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Black Friday

[Games designed by Friedemann Friese have often found a place in the pages of Gamers Alliance Report. This review marks the 5th game designed by him to appear here – and my 691st (!) review for GA Report. – Herb Levy]

BLACK FRIDAY (Kosmos/Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, about 60 minutes; $44.95)

 

Reviewed by Herb Levy

blackfridayboxThe Long Island Gamers, my gaming group, is one of the most active – and longest running – gaming groups in the United States. Not only do we play games like crazy (and love doing it) but, from time to time, we host fellow gamers from across the country and around the world – and love doing that too! Awhile back, on their way to Alan Moon’s The Gathering of Friends, game designer Friedemann Friese and game developer Henning Kopke, joined us for an evening of gaming. They brought along what was then a prototype of a game Friedemann was working on and I played it. That prototype, with a few tweaks, became the game that is the focus of this review: Black Friday.

Black Friday takes a different approach to the standard stock market/business game. You do NOT win by having the most money. Instead, buying and selling stocks is the means to the end of having a cache of gold and silver. The player with the most precious metals will claim victory when the stock market collapses!

There are five stocks in the game (yellow, green, blue, red and orange – the commodities they represent have no bearing on play). Each stock has its own matching color stock marker (which will travel on the board charting current values) as well as 25 briefcase tokens in their color (which will play an important role in market fluctuations). There are three “sales tables” on the board; two of each color briefcase token are placed on them. (Black suitcases – 1, 2 or 3 of them – are also placed on these tables.) All stock values begin on the game board at 7. There are 5 two-sided “level” cards (placed in order – from the “Start” card to Level 9 – on the board in the “Wall Street Journal” space along with 9 black briefcases.) Level cards give the parameters of a turn: how many subsidies you may have to support your buying and selling, the current buying and selling limits (of stocks shares and silver) and, finally, how many briefcases will be drawn when the next “price adjustment” is triggered.

Four briefcases from each of the 5 stocks are placed by the board to create the “market”. Then 10 plus the number of players of each color are placed in a bag. (Remaining color briefcases are removed from the game.) A different track charts the value of silver and that begins at 20. Each player now gets a player screen and the randomly chosen starting player draws 20 briefcases from the bag and adds them to the already established market.

On each turn, a player may do ONE of four possible actions: buy shares, sell shares, buy silver or pass.

Players purchase shares at the current price on the board. The number of shares able to be bought is limited by the value on the current level card in play. (Need money? Players may ALWAYS take subsidies from the bank but a player may have no more than the number of subsidies allowed as stated on the current level card.) For each share bought, a briefcase of the same color is taken from the market and placed behind that player’s screen while another one of that color briefcase is placed on the purchase table. (That color not in the market? Then ANY color may be taken from the market onto the purchase table.) When all briefcases of a particular color have been taken from the market and/or three of a particular color are on a particular table, that stock increases in value and its marker moves 1 space to the right.

Selling shares works in a similar way but in reverse. Briefcases from behind a player’s screen represent shares sold. These briefcases go back into the market and a player collects (from the bank) the value of those sold shares and the stock marker of sold stocks moves one space to the left (lowering its value). Now, the same color of briefcase is taken from the sales table and placed into the market. (If you sell multiple colors, only ONE color – that player’s choice – will be lowered.)

blackfridaypcsSilver may be bought too with the number of bars available for purchase determined by the current level card too. The number of bars bought is tracked on the silver buy table and the buying player places a briefcase (of his choice) from the market onto the silver purchase table. (Anyone having 5 silver bars may convert them into 1 gold bar at any time.)

You can also pass. When passing, a player simply places one briefcase of his choice from the market onto the silver purchase table.

Things really start jumping when there are five briefcases on any table. That sets up a “price adjustment”.

Before any price adjustment occurs, the interest on subsidies owned by players must be paid – to the tune of 5% of the total. (Short on cash? It may be possible to take another subsidy to pay for the old ones!) Now, briefcases are drawn from the bag (the number determined by the current level card). The marker of each color is moved based upon how many of its color AND how many black briefcases have been drawn. In this way, stock values move both right and left AND up and down on the board, potentially rising sharply and possibly falling precipitously. If only 1 black briefcase is drawn, the price of silver rises by 1 space (and that black piece goes back into the bag). After all prices have been adjusted, drawn briefcases go to the market; the briefcases on the table that sparked the adjustment (and that includes black ones) go into the bag. Now the silver market is adjusted too.

For every 3 silver bars purchased since the last adjustment, the marker on the silver track moves up 1 space. The “silver buy” marker returns to zero and the highest price reached by any stock is checked. If that value is at a level not yet reached, that level becomes the new current level and that value becomes the value of the current level card (affecting buying, selling, subsidies and briefcase draws.) As levels increase, more black briefcases go into the bag.

Play continues until the value of silver reaches 100. At this point, all players sell their stock shares, take as many subsidies as they can and use their funds to buy as much silver as possible converting 5 silver into 1 gold. The winner is the player with the most gold bars. If tied, then the player with the most silver bars. Still tied? Then cash on hand is the final decider. (Subsidies, by the way, NEVER need to be paid back!)

With the world’s economy reeling from market fluctuations, could this topic be more timely? Black Friday captures the sudden shifts of fortune that can raise spirits (and finances) or plunge you into the depths of debt and despair. In its prototype form, market crashes would occur frequently and suddenly which made the game explosive and left you feeling a bit powerless at the mercy of market whims. The finished product has tempered those sudden crashes. The market teeters but does not collapse as frequently or without warning as it had in its original form – a big improvement. Special Action cards, to minimize any advantage that the first player may have, may be used and are also included.

Black Friday has all the elements of a financial venture teetering on disaster. It is that omnipresent feel of looming collapse that give the game its edge.

Admittedly, the game is, for lack of a better word, “quirky” – too much reliance on the (modified) luck of the draw, too much “briefcases in and out of the bag”, and strange paths to stock price movement as stocks make right and left turns on the board in counterintuitive ways (rather than the more traditional straight up or down direction). The result is a game that will not be to everyone’s taste. Still, as is standard with designs by Friedemann Friese, the game has an irrefutable original touch. If you can handle the quirkiness, this financial game is well worth your time, effort and money.

 


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