Board Game Review – Exchange, a stock market based economic board game from Bicycle Cards

Today I take a look at Exchange, a very pure stock trading game published by Bicycle Cards under their new Light Strategy Game banner.

In Exchange, players are brokers at the dawn of the stock market playing through five rounds to find out who has the most valuable portfolio.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I was provided with a review copy of Exchange by Bicycle Games, no other compensation was provided.

Information on the board game Exchange from Bicycle Games

Exchange was first published and funded through Kickstarter under the full name of Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy And Wit back in 2018. At that time it was self-published by the designer Eric Sillies.

Based on reviews on Board Game Geek it looks like backers got their copies of Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy And Wit in late 2018 and the reception was very good. I don’t know exactly what happened next but somewhere in the last two years Bicycle, the playing card company, got the rights to this game and published an updated version of Exchange that should have hit store shelves as of yesterday.

Looking at the Kickstarter and comparing it to the Bicycle version of Exchange, it looks like the main change that Bicycle did was update the look of the game. The gameplay itself seems to have carried over from the original with possibly a change in timing for the first three phases of the game. 

Enough about Exchange: A Stock Trading Game of Strategy And Wit, what I own is Exchange from Bicycle Games and for the rest of this review I will be talking about this new release.

To see exactly what you get with a new copy of this game, check out our Exchange Unboxing Video on YouTube

What you will see there is a fairly small box game in a very sturdy box. This box contains the rules for Exchange which are only seven pages long. The rules also include tips and tricks as well as a Frequently Asked Questions section. The rules are easy to read and very concise with a number of examples showing actual game components. 

There is also a very nice moulded plastic box insert that keeps the rest of the components separated.  The majority of this insert is taken up by six extremely nice Ledger Boards, one for each of the players. These are multi-layer thick cardboard, showing three tracks, each of which has a sliding plastic indicator on them used to show how many stocks the player has in each of the three commodities in the game. 

These Ledger Boards are some of the nicest components I’ve ever seen in a board game. They are a step above the two-layered player boards we are starting to see in newer games like Gentes and Endeavor.  Bicycle has even included a paper divider between each of these boards so that they don’t get scratched up between plays. 

Under the ledgers is a four-fold central playing board for tracking commodity prices. This is a pretty standard, though small, mounted board. I personally can’t get the copy I own to lay completely flat. I may need to put it under my copy of Gloomhaven for a week or something. Just bending the boards back a bit, which works for most games did not work here.

There are multiple sets of cards included in Exchange. There is a deck of Founder cards which add some asymmetry to the game, Market Forces cards that manipulate commodity prices, phase one commodity cards (a set of three for each player), phase two buy/sell cards (a set for each player), phase three market manipulation cards (a set for each player), and a deck of smaller money cards. The card quality is decent but not amazing. I actually expected better from Bicycle. 

There is also a set of three card sleeves for each player. There is one for each of the three main phases of the game. Each of these is designed to hold one card while hiding most of the card with only the words at the very top showing. 

Exchange also includes three plastic pyramids. These look to me like four-sided dice with no numbers on them. These are used to track the three different commodity prices on the main board. Finally, there is a small triangular round marker.

Playing Exchange a Light Strategy Game from Bicycle

Exchange is a short economic game for three to six players that plays in about forty-five minutes.

Exchange is one of the purest stock market games I’ve ever seen. The theme and background of the game are that players are brokers in the early days of Wall St., way back in 1792 just after the signing of the Buttonwood Agreement.

Exchange breaks the market down into three commodities, Bonds, Banks, and Insurance, each represented by a colour blue, green and orange. Players track their portfolio on their personal ledger board and the price of each stock is represented by the main playing board that has values from $10 to $90 on it. Small D4 like markers are placed on it to show the value of each stock, which starts the game at $50.

At the start of the game, each player gets a small hand of Founder cards to chose from. Each of these is unique and based on actual historic figures, they determine your starting portfolio of three commodities and cash on hand. Players track their commodities on their personal ledger board and cash is represented by card money.

The game is played over five rounds that are broken up into a number of phases.

In phase one each player determines which commodity they will be interacting with. This is done by sliding one of three commodity cards into a phase one cardholder and placing it face down. Once everyone has made their choice the cardholders are flipped.

In phase two each player decides what they want to do with the commodity they picked in phase one. Players can either buy or sell in any amount from one to nine shares. To indicate their choice players again slide a card into a cardholder and place it face down. The cards each show a number from 1 to 9 and have BUY at the top and SELL at the bottom. The orientation of the card in the sleeve indicates which action the player wants to take. Once everyone has chosen an action the cardholders are flipped. It’s worth noting that all players will see is if the other players chose to buy or sell, not how much. 

In phase three players get to manipulate the market. This is done by picking a commodity card from the three commodities and deciding if they want the market price to go up or down. This is done in a similar way to phase two with each card having +1 at the top of the card and -1 on the bottom. In addition to this, the player that currently has the most money gets a bonus Lobbyist cardholder, using that they get to pick a second market influence card. After players have all made their decision the cardholders are flipped. 

Now players see the results of their decisions. First, a Market Forces card is flipped over. There’s a good stack of these that are based on actual market events. Each causes the value of one or more of the commodities to change. Then the market is further adjusted by the market influence cards players picked in phase three, including the Lobbyist card. 

It’s only after all of this market manipulation is done that players carry out the actions they chose in phases one and two either buying or selling a commodity at the amount they selected. Note players must do the action they selected, there’s no backing down. If a player chooses a buy action and doesn’t have any money they need to liquidate some assets, selling commodities for half market value until they have enough money to take their chosen action. In the rare case that a player doesn’t have enough in their portfolio to liquidate enough money, they are removed from the game.

After five rounds the market closes, players get one more chance to influence the market playing out only phase three. Then the player with the most valuable portfolio wins.

There is one other very important part of the game and that is the effect of market bubbles and the way they burst. The board only goes from $10 to $90 but, during the market manipulation phase, if a price marker goes off one end of the board it actually wraps around to the other end, greatly changing the price. This is meant to represent the way market bubbles burst and is a huge part of the strategy of the game. Having a market burst just before you sell can really hurt, whereas going to sell cheap and having a bubble happen when you don’t expect it can make you rather rich.

What did I think of Exchange a quick Stock Market board game from Bicycle?

Starting with the component quality I have to say I’m impressed by what you get with Exchange. I noted it already, but I think it’s worth repeating that the Ledger Boards are some of the nicest individual tracking boards I’ve seen in a board game to date. In addition to this, I love the use of the card sleeves. The way you tuck cards into them and which way up they face indicates what you are using the card for is brilliant. The rest of the components are perfectly fine and all very functional. 

As for the gameplay I’ve got to say that I dig what Exchange is doing. It’s a super straight forward market game. It’s the kind of thing that I actually expect to see as part of a bigger game and to be honest I actually think this would be a great market system to include in a bigger game. That said, on its own, Exchange is still solid and I think that’s mainly because of how quick and straightforward it is. 

One great thing about the theme of this game is its approachability. Everyone knows the basics of stock trading: buy low, sell high. People are used to dealing with money on a day to day basis. This makes Exchange a great game for people who you may not otherwise be interested in playing hobby board games. I can see Exchange being popular with people who are into betting games like poker and of course anyone who actually enjoys playing the market. 

Along with being accessible to non-hobby gamers, there are a lot of gamers out there like me, who love a good economic strategy game and I think this game is going to appeal to them as well. What really shines here is how simple the concepts are and how fast the gameplay is.

I hate to admit it but I honestly wasn’t expecting much from Exchange and it was significantly better than I would have thought. This is a very solid economic game and there’s something to be said about games that take basic mechanics and just use them in a straightforward and pure way.

Do you dig economic games? What’s your favourite one that you have played? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

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