The Buttonwood Agreement, signed on Wall Street in 1792, organized securities trading and led to a coalition of stockbrokers which later became known as the New York Stock Exchange. Today, millions of dollars worth of stocks, securities and bonds change hands every day on the NYSE, but even at its founding the ultimate goal was the same as it is today. If you want to come out on top with the most money, you have to know how to manipulate and take advantage of the Exchange.
Exchange is a game all about trading securities on the titular Exchange. Players take on the role of one of the original signers of the Buttonwood Agreement, with some cash and securities to their name already, and with the goal of having the most money at the end of the game. To setup, the market board is placed in the center of the table, with the price for Banks, Bonds, and Insurance securities starting at $50. Shuffle the deck of Market Forces cards and place it next to the board. Each player chooses a Founder, which determines how much money and securities they start with, adjusting the amount of securities on their ledger board accordingly. Finally, each player takes a sleeve for Phase 1, 2, and 3, along with the corresponding cards, which will be described in detail momentarily.
The game is played over five rounds, with each round being divided into three main phases. During each phase, players choose a card and slide it into the corresponding sleeve, and once all players have selected a card they are all revealed. In Phase 1, players choose a security: Banks, Bonds, or Insurance. Then, in Phase 2, players decide whether they want to buy or sell that security, and how many shares they want to buy or sell. It should be noted that during the reveal for Phase 2, players only show whether they are buying or selling, not their chosen number of shares. Finally, in Phase 3, players can influence the market by choosing one of the securities to raise or lower the value of. Players need not affect the same security in Phase 3 that they have chosen to buy or sell for that round, but it might be prudent to try to raise the price if selling or lower it if buying. After the three phases are complete, the top card of the Market Forces deck is revealed. This could change the price of one or more securities, double each player’s influence on the market, or have other effects. Then, based on each player’s Phase 3 card and the Market forces card, the price for each security is adjusted. If the price of a security ever goes below the minimum price ($10 in a 5-6 player game or $20 in a 3-4 player game) or above the maximum price ($90 or $80, respectively), the market bubble “pops”, and the price flips to the other side of the board. So, for instance, if the price of a security in a 5-player game is $80 and based on the players’ choices and the Market Forces the price is increased twice, it will first increase to $90, but then the bubble will pop and the value of that security will start back at $10. After the market has been adjusted, players reveal the amount of shares they are buying or selling (as chosen in Phase 2), and then buy or sell that amount based on the new price. If a player cannot afford to buy all of the shares they selected based on the new price, they must liquidate their existing assets at half price in order to pay for their purchase, so be careful!
After the first round, the player with the most cash gets control of the Lobbyist. The Lobbyist has another set of Phase 3 cards, meaning the player controlling them gets to influence the market twice during the third phase. In addition, at any time a player can pay $50 to look at the Market Forces card for the current round, which may help them strategize what to buy or sell, or how best to influence the market. After 5 rounds, there is one final market influence (Phase 3) session without a Lobbyist or a Market Forces card, and then the game is over. Players total up their cash and the value of all their securities based on their final price, and the player with the greatest net worth is the winner!
When it comes to the stock market, the fear of the unknown can prevent people from playing. In Exchange, since the game is controlled more by the players with minimal randomness from the game, it makes it way safer than playing real-life markets! Player control helps prevent this game from being 100% predictable; there is still the human element of surprise. There’s even a hint of social deduction with the three-round phase cards hiding behind the step sleeves. Having to read other players’ strategies can push your brain muscles, giving the decisions you make a lot of importance. The gameplay isn’t without a little bit of spice; the Market Forces cards do add a small element of surprise that could reflect how you play the market each round.
When it comes to gameplay, the mechanics of Exchange are very straight forward; even the sleeves break down the rounds step-by-step! The straight-forward nature makes the game easy to teach and would work well for people newer to more strategic games. Similar to The Alpha by the same company, Bicycle crafted Exchange to be a light strategy game that works well with a lot of different types of players. However, as a player who has experience with more advanced stock market games, I found this game a little bland. While I wouldn’t pick this up for a group who is well-versed in heavier games, I would recommend it for those who needed easing into something more strategic or are intersted in basic stock-market mechanics!
Exchange is a very straightforward stock market manipulation and trading game. I haven’t played too many other games in the genre, but I know they can get quite complex. This game isn’t too complex, and as a result is pretty easy to teach and learn. While playing, I really liked the components overall. Being able to flip the cards and slot them into the sleeves showing your selection for each phase is a nice touch. The gameplay overall was fun; I especially liked having to try to guess what the other players were going to do and plan around the stock market bubbles. It was interesting to see that when a price was teetering on the lower edge of the board and several players were planning to buy shares in that security, one or more of those players would counterintuitively choose to raise the price for that security to prevent the price from flipping to its maximum. Paying to see the Market Forces card was often a wise investment, as it let a player know that a security was more likely to hit the bubble, or that the bubble wouldn’t pop for the current round, so they could raise or lower prices with impunity. For being such a short and quick game, it is certainly full of meaningful decisions!
Unfortunately, one of my biggest issues with the game was with the rulebook. As the primary game learner and teacher in our household, I don’t typically comment on rulebooks because most games these days have rulebooks that are pretty well laid out. It was a shame that I found Exchange’s rulebook to be somewhat lacking. I really wish the information was ordered differently, as, for example, it described the three phases before explaining how players chose a card and revealed them for each phase. It took me a couple read throughs to fully understand the flow of the game and how each round worked, but once I understood it, it was easy to teach and play. Gameplay wise, I thought Exchange was fine, if maybe a bit short. With only 5 rounds, there are limited opportunities to buy and sell shares, since you can only do one of those for one of the types of securities per round. It might be a variant to play a few more rounds, and since the game is already pretty short that shouldn’t add too much time. It might also be better with more players. We were only able to play with 3, and it worked pretty well, but we didn’t get to experience the full $10-$90 range of prices for securities, as well as more changes to the market each round. Altogether, though, I think the Exchange works well for what it is.
As I said, Exchange is a very straightforward stock exchanging game with not a lot of frills. If you like other stock market games like Stockpile, or if you like trying to read the room and figuring out what other players are going to do, you’ll probably like this game. However, full enjoyment of the game might require at least some interest in the theme of securities exchanging. Though it’s a family weight game, it might not be the best choice for children, but gamer and non-gamer adults might have a fun time with Exchange!
Two Board Meeples were provided with a copy of Exchange from Bicycle in order to review. This has not influenced our decision when writing our review of this game.