Review: Black Friday

Posted by James (admin) on November 6th, 2010

Black Market is a stock market game so, as you would expect, players buy and sell the 5 different colour shares to make as much money as possible. However, the way the prices change is the key game mechanic that makes this game fun.

At the end of the game, the player who has bought the most silver bars wins.  Why not just base the winner on cash?  Well, the silver bar price increases throughout the game.  The ever rising silver bar price also works as the game’s timer – as soon as it hits 100 (per bar), the game ends.

Player Actions
On their turn, a player can either: buy shares, sell shares, or buy silver bars.  A marker for each of the 5 shares on the price grid shows the price at which shares of the matching colour can be bought or sold.  Shares are represented by little wooden, coloured briefcases.  The shares available for purchase (the ‘market’) are represented by a pile of briefcases next to the board.  When shares are purchased, an extra share (matching the colour purchased) is placed onto the purchase track. When shares are sold, the sold shares are placed into the market, 1 share is removed from those on the sales chart, plus the price of a sold share instantly drops 1 step too.  A player can also spend their turn buying silver bars (placing a share from the market onto the silver bar purchase track).

The maximum number of shares a player can buy or sell (and number of silver bars a player can buy) during their turn is determined by the current game ‘level’.  When a share price breaks through various thresholds, the game ‘level’ increases.

Price Adjustment
So far, the game may sound relatively ordinary; however, when the purchase track, sales track or silver bar purchase track contains 5 briefcases, a price adjustment occurs and this is the cool mechanic of the game.  As well as the market, there’s a bag with lots of coloured briefcases in it (including black briefcases which are added throughout the game).  When a price adjustment occurs, a number (determined by the game ‘level’) of briefcases are drawn from the bag.  The more briefcases of a colour that are drawn, the more that share price goes up; however, if no briefcases of a colour are drawn then that colour’s price goes down.  However, if more than one black bag is drawn then these count against the total of every colour so this can cause the prices to fall a lot.  If a price marker can not move sideways (because of grid’s edge), it moves up/down a row which alters the price even more rapidly.

Before drawing briefcases for a price adjustment, the briefcases from the relevant sales/purchase chart are added to the bag.  So, the players alter the balance of the colours in the bag based on their sales/purchases.  The more of colour in the bag, the more likely it will get drawn and increase its price.  As the game ‘level’ rises, the number of briefcases drawn during a price adjustment increases too.

Players don’t start with any money; instead, they can take out subsidies.  You never have to pay back subsidies but you do have to pay interest on them during a price adjustment so they do have a cost.  The maximum number of subsidies that can be owned rises during the game (determined by the game ‘level’).  At the end of the game players sell all their shares and buy as many silver bars as they can afford.  Any player who did not take out the maximum subsidies can do so now.

Overall, Black Friday is very different to other games due to the price adjustment system.  It’s hard to predict which shares will rise or fall but that’s part of the fun.  It’s not total guess work though as your buying/selling decisions can be influenced on where the prices are on the grid, what shares other players bought/sold, and the current mixture in the bag.  Also, players can affect what shares are available in the market too.

Working out when to buy silver is very important too – you need money to buy shares and make money (and can not sell silver once bought) so you don’t want to commit too much too early but do want to buy silver when it’s cheap.  It’s a difficult and fun decision that needs to be considered all the way throughout the game.

Price adjustments can be very humorous when a player draws a lot of black briefcases out of the bag.  Most players suffer share value losses as a result but it’s funny and you just hope you’re not the worst affected.  In our game, I drew black bags a lot and players started to be scared of market crashes when I drew from the bag (although another player drew 5 in the same go and totally crashed the market).  It’s not always bad news though and watching briefcases matching the colours of the share you own be drawn is exciting.

There’s little downtime as the actions a player can take each turn are simple and limited.  As a result, the game flows quickly.  You can plan ahead but if players sell shares that you were thinking of selling ahead of you (or if there’s a price adjustment) then you’ll need to quickly re-think your plan.

The game looks very good and the coloured briefcases are very cute and work well.  I’m never keen on paper money as it’s fiddly and would have preferred card coins/notes but it’s not a big negative.  All players’ shares are hidden behind their screens so it can be useful to remember what other players have bought or sold.

On the downside, whilst the game mechanics are simple, the rules are not written at all clearly.  Once you know how to play the game, the written rules make more sense but getting to that point is a bit confusing, especially when to add black briefcases which is vital to the gameplay.  Also, both English and German rules say you pay 1% interest on your subsidies but this results in fractions smaller than the smallest cash denomination plus it’s a tiny amount of money.  We were told by Rio Grande staff it should have read 10% but I’ve read elsewhere that 5% might be correct (which is the easiest to calculate too).

An advanced rule is included with the game (which I have yet to try) gives players different single-use powers which I believe are there to balance out who gets to be the start player.  I’ve yet to work out what the black, wooden dollar sign is for as it’s not mentioned in the rules.

I really enjoyed Black Friday and the slightly random nature of the price changes was actually a source of fun and excitement rather than being too much of a random factor.  The continual rise and fall of prices makes it a very active game with lots of chances to buy low and sell high.  If you like more predictable and more scientific investment games though, this probably won’t be for you.


[Played with 4 players]

2 Responses to “Review: Black Friday”

  1. Ben Says:

    Good review, looks like you had a better time than we did in our first game!

    The interest is definitely 5% – if you look at the subsidy tiles they tell you how much interest that tile will require.

    Also, the black dollar sign is easily the coolest thing about this game. It goes in the bag with the briefcases! Weird, right? However the purpose is that when you do price adjustment, you reach into the bag to draw some briefcases, feel the big chunk of wood in there and are reminded to say “everyone must pay interest!”. it has no function other than as a reminder to that part of the phase. Genius simple idea that works extremely well.

  2. James (admin) Says:

    H Ben,

    Thanks. Yeah, I agree that 5% makes more sense. The number on the subsidies is the number of subsidies but as each is worth $20 each it means that the number is also the amount of interest you pay which makes it very easy to calculate. We played it as 10%, so 5% interest would make the game a slightly more forgiving than our experience.



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