Monsters threaten the town! Adventurers, gather your party and…go shopping!
In Reaping the Rewards, I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Bargain Quest 2nd Edition was originally funded on Kickstarter in August 2018, raising over $392k. With game design by Jonathan Ying and art by his sister Victoria Ying, Bargain Quest 2nd Edition was shipped to backers earlier this August and is currently available to purchase at retail from Renegade Game Studios, online retailers, and friendly local game stores.
Often, when you back a Kickstarter, you receive more than just the base game. I backed at the “New Deluxe Level” which gave me all these goodies in my box when it arrived:
- Bargain Quest Base Game
- Chaotic Goods Expansion
- The Black Market Expansion
- Bonus Pack #1 Table Titans
- Bonus Pack #2 8-Bit Theater
- Bonus Pack #3 Acquisitions Incorporated
As well as the following Kickstarter exclusives (only available to those who backed the Kickstarter, not at retail):
- “Friendly Local Game Store” Player Board
- Engraved Metal Quest Token
- Golem promo hero card
- Alternate Art Evil Adventurers Monster
- Alternate Art Black Market Hero Set
What Is Bargain Quest 2nd Edition?
Bargain Quest is a card-drafting game set in a fantasy realm.
In the game, you take on the role of merchants, trying to attract the wealthiest adventurers to your shop. You want to sell them as much equipment as they’re able to afford, in the hopes of not just turning a healthy profit, but also allowing them to successfully fight the monsters besieging your town.
Bargain Quest is a game for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up, and according to the box, it takes 45 minutes to play (more on that later). It has an MSRP of $40 for the base game, with the expansions ranging in price from $5 for the bonus packs, up to $20 for The Black Market Expansion.
Bargain Quest 2nd Edition Components
Here’s what’s included in the core game:
- 112 Item Cards
- 16 Hero Cards
- 20 Employee Cards
- 12 Upgrade Cards
- 96 Coin Tokens
- 60 Star Tokens
- 10 Wound Tokens
- 1 Quest Token
- 12 Monster Cards
- 18 Adventure Cards
- 6 Folding Item Shop Boards
- 1 Rulebook
- 5 Storage Baggies
The quality of the components overall is great. One of the first things I noticed when opening the box is that the token sheets had something I’d never seen before in all of the games I’ve owned: a notch cut into the sheet itself, to make it easy to remove the token sheets from the box! It’s a small detail, but a welcome one.
The folding game boards are quite a treat. Each one has unique artwork, representing your shop with both an exterior and an interior. The art is done by Victoria Ying, who is a veteran visual development artist for Disney and has worked on such movies as Big Hero 6, Tangled, and Frozen.
Of similarly high quality are the many different cards themselves, which have a nice linen finish. The design work of Ms. Ying shines throughout, giving a cohesive feel to the world yet managing to draw from many different influences. Here are the most common heroes that come in the game: Rogue, Cleric, Fighter, and Mage:
There is a wonderful amount of gender and ethnic diversity on display in the cards…and even a diversity of age, as you can see most strongly in the two different mage cards on the far right! I find this to be a welcome change to the Tolkien-esque fantasy images that are so ingrained in our culture.
The attention to whimsical detail continues in the monster and item cards, just a few of which are shown here.
While overall both the quality of the components and the artwork is fantastic, I did have a couple of issues with them.
First, the box measures a scant 8″x8″x2.5.” While that’s great for storage and for transporting it to a game night, once you’ve punched out the tokens, it’s a challenge to fit all the components back into the box. I’ve been storing my tokens separately, to keep anything from getting crushed inside the small game box.
And second, the colors on the back of the hero and item cards are a little too similar to easily tell apart across the game table and/or in less than ideal lighting situations. I would have liked to have seen a stronger differentiation in those colors, making it easier to separate out the decks of cards.
How to Play Bargain Quest 2nd Edition
From the rulebook: “Your goal is to be the shop with the highest score at the end of the game. Your score is calculated based on the amount of ‘coin’ and ‘star’ tokens you’ve collected. These tokens are gained from heroes when they purchase items from your shop and successfully battle monsters.”
Instead of a player color, each player chooses one of the unique shop boards and places it in their play area, along with a ‘5’ coin from the supply. Then the player who most recently paid for something in cash takes the quest token.
Separate the tokens out into coins, stars, and wounds, and place them within easy reach on the table.
Randomly select one each of the Rank I, II, and III monsters, and place them in order face down, with I at the top and III at the bottom.
Separate out the item, employee, adventure and hero decks, shuffle them, and place them each facedown. The employee deck should go next to the storage and display upgrade cards, which are double-sided.
Finally, draw a number of hero cards equal to the number of players, and place them face up in the center of the table. Place a number of coin tokens on each hero equal to the purse value listed in the upper right corner of the cards.
There are six steps to a round of Bargain Quest, which are also conveniently noted at the bottom of each player’s player board. The Supply step is up first. If it is facedown, you flip the top card of the monster deck up. Then, each player is dealt 4 cards. Finally, you perform a clockwise draft. For those of you unfamiliar with how drafting works: you choose one card to keep, then pass the remaining three to the left. After you receive three cards from your neighbor to the right, you choose one to keep, then pass on the remaining two cards to the left, and finally you keep one card and pass the last one on.
In the Display step, everyone chooses one item card from their hand to display in the window of their shop. If they have a display upgrade (we’ll discuss upgrades shortly) they can display more than one card. The card(s) are placed face down on the display area of the player boards, and once everyone has placed theirs, you flip them face up.
Whichever player has the most hearts showing on their item cards will then get to choose which adventurer will visit their shop during the Shopping step. The player with the next greatest number of hearts showing chooses second, and so on. Whoever attracts a hero to their shop last gets the Quest Token. Some heroes have special abilities that will come into play during the Shopping (and other) phases, so each player should be sure to read what those abilities are for each hero.
Then each player simultaneously sells items from their hands to their hero, up to the value of the amount of coins on the hero’s card. There are two important things to remember during this step: First, at least one icon on each item you sell must match an icon on the hero’s card. And second, display items can’t be sold, unless you happen to have an employee card like The Hawker, which allows you to sell one. I’ll discuss employee cards more in the Upgrade step.
Once everyone has finished shopping, it’s time for the Adventure step. First, each hero is dealt an adventure card, which may either positively or negatively impact their hero…one card may give +1 to their attack, while another may make them randomly discard an equipment card, and a third may have no effect at all.
Then, starting with whoever holds the Quest Token, each hero fights the monster, comparing their combined attack and defense scores from their hero’s innate abilities and equipment cards with the attack and defense values of the monster. Each successful attack puts a wound token on the monster and gives the controlling player a star token, and each successful defense by the hero also gives the player a star token.
Any heroes that did not successfully defend against the monster’s attack are discarded, along with their items and any remaining money on their card. Surviving heroes also discard their items, but are returned into play, along with coin rewards from fighting the monster that turn. In the case of the Goblin Chief shown above, the surviving heroes would each receive 10 coins if the monster survived the round, or 15 coins if it had taken enough wounds to kill it (which are equal to the number of players, so in a 5-player game it would take 5 wounds to kill). The wounds taken to kill the different ranks of monsters always stays the same, but each rank of monster progressively does more damage and has a higher toughness.
Finally, you draw heroes from the hero deck to replace any that were defeated. As a reminder, if you ever need to draw heroes from that deck and the deck is empty, everyone loses.
The penultimate step is Upgrade. Starting with the player with the Quest Token, each player can purchase either an upgrade card or an employee card. If they choose one of the employee cards, then another is dealt out so that there are always two available to purchase. Employee cards have a variety of different effects, ranging from lowering the costs of items to stealing money from heroes in your shop. You can only ever own one of each named Upgrade card.
Alternately, if a player already owns one of the Storage or Display cards, they can pay 10 coins to flip the card over, essentially upgrading the upgrade. After all players have completed their upgrading, the remaining employee cards are shuffled back into the deck.
And finally, during the Storage step each player may store one card from their hand to carry over into the next round (or possibly as many as 3 depending on their upgrades) and will discard any other remaining item cards. Those “stored” cards will not be part of the draft in the next round, but will be available for the Display and Shopping steps.
Play continues in this fashion, repeating the 6 steps, until either all three monsters besieging the town have been defeated, or the hero deck runs out of cards. If the former, players count up their star tokens and money, getting one star token for every 10 coins they have in their shop. The player with the most total star tokens wins!
While I’m not going to cover them in depth, there are also several expansions available for Bargain Quest that came with my Kickstarter pledge. They are all available to purchase at retail. The only one that I am not showing is the Solo Mode Expansion. As I’m not a solo player, and it was an optional purchase, I declined to pick it up.
The Black Market Expansion
At $20 retail, this is the largest of the expansions. It brings the maximum player count to 8, and includes the following:
- 2 Shop Boards
- 10 Item Cards
- 6 Employee Cards
- 8 Hero Cards
- 9 Monster Cards
- 6 Upgrade Cards
- 20 Black Market Cards
- 1 Rulebook
With a seedy criminal underworld theme, this expansion brings new heroes like the Shaman and the Bravo, new employees such as the Loanshark and the Henchman, and the Black Market Upgrade, which allows you to draw cards from the expansion’s strange and powerful deck of Black Market cards.
Chaotic Goods Expansion
The next largest expansion, this deck of 22 cards, priced at $10, adds a variety of new heroes and employees, all featuring art from a variety of guest artists.
Bargain Quest: 8-Bit Theater
A $5 pack containing heroes and items from Brian Clevinger’s webcomic 8-Bit Theater.
Bargain Quest: Table Titans
A $5 pack containing heroes, employees, and items from Scott Kurtz’ webcomic Table Titans.
Bargain Quest: Acquisitions Incorporated
A $5 pack containing heroes, employees, and items from Penny Arcade’s world of Acquisitions Incorporated.
The Verdict: Bargain Quest 2nd Edition
Since first hearing about Bargain Quest a couple of years ago, I have been keenly interested in trying out the game. Unfortunately, it had sold out of its initial print run, and I wasn’t about to pay inflated secondary market prices for a copy.
Thankfully, last year designer Jonathan Ying announced a Kickstarter for both the 2nd edition of the game as well as The Black Market Expansion, and I was immediately onboard. After the requisite months of waiting, my Kickstarter recently arrived, and it was with great excitement that I opened the (suprisingly small) shipping box.
After reading through the clear and concise rulebook, I immediately set out to ‘gather the party’ and get Bargain Quest to some game nights to test it out. I played with a few different groups: one was full of board and card game players that rarely if ever have played roleplaying games, another was full of roleplayers that rarely play board or card games, and the last group were equal opportunity gamers.
Let me preface by saying that this is not one of those games like Codenames that seems to have universal appeal. Reaction to Bargain Quest ran the gamut from “really enjoyed it” to “I hated it, and would never play it again.” Let’s take a closer look at why this game is so divisive.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. At its core, this is a drafting game. If you’re someone that doesn’t enjoy that mechanic in a game, Bargain Quest won’t change your mind. One player especially loved both the art and theme of the game, but hated having to trade away most of the cards in her hand.
And remember how I said that the playtime listed on the box was 45 minutes? Yes, this is true in a two-player game. But in a 5 or 6 player game, this skyrocketed to an hour and a half to two hours. That’s a pretty big time commitment for a game that’s on the lighter side of the gaming spectrum.
Everyone (myself included) wished that Bargain Quest played faster. But even if, as someone suggested, you used a timer to speed decisions along, you’d still run into other issues that can’t help but extend the game time.
One of those issues is the multiple stages in each round. The game is not particularly difficult or confusing to play, but there are 6 steps in each round, and multiple things to do or keep track of in each of those steps.
Another is the dealing of the item cards and shuffling and dealing of the employee and adventure cards each round. Some of that can be sped up by delegating the shuffling of the various decks to different players, but it does add to the game time.
Some players were frustrated by the fact that when a hero survives, they lose all of their equipment… they wanted to be able to see a hero grow and become stronger. But that defeats the purpose of Bargain Quest. You don’t want your heroes to become stronger, you want them to become richer, so they’ll spend more money in your shop! In one game in particular, we ended up with a constant bidding war over the Ranger hero, who kept surviving his battles and winding up with a lot of money to spend.
So those are some of the downsides to the game. But there are plenty of upsides as well! Everyone agrees that the game has great table presence. The components are top-notch, and Victoria Ying’s artwork is consistently lovely. The gender and ethnic diversity of the heroes and employees are very welcome, especially in a genre that’s long been dominated by white males.
The game is full of fun little thematic details. For example, the invisibility cloak has a rule that says that it can’t be displayed in the shop window… which makes complete sense! Each hero and employee has their own unique special ability, such as the Mage, who allows the player to “magically” draw a card from the item deck after that hero enters their shop.
There is a great deal of randomness in the game, which can be good or bad depending on how you like things. While you do have meaningful choices to make during the draft, those choices are still based on whatever cards you were randomly dealt. But this randomness also has a storied tradition in roleplaying games. When you’re dealt an adventure card during the Adventure step, it has a feeling very much like rolling a 20-sided die during combat in Dungeons & Dragons: you may have a hero who is a very strong Fighter, but an unlucky roll of the die (or a negative adventure card in the case of Bargain Quest) and his or her sword will miss its target.
Unsurprisingly, the gamers that enjoyed Bargain Quest the most were the group that plays Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. This game just oozes theme, and for those roleplayers, it was a fun change of pace to play the NPCs (non-player characters). That’s not to say that others didn’t enjoy the game as well. But if you have an appreciation for traditional fantasy, whether it’s in games, books, or movies, you’ll likely enjoy Bargain Quest.
I’d ultimately say that this is a good game to try before you buy. If you enjoy the drafting mechanic and the fantasy genre and don’t mind the slightly longer playtimes for a lighter-weight game, then this could be a good addition to your library. It’s very family-friendly and is definitely playable with children ages 8+. Bargain Quest isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fun, charming game that will entertain its intended audience.
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