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Subject: The Laws of Probability Are Hereby Revoked rss

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Geeky McGeekface
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I was lucky enough to play the prototype for Black Friday several times, back when it was called Freitag. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to trying out the published version. Last week I got my first chance and, armed with some player aids that I had created (it's amazing that Kosmos didn't provide something like this for a game with so many small details), four of us sat down to play.

Things began innocently enough. Blue was the early stock of choice and it responded, even before there was a chance for the suitcases on the Purchase table to have an effect. The black suitcases also were slow to appear. I cashed out my Blue after it reached Level 5, figuring it was due for a downturn, but that turned out to be premature. In what seemed like a very short time, it had pushed the game to Level 7, making those who had stayed the course very happy.

The one stock that wasn't joining the party was Green, whose suitcases stubbornly refused to make their way out of the bag. Sensing a bargain, we all picked up some shares of it, with me and one other player investing heavily, but still the price lagged behind.

The contest rapidly proceeded to the midgame. Stocks finally began to plateau as the black suitcases made their inevitable appearance. Silver became a more popular option. My right-hand opponent made a nice play, using his special action card to do a double pass and keep me from making a silver purchase while it was still affordable. And still Green's price was way behind the others. We started laughing after every price adjustment, as the Green suitcases continued to be in short supply. One fellow insisted that the first thing he would do after the game ended was count up the Green suitcases to make sure we hadn't been shorted. The two players with minimal Green investments quite properly ditched their shares, to further suppress the price. My fellow Green investor and I stubbornly stuck with the stock, figuring we had no option.

Finally, the end grew near. In one late adjustment, three black suitcases came from the bag. That, together with the recent silver purchases, pushed the price to $95. At Level 7, you pull 10 suitcases from the bag and a quick check of the bag revealed that exactly that number remained. We could see that one of those suitcases had to be black. The next price adjustment would be the last one.

We all passed in our turns, since nothing else made sense. We then dumped the contents of the bag onto the table for what we knew would be the last time.

As expected, one of the suitcases was black, pushing silver to $100 and ending the game. It was put back in the bag, leaving 9 colored suitcases. And of those 9, 6 of them were Green!

Even though we knew that something like that had to be the case, to actually see that collection caused us all to burst out laughing. To have two thirds of the final draw turn out to be of one color (when the expected number was less than two) was just mind boggling. Here's another way of looking at it: the two Green owners had 11 shares between us. We had just started the third Sales table, so those two Green suitcases were still there. That left 11 Green suitcases eligible to be manipulated. And over half of those came out on a single draw!

Needless to say, the effect on Green's stock price was dramatic. It would up at $130! Anyone ever see a price like that at the end of one of their games?

Despite that, the game turned out to be quite close. Thanks to being able to cash in my 6 Green shares at their elevated price, I wound up with 21 silver. My fellow Greenie and one other opponent finished with 20. The weird Green behavior definitely affected the game, but we wondered if it would have been better for the Greenies if the suitcases had appeared earlier and given us more flexibility with our funds.

Look, I'm a mathematician by trade, so I'm aware that probability is a very unintuitive subject and that seemingly rare events occur much more often than we suppose they will. But this was ridiculous. To have Green be starved for the whole game and then to have 6 of the final 9 suitcases was just sick. It certainly made the game feel like a fluke.

That first game was fun, but one thing nagged at us. During my previous plays of the prototype, I felt that while stock prices certainly weren't predictable, they were affected by the player's choices of what suitcases to make available. It didn't feel like that was the case in this game. There were just too many weird swings that had little connection to the player actions, culminated by the Great Green Backlash of 2011. I hope that future games follow the script a little more closely and that this first game proves to be an aberration. If not, the vagaries of probability will make this just another crap shoot of a stock market game and much less interesting as a result.
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Kevin Nesbitt
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Stock market games are so hard to design. I cannot think of a single one that truly gets it right. The biggest problem is simulating the random walk of the market coupled with the fundamentals of the companies involved.

I'm waiting for that perfect stock market game, but I'm not sure it's possible to do in a boardgame format.

 
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Geeky McGeekface
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You are absolutely right, Kevin. You want something that isn't deterministic, while still not being a crapshoot.

When I played it as a prototype, I thought that Black Friday was the one that did get it right, or at least as close as we're likely to see. That's why I was so excited about picking up the published version. I'm hoping that my first game was more of a fluke occurance than the norm.
 
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Brian Bankler
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Our first game with correct rules (4th overall) had black briefcases refusing to appear until they were the overwhelming plurality ... I think we got to level 7 or 8 without a black suitcase (despite tossing in 5 blacks from the level, and 3 blacks from selling). Our games since then have been fairly predictable, by comparison.
 
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Eric Brosius
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Larry Levy wrote:
That first game was fun, but one thing nagged at us. During my previous plays of the prototype, I felt that while stock prices certainly weren't predictable, they were affected by the player's choices of what suitcases to make available. It didn't feel like that was the case in this game. There were just too many weird swings that had little connection to the player actions, culminated by the Great Green Backlash of 2011. I hope that future games follow the script a little more closely and that this first game proves to be an aberration. If not, the vagaries of probability will make this just another crap shoot of a stock market game and much less interesting as a result.


I've played a few games with the new version now, and seen a few more (one evening we had side-by-side games going at adjacent tables,) and the results seem to vary from game to game.

The trick in designing a stock market game is making sure there really is uncertainty about what the market will do, even after several games. I think Black Friday gets it about right, and as a result it's my favorite stock market game. You can influence how prices will move, and you can make deductions about the probability that they will move in certain ways, but you still can't be sure.

I'd compare this game to Crude: The Oil Game (though Black Friday plays in less than half the time.) In some games the market booms and players can get rich by riding it up and selling high. In other games it hardly gets up off the mat (in one game we played recently, the market never got above Stage 3, and the winner had only 9 silver.) If not for this variety, it wouldn't be the stock market game I'm looking for.

This game takes only 40 minutes in our group. Play it a dozen times and don't worry about the one or two times bizarre things happen---tell stories about them instead!
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Geeky McGeekface
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Okay, we played again tonight and things were more behaved. You still can't control things as much as you'd like, but there was some rationality to things and the game was fun. It's good to see that I enjoy the published version as much as the prototype.
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Alex Sorbello
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This actually proves that the game is much better than people give it credit for. Unpredictable things do happen just like in the stock market. And players taking chances can go down with the ship or get a win...
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Geeky McGeekface
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Actually, Alex, if I wanted that level of unpredictability, I'd get out a pair of dice and simulate the random walk that way. Obviously, not everyone is looking for the same thing from the game, but I want it to display a little more cause-and-effect than we had in our first game. Thankfully, I think that will be the case in most sessions.
 
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Sean Tompkins
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I think the point is that you can make predictions based on probabilities, but like with all probabilities, the edge cases can still happen. That's what I like about the game -- you can make predictions with the given information, but random chaos will sometimes make a fool of your predictions. That is VERY like the stock market.
 
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