By Cory & Jimmy

Editor’s Note: You may recognize Cory & Jimmy as hosts on The Dirtbags of Holding podcast. They also love board games, and since quarantine has limited my board gaming, they were willing to help me out with this review of Exchange, designed by Eric Sillies and published by Games by Bicycle.

Remember that time a kitten named Orlando picked stocks by throwing his toy mouse at a grid of companies and numbers? And remember when, unbeknownst to Orlando, his stock portfolio was being compared to portfolios managed by investment professionals and economics students? And, remember when Orlando’s portfolio outperformed all his human opponents? That’s what I thought about during this entire game. Welcome to Exchange!

Exchange is a light strategy game from Bicycle that places players in the shoes of securities traders. Managing the simple but tumultuous economy of the game is the perfect distraction from dealing with our own real-world economic nightmare.

TL;DR

Pros:

  • Light, accessible gameplay for all skill levels

  • Intense player interaction with opportunities for cooperation and backstabbing 

  • Fast paced mechanics allow a full playthrough in ~30 minutes

  • Quality, durable game components and box insert

Cons

  • Possibility of being eliminated from play

  • Capitalism

Show me the money!

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In Exchange, you play a securities trader with the goal of attaining the greatest net worth at the end of 5 rounds of buying, selling, and influencing the market. During each round, players reveal which security they want to interact with, whether they want to buy or sell, and which security they are going to change the value of. With each reveal, players receive more information on what their opponents are trying to do, and can use that intelligence to defend their own strategy or try to sabotage others’. 

The game components are well constructed and durable. Each player gets a board to track their owned securities. The boards are made of thick, double-layered cardboard and sturdy plastic sliders that keep their place when bumped or dropped. If you’ve ever played Betrayal at House on the Hill and struggled with the included stat tracking slides, know that those in Exchange are a big improvement. Envelopes are provided to keep player cards organized and oriented correctly. The box insert has paper dividers to protect the slider boards and a dedicated space for all the game pieces, which is a nice touch.

Gameplay includes plenty of complexity while remaining easy to understand. In short, you want to buy stocks when they’re cheap and sell them at maximum profit. You may simply hold onto stocks as they contribute toward your net worth. However, you need liquid cash throughout the game to gain control of the Lobbyist, which gives you greater market influence, and to preview the face-down Market Forces cards, which further modify securities values. If you can’t or don’t pay to view the Forces cards, they can really throw a wrench in your plans. On top of all this, players must keep in mind that raising or lowering the value of a security above or below its extremes will pop the market bubble, and send the price to the opposite end of the spectrum. This leads to a lot of analysis of your opponents’ positions and whether you think they’re going to try and pop the bubble on the stock you’re trading. If you guess wrong, you may end up making a defensive market influence move that keeps your stock value at the wrong end of the value spectrum for your intended trade.

When you play the Game of Thrones stock market…

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This brings us to maybe the only low point of the game: the possibility of player elimination. If you find yourself locked into a ‘buy’ action, and the price has unexpectedly shot up such that you cannot afford the purchase with cash, you have to liquidate your owned stocks at half their value to pay for all the stocks you said you would buy. If you still don’t have enough, you are eliminated from the game. Understandably, there has to be some risk of committing to more than you might be able to afford, but kicking people out of a game just isn’t a great mechanic in our book. Fortunately, the gameplay is somewhat quick, so they won’t be sitting out for long.

Let’s go watch that trading places movie…

Overall, Exchange is a good game for a wide range of skill levels. For such simple mechanics there are a lot of intense decisions that need to be made, and player interaction value is high. If you’re looking for a game that can be used to introduce new hobbyists or as a warmup for a big game night, put Exchange on your list.

Originally posted at Punch Board Media