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StackMarket (Z-man Games, 2007 – Susumu Kawasaki) has some rather ingenious mechanics, as it uses dice and dexterity to simulate the stock market (hence – the name). Players are attempting to invest in the tallest tower on the board, hoping that a stock crash, both literal and figuratively, will not happen. The game tends to be more about steady hands than shrewd investing, and it’s certainly something that I’ve never seen before.
That being said, I’m a bit disappointed by the actual game play, which turns into a dexterity and luck game more than anything else. Yes, I think some aspects are rather inventive, such as using the pips on the dice to represent windows in the towers; but overall the game just generated a ho-hum feel, as players’ choices are often obvious, and a clumsy player will be at a loss, no matter what else they do. Stack Market is certainly an innovative game, but I’m not sure that it’s a fun one.
The main component of the game is a pile of dice, each numbered “0”, “0”, “1”, “2”, “3”, and “4”. Each player receives $50,000, which they can keep hidden for the game; they also receive two markers of their color. One company card per player is placed on the table – each with two investment slots on it. A “height” sheet is placed nearby, with a marker for each company on it – all starting at height of three. Three dice are rolled and placed in a stack with the highest number rolled face up, in front of each company card. Players each invest in one of the companies, keeping the other token in front of them to delineate their color. One player is chosen to go first, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.
On a player’s turn, they first must roll a number of dice that are equal to the number of dice currently in the building they are invested in. After rolling, the player checks to see if they must add the dice to the tower, being forced to add all the dice that they possibly can. Dice can be added to the tower if they are of a higher number than the top die on the tower. For example, if a “2” is face up on a tower, a “3” or “4” could be placed on it. A blank die can be placed on top of a “4”. Players can stack as many of the dice (legally) as they can, provided they use one hand. The height of the building is then adjusted on the height sheet, as long as the building doesn’t fall over. If they manage to increase the height by five or more, then they receive a $10,000 bonus from the bank. Also, if a building reaches height “15”, then the player gets a card for “highest building”. This card is passed to another player if they build a higher building. After rolling and stacking, the player may change their investment to any open space in any of the companies.
If a tower falls, then each player invested in the company must pay $20,000 to the bank. Five of the dice are removed from the game, and three dice are rolled to restart the company. When players run out of dice (either from removing them from the game or they are all on towers), then the round ends. Players now will check the two buildings, which are highest and lowest (numbers on top break ties). The higher company must attempt to “take over” the lower company. This is done by a player who is invested in the company taking the dice of the smaller company and placing them on top of the larger. If they are successful, then all players invested in the higher building receive $30,000, if invested alone, and $40,000, if invested with another player. If they are not successful, they must pay $20,000 to the bank; and each player invested in the smaller building gets $10,000 if invested alone, and $20,000 if invested with another player. The player with the highest building card also gets $20,000, as long as they received money elsewhere. Players invested in the building(s) not involved in the takeover get $10,000 if alone, $20,000 if with other players.
A new round is started, and all dice are returned to the game. After three rounds, the player with the most money is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: There are a lot of pieces in the small box (with odd illustrations on it), but they’re mostly the square dice. I actually think the dice are quite interesting, as the pips on each side look like windows, giving the stack of dice the look of a skyscraper. The rest of the components are merely okay, with wooden discs used for the player’s investment tokens and paper money (ugh). I normally don’t like paper money, but in this case it’s even more annoying since a player is supposed to keep it secret. Considering that the game is all about dexterity, where is a player supposed to hide it? Stack Market also includes a paper measure, which can be used to quickly count the floors in a tower. While it’s a nice idea, I found that it’s usually just easier to count the floors.
2.) Rules: The four pages of rules, with examples, are fairly easy to understand with some hints for new players. The only hang up I had was the actual tower stacking rules, which were a bit confusing. Teaching the game is easy, although players often don’t understand investments until the first round is over.
3.) Luck: Since the game involves rolling dice, there should be some luck involved; but sometimes it’s just a little too much for me. I’ve seen many turns where a player rolls a die – sometimes a LOT of dice -- yet doesn’t get the number necessary to place any of them on the tower. Stacking five dice on a tower is a good way to get a bonus in the game, and it’s annoying when you have to stack four while others get to stack more. Some might think the luck evens out over the course of the game – and it’s true – everyone is evenly annoyed.
4.) Dexterity: The game comes down to a “Jenga” type style, as players are stacking dice on top of each other. This is fun – to a point, but stacking dice for forty minutes isn’t really something that excited me that much. Sure, there are some small measures of strategy; but if you can’t stack dice, you won’t do well. I thought the idea of investing in a building and stacking the dice poorly for the other player was a good idea, but it seems that it’s often the ONLY idea. The worst part of this dexterity is that a clumsy person will really ruin the game for everyone. Seeing tower after tower fall is really quite boring and will cause a round to end in a most undramatic way. In some games I’ve participated in there was never any reason to be in the tall tower, since the person attempting the takeover would invariably drop the dice everywhere. This also can cause some rather boring scores, as players who drop the dice lose themselves and their partners (if any) money. And I’m not really criticizing “clumsy” people, as stacking the dice – especially in higher levels, is a really difficult thing to do! Again, I wouldn’t mind it, if there were other things going on.
5.) Investments: The three-player game is quite boring compared to a four-player game, as two players invariably gang up on the third. In a four-player game there are more options; but as I said above, it all comes down to the stacking. Most of the time, it makes sense to invest in anything except the tallest building, just so that a player can avoid the paralyzing effects of a building collapse. I suppose that the real game is to hang out with those who have sturdy hands, but that’s tremendously unfun for those who are ungainly.
6.) Fun Factor: You may get a measure of fun out of Stack Market if you enjoy dexterity games (although why not play a really good one – like Villa Paletti?) The investment part is an interesting twist, but it doesn’t provide the fun I thought it would. If I want to play a straight up investment game, I’d prefer another game by the same company - Owner’s Choice. I will admit that my fingers were clumsy stacking the dice, and I sat there the whole time, worrying about my tower collapsing. While that may simulate real life quite nicely, it’s not much fun.
If you go into Stack Market realizing that it’s mainly a dexterity game, with only the glimpse of economic trappings, then perhaps you’ll have more fun than I did. I enjoy economic games but wouldn’t consider this one high on the list. Sadly, I wouldn’t consider it very highly on a dexterity game list either. Stack Market attempts to be a game that straddles two different genres and ends up being a mediocre example of both. Some might like the unique factor of it; I’ll simply pass it by for something more interesting. Too much stack, not enough market.
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Seeing tower after tower fall is really quite boring and will cause a round to end in a most undramatic way.
You guys must be pour stackers. We've had rounds where we had only 1 or 2 towers falling.
I do think the game takes a bit too long. Two rounds are better than 3
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Ludology Host and Dice Tower Contributor
Tom -- I agree with your assessment. Got the chance to try this out at a con and was underwhelmed. It sounds neat on paper but not so much once you get going. Plus the payout rules are weirdly and needlessly complex for a game of this type.
Our stacking did get better once we realized you can 'pre-stack' the dice you are adding to the tower (with both hands) and then you can lift the stack all at once.