The weathered old merchant knowingly smiles as he pulls back the tent’s curtain. With a welcoming wave of his hands he beams, “Would you like to make a deal? I have nothing but the finest of goods for trade, you see!” It all seems a little dubious here in the back lot, you think to yourself. But at least he’s not flashing open a trench coat hung with items like ornaments on a tree. Besides, you’ve never been overly concerned as to how you get your wares, as long as you can acquire what the customers want!
How To Play
Merchants enter Hafid’s Grand Bazaar hoping to emerge from their commercial haggling the wealthiest trader. And a grand bazaar indeed it is. With five unique goods each in five different commodity types – from cut gems to goats to ore to carpets to olive oil – it’s a veritable medieval Wal-Mart! You accumulate goods through bidding for caravan loads, negotiating with your competitors and with just a little outright luck. Okay, maybe more than a little.
A game of Hafid’s Grand Bazaar lasts a number of rounds equal to the number of players. Each consists of four phases. The trader with the most gold at the end of the game wins. And unlike Wal-Mart, you don’t care much about offering the lowest prices around.
Each turn, players first bid to claim various options on the board. Everyone has six bidding cubes and alternates placing one or more at a time in various locations. There are six caravans, three influential roles and three customers seeking different sets of goods.
The caravans decide in which order players claim merchant cards. There are two goods cards with each of the six caravans. Everyone knows which type of commodity the card represents, because its color and icon are on the back. However, no one knows exactly which particular good it is until you claim it (in addition to the goods type, the front of a card denotes its value, as well as how many of that specific ware are in the deck). After bidding, the player who won the first caravan gets his/her choice of cards, followed by the second and so on. If you’re outbid for a particular caravan, you may draw the top card from the deck as compensation.
The influence roles provide three special abilities. The Informant may only be secured by one player and allows the winner to secretly look at some cards amongst the caravans and draw a card from the deck or discard pile. If you are outbid here, too bad. The Free Trader allows you to take a couple of cards from the deck after any caravan is claimed. However, you must take a number. This role accommodates up to six cubes. The one in the back of the line may try to use his/her Free Trader, but must give first dibs to any and all of those in front of the line. That can be significant as, again, everyone knows what type of card is on top of the deck, but not specifically what item. Then there is the Negotiator who may broker deals between players after all caravans are claimed. He/she can trade anything – goods, gold, customers, future actions, something even outside of the game – with anyone. However, there is no deceiving, stealing or reneging, and all deals must go through him/her.
When the Negotiator closes all deals, everyone may then sell to customers they bid for. Customers will buy from multiple players and you cannot be outbid here, so there is no point to placing more than one cube on any individual customer. One will buy sets of two or more of the same good and pay double its value. A second will buy a set of five comprising one good from each category, in which case you add their total value and add an additional 5 coin. The third buyer will give thirty talents for a set of all five unique goods of the same type. If you did not bid on any customers – or failed to collect a desired set – you can simply ply your wares, selling between 5-10 goods for their base value.
Liquidating stock every turn is important because you cannot have more than ten cards after the sell phase. If you do, and you cannot profit from them, you must discard down to that limit. There’s not even a layaway option. Then the caravans are restocked and everyone receives five new cards to begin the next round.
I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday For Some Frankincense Today
The majority of modern hobby games utilize multiple mechanisms and elements to create depth, complexity and player-driven decision points. When they function seamlessly the design feels very much blended and the parts are rarely noticed independently in lieu of enjoying the overall creation. Other times a design’s pieces don’t mesh as smoothly, whether by design or failure of design, and the experience is very different. A sort of observing the trees at the expense of taking in the forest. Hafid’s Grand Bazaar uses bidding, negotiating and set collection, but at jolting starts and stops, thus feeling much more like a composite design than harmoniously integrated.
And before going further, I need to be clear that this game plays very differently at different player counts.
Essentially the design’s three component parts very much feel like three separate mini-games. I think that’s by design, though. Due to its simple ruleset, defined structure and aesthetics Hafid’s Grand Bazaar also seems targeted towards family and casual gamers, as opposed to experienced hardcore players. As such, two of its mechanisms enhance that purpose, while one proves a little trickier.
Bidding and auction designs I’ve posited in the past are problematic for younger gamers, but even casual players and families. There is hidden nuance to assigning things value that often leads to the inexperienced overpaying for a desired object. Or by fear of giving too much, underbid only to be beaten out. Bidding can also lead to a mean metagaming in which one player artificially drives up the cost of something that they have no desire for, simply because he/she knows an opponent dearly wants it. Of course, this creates strategy and interaction, which are a couple reasons the mechanism is attractive. On the other hand, it can frustrate the uninitiated – and especially kids.
Hafid’s Grand Bazaar employs the element in a way that is notably more manageable for those who might otherwise be discouraged by the mechanism. It achieves that largely by limiting its scope. Each merchant-trader posses only six cubes with which to bid. One or two of those you’ll likely retain for a customer or two in order to sell your wares. Even if you forgo a round of greater profits, you’re still limited as to how much/often you can outbid your competitors. It won’t be often, or you simply impeded your progress in other spots. Yet the maneuver is still very much part of the game, maintaining the principle tension and competitiveness without seeming cutthroat and vindictive – or at least overbearing.
In a sense, the title works as an effective introduction to bidding and auctions. It resolves in alternating rounds. You place one cube at a time, unless you’re outbidding a location. Four of the spots allow for multiple players’ cubes. And the caravans allow for a compensatory card if you lose out. There is tautness, but also balance. Surprise, but control. Tug-of-war, yet options to move.
The Free Trader component also compliments the bidding. In a sense, it’s almost a bid within a bid. Placing in the space early awards you first dibs in using the influence when caravans are resolved. Getting stuck in the back of the line still allows you to take cards, but you might be gambling that others in front of you won’t yield that right of way. If they do take cards before you, you can at least see what results on top of the deck and decide to wait. This position jockeying heightens the competitiveness without being mean-spirited. It’s just plain fun, really.
As I alluded to earlier, player count substantially affects the bidding phase. More players equals more aggregate cubes in play which ratchets up the tension, tightness and interaction. Typically this leads to more outbidding, but still not at the expense of one player. It also means you’re doing less things each turn. That’s not a negative aspect. It just creates noticeably contrasting play experiences based on different numbers.
That contrast also impacts the game’s set collecting. Generally this aspect is fairly standard, which is fine as newer players, kids and casual gamers will easily recognize it. Gathering sets isn’t difficult, though with more players it can be a slower process. Still, with a beginning hand of ten cards, you can immediately form sets to cash in during the first round. There is a luck factor as random card draws affect your ability to gather what you need. Still, you know the type/color of most of the cards you’ll be collecting. That, along with bidding for position and influence – and the chance to broker trades in the negotiation phase – provide some choice and agency. The randomness to strategy ratio is balanced as well as it could be.
Of course its restrained bidding and standard set collection means that the negotiating aspect can takeover the game. When it does, it shines. When it doesn’t, game play is decidedly less engaging, though still enjoyable for families. And, once again, player count makes a difference.
Negotiating is another mechanism that can especially frustrate younger gamers. It often involves intangibles that are difficult to fully analyze, requires decisions based on limited information, can delve into backstabbing and may even encourage ganging up on individuals. If you’ve never had the honor of gaming with a child who feels like he/she is being ganged up on, I recommend avoiding such an experience for as long as possible. So as a family game, I was both surprised and optimistic to see it so heavily integral to gameplay.
In one way, the mechanism here could be introductory. It helps to channel all trades through one player at a time, the negotiator. I suppose you could “gang up” on another by leaving them out of potential deals, but the negotiator then is just limiting his/her options. And the rules specifically prohibit lying, stealing or bailing out of contracts. So underhanded metagaming is at least averted.
Still, metagaming – and particularly in the real sense of “outside of the game” – could play an influential role. This requires the players to be a little creative. Yes, you can simply trade cards one-for-one, or sell or buy something for a little coin. The rules mention throwing access to customers in the deal. Beyond that you can get creative with multi-card trades, three-way deals and promises of future profits and/or acquisitions. Maybe even work out a deal about later bids or moves dividing up the bazaar’s “turf.” Or you might sweeten the pot with deals outside the game! Beware who you’re playing with when taking things to that level, though! All that to say the scope, influence and entertainment of this phase really depends on the creativeness and personality of your gaming group. In the right setting it can considerably ratchet up the game experience.
Without that inventive “spirit,” trading quickly turns into a protracted exercise of Go Fish. Younger games, and even casual players, will struggle to think outside the box and outside their comfort zone, content to trade amber for cattle. With some experience and/or prodding they may venture into dealing for money or customers. It still lacks a certain boisterousness. On the family level, it works. Yet it’s also problematic for a design with negotiating central to its conceit.
Due to the different personalities that the game can exude with higher player counts, increased number of rounds based on that complement and the unexpected nature of negotiating, sessions can vary wildly in length. The box says thirty to ninety minutes, which seems like a pretty large disparity for a family game. Yet it’s accurate. If you have four or more players really getting into the spirit of the deal-mongering, the time can pass quicker than it seems. And that’s what I recommend. Two and three player sessions are fairly lackluster. To my mind, there is no reason to negotiate in a two player game and not much of any with three. Typically you’re merely helping your competitor to the same extent you’re benefiting yourself. With four or more, the negotiator can leverage more profit for him/herself in an intricate web of deals involving the whole table – all going through the one! Even if your group doesn’t utilize the trading aspect to its fullest, the greater competition over bidding spaces makes for a more interesting game, anyway.
Hafid’s Grand Bazaar at first feels very much like a family game and works well in that setting. Its set collection goal is recognizable and intuitive. The bidding, often a sticking point for family games, is handled here with introductory simplicity, while retaining enough of the mechanism’s attractive tension and interaction. Then there is the negotiating, another problematic element for family games and children that Hafid’s Grand Bazaar doesn’t make any more accessible. Like all negotiating games, it depends entirely on the players. Therefore, it will trip up many. But with the right group – and maybe even some creative metagaming – the design’s haggling phase can really shine and uses the mechanism as a fun way to strategically collect the sets you need, without having to rely solely on luck of the draw. If that vibe fits you and your gamers, Hafid’s tent, and his impish smile and wave, will be welcoming indeed.
Rather Dashing Games provided a copy of Hafid’s Grand Bazaar for this review.