Black Friday Review
Time: about an hour – perhaps twice that for the first few games.
Complexity: Very easy to play, but some of the mechanics take several games to get comfortable with. Rulebook is short but somewhat confusing at first.
Components: Nice wooden markers, sturdy board, solid cardboard tiles, paper money.
Theme: Stock market manipulation. Try to drive up the price of your stocks and then cash out before market crashes!
Black Friday is, somehow, both like and not at all like the classic Sid Sackson game, Acquire. With strategies like tricking or forcing your opponents to improve your best stocks or trigger events that will benefit your budding fortune, or buying a value stock that you plan to turn into massive piles of cash you might tell the other players “this reminds me of Acquire” – to which they nod assent. The similarities are the basic market principles of buy low, sell high and understanding which players to entertain a joint venture with and which to reduce to financial ruin. But the mechanics and flow of Black Friday really set it apart and make it refreshingly crisp – and addictive!
The basic premise is that players build up wealth by trading stocks as the price goes up while also transferring cash from stocks (which can go down in price) to sliver (which cannot) before the market crashes and the stocks lose all their value. Players alternate taking turns buying shares, selling shares, buying silver, or passing until one of their actions triggers a price adjustment – that’s when we get to see who is rich and who is biting back profanity. The price of silver continuously rises as the game progresses in a predictable way, so players must balance buying cheap silver early and allocating funds in stocks – which might tie up those funds for quite some time if the price doesn’t jump up quickly. A shrewd player can estimate the trajectory of a given stock, but the pace of it’s rise and fall is fickle and subject to market forces beyond the ability of mere players to entirely predict. Managing cash reserves through skillful pay and borrowing is important as well, as players running low of cash may also find their action choices limited to bad options – such as selling stock at a low price or passing at an unfortunate time if they lack the funds to buy any silver or stock.
The primary tokens in the game are colored (green, orange, red, blue, yellow) briefcases which represent shares of stock for the different companies. Each of the five stocks has the same number of shares based on the number of players in the game. However, there is some random variation in which shares are initially available to buy and each player will start with 5 hidden shares which will remain unrevealed unless the player takes an action which allows other players to deduce their holdings. The remaining shares are all placed in a hidden bag which represents the potential of the stocks to rise. This might not sound like a big deal, but it turns out that determining what other players are really betting on might turn out to be worth a lot of silver! In a game of 3 players, for example, each stock will have 34 briefcases available. Suppose that Yellow starts with 9 shares available for purchase, player one has 4 shares of yellow, player two has 3 shares of yellow and player three has 1 share of yellow. With 17 shares of yellow accounted for only 17 are in the bag to start. Suppose in addition that Blue starts with 4 available for purchase, and player three has 3 blue stocks. Then the Blue stock has 27 in the bag to start and a much higher chance of increasing quickly. Suppose in the first adjustment 3 shares of yellow and no shares of blue come out, then Yellow becomes an even worse investment and blue becomes an even better buy. Trying to determine which players are holding which stocks based on their bidding will help inform how much a stock is worth – and if you should buy shares or not!
I have one complaint of the game, and that is that the rulebook doesn’t do justice to the simplicity of the mechanics. The first time I played was with some other “serious” friends of mine who are no strangers to games and rules. We forced ourselves through the first few turns without much enjoyment and with much consulting the rulebook and guesswork. There was shrugging and grumbling about examples and flow of play and what was happening with the price adjustments – let alone trying to predict what was going to happen with the next one. However, by the end of the game there were glimmers of the strategy and how things should work, so we played again. And then we played again – and we continued to play this game for the better part of a weekend with increasing zeal. Some additional cards can be added to balance out the slight advantage of acting first or second and as we added in these and began to get serious about bidding analysis and bluffing the mechanics of the game began to flow into the well oiled machine that we expect of classic games. I now enjoy Black Friday even more than Acquire – and that is saying something!
I’d recommend Black Friday for anyone who enjoys market games (though if you’re like me you quickly abandon the paper money in favor of keeping track with a pencil and paper), bluffing or betting games, or any other games by Friedemann Friese. I’d also say that if you can get comfortable with the rules (which you can after a few plays) this is a good game for mixed company of serious and casual gamers and groups where reading in English is a problem as there is nothing that the players have to read during the game and only four actions they choose from on their turn.