One of my go to games for introducing hobby games to new players is that classic bidding game, No Thanks!
Designed by Thorsten Gimmler, it is super easy to teach, has a simple main mechanism — how much is a player willing to bid to avoid high numbered cards if the object of the game is to score the lowest points — and plays quickly. If you listen to the Dice Tower at all, you will definitely have heard Tom Vasel extol its virtues many, many times.
The edition I have is published by Z-Man Games and comes in a small box with good quality cards and nice bingo chips. No Thanks! is a true classic, and should be in everyone’s collection.
But it is a filler game, and after dozens and dozens of games, I am always on the lookout for that next step in bidding/auction games. Is your game group looking for a good auction game? Are your game nights getting bland with lots of filler-type bidding games and your group is ready for the next level?
Then Spice it up! with Stockpile, an insider trading game from Nauvoo Games. Stockpile is a 2015 release designed by Brett Sobol and Seth Van Orden. The game is made for 2-5 players, and plays in about 45 minutes to an hour (the shorter time is for players with experience — your first game will probably last a little over an hour).
I was lucky enough to be taught the game by one of the designers, Seth Van Orden.
Stockpile is essentially a buy low, sell high stock market type of game, with unique twists on bidding and stock information. Each player can purchase one of six stocks, whose value fluctuates throughout the game. The key is that each player privately knows the movement of one of the stocks, as well as all players sharing in the knowledge of one other stock.
Next, the players randomly are given stocks and movement cards that are put into piles for the players to bid on. That’s the best part of the game — each player is given a colored meeple representing his bidder. They take turns putting down a bid for the pile that they want, but can be outbid by other players. Once all piles have one bid on them, the auction ends, and the stocks are divvied up.
One of many games played at The Secret Cabal meet up Gen Con 2016
The auction takes only a minute or so, but has some very spicy and deliciously tense moments as players try to decide if they should go one more bid for their favorite pile. Of course, stocks can split or go bankrupt or give our dividends. And after the set number of rounds, the player with the most amount of money after selling all of the holdings is the winner!
Let’s talk about the components. Wow, what a presentation! The game comes with a two-sided board, with one side being the beginning or basic board and the back side containing the same set up but with a more wilder way for the stocks to move.
The meeples are all high-quality painted wood bits, and the stocks and action cards are all on good quality stock. The money is a very nice touch. I fully expected your typical Monopoly-and-or-Payday type of paper money, but instead, I found that we had been given tons of colorful, good-quality, laminated money cards. Nice touch!
How easy is the game to teach? The game play is best taught in steps, walking your new players or your experienced game group through the first turn, pointing out how the bidding and selling and stock movement works at each step. I promise you, once one turn is complete, even your greenest gamers will have the game down.
Does the theming carry through? As we say in Louisiana, this game “a la poche plein” (has its pockets full) of theme! Games like this can sometimes seem random or just plain math-y, but at no time have we felt like that in the numerous games we have played. Instead, it really does carry the theme of inside traders eyeing each other to see who is bidding what, and trying to guess why. Does the purple player know something about the computer stock? He must know something, because he is bidding everywhere else — and now he is dumping all of his shares! Time to sell! No doubt about it, this game is dripping with the theme of the game.
Why is this game spicier than other auction bidding games, like No Thanks! and For Sale? Those are great games, some of my all time fillers, but they are lighter games that set up and play in about 15-20 minutes. Both have great decision making, and the bidding mechanics are fun, but there is not a lot of depth to them (and they are not designed to be deep games).
At our bi-weekly game night, one of the Krewe de Gumbo members, Bradly, turned to me during the last game. He remarked that this is a game he doesn’t mind losing (which mind you, in our game group does not happen often). I am paraphrasing, but in essence, his point was that the experience captured by the auction, the joy in buying low and guessing correctly that your pick is moving up, and the delicious tension in deciding when to sell is all part of a very fun ride. That’s pretty high praise indeed.
At some point, your group is going to be ready for a deeper experience that simulates the fluidity of the stock market. The conceit that everyone is aware of in Stockpile is that the movement is random — but that’s not the point of the game. The real genius in the design is that the game is not focused on the random movement, but instead the game is all about reading your opponents, weighing the movement cards that are public/private knowledge, and knowing when to gamble and when to play it safe. Plus, the auction/bidding mechanic described above is a brilliant touch and is the real standard bearer for the game.
Obviously, we are big fans of Stockpile and can see why it was on many “Best Of…” lists last year. Patrick from Blue Peg, Pink Peg said in episode 80 that it was his pick for family game of the year in 2015, and we can see why. If your game group loves auction / bidding mechanics, but your game nights are getting bland — if your group would love a game with lots of juicy decisions, quick game play, just enough depth and great presentation, then pass by your local game store and get yourself a copy. I give it four out of five cayenne peppers.
Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!