Stock market and commodity trading games are one of the oldest staples in board gaming, from classics such as Pit and Acquire, to the flood of obscure forgotten games from the ’60s that infest the shelves of your local Goodwill. While the genre is well respected inside the industry, it’s also likely to be met with glazed-over eyes when asking newcomers if they want to play a game about stocks and bonds. To steal a quote from the Angry Video Game Nerd, “Who wants to play a game about stocks, or taxes, or politics? You just don’t do that!”
I’ll admit I wasn’t too keen on the genre for a long time myself. I remember looking at the stack of games at my grandparents’ house as a kid, bewildered how trading stocks would be considered fun. As I got older, and deeper into board gaming, I decided I really needed to finally give the genre a fair shake. A game that allows players to become like Martha Stewart and start insider trading seemed like a good jumping-off point. Is Stockpile a winner in a bull market or did it leave me in a great depression?
The Meeple of Wall Street
The goal of Stockpile is to finish the game with the most money. At the beginning of the game, each player receives a player board that represents their stock portfolio, a meeple that will be used during the bidding portion of the game, and a starting amount of money which varies if they are playing with the optional character cards. These characters give each player different amounts of starting capital and a player power that only they can use. These give the game a lot of variety and I’d recommend playing every game with them after the first play.
In the middle of the table is a board that shows how many turns remain in the game, the current value for each of the different companies stocks, a spot for stock forecasts, and auction spaces that will be used every round to bid on various stocks and action cards. Once the game begins, each player is given two secret stock forecast cards. This is insider information that only you know about; it shows what one particular stock is going to do that round. For example, it might inform you that the Epic Electric stock is going to go up to four points or pay dividends. Any remaining forecast cards will be added to the side of the board. One set of cards will always be public knowledge and the rest of the card are hidden information, set facedown next to the board.
Next, each player is given two cards from the stock deck. These cards can be a variety of things, from individual company stocks to action cards that will allow players to directly affect a company’s price or hidden trading fees that will increase how much a player must pay during the auction phase. Then each auction space at the bottom of the main board is seeded with a face-up card from the deck. Starting with the first player everyone takes turns placing their two stock cards on these auctions spots. Each player can put their cards on any space, but one must be face up and the other face down.
Once every player has placed their cards the auction phase begins. During this phase, players use their meeple to bid on the groups of cards that were placed during the previous round. Above every grouping of cards is a bidding track that looks like a calculator. Placing your meeple on one of these spots indicates which group of cards you are bidding on as well as how much you’re willing to pay for it. Another player could kick a player off a calculator by placing their meeple higher than the previous bid. If you are kicked off space you’ll place your piece again once it becomes your turn. This continues until each player has their meeple on an uncontested space. They will then pay out their bids to the bank, as well as any trading fees that they picked up. Once all fees are paid everyone places their newly acquired stocks face down onto their player boards.
The action phase is next. At this time any action cards that were picked up during the previous phase must be played. These cards will let the player who uses them to raise or lower the stock price of a company. This can lead to some humorous results, such as bankrupting a company that was just about to have a huge surge. When all action cards have been played, players then have the opportunity to sell stocks before the prices change in the next round. This is where your insider knowledge comes into play. Knowing that a stock is going to crash before it happens can be hugely beneficial, because selling a stock at its current higher amount can be a big win, but may also tip off other players that a large amount of Stanford Steel they’ve been hoarding might soon be a lame duck.
Once all players are done selling stocks it’s finally time to change the market values for each company. One by one each player reveals the forecast cards they had been dealt during the earlier phase and adjusts the price for that company as indicated. If this moves the stock counter all the way to the right of the board that stock splits. Every player who owns shares of that company reveals them and then moves them to the right side of their player board. These stocks are now “split” and are now worth shares each, meaning if you were to sell them in the future you’d receive double its worth. If a company’s stock tracker moves all the way to the left that company is now bankrupt and players must then discard all shares they own in that company, even the split ones! A forecast card may also indicate that it is paying dividends instead of moving, (denoted by two dollar signs). In this case, all players reveal every share of that company’s stock they own and receive $2000 per share or $4000 per share if the stock was previously split.
After all forecast cards have been resolved the round marker is moved down and the first player marker is passed clockwise to the next player. Play continues until a set number of rounds is completed. At the end of the final round, every majority shareholder for each company is awarded $10,000; then they sell all their shares at the current prices indicated on the board. Players count all of their cash and whoever possesses the most is the winner!
BUY, BUY, BUY!
Stockpile is nothing like I would’ve expected from a game with a theme as dull as stock trading. Granted it never portrays itself as a serious stock game, with its cartoon-like visuals and simplistic “take-that!” style bidding mechanic, but what it offers is an easy to learn game that’s about reading your opponents as much as predicting the forecast.
When you’re placing your two cards before the bidding phase, deciding where to place them and which one to leave face up can be really tricky. If there’s a card in your hand that you really want, do you try and protect it by keeping it hidden, or do you try to fake people out by showing it off and hope no one else is interested in it? Do you try and make it less desirable by placing it on a space that contains extra trading fees? Maybe you keep it hidden on one set and place your other card that you know others may want face-up on a different pile to try and get people to go for that one. It’s such an interesting thought process and you’re trying to read your opponents who are doing the same thing.
The bidding phase itself contains its own element of misdirection, such as trying to pull a sleight of hand on everyone at the table by bidding on a pile that you don’t have much interest in just to drive up the price before you get booted off; then trying to win the cards you actually want. Sometimes you’ll attempt this but everyone throws you for a loop by letting you have it and going for the other lots instead, leaving you kicking yourself for not just gunning straight for the thing you wanted. Then the next moment you’ll be laughing hysterically when someone takes a chance on a mostly face down pile only to be saddled with thousands in trading fees. It’s all a really enjoyable time.
I really liked the variety the game provides as well. Variable player powers are always a big plus in my book, so the different characters are a welcome addition, and I’ll never play without them. These characters give different bonuses throughout the game, such as allowing a player to look at face-down cards during the auction phase or paying out extra for dividends. So far none of these have felt overpowered either.
The mainboard itself has two sides. The normal side features and equal length stock track for each company, meaning every company is worth the same amount and has an even chance of splitting or going bankrupt. The other side, again the side I will always play on, changes things up. Every company’s track is different, with some being longer or shorter than others. The shorter tracks are great because they can split much easier, but on the flip side, they can go bankrupt just as quickly, making them a risky venture. The values on those tracks vary for each stock. Stanford Steel, for example, has the longest track, making it very stable, but even at its highest values, it’s not worth as much as some of the others. Instead, its track features several spots that will pay out dividends to players if that spot is crossed as a consequence of a positive gain.
The production of the game is pretty good. I like the cartoon visuals and the board is actually rather inviting making for an overall aesthetic that isn’t anywhere near as dry as the subject matter. Instead of paper money, there are cards of various denominations that are nice and colorful. My only minor gripe with the design is that the purple and blue player bidding meeples don’t quite match the color on the player boards, at least not in our copy, and they look very similar when placed on the mainboard; this makes it difficult to tell who is bidding on what if both of those colors are being used in a game.
I really enjoyed every game that I’ve played of Stockpile. I recommend it at the higher player counts of 4-5 players. Though 3 players are functional, if you only have 2 players I wouldn’t bother, because the game flourishes the most when there’s a large group of people laughing and elbowing their neighbors after the company they had six shares in goes belly up.
If you’ve been hesitant in the past about giving the genre a go I’d really recommend this one. It’s a perfect entry-level game. Easy to understand, very quick and snappy. The box says 45-minute playtime and that is pretty much spot on. It has some legs too, with a couple of expansions that add different modules to the game to keep things fresh. Check it out, Stockpile is a game that definitely won’t leave you with empty pockets.
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AKA “The Board Game Mole”
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