Cardboard Children – Panic On Wall Street

Hello youse.

I have no idea what happens at the end of Trading Places. It’s one of my favourite films, for sure. I’ve seen it about 50 times, easily. But I have no idea what is going on at the end. I’m not talking about the stuff with the gorilla – I understand what’s happening there. I’m talking about the business at the stock market place with all the shouting and people waving things in the air. And Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are all like – “BUY BUY BUY” and then they’re all like “SELL SELL SELL”. And I have NO idea what’s happening because it makes no sense. Anyway, a board game.

PANIC ON WALL STREET

No, seriously, though. What the hell is happening at the end of Trading Places? It’s a brilliant film. Performers and a director at their peak. But then the ending comes and it’s just incomprehensible. When I watch it it’s like I have a stroke ten minutes before the end that renders me incapable of understanding what anybody is saying. Look, I GET THAT THEY GET THE ORANGE CROP FORECASTS. But what do those forecasts let them do? What happens? It is NEVER EXPLAINED.

And I can just see all of you in the comments saying – “Oh, it’s so simple. It’s just basic stock trading.” And some of you will go into detail, explaining exactly what happens. “They bought low so that when the thingy happens they sell high or whatever or they buy high or whatever or whatever.” But listen – this film is a COMEDY. Do not end your wonderful COMEDY with an entirely incomprehensible bit of stock market BULLSHIT.

Go away. Leave me alone. LEAVE ME ALONE.

Panic on Wall Street is a game for up to eleven players. You can play it comfortably with five. The more the better, though. It’s an absolutely FANTASTIC game, and I need to tell you why.

It is a board game that explains the ending of Trading Places. It explains it by turning you into the people from the film. It is probably the LOUDEST board game ever made, because you genuinely cannot play it properly without shouting over each other. If you don’t shout loud enough and make yourself heard, you will probably lose. After I played it I rubbed my throat and croaked “I think I kinda understand what happened at the end of Trading Places…”

Here’s how it works. The players are split into two groups. One group will be the Investors. The other group will be the Managers. At the start of the game each Manager is dealt three companies. They’re of different colours – blue companies are very low risk, green a little bit less stable, yellow companies are swingy and red companies are high risk. The company cards are dry erase boards, and every Manager has a pen.

And then BOOM! The game is on. The Managers have exactly two minutes to sell stakes in their companies to the investors. This is a completely open section of play – entirely open negotiation, with Managers trying to get a good price for each company they own. (At the end of the round, Managers have to pay 10,000 quid to the bank for each company, so they need to try to at least cover their costs. A company that gets no investment is a bad thing.)

So this is where the shouting starts. If you start the game with a high risk red company, how do you shift that? Do you price it low, to encourage your investors to gamble? Or do you try to make it seem a potentially lucrative high-risk but high-reward type of thing? Can your investors even hear you? Because EVERYBODY AT THE TABLE IS SHOUTING.

The game always has two winners. One winner from the Managers and one winner from the Investors. So there are two different games going on here. The Managers are trying to cover costs and entice Investors with good deals. The investors are looking at the company values, and the potential for spikes or crashes, and trying to get a good deal. Maybe they want to gamble hard or play safe. The dynamic is constantly shifting.

With it being open negotiation, deals can be made and then dismissed instantly when better deals come in. It’s possible to negotiate to close a company down to further investment too. If an investor definitely wants some red stock, they could offer a Manager a higher price to make and finalise a deal for that round, closing offers down to everyone else. There is a LOT to talk about in that brilliant, crazy, loud two minutes.

And then we go to see how the market reacts. Four dice are rolled, each corresponding to a company colour. Each dice is different. The red die is the wildest – it can crash value by 7 spaces or spike value by 7 spaces. All these values are adjusted on a central board. So you can see, in one die roll, your red stock pay out a fortune or put you in terrifying debt. It is exciting. That safe blue stock has low numbers on its die – it doesn’t adjust value that much. And even when it does shift, it never makes huge money. It’s the slow and steady stock. Investors need to balance safety with risk. There is a lot to think about.

After all the shares pay out, the investors settle debts with the Managers. That’s right – Managers only get those payments they negotiated after the market stage. That means you could be owed money by people who just lost their shirt. Which means you get NOTHING. Or you have to broker some kind of deal that allows the Investor to survive and pay you with whatever they make next round. And that situation creates these toxic investors, sweating and pulling at their clothes and making promises they CAN’T KEEP. And yet you don’t want to kill them because they might yet make you some serious money.

OH IT IS FANTASTIC.

With the game’s rules so simple, and only five rounds of buying and selling, everything else is left to the players. There are mind games, bullying tactics, yelling, screaming, and bad deals being made as the last grains of sand fall through the timer. The Managers build their portfolio of companies at end-of-round auctions, and more and more shares come into play. Investors soar and crash, and sometimes take Managers with them. I played a game where I ended up selling lots of stock to a player who had NO MONEY. I actually screamed “YOU ARE A BAD INVESTOR!” But I still took his money, because there was a chance the markets might be kind and my losses could be covered by him at least partly paying for what he owed me. The whole game is a beautiful, brilliant, hilarious house of cards – and I watched it topple again and again. And it was then that I realised how brilliantly the game captures the feel of that kind of trading we all saw at the end of Trading Places.

Maybe. I dunno. I – okay. I admit, I still have no idea what happens at the end of Trading Places. But I do know that Panic on Wall Street is a brilliant game, and it’s staying in my collection forever.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles has no stock market stuff, and so is the best comedy film ever. GOODBYE.

25 Comments

  1. Shakes999 says:

    Rewatched that the other day, still had no clue what was going on. Had to look up 3 separate FAQs and I’m still only about 60% sure what happened. Don’t feel too bad, you aren’t alone.

  2. iucounu says:

    If anyone wants to explain at me, and definitely not at Rab, what’s going on at the end, I’m all ears.

  3. carsonoid says:

    For those who don’t understand the fantastic podcast 99 Percent Invisible did a whole episode on this: link to 99percentinvisible.org

  4. Tom Davidson says:

    To sum up, in case you don’t want to listen to a podcast: the Duke brothers arranged to obtain a grower’s report indicating how much orange juice would be available in the spring. Winthorpe and Valentine, our heroes, intercept this report — which says that the orange crop will be good — and swap it with one that says the orange crop will be disastrously bad. The Dukes tell their buyer on the floor to buy orange futures in the spring at pretty much any price, anticipating that they can corner the market — own all the juice there is to own — before the shortage becomes common knowledge following the official release of the report, at which point they can sell those futures to people actually wanting to take possession of juice at even higher prices. Because they buy so much, they attract attention (making people believe there’s a juice shortage) and dramatically drive up the price of juice. Winthorpe and Valentine enter the market and offer to SELL juice in the spring at a relatively low price — compared to the currently-inflated value — attracting a great number of buyers who no doubt think they’re chumps. The report is then publicly released, revealing that the orange crop is plentiful and there is no actual juice shortage. The bottom falls (somewhat unrealistically) out of the market at this point, and Winthorpe and Valentine arrange to buy juice for two or three times less than they have already arranged to sell it to others. This should make them enormously wealthy. The Dukes, trapped on the other side — having promised to buy juice at several times more than it is currently worth — take a major and possibly disastrous hit.

    • belgand says:

      An excellent summary and a good example of how arbitrage works. The Dukes tried to buy something so they could later sell it at an inflated price once it had become scarce. Winthorpe and Valentine arranged to sell something they didn’t own knowing they could later buy it cheaply in time to fulfill the contract. This worked because they were working at cross purposes and the Winthorpe and Valentine knew that the anticipated scarcity would not happen.

      It also plays quite heavily into the idea of “accepted wisdom” that can affect markets as everyone tries to capitalize on the current state of things. The buyers Winthorpe and Valentine eventually purchased their juice from wanted to unload as quickly as possible before the price fell any further.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      Everything written above is correct. But if you need the short short version:

      It doesn’t matter how it works. The stock market scene is just the setup for the joke where Billy Ray and Louis tell the bankrupted Duke brothers that they just lost their fortunes over a $1 bet.

      I’m not sure I would rate Trading Places more highly than The Blues Brothers or Animal House, but the three films together are definitely at the apex of the John Landis oeuvre.

      • Radiant says:

        Blues brothers is pants.
        You couldn’t make anything based on the ending of that,

        • Radiant says:

          Just a song and dance about nothing.

        • Jackablade says:

          I dunno. You could probably do a game about Cab Calloway and co stalling for time waiting for the Blues Brothers to arrive, dealing with an increasingly restless audience as well as distractions from police and neo-nazis whilst drawing out Minnie the Moocher for as long as possible.

          It’s not the flimsiest concept that I’ve seen a board game based around.

        • phuzz says:

          What about a sort of reverse Katimari Damarcy, where you have to cram all those cops and firemen and national guard and whatnot into the building?
          And it would be dead easy to make a Burnout style car-crashing mini-game.
          Also blues Brothers is not pants so nerrrr to you :p

        • Premium User Badge

          Phasma Felis says:

          If you can’t find a game concept in an insanely daring driver trying to cross a city within a time limit while being chased by everyone in the world, there’s something fucking wrong with you.

  5. Dan Hulton says:

    It reminds me a lot of an old game called Stock Ticker, and seems to suffer from the main problem Stock Ticker did – the actual resolution of stock prices is random, and that’s it. One red company is the same as the other, and they both have the chance of hitting +7 or -7.

    I’m not a board game designer really, but a long time ago, I attempted a redesign of Stock Ticker to try to fix this perceived flaw (I say perceived because I still really enjoyed playing it), and called the result: Insider Trading.

    I haven’t had a chance to actually play it since, as I haven’t been able to track down a copy of Stock Ticker to use as a base. If anyone does have a copy and decides to try it out, I’d love to know how it ends up playing!

    • Moe45673 says:

      and seems to suffer from the main problem Stock Ticker did – the actual resolution of stock prices is random, and that’s it.

      I don’t know that game but this one plays in about 30 minutes. It’s more party game than strategy game and for what it is, abstracts a Wall Street experience pretty well in a fun way.

  6. Gothnak says:

    I just sold ‘Flutter’ last weekend on ebay, a game from the 50’s about pretty much the same subject, just that each player has insider info about what the stocks are going to do and other players are trying to bet on shares rising and falling based on what other players are doing.

  7. GameCat says:

    But does it comes with a free quaaludes or not?

  8. Keasar says:

    Sad thing is that the game is hard as hell to get ahold of here in Europa. At least in Sweden. Sold out on every online store and on Amazon.co.uk. :(

    Does anyone know if there will be a reprint of the game soon?

  9. P.Funk says:

    Are there any stock trading computer games?

    • neotribe says:

      There are stock trading simulators. They have more in common with web-based fantasy sports leagues than video games, except maybe the sports team manager games (which are, basically, jazzed up fantasy sports). I briefly toyed with them a while back and they didn’t really hold my interest, but maybe others here will like them better.

      Here’s what wiki says is currently popular:

      link to stockfuse.com
      link to investopedia.com
      link to wallstreetmagnate.com

      I’m also aware of:
      link to wallstreetsurvivor.com
      link to updown.com [interestingly, they offer a small chance of a real money bonus for well performing virtual portforlios — a nod to the likelihood that these companies are mining these games for some kind of salable data]

    • Moe45673 says:

      You can look at yucata.de which has an electronic implementation of the excellent stock market boardgame Black Friday

  10. Wedge says:

    Sounds like random nonsense, the game. So kind of like the real stock market I suppose.

  11. SAM-site says:

    Rab – I bloody love your game reviews, but if (as is the case here) the game is not available to purchase any more could you possibly mention it in really big letters at the top of the article?

    Nothing worse than reading something that makes you reach for your wallet immediately only to find after 30 minutes of fruitless searching that it cannot be had.

    Alternate version – this rather reads a little like “HERE’S A REALLY GOOD GAME YOU CAN’T HAVE HAHAHAHA”

    /pulls sad face

  12. Moe45673 says:

    RAB, you have seriously gotta stop writing about games that have been hard to find for months.