Despite being a mathematics professor, I never found the applications of mathematics (physics, engineering, finance, etc.) very interesting. So it’s not all that surprising that heavily economic board games have never been high on my radar (Power Grid being the one exception). But then, Stockpile comes along, promising to be a quick, simple stock game, which would make it perhaps the first of its kind. I like quick and simple, but those don’t always mean good. How does Stockpile hold up? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: Stockpile is primarily a card-driven game, although it’s all connected to a very useful central board that shows stock prices going up and down. The artwork is wonderful – it’s evocative of the theme, but in a very fun and loud way, and the cards are high quality. I much prefer “card money” to paper money, and it was done well here. I think the MSRP of $50.00 is about normal, although I’m not sure I would want it to be higher. All in all, a very nice package with clean design and great graphics.
Accessibility: Stockpile‘s strength is that it plays simply and quickly, unlike many economic games. I found the basic game (where all stocks act the same) very easy to explain, and the advanced board wasn’t too big of a jump after that. The central mechanism has players bidding on piles of cards, and the bidding system is very intuitive (similar to the one in Cyclades / Amun-Re, but not quite the same). More importantly, stock games live and die on how well players can assess the value of stocks, and Stockpile shines here. It’s very clear to the players from the first turn how stock values work, and the excitement of the game comes from having partial information about any upcoming movement. I also really like the stock movement happens after payout for the current turn, so that it feels considerably less random. This could honestly be someone’s gateway game, and I like that a lot.
Depth: The “gimmick” of Stockpile is insider trading, represented by the fact that you know things other people don’t – you know how one particular stock will move, and you know one of the face-down cards in the stockpiles. Theoretically, the depth of the game comes from the bluffing aspect when you watch people maneuver around things they know – did they avoid taking their own face-down card because it’s bad, or because they’re being sneaky? However, in my experience with the game, it didn’t feel like there was enough opportunity to “watch” players use the information they knew to glean anything. The game doesn’t play itself by any means, and there are interesting decisions to be made, but there’s a heck of a lot of “well, if I had any idea that was coming, I would have certainly played differently…” I suppose this is mitigated by memorizing the (admittedly very few) ways that stocks can move up and down, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
Theme: I was curious about this game more because of its positive reception elsewhere than because of my own interest in the stock market (which is none). I greatly appreciate that the game has a tongue-in-cheek approach to its theme, and the art pulls that off to great effect. And thematically, the secret partial information makes a lot of sense. The game can also have a lot of very wild swings in valuation, which makes thematic sense too. So, all in all I think the game does a fantastic job being true to its theme – it’s just not a very exciting one.
Fun: I liked the game, but I didn’t love it. People who actually enjoy this theme or want a simple introduction to the many stock-driven economic games out there should have a fantastic time with it. It’s definitely a clean, slick, elegant design. But for us, that didn’t translate to that “spark” of super-fun that games like Splendor and Codenames have given us. The game was still solid, and the best stock market game I’ve played (as someone who is typically not a fan).
Stockpile is an accessible, well-designed introduction into the world of stock market games. It’s not going to be a mega-hit like some of the recent gateway games we’ve seen, but it’s a fun game in its own right.
3 out of 5