In case you didn’t know, in the Netherlands in 1637 investment in Tulips were a thing. Not just any thing, but apparently a major thing that led to economic turmoil when investors couldn’t even afford the cheapest varieties of Tulips. In Tulip Bubble, you play said investors trying to avoid the crash and stay afloat by buying and selling to make the most profit. Personally I think tulips are beautiful, but I can’t say I have ever thought about investing in tulips for my retirement. But should I?
What is Tulip Bubble like?
Tulip Bubble is a 3-5 player game where the goal is buy and sell tulips in order to make the most money (gilders) before the market bubble busts. The problem is, as in real life, you don’t know exactly when that will happen.
During the game the players participate in auctions of the various flowers which have different colors and varieties/ranks (shown by a letter and number combination). Each round begins with an update to the market which can lead to one specific color raising in value by one, the cheapest color raising by 2, the most expensive color decreasing by 2, or the game ending immediately (in rounds 7-9).
After the market changes, the new shipment of flowers arrives and the players begin their wheeling and dealing. The selling phase is first where each player can sell as many flowers as they have previously purchased even if they have taken out a loan to pay for said flower. The players take turns selling their flowers to the market or to collectors. The market selling price for the flower is determined by the current market value for the color and variety, so selling at the right time could earn you a good bit of money. If a player meets the conditions (color and varieties) to sell to a collector they may choose to do so which then provides the player the market price in addition to a bonus amount of gilders. Once a collector has been served they move on and another collector comes to the market ready to have their picky needs met by one of the players.
The main part of Tulip Bubble comes in the buying phase where players start by bidding on what flowers they want to have auctioned off. Once every player has placed their bids the auction will begin. Each player gets two chances to place bid markers. The first round they can place 0-2 markers and then the second time around they can only place one, no matter how many have been placed before. When the auction begins only the flowers with at least two bid markers will be auctioned off and only then to those who bid on that flower. If a flower received only one bid marker then the bid marker’s owner must buy the flower at market value. When bidding within the auction, the price must start higher than the market value and continues until all but one have passed.
In order to buy the tulip the player can pay for it with cash on hand or finance the flower taking a loan from the bank to cover the cost. The other players who bid on the flower get a bonus for participating in the auction which is determined by how high above the market value the bid went.
The tulip market is fickle and it changes often, not just at the beginning of the round. Once all of the purchased tulips have been removed from the board the market responds by increasing the value of the flower color with the fewest remaining flowers and decreases the value of the flower color with the most remaining. It’s a matter of supply and demand.
Tulip Bubble lasts 7-9 rounds and is determined when the “Bubble Bust” card is drawn or when a player has 120 Gilders and purchases the Black Tulip. The game ends immediately when either of these things happen and any financed flowers which have not been bought back from the bank are worth negative points and any flowers yet to be sold wither and are worth nothing.
I enjoy Tulip Bubble, but it is definitely not for everyone and the age limit is probably pretty accurate. I played the game with younger players and while they understood the mechanics, they definitely struggled with the strategy. Plus, some people don’t like auctions, so, they probably shouldn’t play this game.
What I enjoyed about this game was trying to speculate on which flowers were going to go up and down based on the number of flowers left at the end of the round and the risk involved in waiting a round or two to sell a flower hoping the value goes up. There are a lot of risks that can be taken during the game and pushing the limits can make or break your game. Sure, you can play it safe, but the real fun is taking a loan on a flower so you can sell to a collector and keep it from your neighbor.
I am a fan of economics and I really enjoyed how this game simulated market fluctuation well. There were the aspects of supply and demand that were accurately depicted and then the random, unexplainable changes that also happen. Sometimes the market is unpredictable and having the market fluctuate randomly at the beginning of the round shows how something can randomly happen to change the whole outlook of the market values.
- The simulation of economics, in a basic way, is well done.
- The game flows well and is pretty smooth after a couple rounds of play.
- There is a good tension in knowing when to buy, sell, take a loan and making sure you beat the “Bubble Bust.”
- If it gets to round 9, it is essentially pointless to buy flowers in round 8 since you can’t sell them before the “Bubble Bust” card is drawn.
- The theme is ignored when the non-winners of an auction get money from the bank. I get the purpose, but it doesn’t make thematic sense.
- The rules took a few times of reading before fully understanding what was supposed to happen.
The game is not very difficult at all. Sure, there are some strategies and tactics to learn, but after a quick game without the action cards, most players will be able to pick up the rules without a problem.
- Players: 3 – 5
- Playing time: 45 – 60 minutes
- Suggested age: 10+