Stonks! It’s time to earn some dollarydoos on Wall Street! You’ve been given a small, $1000 gift from your parents (modest, only enough to buy 20 banks). The wild world of securities trading awaits you and you will either end up much richer, or more likely, in jail because your heavy and highly publicised manipulation of the stock market turned out to be a serious crime and you were caught soliciting a federal agent to help you tank the price of bonds so you could snatch them up on the cheap! Either way, most cash at the end wins when it comes to Exchange.
3 – 6 Players | 30 Minutes | Designed by Eric Sillies
Games By Bicycle has recently ventured into the realm of making boardgames! I grew up using Bicycle playing cards and have always admired their quality, so I have expectations set for their new range of boardgames. These games are aimed at family level groups but seem to lean a little more into the world of ‘hobby boardgaming’ than other mass market publishers tend to do. As they are new to the world of hobby boardgame publishing there are a few abnormalities with their new releases (not bad at all, just inconsistent with current industry practices). Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy & Wit is a design previously self published on Kickstarter by Eric Sillies, and it seems Bicycle Games has acquired the design in order to publish their own version of the game.
How does it work?
Exchange is a trading and negotiation game where players all compete to make the most money out of a stock market that they have complete collective control over. Players will need to work together to make favourable deals that result in them increasing wealth, but only the player who has gained the most value at the end of the game will be declared the winner.
Players start the game with some seed capital in the form of cash, and in the game’s three securities – Bonds, Banks, and Insurance. While the net value given to each player is equal, the composition varies which makes starting strategy in the game less deterministic. Each round of the 5 you will play is broken into 3 phases – select security, commit to buy/sell, and market manipulation.
To begin each round, all players simultaneously select and reveal a card showing which security they would like to deal with that round. As an example, if you have a lot of Bonds and the price is good, you might pick Bonds, with the intention of selling them to make some money. Following that, each player simultaneously selects whether they would like to buy or sell the security they chose previously, along with how many.
After it is revealed what each player will be buying or selling in the round, every player selects a card that will manipulate the market price of a security up or down. As an example, if you were buying Insurance, you would probably want the price to be cheaper so you would choose your ‘-1 Insurance’ card. Players reveal their choices and update the market prices accordingly. Finally, all players are required to buy or sell the exact amount of securities they selected they would in phases 1 and 2 of the round.
The game is significantly shaken up by the fact that in this wild version of Wall Street, the stock market wraps around! If prices get too low, they will wrap around to the highest possible price and vice versa. This fact, combined with the fact that prices move based on what players choose with their phase 3 voting cards, means that players will need to co-ordinate and discuss their activities, not only for helping themselves, but also for hindering others. After 5 rounds, players cash out all their securities at the final value and most cash total wins.
What do I think?
I’ve played Exchange several times now with 3-5 players and in a mix of different groups. It was interesting to see the experience range from friendly co-operation to extreme spite based take-downs depending on who was playing and the atmosphere of the occasion. Most games went for about half an hour although when players really get into a game, it can go for an hour, although it was really quite a fun hour.
The Good Stuff
- Exchange has fun gameplay with interesting decisions. While the game feels swingy and luck based, it really all revolves around player actions and so with the right deals and negotiations, the outcomes can be pretty well controlled. Of course, the greatest part of the game comes when players rely on deals and negotiations that are then subverted or betrayed, leading to hilarious consequences, or even when everyone acts as agreed but a 3rd party decides to enter and ruin the outcome of the deal. The game can feel chaotic, but at the end of the day, it’s all chaos caused by the players and not the game.
- The security tracker components/player boards are a pretty cool design that works well. The sliders are quite stiff so you can’t knock them, and we only had trouble with one being too stiff once. I think it’s a great solution to keeping track of what a player has in stock.
- Table talk is critical in the game and one of the best things about the game. Unlike regular social deduction games there is no explicit traitor or goal, everyone is playing for themselves and so alliances are very temporary. If you try to win this game without helping or hindering other players, you won’t get far. The game fosters temporary teamwork, shady deals, and especially pulling the rug out from other players by foiling their plans!
- The option to pay to see what the games ‘random’ effect on the market will be at the end of each round is a superb mechanic. Paying to look at the Market Forces card is a straight up advantage, but of course it can cost you some of your points to do this. One of the most fun things I did with this game is pay the $50 required to look at the card, see it say ‘Nothing will happen this round’ and then look strained and exasperated, telling another player that they would probably want to see it too. Of course they paid (and it was half their cash), and gave a similar reaction to me because obviously now they needed to burn other players the same way I got them. When the next player picked up the card to look we couldn’t hold it in any more and all started laughing!
- The Lobbyist is a great mechanic – each round the player with the most cash reserves is given the lobbyist pack, which is essentially an extra vote on market manipulation during phase 3. I think the lobbyist is particularly fantastic because it’s most often used to disrupt other players. It gives you the freedom to both serve your own needs and mess up other people’s plans.
- The stress of having to rely on promises from others when you are making your decisions, or seeing the market wrap around on you with massive consequences are the great things about this game. I have been betrayed from first to last. I’ve cheekily foiled other players’ carefully measured out plans by chucking in something to stuff up their maths without any interest of my own in their operation. It can be agonising trying to decide what to do with such uncertainly, but in my opinion that’s what makes this game so fun and such an amazing ‘player driven’ financial game.
- Exchange has a perfect balance between strategy and luck/gambling, making it a great game to bridge across various gaming skill/commitment levels – good for families, groups that like lighter party games and when given to more ‘strategic’ gamers can become an unruly, spite filled and backstab heavy experience!
The Bad Stuff
- The rulebook for this game is honestly not well written. Trying to learn the game from the rulebook was a challenge for me. What appears to be a well laid out overview of the game phases ends up raising more questions than it answers when it refers to things that are not further explained or addressed. You get to the end of the rules section wondering ‘When do players actually buy and sell stuff?’ among several other questions. Leafing further into the book, a section labelled ‘fine print’ does contain answers to these questions but it is perplexing why it is laid out this way. The game is very simple and absolutely doesn’t benefit from its confusingly laid out rulebook. Trying to figure the game out the first time we played took a long time, and subsequently explaining it to new players was extremely quick.
- The art and design of this edition of Exchange is boring and uninspired, especially after having seen the original version of the game. The art credit on the box is literally for ‘Shutterstock’, and you will get to enjoy the same 3 male hands and single dollar bill pasted throughout the game’s components. Bicycle makes beautiful decks of cards so I know they must have some amazing designers that could really have made this game beautiful. Short of that, the original game’s artwork was very lovely too, why not acquire that along with the rights for the game design from the original publisher.
- The game board doesn’t lay flat on the table. No matter how much to try to bend it so it goes flat … it just doesn’t want to!
- There can be a lot of ‘quick maths’ required in this game. If you know your times tables you will be fine. I’m not that great at it and spend a while sometimes either calculating my transactions or ‘doing the math’ when deciding what to do on a turn. I’ve pulled out my calculator once or twice due to laziness. In a game like this though, this is really unavoidable.
- I do question the necessity of doubling down on the Wall St theme in this game. Including the historical blurb and deck of (all male) founders appears to set the scene for the game. In my opinion, this wasn’t really needed. The ‘founders’ could have been fictional or even nameless (the setup cards merely randomise your starting assets), and the ‘founders of Wall St’ theme does nothing at all for the game. It’s not like we are playing a realistic historic economic simulation here, it’s a game with a wrap around market!
As you can see above, I really have no issues with the gameplay of Exchange. At its core it is a wild and exciting party game centred about buying and selling securities, and negotiating to do so while making the maximum profit. Despite what I feel like was a ball dropped production wise (especially compared to the other game Bicycle released at this time, The Alpha), this is simply a fantastic game that I think has a very wide appeal and is genuinely fun to play. I’d highly recommend it for families, and as a light party game. You can find out more and purchase the game at The Games By Bicycle Store.
The copy of Exhange used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Games by Bicycle