I am a Friedemann Friese fan girl, so when I found out that the game I was seeing everyone carrying around at Origins was a new game by Mr. Friese, there was audible squealing for joy.
I was also no longer surprised to see that a game I had never heard of was suddenly in nearly everyone’s hands. Friese is a rock star among board game designers. He has created such hits as Power Grid, Factory Manager, Megastar, and many many others. And now, the game Black Friday is being proudly added to his pedigree.
Black Friday is a cynical stock market game, taking jabs at the banking industry and governments behavior. For instance, players can take subsidies from the government. These subsidies do not have to be paid back, ever. There is no benefit to paying them back, and the game even says that paying them back is not allowed. Of course you have to pay interest on these borrowed monies, 5%, but this amount is so measly, it just hardly matters. Of course the government puts a limit on how many subsidies you can have, but as the economic situation on the board takes a nose dive, the government allows you to pump yourself more and more full of delicious tax payer funds. Sound familiar?
Another bit of cynicism? The winner of the game is the one who has the most money stashed into gold and silver at the end of the game, not the one with the highest valued stocks or the most money. And that gold and silver can’t ever be taken away from you, not even if you can’t pay your interest on your subsidies. Think of your gold and silver as if they had been stashed in an offshore account. Some place nice… like Tahiti.
So cynicism aside, how is the game played? It took me a while to figure that out. The rules leave something to be desired. I sat down with the rules on about three separate occasions, thinking I would read ahead and figure this game out so that I could explain it to my players later. I struggled, I struggled hard, and didn’t really get most of it till I was forced to try to explain it, little bit by little bit. A big part of the problem is that the rules are not laid out well. The information is scattered everywhere, buried in long winded paragraphs. Although periodically the information wasn’t even listed there, instead only being found in side notes and Friese’s characters speech bubbles.
Consequently, we found that we played the game wrong the first time. There were some nuances we missed, and there were some misconceptions regarding subsidies. But that’s ok, we hardly understood the strategy that propelled the game forward during the first game. We vowed that our second game would be better! … And it was. Although we still found ourselves referencing the rules a few times. What would have been really helpful would have been a player cheat sheet.
So now that we knew how to play, the game wasn’t so hard, at least the mechanics weren’t hard. The strategy, however, is a completely different story. On your turn you can do one of four different things: buy stocks, buy silver, sell stocks, or pass. Regardless of which of these actions you choose, it’s going to influence the market on future turns.
But before you can really understand how any of these actions affect the market, you really need to know how the market is adjusted. When certain conditions arise, the market undergoes an adjustment. This adjustment starts with you paying interest on your subsidies. Once that is taken care of, the player who caused the adjustment reaches into an opaque bag and pulls out a specified number of suitcases randomly. Based upon the colors pulled, the prices are going to adjust. The chart on the bottom right of the board depicts how these price changes occur. But basically the more suitcases that are pulled for each color, the better, because this drives the price skyward. Once all of these are drawn, the drawn suitcases go into the market, while all the suitcases that were in the table that caused the adjustment go into the bag, thus making the likelihood of those cases being drawn higher on future adjustments.
So now that you understand (at least vaguely) how a price adjustment works, the logic behind buying, selling, and passing begin to make more sense. Whenever you buy a stock, you place the same color on the purchase table. Later it will be in the bag, and increase your odds. When you sell a stock, you remove a suitcase of that color from the sales table, leaving behind only those that were not sold. When you pass you get to place any color you would like on the silver sales track. Any suitcases that wind up on these tables are eventually going to make their way to the bag, and thus make your odds better.
If this all sounds esoteric to you, don’t worry, it did to us the first time through as well. Our first game, we really didn’t understand that placing or leaving suitcases on a table made our odds, or our opponents odds better. The first game, we completely failed to understand when it was appropriate to buy silver. The first game no body even opted to pass until forced to towards near the end of the game. However, our second time through, we were bright eyed and ready. So when we reviewed the rules, everything kinda clicked into place.
In the end I decided I really liked this game. The mechanics were simplistic, and adjustments were filled with lots of nail biting excitement. One of my players typically does not enjoy stock market games, but really enjoyed this one. This is very high praise coming from her, and we all mirrored her sentiment. Black Friday was fun, and I can see us replaying it for many more times to come.
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