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[Review] Gavitt's Stock Exchange

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Joined: 03/23/2011

After playing Harry's Grand Slam Baseball, I was eager to see what other games might be in Out of the Box Publishing's Heirloom Games - a series dedicated to bringing back older card games in authentic reproductions. The next one that I received was Gavitt’s Stock Exchange (Out of the Box Publishing, 2003 – Harry E. Gavitt), which looked – well, to be frank – boring. The game, which was originally published in 1903, didn’t look very interesting, so I relegated the game to my shelf of “games to be played when I get around to them”. Then, I finally looked it up on to see what others had found about it and found that it was basically the same game as Pit. Pit! That loud, raucous game from my youth which was such a riot to play on New Years Eve? Hooray!

I gave the game a whirl, and everyone who played it enjoyed it – it’s a very fun game, if not the loudest game I’ve ever played. BUT, other than reasons for nostalgia, I’m not sure why anyone would buy the game over Pit itself. The rules in Pit are a bit better and more refined, and the cards are usually nicer looking (and sometimes there’s a bell!). I’ll play Gavitt’s Stock Exchange because I have it, but I don’t think it will replace Pit – but rather be something I show off to people when they talk about how my collection is solely made up of newer games (“Oh yeah? Well look at this one, it’s over a hundred years old!”)

The game is made up of six sets of eight railroad stock cards – each with a different money value, from $125 to $250, and one Telegram card. One set is used for each player in the game (minimum three – and if you play with that few, you won’t have fun!) and is shuffled together, and eight cards are dealt to each person. The dealer adds the telegram card to their hand, so that they have nine cards. The dealer then states that the round begins, and all players begin to simultaneously trade.

When trading, players can trade either one or two cards from their hand, stating out loud (very loud!) this number. If trading two cards, they must be of the same stock. Players, when they find another player willing to trade, exchange cards, and continue trading. If a player has the telegram card, they can pass that card along with their trade, as it has no value (i.e. If I shout “two!”, I can trade my two Penn. Cen. Stocks along with the telegram card. Gameplay continues until one person has gotten all eight stock cards from the same railroad company. At this point, they must shout “Topeka”, and the round immediately ends.

The player who shouted “Topeka” gains double the value of their stock price as points (If it was me, and I had the Santa Fe Railroad Stock worth $250, I would get 500 points). Each other player who had at least five cards (the majority) of any other stock also gets the value of their stock as points. If the person who shouted “Topeka” is the one who has the telegram card, they lose 100 points; if any other player has the card, they GAIN 100 points. All points are totaled, and the next round begins (WITHOUT the cards being shuffled). Play continues until one person scores 1,000 points or more; at which point the highest scoring player is declared the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: The game comes in a reproduction of the original game, which includes small, decent cards with rather bland writing on them. They look like they’ve come from 1903, which while that may please people who enjoy such nostalgic lack of flair, is a bit boring to modern folk. The box, which is small and just barely holds the cards, fits snugly in a plastic insert that resides in a nice tin that OOTB made for this occasion. I really think that the components detract form the game, unless you’re having a “century old” bash and want something to fit the era.

2.) Rules: There are two sets of rules provided in the box, both OOTB new and updated rules, with great formatting and a few minor rule changes (like adding a tie breaker) and the original rules. I was actually surprised by the clarity of the original rules and almost prefer them to the newer ones, since they have some really interesting additions. One element I enjoyed were the set of fines that the rules imposed on poor players. For example, if a player does not trade cards immediately after picking up their hand or doesn’t make one trade every five seconds or isn’t loud enough (double normal value) or makes a mistake, they lose twenty-five points. Now I normally don’t enforce these (because I don’t have to), but they do make for some great reading.

3.) Telegram: I’m not sure what to think of the telegram card. As for me, when I play, I usually hang onto it. If someone else goes out, I’m guaranteed 100 points; and even if I go out myself, I’m still making enough points as to not care. There doesn’t seem to be the incentive to trade it like one should. We tried a variant which basically reversed the card, making it so that it subtracted 100 points from everyone EXCEPT the person who goes out. This seemed to work better, as players were more prone to trade the telegram around. Either way, the telegram card is an OPTIONAL rule, although we tend to use it in every game.

4.) Loud: Without a doubt, Gavitt’s Stock Exchange (along with Pit) is the loudest game I own. Don’t play it in the public library; don’t play it in the house with thin walls, because even the mildest of players ends up shouting out as loudly as they can – like I said, the game actually encourages this! Of course, one could go hoarse from all this shouting, but the game ends quickly enough that I don’t mind.

5.) Trading and Fun Factor: There is a smidgen of strategy in the game, as players decide which group of cards to go for – should you go for a higher value, or the one that you have more than? Other than that, though, it’s just a game of trading as fast as you can. Players hurl cards at one another, utter cries of anguish or joy, and generally have a loud, raucous time. There’s a reason the game has been around for 100 years; it’s because it’s so fun to play. Teenagers who looked at me strangely when I first brought the game out were shouting with the best of them after only one round, and it’s amazing how vehement people get over a simple card game!

6.) Pit: The comparisons to the game of Pit are quite obvious – in fact Pit has the same release date according to the net, and was probably a rip-off of this exact game. The differences are that Pit has nine cards of each set and has the “Bull” and the “Bear” card, which I find quite fun – more so than the telegram card. The artwork is better, the theme is easier, and some Pit games come with a bell, which is just a hilarious addition. If picking between the two games, I think I would pick Pit every time.

And that’s the only problem, albeit a substantial one, that I have with Gavitt’s Stock Exchange. While it’s a fun game and an impressive one to have lasted all these years, I can’t really give any reasons to buy it instead of a modern version of Pit. There may be some who enjoy the evocative mood of the game, giving off a flavor of the early twentieth century, and it might make a nice gift to someone looking for something unique. But in this day with modern, high quality games, I fear that Gavitt’s game may be lost in the shuffle.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games”

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