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Cardboard Children - Panic On Wall Street

Rab is a panic merchant

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.


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.


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.

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