.
There’s Friedemann Friese’s Black Friday, which I’ve set up several times without playing all the way through, and there’s Stock Ticker which I picked up at a thrift store. I figured we could talk about both of them because they both deal with the concept of stock markets and market collapses.
Let’s start with Stock Ticker. This game was originally published in 1937, which puts it 8 years after the Wall Street crash of 1929 and within the years of the Great Depression. People had money on their minds.
The box rules for Stock Ticker state:
The object of the game is to buy and sell stocks, and by so doing accumulate a greater amount of money than the other players at the end of the game. The winner is decided by setting a time limit at the start of the game, and is the person having the greatest amount of money, after selling his stocks back to the Broker at their present market value, plus their moneys on hand.
And that’s about it. You start with a little money and roll dice. Basically you’re trying to diversify your investments on six different stock types. If the price goes above a certain point you collect dividends.
You really do set the time limit for the game yourself. Also, “Any number of players can play this game.” This may make this the ideal party game. If you are having a group suicide party, perhaps.
The 1937 cover approaches the problem with abstract games like this by illustrating the theme on the box cover and attempting to make it seem like more than a numbers game.
Is it a good game? My 7 year old and I got through a bit of a game and went “meh, we get the idea” and promptly stopped.
This is where Black Friday fares much better. Both the kid and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Once you get over the rules and lack of visual theme (my wife initially asked why there’s a dog on the side of the box – the front has the complete picture of a bull and bear which is about as thematic as it gets) it is a pretty fun take on the idea of playing the markets.
Black Friday came out in 2010, which again is a timely introduction of a stock market game after the Great Recession or the Global Financial Crisis or the Realization That Capitalism Is Fundamentally Flawed or whatever you want to call it.
The introduction in the rules states:
In this game, players try to earn the most gold and silver. As the players start the game with no money, each must earn cash by skillful stock purchases and sales. With this cash, they can acquire the precious metals needed to win the game. And, naturally, the government will help distressed entrepreneurs by offering subsidies. The player who can manipulate the market and stock values most skillfully in his favor and sell his stock before the crash, has the best chance for victory!
As I said, I struggled with these rules. There’s the obligatory typos, but then there’s just something awkward about the whole explanation. The kind contributors at BGG have rewritten/reformatted the rules and posted them. Using a combination of the two I think we finally played it correctly.
Overall, Black Friday is an interesting example of how to represent abstract concepts. Friese chose to use colored wooden briefcases to represent the different stocks. There’s black briefcases which have a negative effect on the economy. There’s paper money and little subsidy cards. And the final touch is the player screen for hiding your stocks from the other players.
The main force in the game is the Price Adjustment. After five buys or sells the market gets banged around. Players have to pay interest on subsidies they’ve taken and the share prices on the market are adjusted. There’s a black bag and you draw those little wooden briefcases. The market is adjusted accordingly in relation to a chart on a mini Wall Street Journal on the board: steps up, up and over, down, to the side, etc. It’s a bit convoluted at first but gets easier after a few rounds.
Beyond the main market of the five commodities you buy/sell, though, is the silver market. This slowly creeps up over time depending on how much silver has been purchased between price adjustments and after black suitcases have been drawn.
That still all sounds quite abstract. Essentially, the black bag randomizes the adjustments in the market but the stocks that go into the bag is influenced by the decisions the players have made in the preceding rounds. The players cause the crash to begin by their buying habits. This is unavoidable, and when it begins you can feel the whole game change.
While Friedemann Friese games sometimes feel like you are inside a grandfather clock manually turning dozens of tiny gears, in this game it both unavoidable and part of the fun. You become physically immersed in performing the market adjustments like some poor fool sweating it out on the trading floor of an oldy-timey stock exchange. Or something like that.
The kid had a lot of fun and I thought maybe it taught him no only a little about market dynamics but also about the pitfalls of investing in general. Risk aversion is apparently lost on the young, however. He would still throw his little allowance on the markets if permitted.
Black Friday was a good attempt at tackling the idea of representing stock markets in game form. I think there’s some educational value here (besides the sales pitfalls of badly translated rules). It fits well within the Friedemann Friese oeuvre, from a game mechanics perspective. If you like the way his games run/run you, then you’ll probably enjoy this one. If abstractions are too much for your world-weary mind then maybe this will have you running. I’m not sure I’d bring it out with a group I don’t know well. Ultimately, I’m glad games like this exist. How we model reality and play in its messiness is an interesting and difficult concept in game design. Friese does an admirable job here, and we’ll take Black Friday over the simple roll and move kicks of Stock Ticker any day while we wince and continue to watch the markets from between our fingers.