Fischmarkt (Fish Market) is a game for 3-5 players, where each player experiences the hectic haggling faced by fishmongers as they try to buy their goods off the fishing ships that dock at the harbour before trying to sell their catch off at the most profitable price. In the fish market, the stakes can rise surprisingly high and the bargaining can become absolutely merciless!
Fischmarkt contains two sets of items: the cards and the boards. The cards are of the standard size and easily shuffled (unlike the original TtR ones), which is important in this game where the cards are shuffled very often. Perhaps a bit gaudy, but the different types of cards are very clearly marked in stark, contrasting colours, like blue, orange and bright green, which is pretty much functional. The fish on the cards are quite realistic (well, I’m not fish connoisseur, but as far as I know, they’re quite nice). As for the boards, the style is rather more cartoonish. With the exception of the scoring board which has relatively realistic coins and cashier design, the boats on the main auction board and on each player’s game board are in this less realistic fashion. It’s a slight mismatch, but nothing too glaring.
The rules may seem long, but they are by no means tedious and, as with many good games I’ve played, become a total breeze after a round or two. For the sake of completeness, I’ll describe them here nonetheless, especially since Fischmarkt doesn’t have an English version as far as I know.
First, the scoring track is set up. All players put their standing counter on 50, in the centre of the board. Their circular counter is placed on the top left, a 0 representing the hundreds digit (because the track runs from 0-99, and the hundreds digit run from 0-400).
The auction board must be set up. Of the 6 boats on the auction board, the number of boats in play is one more than the total number of players (i.e. if there are 4 players, 5 boats are in play). Place 3 fish cards face-up on each of the boats in play. There are different types of fish: those with a red backing, those with a grey backing, herrings and lobsters. The red and grey fish are usually the majority of the daily catch. Each player will have a game board of their own, which looks like a smaller version of the auction board. Very simply, players are given $50 to divide and bid on the ships available. This is represented by placing the amount of money they wish to bid on the respective ship on their game board, using the screen provided to hide their bid from the other players.
How do the players know which fish to bid for? One guide is for players to observe the demand cards that are placed face-up next to the auction board (the number of demand cards is equal the number of players). Each of these cards has pictures of two fish, one grey and one red. These cards will later be distributed at random to the players, representing their demand for the fish on their card. Therefore, players will want to bid for fish that are represented on the cards, so that they are more assured of a sale later. Another guide would be the number of herring and lobsters on each ship. Unlike the red and grey fish, herring and lobsters can be cashed in instantly without haggling for $5 and $30 respectively. Price cards will also have been distributed before auction, but these don’t usually have as great an impact on bidding yet, so I will elaborate on these later.
Now, bidding begins! Players place their bids on all the ships they wish to win on their game board secretly, and then reveal their bids together. The winner of each boat’s auction pays his bid and other bidders keep their bids. The winner then claims the fish on the boat into his hand. In the case of ties, all other boats are settled first, then players involved in the tie re-bid on the ships secretly. This is done until all the boats have been won.
The auction phase is over and the market phase starts. First, the demand cards that were placed face-up earlier are shuffled, and a random card from the unused demand card deck is added to the mix. The cards are now distributed, one to each player, and the remaining card is placed aside. Players now turn over their demand cards and these reveal the two fish (one grey, one red) that they must try to acquire during the market phase. Thus, the market phase will proceed and players will haggle with other players to get the best possible price for their fish in demand.
There are a few rules for negotiation. Players can make any kind of exchange they want, including straight swaps, but no credit is allowed, either from the bank or other players. Players must always buy based on the money they have on hand at the moment, which may mean that they have to sell some fish before they can buy one. Players are also not allowed to reverse their counter on the scoring track to make money.
Once all negotiations are settled, players now turn over their price cards, which I referred to earlier and have been secret to all except the player thus far. On each price card, there are two large print numbers: one against a grey backing and the other against a red backing. Naturally, these numbers represent the respective amounts the player earns from the bank from selling his fish in demand after the market phase. The grey backing number always ranges from 20-30 and the red backing one from 10-20, and the total of the two numbers is always 40. Now that the price cards are made public, players take their turns to cash in their fish and take the money from the bank.
Any fish that have not been sold and cannot be cashed in must be frozen. Each player is given two white wooden blocks, or ice cubes! Each ice cube can hold an unlimited number of a single type of fish, so each player can hold only 2 kinds of fish in their freezer at any one time, but an unlimited number of both. If there is no more space in freezer, players must discard the excess, paying $5 for each fish discarded in this way. Fish that are in the freezer can be taken out to sell in subsequent rounds with no penalty.
After this, players calculate their total cash on hand. Then, they take away $50 from this amount, and the remaining figure represents their profit for this round. Players then move their scoring markers accordingly based on their profit margin. Of course, if players don’t even hit $50, that means they’ve made a loss! They have to move backwards on the scoring track.
Once all players have calculated their profit, all cards used this round are discarded and a new round begins. Players remove all their money and take $50 each again. New fish are placed on the boats and bidding begins again! The game continues like this for a total of 4 rounds, with the 3rd and 4th round having the major difference of 4 instead of 3 fish per boat.
Playing Fischmarkt can get absolutely frantic. Auctioning can get crazy enough, with players nicking a boat by a $1 difference or, sometimes, just $1! Other times, players over-bid and waste precious cash unnecessarily or bidding becomes so intense that the prices rises to over $40. And if auctions appear crazy enough, the market phase, as you might imagine, can get crazier still. Those familiar with Sid Sackson’s “I’m the Boss” will have a rough idea what to expect, but haggling in Fischmarkt can really descend to…well, a fish market. Since there are no cards to disrupt other people’s play, deals are made based on haggling and bargaining alone, and since anything is possible, everything from bundled deals to a willingness to buy unnecessary and unwanted fish can come into play just to win that one fish! It goes without saying that player interaction is extremely high in Fischmarkt.
Surprisingly enough, the learning curve for Fischmarkt isn’t very steep. Even if most players are new, a trial round or two would suffice prior to starting the game proper. Since the game is pretty much language independent, a new player can easily pick up the visual links once they’re explained the first time, like grey number with grey fish or lobsters selling for $30, because everything is marked out clearly on the cards.
My group wasn’t taught the game with the right rules, so we’ve always played until someone reaches $500 on the scoring track rather than 4 rounds. We’ve also never played with the 4 fish in a boat after round 2. Nevertheless, we’ve not tired of playing the game to its conclusion, which is rather surprising. I suppose our ‘variant’ works well since we like to slug it out to prove our business acumen! And if the game is still so enjoyable with what seems to be quite tedious variant rules, I can only imagine the round limit and increased stakes will make the game even more intense.
Due to the fast pace of the game, the energy is always up and the whole table is always noisy from start to finish. This may not suit players who only enjoy deep strategic games, especially since there is a clear element of luck in the card draw and simple favouritism at times in the market phase. This is a brilliant gateway game though, because the player will never lose interest in the game. This is so because the game operates in such a way that it is always possible for any player to leap ahead of other players even if they trail behind. This, I feel, makes Fischmarkt ideal for playing with non-gamers, or gamers who have only played a few games and are looking for a new challenge. The biggest bonus is that the game barely exceeds 1hr in our long-drawn variant, and I can imagine that it’d be even shorter with the official rules.
I can safely say that Fischmarkt is going to topple Citadels as our group’s favourite game in time. If not for the fact that the maximum number of players is 5, we’d play this game a lot more often. The intensity of the game combined with its simplicity of play and understanding makes it a very enjoyable experience. Compared to “I’m the Boss”, Fischmarkt is definitely a superior game all round. For being a game that could bridge my group’s taste for lighter games and my personal preference for heavier games, I give Fischmarkt a resounding 9/10.