I had the opportunity to try the game during last year’s Spiel in Essen. While I wasn’t instantly impressed, I figured that the game would grow on you and so I preordered it. The following problems are well known and have been discussed. However, this week it finally arrived in the mail.
What you get
The pre-order price I payed was 20 Euro, which included shipping to Sweden!
A small but functional gameboard
Wooden tulip playing pieces
Very poor quality playing cards
Paper money, also far from top quality but useable
The aim of the game
You play the role of an investor in the tulip market during the Dutch tulipmania. Apart from buying and selling tulips yourself, there are other suckers willing to risk their money, represented by buyer cards. These can be persuaded to buy tulips on the market, thus inflating the price of the tulips you already own.
Eventually the market will crash (actually, the different varieties of tulips crash at different times) and everyone will be running for the door, trying to unload whatever tulips they have left. If you used all your buyer cards for market manipulations, no one will be there to buy your tulips while they’re still worth anything. The winner is simply the person with the most money at the end of the game.
How the game is played
The number of different tulip varieties on the market is equal to the number of players. All tulips start at 50 Florins. On a player’s turn, he has to offer one tulip to the market. The other players then have the option to offer to buy the tulip or to speculate, meaning that they deliberately pay a premium in order to increase the price of the tulip even more.
To make thinks more interesting, there is also to option to purchase or speculate by proxy. This is probably the smartest mechanic of the game and I hope other economic/auction games embrace the idea that outside buyers, as individuals rather than the market as a whole, influence the game. A purchase by proxy means that the selling player gets paid by the bank and that the tulip returns to the stockpile. However, in order for this to take place, the seller first has to find said buyer (by holding a buyer card of the appropriate color). For a speculation by proxy, two buyer cards are required.
The different actions are numbered in order to decide which of the bidding players will get to perform his action. A tie-breaking card circulates counter-clockwise so that an acting player can always be designated each turn.
The allocation of the buyer cards is the common "pick any of the face up cards or one from the deck", as in Ticket to ride and several other games. It would probably have been an even better game if the buyer’s were themselves allocated according through some sort of market mechanic but that would also mean that the game would be less accessible.
Eventually, of course, the market for a tulip variety implodes. This happens when it reaches a certain value (between 1500 and 6000). Now the players try to get rid of whatever tulips they have left and the players who hold the correct buyer cards have priority selling their tulips. And time is running out; for each tulip sold, prices plummet even further.
Eventually all but one tulip variety will have crashed. This triggers the crash of that last tulip and after all remaining tulips have been sold, the money is counted and the winner announced.
Though the ridiculous delays and the poor quality certainly bother me, the game itself is very good. Few economic games are as tense and quick paced and Tulipmania can certainly compete with games like Modern art. It feels as if the replayability is high, though I suspect that the significant role luck plays might become problematic over time, especially if you play with the same gamin group.
The game is easily good enough to warrant a higher price than 20 Euro so a deluxe edition (or at least a non-budget edition) would be appreciated.