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Derek Thompson
United States
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American designer Sid Sackson’s legacy is impressive not only because of the quality of his games but also the diversity. You can see this right away by his two most famous games: the stock game Acquire and the push-your-luck dice game Can’t Stop. On some other part the spectrum is Bazaar, a game about trading gemstones to buy “wares” (cards). Thanks to the license acquirement by Gryphon/Eagle games, it has seen a recent reprint. Originally released in 1967, the game is now 45 years old – does it still hold its own? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:

Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?

Components: Bazaar is a minimalist design and overall there are very few components. 10 large tiles for the Market, 45 standard-size “Ware” cards, some player aids, a die, and a pile of “gems”. The gems are heavy glass beads and look nice, but they’re unnecessary. This game was originally announced as part of the Gryphon bookshelf series of small boxes about the size of a library book. Instead, the game has unnecessary, over-sized components and a hugely inflated MSRP of $40. They could have used cardboard chits for the gems and easily sold this game for $25 or even less. To rub it in, no score sheets or pencils were included. Shelf space and money are both at a premium for a lot of people, and I think these components are frustrating. I understand when a game is pricey because it simply has a lot of components, but in this case, there are so very few that the price doesn’t sit well with me.

Accessibility: Bazaar is one of the simplest games I’ve ever played, so I will go ahead and explain it here. The game begins with two randomly selected Market tiles in play. These have equations on them, such as “Blue = Green Red.” These are the kinds of exchanges you can make with your gems. The above means that you can trade one blue gem for a green one and a red one, OR vice versa. In addition, there are four piles of five Ware cards with the top revealed from each pile. These cards have five gems listed on them and some have a star (they’re worth more). On your turn, you can either roll a die and get a gem of the color rolled (which is your only option in the first turn) or make an exchange using one of the equations. Then you may buy a Ware card by cashing in gems for the card you want. You may be wondering why I said above that you could trade a green gem and a red gem downto a blue gem – it’s not just because you might be desperate for a blue gem. When you buy a card, you score points based on how many gems you have left in your supply, and you get more points if you have fewer gems left over. The game rewards efficiency in your trades with the Market. Once a pile of cards is gone, everything increases in value as a catch-up mechanism, and the game is over when a second pile is gone. That’s it!

As you can see, the rules are extremely simple and I could teach anyone how to play. However, working out the string of equations that will most quickly get you a certain Ware card can be a bit of a headache. I’ve definitely seen situations where a beginner rolled the die simply because (s)he could not figure out which equation to use, if any. However, it’s only taken us a couple of games to get into the right kind of thought processes for the game to go quickly and easily for us.

Depth: It should be clear from above that this game has an extremely low level of interaction. All you can really do is plan carefully around the sizes of the piles and to try to go for Ware cards you think your opponents want and get them first. That’s a tricky job, as figuring out opposing plans is a subtle process. However, it is a very key element to good play, along with the ability to see the different lines of play offered by a sequence of Market trades. I think the game has a fair amount of strategy to it – you just have to look for it.

Theme: Ostensibly this game is about trading wares at a Persian bazaar, but the game doesn’t do anything to evoke the theme. I don’t mind when themes are just a coat of paint on top, but this is more like applying a clear varnish and saying that you painted it another color. There are a lot of missed opportunities to incorporate the theme. For example, the Ware cards just have the five gems required listed, and that’s it. It would have been rather simple to have the gems at the bottom and a picture of an actual ware at a bazaar on the top. The Market tiles could have had pictures of different vendors at the bazaar where you make the exchanges. The aesthetic chosen does have a nice look, but it’s a look that approaches the game as an abstract where the only point of Bazaar as a title is to hint at the trading mechanism.

Fun: I’ve sounded somewhat harsh in this review, but Bazaar is a game that my wife and I really enjoy. In particular, she likes low interaction games and likes to puzzle things out. Bazaar does those especially well. However, with no incorporation of theme or strong interaction, it kind of feels like you’re both racing to get your math homework done first. (I’m working on a doctorate in math, though, so that probably sounds better to me than it does to you.) If you enjoy puzzles and riddles and other things that require a fair amount of thought to be enjoyed, Bazaar is a very good game for the people it’s meant, and a rather unique one as well.

Though we enjoy Bazaar and we’ll be keeping it, I can see clearly that it’s not an easy recommendation for everyone. However, I encourage you give it a try, because if it is for you, you’ll be very happy with it.

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