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In the immense capital of a kingdom of high fantasy, adventurers of all types come to buy the equipment for their expeditions. In order to satisfy the needs of these warriors, wizards, thieves and priests, the players have opened equipment boutiques. Store owners try to buy for the best price the weapons, armor, magic objects and horses that they are going to resell for much more. Or rather that they will try to sell. Competition in the capital is fierce. It takes talent to learn how to bid at the various auctions, and even more skill to learn how to undercut the competition. To make the most money (and win the game), you have to be the cagiest retailer of all.
Buying, selling, negotiaing, and one of the highest 'screw' factors we've ever seen in a game.
Tom Vasel's description of game play is spot on, so straight to our analysis. We played using both variants ( in our minds, essential to the game)
Nasty, nasty, nasty... The first two games we played were great. Lots of negotiating, fun with the 'special cards', everybody making money with just a small touch of chicanery. Then... the third game. One player, who felt he had no chance on winning by round three (8 rounds with 7+ players, 10 with 6>)refused to 'play' and just undercut everyone...badly. Players who had the same goods as the 'bad apple', had no chance of making any money. It really became quite toxic for the last few rounds of play and soured the game. Tom V. (below) nailed it on playing this game with 'right mix' of players, because it really can make for a poor gaming experience should someone decide to give-up in mid-play and just screw opponents.
We can hardly wait to play again!!
Boardgamers of Reno give Fantasy Business a four star for its simplicity combined with a high octane fear factor. Who's gonna light the match?!
I typically have not been a big fan of Eurogames/Descartes games, but this one really worked for me. It's a pretty pure negotiation/bidding game, with the players auctioning off cards (which represent onging supplies of goods), then turning around and trying to sell them at the best price. The selling is done by having everybody record a price secretly and simultaneously in sort of a reverse-auction, with the players fixing the highest prices losing out while the players setting the lower prices get paid, and the lowest set price gets a small bonus (the optional rule restricting the payout bonus to unique lowest bidder is recommended). It's all about trying to get and maintain monopolies, but outside of that (and that's awfully hard, especially with 5+ players) it's also a negotiation game, as you try to cut deals with your fellow players to keep prices artificially high, either by price fixing, kickbacks, or whatever other means you can think of.
Like all of the Eurogames-brand games, the 'special action' cards are not terribly well done and are a real weakness, but Fantasy Business really scores over many of these putative 'light' games by actually *being* light; the game only takes 30-45min to play, and everyone is involved almost all the time, so the card effects aren't too disturbing. It's also good with larger numbers of players (6-7), which is very nice.
All in all, a pleasant surprise for me, and a game that should appeal to players who like bidding/negotiation games.
The Blue Box Series, as Castle, Dragons Gold, Democrazy, and Draco and Co. are some of my favorite short, fun games. Im also a sucker for any game with a fantasy theme, so it seemed natural for me to pick up Fantasy Business, especially when I heard it was about negotiation a favorite game mechanic of mine.
So is Fantasy Business (Eurogames Descartes, Christopher Boelinger 2002) a worthwhile game? The short answer is that while an interesting game of negotiation, it has such a nasty feel to it that it takes a certain group to make it work. Its a good game, but can easily bomb with the wrong people. Now, for the longer answer.
First, a short description of game play
Two decks of cards, a deck of 24 special cards and a deck of 48 item cards are shuffled together. The backs of the cards are different, so it is easy to tell which deck a card is from but it doesnt matter. Each player takes 10 crowns (in coins), a price fixing sheet and a pencil. The youngest player becomes the first buyer and takes a special card denoting this fact. Each player then becomes the first buyer on subsequent turns in a clockwise order. There are 10 rounds in the game (8 rounds if 7-8 players are playing.)
Each round consists of the first buyer taking as many cards as there are players and placing them face-up in the center of the table except special cards, which are left face-down. The item cards are healing herbs (value: 2), spell components (3), bows & arrows (3), swords (4), armor (5), horses (5), spell scrolls (6), and magic potions (6). The first buyer then picks one of the cards and bids an amount of crowns on it. All bidding starts at the value of the card, special cards have a value of 1. Each player, in clockwise order, raises the bid or passes. Once all players but one pass, the item is sold to the highest bidder, who pays to the bank the amount they bid. The player takes the card, putting items face-up in front of them, and special cards in their hand. Once a player has bought a card, they are out of the bidding for the other cards for the remainder of that round, ensuring that each player will get one card.
After all cards are bought, players fix the sales prices for all items they own. They do this by writing down on their sheet the price they wish to sell the item for. They must sell the item for at least its value but can go as high as double the value of the item. Players who are selling the same type of item may discuss the prices they will set but all actual pricing is done secretly. After everyone has written their sell prices, the sheets are revealed. Each item on the sheet is gone through in order. Each player who has at least one of that item calls out their price. The player(s) who have the lowest price receive that price for each card they have, +2 crowns bonus for card. For example, if I have 2 swords cards, and have written down 5 as my price (and am the lowest), I would receive 14 crowns 7 for each card. The player(s) who wrote the highest price gets nothing, and anyone who wrote prices in between the highest and lowest prices gets the amount they wrote for each card of that type that they own. Players take coins in accordance with the amount of crowns they receive, and the next round occurs.
Special cards can be played when stated on the game, and can add a bit of chaos to the game (stealing items, canceling income, looking at other players price sheets, etc.) Once 10 (8) rounds are over, the game is over. Players total up their crowns, and whoever has the highest amount is the winner!
Some comments on the game.
1). Components: The box is, as all Blue Boxes, nice, compact, and sturdy. The artwork on the box and cards is good very fantasy stylish, but small occult symbols may turn off some people. The cards themselves are of decent quality but Im not sure how long they would last if the game is played heavily. The price fixing sheets are nice (no pencils included with the game). There is enough included with the game for several games, and more can easily be printed off the internet and/or copied easily. The coins are plastic tiddly winks of different shapes and colors. A little card comes with the game that shows the values of the five different coins. I wasnt very pleased with the cards for two reasons. One, I know that it saves money, but it would have been very nice to have the values printed on the coins. Its a pain to have to continually look at the reference card and remember which color/size is what denomination. Also, and this is an American problem, because the coins arent marked, we found ourselves assuming that the 10 coin was the 5 and vice versa. This is due to the American nickel being larger than the dime. This sounds silly, but because the values werent printed, we found ourselves reverting to using size as a base. The coins are good quality and the plastic is nice. (Just try to keep players from playing a side game of Tiddly-winks with the coins). All the components fit well in the box.
2). Rules: The rules are well written on four pages, with many examples (including a very detailed scoring example) and pictures. There is a list of components, and two variants included. One variant allows prices to be set below the set value of the items. We played with this variant, and it changes the game quite a bit but not necessarily for the better. The other variant only gives a +2 crown bonus to the lowest price if only ONE player has the lowest price. This is an interesting variant, but seems to promote the nastiness in the game more.
3). Nasty and Evil people: The game is fun, with a lot of negotiation included. For many people, this can be annoying as the negotiation in this game can also be called lying through your teeth every turn of the game. Some people we played lied every turn, and others never did. What usually happened was that everyone just set the lowest price possible for each good. Anyone who tried to set a higher price was usually lied to and burned. It was fun to play, but some people did not enjoy being lied to all the time, and others enjoyed it a bit too much. And, once somebody lied, they usually lost everyones trust for the entire game. I know this tactic is prevalent in many games, most notably Diplomacy but it is slightly out of place in a short game like this.
4). Fun Factor: The theme is certainly very thin in this game. The objects being sold could be cars, jets, books, etc. it wouldnt change the game at all. The game was fun, however and I enjoyed playing it. But I didnt enjoy playing it always especially when I played with a chronic liar. The game then degenerated into just everyone setting the lowest price possible. The bidding was fun and interesting, but wasnt enough to hold the game. I have fun playing the game, but need to play with the right people (no extremely evil people and no whiners).
5). Special cards: A saving factor for the game, for me at least, is the special cards. They help break up peoples monopolies on items, and keep the game from becoming too predictable and boring. They add more chaos and randomness to the game, to be sure, but its certainly necessary.
So overall, I enjoy the game with the right crowd. Some people cant handle others being evil towards them, and others cant handle being evil. Its a pure negotiation game, but I prefer Dragons Gold much more. If you like games like Diplomacy or Ciao Ciao, where lying is common and even encouraged then you would probably like this game. Otherwise, pass it up and try a different game in the Blue Box series.