Black Monday

Salagames, 1988, 2-6 players, ages 10 and up. Another entry from prolific game designer Sid Sackson, Black Monday is a relatively straightforward exercise in stock market wheeling and dealing (Buy low! Sell high!). The game was originally designed such that it could be played with two standard decks of playing cards. This commercial version trades in the generic playing cards for "stock market" cards (with the "suits" changed to "corporations"). Card denominations represent either a stock price or a number of shares (IE, depending on the context, a "3" card is either 3 shares of stock or a $300 stock price).

To start the game, players are given $20,000 with which to purchase stock. Four cards are then placed in the open market (one for each corporation). Said cards determine the starting value of each stock. Lastly, each player is dealt eight cards and play commences.

On any given turn, a player may manipulate the prices in the market and/or buy/sell stock. To manipulate the market, a player simply plays one of the cards from their hand onto the corresponding stack in the market - thus setting a new price. Each stock has a maximum amount it can go up (or down) at any one time, with some stocks allowing wilder price swings than others. To purchase shares of stock, players select a given corporation's card from their hand and pay the current market price for each share that they are purchasing (IE, if the current market price for "yellow" is $500 and they play a "3 shares" card, their cost to the bank would be $1500 (and the same goes for selling shares - just in reverse).

Players may manipulate the market up to two times during any one turn. Similarly, they can play (IE purchase) up to two share cards during a turn (although they may never own more than 12 total shares of any one stock). There is no limit to the number of share cards that can be sold in any one turn. Although market manipulation and buying/selling can be done in any order, the two activities cannot be interleaved. IE, you must finish all your market manipulation before moving on to buying/selling (or finish all of your buying/selling before moving on to market manipulation).

The "face cards" ($1100-$1300) have a special function in the game when it comes to market manipulation. They can either represent their face value or zero (player's choice). If a player elects to use a face card to reset a stock's value to $0, said corporation is now bankrupt and all shares of its stock are discarded by any players owning them. New shares in that corporation cannot be purchased until such time as somebody manipulates the stock's price back above zero. When a face card is the top card on a corporation's open market stack, price swing limitations no longer apply (IE, a player could jump the stock's price from $0 to $1000, regardless of any normal limitations). Playing face cards back-to-back on the same stock is not allowed.

At the end of their turn, players draw back up to eight cards. Players may optionally skip their turn in order to discard (and then refresh) up to 4 cards. Once the draw stack has been exhausted, all discards are reshuffled into a new deck. The "Market Closed" card is also added to the deck at this time. Play continues as above until somebody draws the Market Closed card, at which point players sell any unsold shares of stock at the current market prices and add up their money. The player with the most money wins.

This is a mildly entertaining game that's easy to learn and plays relatively quickly. Unfortunately, the face card mechanism (vis'a'vis bankrupting corporations) seems a bit half-baked. In our first game, nobody had actually made any money by the end of the game (what with all the bankruptcies making it virtually impossible to sell stock). Consequently, we adopted the optional rule that allows face cards to also be used as "purchase 5 shares" cards. This did help to calm things down a bit by giving people something to do with their face cards other than screwing over everyone else, although one wonders what would happen were a player to adopt the strategy of simply sitting on their starting $20K and spending the entire game bankrupting corporations (and thus taking money out of everyone else's pockets).

At the end of the day, this isn't a bad game (per se). However, it does feel like it needs a bit of rules tweaking. And given all the other (better) options out there, I'm not sure that it's worth the effort.

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