One of the lessons I taught in either my math classes or my former enterprise and innovation class was the stock market. I taught my students the very basic concepts of how the market worked, things like how you should buy stocks at a low price, and sell them when they are at a high price. These lessons led to a stock market challenge, where students would use 10000 fake dollars to purchase stocks and simulate what would happen if they created a portfolio. I also told my students that certain information you hear in business or political news would affect how the markets would move. My students would read the news quickly to figure out what was happening and considered buying or selling depending on what was going on. It was definitely a way to engage students on how the markets worked.
The hardest part of doing these games or lessons (or I guess any engaging game or lesson in a classroom) is the amount of work you have to put in just to get the game started. When I taught this lesson, I think the students were overwhelmed by the number of stocks that they could purchase from, so they started to focus on companies that they were familiar with, companies like Google, Apple, or Starbucks. The other hard part was acting as the stock broker for these kids and consistently updating the portfolios on my end so that the game remained fair. I’ve always wondered if there was a simpler way to play a stock market game without doing all this work. I mean, sure, I could have the kids play “Stock Ticker”, but it simulate stocks in a very basic and random way. I was hoping for something better.
Turns out that in 2015, a game was created that mimics pretty well what’s going on with the stock market, including insider trading!
Stockpile is a stock simulation game created by Seth Van Orden and Brett Sobol and is published by Nauvoo Games. In this game you take on the role of stock investors, bidding on different portfolios that could hopefully earn you money. Using the secret insider information about the companies and watching the bidding behaviours of others, players utilize all of this knowledge to try to make the most money. The investor who does this after a set number of rounds wins the game.
To set up Stockpile, place the board at the center of the table, either on the beginners side or on the challenging side. Put the circular markers on the starting prices of the stocks. Each player takes a portfolio board, and their bidding markers. Shuffle the stock cards, company cards, and forecast cards and place them on their respective places. Finally determine a starting player and give them the starting player marker, and you’re ready to go.
In Stockpile, each round consists of six phases:
- Information Phase – In this phase, players are dealt a company card and a forecast card. This is what is going to happen to the company’s stock at the end of the round. This information is kept secret from the other players and is used to determine what decisions need to be made about one company. Also one company and one forecast card is revealed publicly.
- Supply Phase – In the supply phase, stock cards are placed on the stockpile section of the board. Then each player takes two stock cards and will place one face up and one face down on any pile they like. The stock cards feature stocks of the companies as well as trading fees and action cards that allow players to boom or bust a company’s stock.
- Demand Phase – Personally, this is by far the most frustrating and yet most exhilarating part of the game. Players will now bid on one of the stockpiles. On your turn, you take your meeple and place it on the price that you would like to pay for the stockpile. If at any point another player pays for a higher price, you are bumped off and have to either bid on an available stockpile, or outbid a stockpile currently owned by another. This continues until every player has one stockpile. Then each player pays the price of the stockpile to the bank as well as any trading fee cards that were found in the stockpile. Any stock cards are placed on the player’s board, while any action cards are placed face up in front of them.
- Action Phase – Players will now use their action cards and force the stocks to go up or down depending on what cards they have.
- Selling Phase – Each player will have an opportunity to sell their stocks. Using the cards gained in the information phase and the behaviour of the opponents during the demand phase and this phase, players now decide if they want to sell any of their shares. They will receive the current price of the stock for every share they sell.
- Movement Phase – Finally, each player reveals their company card and forecast card and change the prices of the stock accordingly by moving the circular tokens left or right. If the forecast card reveals a dividend symbol, then any player who owns that stock will earn some money. Once the stocks have changed their prices, a new round begins.
It is possible that after a few stock busts or booms, or a couple shifts in the movement phase, a company can go completely bankrupt. If this is the case, then all players who own stocks in that company will have to discard them. It is also possible that the stock movements can also cause the shares to split. This means that any stocks owned by players are now worth double, and is signified by placing those stocks on the x2 section of the player board. In both cases, you reset the stock price by placing the stock token on their appropriate location on the board.
At the end of a set number of rounds, players reveal what stocks they have in their portfolio. Whoever has the most stocks in each company will receive a $10000 bonus for being the majority shareholder. All players sell their stocks at the current market price and the player who has the most money wins.
There are so many elements that I love about Stockpile that this is definitely one game that I want to introduce to as many people as possible. First off, I love how this game is based on observing player behaviour. In many of the phases, you are relying on your perception skills to deduce whether or not investing in a certain stock is a good deal. For example, you may start to notice that there is a bidding war going on a stockpile that has a lot of face down cards. You start to wonder is this just a trick, or is there something really good under those cards. You also might see the starting player just sell all of their stocks on a company that has a pretty decent price. Again you start to speculate, is that because the price of the stock is going down on the next turn, or is that person just pulling your leg to force you to sell your own stocks. And if you are not paying attention to what the other players are doing, you might be losing a fair bit of money, or miss an opportunity to earn more. Stockpile is not strictly a game of luck. It is being to able observe other players’ actions and use this knowledge to your advantage.
I also really like the auction mechanic in this game. You are guaranteed to take one of the stockpiles and get the actions and shares in the pile. But it becomes obvious that some of the piles are more valuable than others, especially when you know your secret card on the table and the information you had at the beginning of the round. The bidding is quiet, subtle, but still stings when somebody outbids you. You start to doubt how far you should go when bidding on a portfolio to avoid taking the worst of the stockpiles. It is also a strategy to just simply raise the price in order to force your opponent to pay a premium for a high quality stockpile.
Stockpile is also highly customizable. The beginner side of the board has all six companies with the same stock prices and volatility, and I recommend using this side when teaching the game to newcomers. On the advanced side, the six companies are more likely to reflect the actual stock market. For example, Stanford Steel has the lowest volatility, but pays dividends when the stock price goes up. Cosmic Computers and American Automotive on the other hand has high volatility. The prices of these stocks will change drastically and can easily crash or split. You can also choose to incorporate the investor profiles. This gives each player a special ability that can give discounts on stockpiles, earn money during times where you normally lose, and even give you more information as to how the prices of the stocks are going to change.
And I haven’t even talked about the Continuing Corruption expansion yet. Purchasing this expansion is going to supercharge your game immensely. It introduces more investor profiles. It also introduces a bond system, where you can be conservative with your money and buy them in order to earn interest. However, they also reduce the amount of bidding power you have in the game. The expansion also includes commodities and taxes, which have a set-collecting mechanic. The more commodities and taxes you have, the more money you can gain or lose. But by far, my favourite part of the expansion has to be the customized dice for the annual forecast. Instead of using the six standard forecast cards that come with the base game, you can use the forecast dice and the additional forecast cards to determine how the stocks are going to move that round. In some rounds, the stock prices might be moving conservatively, while on others, the stocks will be moving substantially. I find that this makes the game way more interesting, and keeps me on my toes when determining what to do with my portfolio.
The only issue that I found about the game was the starting player mechanic. This game does pose an advantage to the last player as they get to place their stock cards last and can observe the most when players start to sell their stocks. In the game, when the round ends, the first player token rotates to the left. I’m totally okay with the first player becoming the last player with the token rotation as it now gives them an advantage that was lost in the last round. What I have an issue with is how many times a player gets to be the last player. If you are playing a five player game, this is totally fine because everybody gets to be the last player once. But when you scale it down to a four player game, you have six rounds, which means that two players will end up with the advantage. In a three player game, you play with seven rounds, meaning one player will be the last player three times. This might be alleviated by giving the first player token to the player with the least amount of money, or maybe even having an additional bidding mechanic to give the first player token to someone else.
Overall, I love Stockpile. This is a great game to introduce the stock buying mechanic to others. The game is really easy to teach and simple to get into. The game is so quick that you can get in two or three rounds in and even try the advanced side of the board if you wanted to. The auctioning mechanic is awesome and the player interactivity is high especially when you have to observe others in order to be successful in this game. Stockpile is going to be on my shelf for awhile. It’s definitely a game I can use to introduce others to the tabletop world.
…Now I just gotta figure out a way to manipulate this game so I can have 30 kids in my math class play it at the same time…
- Great stock market game with an awesome auction mechanic.
- Quick to teach. Simple to play.
- Highly customizable. Can adapt for new players, or highly experienced players.
- Expansion enhances the game immensely.
- Scaling isn’t that great. Recommended for five players.