This week we had our first chance to play Take Stock (published by Z-Man Games), a copy of which designer Simon Hunt was kind enough to send to the Gamescape.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game and while one play isn't enough to give you a comprehensive review, I'd like to share my initial thoughts on the game. I'm writing this without the rules in front of me so please forgive any mistakes!
Learning the ropes
As usual it fell to me to explain the game! Unfortunately, like everyone else I'd never played before, or even read through the rules! When learning a new game I prefer to have read through the rules at least once first, to see how everything fits together. But we were all keen to play the game, so I basically had to read them aloud and we all figured them out as we went along.
There was a small amount of confusion over a couple of points but I think this was due to the fact that a) there was quite a lot to take in and b) it's harder to take in the rules when you're having them read to you than if you're reading them yourself. Overall, I felt the rules were well presented with good illustrations, diagrams and examples of play. Our learning method meant the first round or so of the game was a bit haphazard but after thay everyone had found their feet.
Playing the markets
The game is played with two deck of cards - 'shares' cards and 'market event' cards. There are five sets of shares cards, one for each company, and they're numbered 1 to 12. The number-one share cards are placed in the middle of the table to represent each company's starting value. The rest are then shuffled and an equal number dealt out to each player (in our five-player game it was four each).
As I already mentioned, there's quite a bit to take in initially. There are two reasons for this:
1. You can take one of four actions on your go, after first drawing a shares card (and one of those options gives you a further choice to make).
2. There are special 'market event' cards that have a wide range of different effects and you need to have at least a vague understanding of what they all do.
Consequently, this isn't a light card game a la Coloretto or Mama Mia. There are lots of difficult decisions to make, and I'd put it in with Citadels, Colossal Arena and San Juan in terms of weight.
Okay, to give a quick overview of the game, you're trying to make money (earn points) by having share certificates in the most valuable companies. There are five companies in the game, and one of your options on your go is to increase the value of a company by playing a matching share card onto it in the stock market. However you can increase a company's value by a maximum of four. This means you can't go straight from a value of 2 to a value of 12 for instance, and makes it harder to play your high vaue cards as the current value has to increase to a point where they're playable.
Your second option is to play down a share certificate. Cleverly the share cards double as the share certificates - so you face the difficult choice of whether to play a card to increase the value of the relevant company or play it down in front of you as a share certificate. The higher the card's value the more shares it's worth. The lowest cards are worth 0 shares, so you'd only ever play them on the stock market to increase the value of their company. The highest cards however are worth 3 shares - so do you use them to increase the value of the company or use them as certificates? This is probably the most common dilemma you'll face in the game and it's a fun one.
When you play a share card as a share certificate you also have to discard a share card from your hand. As a result your hand size is reduced by one for the rest of the round. This obviously happens every time you do this, so your strategy solidifies as the cards in your hand reduce throughout the round. I really like this aspect of the game as again it presents you with difficult choices - do you start playing certificates early and hope to be able to increase the value of their companies before the round ends? Or do you bide your time, leave playing certificates until later in the round and hope you can get some down before it ends?
Close of trading
While I'm talking about round endings, there are three ways this can happen - another aspect of the design that struck me as very clever as it allows players a good degree of control. Here's a quick look at the ending conditions:
1) Market closes: At the beginning of the game you place the 'Market closes' card 11 from the bottom of the 'market events' stack - when this card comes up the round ends. Importantly, the used market event cards from previous rounds are placed under the stack, so you know if you've had one or two rounds without the 'Market closes' card it will be coming up fairly soon. In our game it came up early in the third round, making for a low scoring round.
2) Someone plays an 11 or 12 share card: As soon as someone increases the value of a company to 11 or 12 the round ends - so you need to watch out once a company's value gets to 7 or higher.
3) Someone runs out of cards: As mentioned previously, playing a share certificate reduces your hand size by one for the rest of the round. When someone plays their last card as a certificate the round ends. So again you need to keep an eye on the other players.
If the round ends and you've got cards in your hand that you wanted to play as certificates all is not lost. At the beginning of the game each player gets a number of 'stock option' counters. You can hand one of these in at the end of the round to play a card from your hand as a share certificate. But beware - you don't get any more during the normal course of the game (although I believe there's a market event card that gives everyone an extra stock option) so you need to use them when they're worth the most points (although, of course that won't always be obvious :-) ).
Market event cards
The market event cards allow you to manipulate the value of the market or other aspects of the game in varous ways that are too numerous to go into here. Suffice to say that the right card at the right time can very much help your cause - conversely the wrong card at the wrong time can see the value of your carefully constructed portfolio go through the floor!
Your third and fourth options on your turn involve taking and using the market event card.
Your third option is to discard a share card and choose to either take the top card off the draw pile and save it (face down) until a later turn, or take the top two cards and play one of them immediately. This second option, while giving you more choice, isn't entirely risk free. You may draw two cards that will both mess up your plans - in which case you'll have to choose the one that has the least bad effect! In our game I drew cards that would either cause the diamond company or the whole market to crash. As I was heavily invested in diamonds I chose to share the pain around with a general market crash!
Your fourth option is to discard a share card and use one of your previously saved market event cards. You can keep your market event cards between rounds until the 'Market closes' card comes up, when they're all collected in and reshuffled into the deck - another reason to bear in mind how far through the market events deck you've got.
Si's First impressions
I thoroughly enjoyed our first play of Take Stock. Once we had the rules down after the first couple of rounds even our five-player game moved quickly.
The four options in each turn gives you plenty to think about and the possibility of allying with and back-stabbing another players (which I enjoy in games like Colossal Arena, Modern Art and Bridges of Shangri La) makes for a tense and involving game and difficult decisions. I also like the way you get increasingly tied into your strategy. Playing the share certificates reminded me of another of my favourite games, Ra, where you only get limited opportunities to place winning bids.
As is only fitting for a stockmarket game there's a fair amount of luck, but equally appropriately there are many opportunities to turn the current situation to your advantage (or at least someone else's disadvantage!). You can ramp up the risk (and reward) by investing heavily in just one company, or you can spread your bets with a wider portfolio.
All in all Take Stock gets a big thumbs up from me. Now I'm off to check on my portfolio!
Mike's First impressions
While we were reading through the rules (which, while reading seemed very complex, but essentially are very simple!) I mentioned that it had a feel of "Colossal Arena" to the game and, it's interesting to note that Si noticed that too, as I still feel that the games share some strategy, you have to make and break unspoken alliances with the other players during the game. For example, if Paul was investing in Movies, then I could also do so, safe in the knowledge that he had a vested interest in getting the share price as high as he could. Although one I joined in the investment, we could both be targets to a Stock Market Crash as now Si realises that he is the only one not in Movies so a crash there would benefit him - so you need to be aware of who is doing what!
One way that I can tell if I'm going to like a game (other than the absence of the words "Settlers of Catan" on the lid) is by weighing up the amount of stuff I want to do on my turn with the amount of stuff I can actually do! In Take Stock, like other games I really enjoy, the ratio is highly biased towards what I want to do, and my brain often hurts as I try to work out which of the few actions I can take, is the best! TS really makes you think about your go!
In terms of "bits", Z-Man have done a great job of keeping that quality high, the cards and tokens are well made and will last a good number of plays! Overall, the Designer and Z-Man have done a good job in getting this potential classic out - nice one!