Capitalism, ho! All the so-called fame and glory go to the adventurers, heading out into the wilderness to fight the monsters threatening the town. That’s not the life for the likes of you and me, though. After all, what happens to all that gold they loot from the monsters’ lairs? They have to spend it on more gear to fight more monsters, and someone ends up with that gold in their pocket for good. Might as well be us! So let’s put our shiniest inventory on display, hire some hawkers, and make a profit off of the local heroes . . . and if they never come back, well, they won’t exactly be asking for a refund, now will they? This is Bargain Quest, a game of adventure and capitalism from Designer Jonathan Ying, Artist Victoria Ying, and publisher Renegade Game Studios!
The premise of Bargain Quest is simple: there are adventurers out in the world who need weapons, armor, and items to fight against the monsters plaguing the land, and each of BQ’s 2-6 players is a shop owner selling what they need! When setting up, you’ll pick three monsters (deliberately or by random draw), one for each of the three Ranks. Rank I goes on top of that pile, working down to Rank III. A number of heroes are drawn from their own deck equal to the number of players. Then it’s time to get down to business, so let’s go step-by-step through a round.
Step 1: Supply
If the top card of the monster deck is facedown (meaning you’re starting the game or your heroes killed a monster last turn), you flip the card face up to reveal the monster your heroes will be facing this turn. Then every player is dealt 4 item cards facedowns and takes them into their hand. Like any other draft game, each player picks one card to keep, then passes their remaining cards to the player on the left. Each player drafts one card from the three they’ve been handed, and so on and so forth until every card has been drafted.
Step 2: Display
Item cards have a number of different functions, and one of them is the Appeal Value, presented on the card as a number of hearts; this value basically determines who gets to pick heroes first. In this step each player picks one item card and places it face down on their shop board. Once all the players have done so, everyone flips their display card face up and moves to Step 3.
There’s a lot of interesting strategy in this step. Getting the first pick of the heroes could be extremely important . . . but you can’t sell whatever you put in your Display. So, naturally, items that might sell for a lot of money, or be useful against the monster, are likely to have a higher Appeal Rating. And as we’ll see in Step 3, the cards you have might not even appeal to all the heroes!
Step 3: Shopping
Starting with the player who has the most heart icons in their Display, players choose one hero at a time who wanders into their shop to buy things. However, another function of the item cards is that they have class icons, and each hero has at least one of the four class icons themselves; a hero can only be chosen if they have at least 1 class icon matching an item in the Display. Having the highest Appeal Rating won’t help too much if none of the Clerics or Rogues are interested in the Plate Armor you put in the window.
Now, if a player doesn’t have any matching icons when their turn comes around, they don’t miss out on the turn; they just have to wait until after all the players who do have matches have taken their heroes. While this can be quite the disadvantage, it might also be a boon: if nobody has a match with a particularly wealthy hero, the player who had no matches at all will get to pick them up as the other players have to grab the poorer adventurers instead. There are also items and heroes with multiple class icons, and some heroes that have exceptions when it comes to what appeals to them.
Once every shop has attracted a hero, it’s time to make some coin! You can sell as many items as you want to a hero so long as the class icons match up and they have enough coin tokens for you to take. Placing the purchased item cards underneath the hero’s card will ‘equip’ them, and convey any and all bonuses, effects, and penalties onto the hero. Once every shop has finished selling their items, it’s time for our heroes to head out and do some adventuring!
Step 4: Adventure
Each hero has an Attack value and a Defense value, which is then altered by items as mentioned above. At the start of this step each character is randomly dealt a card from the adventure deck, which can further modify the hero’s values: Brave means they have a +1 to Attack, while Reckless means -1 to Defense, and so on. Since the monster’s values are known all the way back in Step 1, this means that heroes can hope for a lucky draw to push them over the edge to success . . . or have events suddenly turn against them.
Monsters each have some special ability that triggers during one of the steps, but each also has a Toughness Value and a Strength value. Each hero compares their Attack to the monster’s Toughness; if it matches or exceeds, then a wound token is placed on the monster and the player gains 1 star token. Then the hero compares their Defense to the monster’s Strength; if it matches or exceeds, the hero survives and the player gets 1 star token. If it doesn’t, the hero is discarded, along with all of their items and more importantly along with any money they still had. After this step, new heroes will be drawn from their deck to replace the fallen.
After every hero has done this, there are a few potential things happening. First, if the monster has a number of wound tokens equal to the number of players, they are defeated (note that you only check for this after everyone has gone, so you can in fact beat a dead bandit chief for more star tokens)! Unless it’s the third monster, which ends the game, each hero then receives a large payout of coin tokens. If the monster has fewer tokens than there are players, it’s still alive, but each surviving hero does still get a smaller payout of coin tokens before heading back to town. If the monster received no wound tokens during this step from any of the heroes, a single wound token is placed to represent the combined efforts of the (probably dead) heroes; this keeps the game from stalling out and places an upper limit on how long a game will run.
Shopping and adventuring are the core of the game, and the strategy can get very interesting. Ideally you want a hero to both wound the monster and survive so that you get two star tokens and the hero gets more coin to spend in your store, but depending on what items you drafted and what hero has wandered into your shop that just might not be possible. Do you (can you) prioritize wounding the monster? Do you (can you) prioritize keeping the hero alive? Or, for the third option, do you fleece them for everything they have and send them off knowing they won’t be alive to file a complaint with the better business bureau?
This is also where a lot of the game’s fun and humor comes from. Sudden turns of favor from the adventure deck can be huge, exciting moments (whether your hero is suddenly successful or everything has gone so, so wrong). There’s a fair amount of dark comedy to be had when you know a hero isn’t going to survive. In one game a Noble wandered into my shop, who has no Attack or Defense stats of his own but can buy any type of item he wants, with 40 coin tokens in his pocket. Given my cards there was no way I was going to get him to either wound the monster or survive without a lucky adventure card. So I sold him everything I could (including a wineskin that actually sent his stats into the negative), pocketed 40 coin tokens, and watched as the Lich Tyrant eviscerated him.
Step 5: Upgrade
As the heroes return from adventuring (or don’t), the shops in town get a chance to upgrade their shelf space and employee pool. Storage cards allow you to, well, store an additional item (more on that in the next step). Display cards allow you to display an additional item, which has a few purposes: the order of picking heroes is determined by the total Appeal of your Display, so it can be quite the force multiplier, and it also provides the opportunity to more easily be able to pick between multiple class icons. Each store can only have one Storage and one Display upgrade, so you can’t save up for the day a monster smashes your shelves, but the cards you do have in your store can be upgraded again for a third item each.
Employee cards are drawn every turn at the start of this step and placed on the table for all to see. You can have as many employees as you want, although you can’t have two with the same name, and they have a variety of abilities with an equal variety in the cost to hire them. Broadly speaking they can be split into two types, one-shots that are discarded after they help out (like allowing you to sell an item to a hero without a matching class icon) to persistent ones with passive effects (like providing bonuses to your hero if they have a certain class icon equipped). Any unpurchased employee cards are shuffled right back into the deck at the end of this step, so if they don’t get hired they’ll be back . . . eventually.
Step 6: Storage
Easy: pick one card in your hand (assuming you didn’t sell everything that wasn’t nailed down, followed by taking a crowbar to the rest of it). You put that card in your Storage, and it will be added to your hand after you’ve finished drafting your hand in the next Step 1. Whether you didn’t have a hero who could use it, or it costs more than the heroes had in their wallets, this lets you hang on to an item (or two or three if you’ve been Upgrading appropriately) for a rainy day. That’s the only thing that gets kept, though. Every other item in your Display or your hand, or that’s been equipped on a hero that survived Step 4, gets discarded. Have to keep that stock fresh, I suppose.
Alright, Step 6 done, back to Step 1, until . . .
Play ends when the third monster is defeated, at which point star tokens and coin tokens are counted up. You get 1 point for every star token and 1 point for every 10 coin tokens (rounded down). The player with the most points wins; ties are broken by who has the most coin tokens, and if there’s still a tie then the players share their victory.
However, there is another way to end the game. For pretty much every type of card if their deck runs out you simply reshuffle the discard pile and keep on playing, but not so for the heroes. If the hero deck is ever empty when a new hero would need to be drawn, the game ends immediately and all of the players lose. So now you’ve got quite the incentive to not be too ruthless with your salemenship: run out of heroes to hold them off, and the monsters take over the town.
I’d qualify Bargain Quest’s rules overall as very robust; despite all those steps up above, it reminded me of Dwar7s Winter, in that the cycle of steps per round quickly starts to flow of its own volition. But the design really shows its chops with some additional rules for both ends of the player count spectrum. Let’s be honest, there are plenty of games that list themselves as being for 2-6 players that really hum along better in the middle of those numbers. Bargain Quest has alterations to be made both for groups of 5-6 players and for a 2 player game.
For 5-6 players the monster receives 2 wound tokens instead of 1 if none of the heroes manage to wound it, and if only one hero wounded it the monster still receives 1 extra wound token. This both keeps the game from potentially running much longer than smaller games, it also makes losing by running out of heroes a little more difficult. After all, a TPK with 6 heroes wipes out more than a third of the hero deck, so some extra wounds make such a disaster a bit easier to recover from. In addition, while a Rank II monster is in play, players pass cards to the right when drafting, so every player will have interacted with every other player by the end of the game.
For 2 player games the rules detail an advanced variant, wherein everything gets ramped up to make the game ‘deeper and more strategic’. Rather than still being tied to the number of players, 4 heroes are put into play. Each player gets 6 item cards instead of four. Players can purchase two cards instead of one during the Upgrade step. During the Shopping step, each store attracts two heroes instead of just one; the shop can sell to both heroes, and both heroes represent the shop during the Adventure step. Finally, during the Adventure step itself, a monster has to receive 4 wound tokens instead of the measly 2 that would be equal to the number of players. The first time we played through we didn’t use the advanced variant, and while it was still a fun time I can say that our following playthroughs using it were a much better experience.
I can wrap up this review really simply: Bargain Quest is the only boardgame I spent my own dollars at while at PAX Unplugged, and they were dollars well spent. The game is fun, the rules are very well thought out, the production values are very high (the art is great throughout), and there’s a ton of re-playability.
You can find copies of Bargain Quest in all the usual places, as well as on RGS’s own site, along with various expansions and add-on packs (including one that allows for solo play).
Do you have what it takes to be the best shop in town?