Sunday, October 08, 2006

Game review: Take Stock

For those looking for a recreational spin away from the real stock market, a corporate gift idea or stocking filler for the coming holiday season (Macy's were putting up the Christmas Tree decorations last weekend), or something to introduce your kids to the market - there is a game on the market which could be of interest to you, "Take Stock". I am a lurker on and a big fan of games like Puerto Rico and San Juan - joining the ranks is another trading game, "Take Stock", designed by Simon Hunt and released by Z-Man Games. A couple of weeks ago my wife and I gave the game a spin. The game is a good size to travel with; the game box is small enough to be packed away easily without risk of damaging the cards. The cards are good quality and should survive frequent handling.

The game is quick to set up; you have your market event pile, your share card pile, the five stocks in the center, and the container holding the option chips. We played the 2-player version and each game ran for about an hour. The game is split into 4 rounds. The rounds pass relatively quickly but you will need a piece of paper to keep track of your scores (good for learning multiplication!). During a round, each player takes turns to play cards from their hands. An interesting aspect of the game is the need to act - it is not possible to 'pass' during your turn. At its simplest, the turn starts by drawing a card from the share card pile. This is added to your hand and then either a card is either played to one of the five stocks to raise the price, a discard is used to play a share certificate, or a discard is to play/collect a market event card. The share certificares are part of the same cards used to raise the stock price. The higher stock values also correspond to the higher multiple of stock certificates.

In the first round, the game starts relatively simply as Market Event cards are accumulated in preperation for the later rounds when things can get nasty. Market event cards in the early rounds are best stockpiled for the later rounds when they can do some damage. The initial set up also includes the distribution of 4 option chips, these can be converted to share certificates at the end of the round. It is possible to draw for extra option chips - but this doesn't happen often, so treat these 4 starting options with care.

The option chips are a nice touch since claiming a stock certificate means playing it for all to see. You can use the option chips to acquire shares in a stock which may have been overlooked, or unplayable due to the limit restrictions based on the number of share cards played. Players can only convert x number of share cards to share certificates, based on the highest number of share cards played to any one of the five stocks.

The stock crash, and a number of other events, are triggered by the Market Event cards. There are two ways to play them - both of which require discarding a card. The initial draw involves a discard from the hand and either drawing 1 card to use later, or 2 cards - one of which is used immediately. The most drastic is the stock market crash which removes a split and/or half of the cards used to bid up the stock price. Other event cards split the stock price, add or take cards from your hand, gain/remove an option, freeze a stock, remove a share card during an "audit", or do nada (which sometimes is the preferred call). The market event cards also contain a Market Close card, which ends the round.

The other ways the round can end is if one of the share prices reaches 11 or 12, or if a player has no more cards in their hand. Then it is a matter of toting up the score, doing some long multiplication and addition, before moving on to the next round. Previous market event cards collected are held over for the next round, while the remaining share cards are returned to the deck, shuffled and dealt before the next round begins.

The ability to hold on to market event cards is a handy feature and if you find yourself in a position where you can't raise the stock price or play a stock certificate, you end up collecting plenty of event cards. To play an event card requires another discard from your hand (so use wisely). It was not uncommon to be left with only a few cards in the hand after playing certificates and/or market events. By the fourth round each player usually has an armory of share splits, freezes, and stock crash cards in reserve.

There is plenty of room for strategy. In one instance I bid up one of the stocks early, causing my opponent to lay out a couple of stock certificates early, before playing a market event which crashed the stock price. Not only did this reduce the net worth of my opponent, but the stock certificates contributed to her limit of playable cards. It bought me a bit of freedom, but may not have been so successful had I employed this tactic in the last round when there are more market events available to play.

In summary, "Take Stock" is a great way to get you away from the world Monopoly, and send you on the way to the alternate boardgame universe.

If you would like further information about this game you can contact the designer, Simon Hunt, or order for the game direct for under $10.