Popping the Bubble: A Review of Exchange
Money has never been my cup of tea. And by that I don’t mean I eschew it, but rather that I struggle to account for it. (Get it? Account? Like accounting? No? Alrighty then…) I’m pretty money savvy—at least, I know how to manage what I have—but when it comes to actual accounting and mathing…well, that burns my brain. (There’s a reason I consider myself a writer and not a mathematician.)
So, when I got Exchange from Bicycle (the same people who published The Alpha and perhaps the most popular brand of playing cards known to man), I was a little nervous that my right-brained approach to things would make my time in the stock market a traumatic one. Fortunately, Exchange proved to be engaging and enjoyable not just for me, but for everyone we played with—including my father-in-law whose job is in finances. (Not that finances equate to Wall Street per se, but there is something of a familiarity between the two.)
My initial impressions were a little…confusing. The rule book wasn’t the most helpful at explaining the game, but after two plays, we did figure out that we were playing it incorrectly (although we daresay that “our” way is the “advanced/expert” way; see “Final Thoughts” below). Of course, we then started playing by the proper rules and everything made a lot more sense. We enjoyed it the wrong way (which isn’t always the case when playing incorrectly), but there’s certainly something to be said about playing the game as it was intended to be played.
The game takes place over five rounds, and each round has three phases:
- Select a security
- Select if you will buy or sell, and by how much
- Manipulate the market
The first phase simply has you solidifying what security you will be dealing with this round. Everyone places the card showing the security they selected into their Phase 1 sleeve, and then, when everyone has done so, they are revealed simultaneously.
Now that you know what everyone is planning on going for, you decide if you are going to buy or sell stock in the security you selected in phase 1. Drop the appropriate Phase 2 card (numbered 1-9) with “buy” or “sell” at the top, depending on if you want to buy or sell. You will buy or sell the amount shown on that card (i.e. 1-9).
Now that you’re locked in to that, it’s time to manipulate the market. You can try and increase or decrease the security you’ll be trading in, or a different one (which is always fun, since it affects the other players dealing in that particular security). There’s a fine line between messing with someone and not helping yourself enough, but that line varies round by round. Once everyone has locked in their card to either increase or decrease a selected security by 1, they are all revealed (cue groaning by those who are now buying/selling for more than / less than they had hoped). Then, a Market Forces card is flipped and resolved, which could make things even worse, or potentially better. At any time during the round, any player can pay $50 to look at the top Market Forces card, so at least there’s a way to know what’s coming and (hopefully) prepare for it.
The game goes on for five rounds, with a sixth round consisting only of Phase 3—without the Market Forces card. Then, the player with the most combined cash and market value wins!
The game itself is pretty straight forward, but there is something of a wildcard (aside from the Market Forces cards). This is the Lobbyist. The Lobbyist gets to put in an additional Phase 3 card into a separate sleeve (labeled “Lobbyist”). This helps the Lobbyist know more certainly how things might swing, and puts everyone else in a bit of a predicament. The player with the most cash gets this boon, so being rich is incentivized.
Thoughts on Gameplay
The game is easy to learn, once you actually know the rules after having read the rule book. It can play quickly, but table talk (i.e. petitions to work together or threatening others) can potentially slow things down. We discussed this aspect of the game and concluded that a two-minute timer for discussion would probably be good to have, despite there not being one included with the game. Otherwise, discussion could go on ad nauseum.
We had a six-player game take an hour and a half due to lengthy discussions during the rounds. Still, it made for some great decisions—and a sudden yet inevitable betrayal at the very end—which made for a memorable game. Just know going into it that it might be a longer game if you don’t curb discussion after a certain timeframe.
The theme of working the market is pretty strong due to the slider boards and the way things can quickly turn on you (or for your favor). While it may not be the most cinematic of themes, it feels just as stressful as I might imagine it being for a stock broker. (Well, perhaps not that stressful…)
There are certain “event” cards that are drawn each round that can affect the values you’re trying to manipulate. Reading the market—and taking a peek at what might be coming—is thematically on point and well done.
The art isn’t anything fancy (it’s a money game, what did you expect?), but I don’t find the lack thereof to be distracting or to take away from the game in any way. It’s just not something you’re going to be writing home about.
These are the things that make the game good (for me, anyway):
- The ability to sabotage other players
- “Teamwork” (because you never know if those you’re working with are going to go back on their deal)
- It makes me feel smarter than I probably am
- Newly discovered “Advanced” variant
Things to Consider
- It’s pretty lightweight in terms of complexity
- The rule book was fairly confusing
- You need at least three players (so you couples out there might need to find a new friend or two)
- The suggested play time on the box is a low estimate
Despite its flaws, I found Exchange to be a fun game. In fact, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it each time I played. It’s simple, true, and probably targets more of an entry-level gamer than anything, but it has enough that I wouldn’t be opposed to playing it again.
While it was fun the “real” way, I—and those I played with incorrectly those first two games—think our “advanced” variant is just slightly better. For our misinterpreted variant, instead of doing one phase at a time, players instead put one card in each phase sleeve before revealing any of them. It makes you more blind, but it also gives others less change to intentionally mess with you. It’s an interesting way to play, so if you get the chance, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this new variant. Still, the original, correct way of playing is also fun and enjoyable, so you can’t go wrong there.
Exchange is pretty basic, but it’s still fun, and fun is what matters. There is definitely an audience this game is geared toward, but I don’t think it would be insulting to a gamer who prefers more in-depth gameplay if they were to play it as well. It’s one of those games that is “good for all types of gamers” but doesn’t necessarily stand out in terms of being uniquely interesting. Fortunately, even us right-brainers can excel at (and enjoy) Exchange.
What interests you most about Exchange? Share your thoughts in the comments!
About the Author
Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He’s a certified copyeditor and a freelance writer and editor, covering everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Benjamin_Kocher. You can also read his board game inspired fiction at BoardGameImmersion.com.