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Stock manipulation, buying and selling are at the heart of many board games. The innumerable 18XX train games are all more about stock manipulation than laying rails. Many of the countless pick up and deliver Mediterranean trading games involve trading mechanics. And, of course, there are pure unadulterated market trading games where players are chasing profits by acquiring shares and manipulating markets.

In Investiture, designed by Rahul Bapna and published by Ad Magic, it's all about moving markets and taking profits. There are six stocks in the game and each starts off with an initial value, from 'PharmC' at $25 to 'Nile' at $120. To add to the sense of high-flying finance tho, all are traded only in multiples of 1000, so players are always dealing in large figures (the cheapest initial purchase would be for 1000 PharmC at $25,000). Some will find this annoying, especially when it can contribute to errors where a player accidentally drops a zero when making payment, but it does add to the excitement when players feel they are gambling for high stakes.

And make no mistake about it, this is a gambling game. Tho' the imaginary companies in Investiture each represents a major economic sector, none produce anything that affects game play and the movement of their share prices is not even affected by trading in the stock. In Investiture, share prices move according to the cards that are dealt each round. The 2-6 players each receive 10 cards. Some may be 'lucky break' special effect cards but the overwhelming majority of the cards in the 100+ card deck show an individual stock and its dollar rise or fall. The initially cheaper stocks have fewer price fluctuation cards and the fluctuations are over a narrower range, while the initially more expensive stocks are subject to wide and extensive price fluctuation. At the extremes, there are just eight PharmC price cards and they are in the range -10 to +10, while for Nile there are 32 price fluctuation cards and they range from -40 to +40!

Once you've seen your cards, you each take three turns before all the cards are revealed and acted upon. On your turn you can buy shares, sell shares you've bought previously or 'short' shares (sell shares you don't own in the hope of benefitting from a price drop). The arrangements for shorting shares in Investiture are quite simple (you have to take one of your turns in the next round to 'clear' your position) and it's good to see a stock market game that offers shorting as an option. Some of the 'lucky break' cards need to be played as a turn action for them to take effect (for example, a card that allows additional shares to be bought at a discount, or a card that pays out $200,000).

In the main, you'll be making trading decisions based on the impact of the 10 cards in your hand. You have the benefit of this insider knowledge of how the market will rise or fall at the end of the round, but, beware, you have imperfect information: all the players have 10 cards to reveal at the end of the round. As you increase the player count so you reduce the proportionate value of your individual insider knowledge: I may have two cards that push a particular share price up but the chances are that other players may have cards that push it down. On the face of it, this might seem to make for a rather random game of luck but there's more to it than that because players are also able to learn from the actions that others take. If I see you shorting a share, that gives me a very strong indication that you have cards that are going to push that share price down...

With only three actions per round, there's little scope for trickery or bluff but the game does give players incentive for building a strong stake in a company that, over the course of the games 10 or more rounds, can make it worthwhile pursuing an investment that may lose you money in the short term. If you hold 50,000-99,000 shares in a company, you become a director. This means you can remove your lowest card in that company when your 10 cards are revealed. If you hold 100,000 shares in a company, you are deemed to be the CEO and can remove the lowest negative card played by any player. And perhaps being made CEO is the 'Investiture' of the game's title (in everyday English usage, the word relates to installing someone in office or giving them an honour, it doesn't relate to investing in shares).

If you like gambling games where you are playing the odds, then Investiture should appeal to you even if you've otherwise no interest in the stock market theme. For those who fancy themselves as City Slicker wheeler-dealers, then Investiture may offer you a taste of the high life insulated from the risk of crippling bankruptcy: you may be waving wads of million dollar bank notes but when those losses strike, it may be reassuring that it's just a game.

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