Updated: Oct 24, 2020
With all the (entirely justified) hype over Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical Hamilton, it's surprising that this stock market game hasn't attracted more publicity. Designed by Eric Sillies, Exchange is a market manipulation game set in the newly created USA in 1792.
To be fair, the historic setting is mostly just represented by the random 'market forces' (event) cards that are revealed each round. Other than the references there to historic financial events, your attention in Exchange (or, to give it its full title, Exchange: A Game of Strategy & Wit) is on the buying and selling price of three stocks: Banks, Insurance and Bonds. In each of the five rounds, players first all select which of the three stocks they will trade, placing a card representing that stock in their cardboard sleeve for 'Phase 1'. This information becomes public (ie: it can be seen by all the other players). In their 'Phase 2' sleeve, players indicate how many stocks they are trading and whether they are buying or selling. The information that is publicly available is solely whether you are buying or selling (other players cannot at this stage see how many stocks you are trading). Finally, in your 'Phase 3' sleeve you indicate how you are influencing a stock (choosing a +1 or -1 shift in Banks, Insurance or Bonds. The market forces event card is revealed and it and all players' Phase 3 market influences are implemented on a market value board before players reveal how many stocks they had indicated in their Phase 2 sleeves.
Though these mechanics are simple, they offer plenty of scope for strategy, including some use of bluff and deduction. Your market influence card can be used to directly benefit you (depressing the price of a stock you are buying or increasing the price of one you are selling) or to screw over an opponent. The latter is made especially possible by the way the market value board operates: if the stock value rises above $90 ($80 in a three-player game), the bubble bursts and its price moves to the other extreme end of the board. Likewise, if the price falls below $10 ($20 in a three-player game), the price loops round to the upper end of the board.
This is a game that's based on much open information but you can always benefit from further inside information by spending $50 to look in advance at the market forces event card for the round... And other than in the first and last rounds, the player with the most liquid cash gets use of the Lobbyist - a chance to play an extra Phase 3 market influence card.
For a game that's quick to learn and play, there's a surprising amount of depth to Exchange but there's more: the short rulebook offers five very playable variations to further spice up gameplay. The game is well produced; we'd just like to have seen dual-layered player boards so that the cubes for keeping track of your stock holdings are less prone to jogging.
Exchange takes 3–6 players but, because players choose their actions for each phase simultaneously, playing with a full complement of six really doesn't any longer than playing with three. In all cases, you can expect a basic game to take around 30 minutes, though it will run a little longer with some of the optional variant rules.
We hear that Exchange has found a new publisher and is likely to appear next year in a new edition. We'll show it off on Board's Eye View as soon as we can get hold of a copy. Meanwhile, this original version is being sold at a discounted price: a bargain, especially given the quality of the components. You can buy a copy of Exchange at https://www.facebook.com/exchangetheboardgame/
Addendum: The new 2020 edition of Exchange is now out. It's published by Bicycle and you can get our Board's Eye View by clicking here.