SNAP Preview – The Comic Book Bubble
Speculation isn’t just for stocks! (Or Bitcoin…)
In the early 1990s, a frenzy of speculation almost destroyed the comic book industry. Speculators drove prices up, so that comics that cost less than $2 brand new might sell for over $20… until the bubble burst in 1993.
Recreate these frenzied highs – and lows – in The Comic Book Bubble, a brand new game from APE Games.
Scott Almes designed The Comic Book Bubble. Up to five players ages 10 and up can play in about 45 minutes.
And we’re going to preview this game, coming to Kickstarter this summer.
The first thing I noticed was the central board. It’s got this giant cyclical area showing how genres wax and wane, plus a small price tracker, and deck/discard/speculate area. I’m looking forward to screen-printed tokens to match up with the six genres.
The player boards will be changing from the prototype version we got, but we do like the line-art comic panels that get used for the background.
Then there are the cards. The starter cards were roughly what I expected from a comic book game – POW! WHAM! etc. on a bright background. But as soon as I picked up my first full hand of cards… WOW!
Every single comic book represented on these cards is an actual comic from Red 5 Comics. This adds a ton of interest to the game, and got us to compare titles and cover art, just like we would if we were actually collecting and speculating on comics.
But enough about the art (even though it’s amazing). How does The Comic Book Bubble play?
Every player starts with a hand of five cards, plus two basic comics already in their active collection. Choose a card from your hand, and secretly choose the action you’ll take with that card – Buy, Superpower, or Speculate. Once everyone is ready, reveal your actions simultaneously, then do them in order [as specified].
Buying is exactly what it sounds like. Pay the cost for your chosen card, and add it to your active collection.
Using a Superpower means that you’ll discard your chosen card, but only after you’ve performed its special power – anything from moving tokens around the value track to giving a temporary boost to selling for a specific genre.
Then, Speculation, speculation, speculation! If anyone chose this action for their card, they’ll add their card to the common Speculation area, along with cards from other players or the deck. Speculation changes the relative position of lots of genres – sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.
After Speculation is complete, re-arrange the small tokens on the price tracker to reflect the new prices.
Now, anyone who did not choose to BUY a comic this round may choose to SELL a comic from their active library. If they do, they get money equal to the combined value of all the genres depicted on that comic card – then put the card in their back catalog area, where it will be used for end game scoring.
Pass your hand of cards to your neighbor, and card selection begins again!
When your hand of cards to pass is down to a single card, it’s time for the next round – or year – where the high prices get higher, and the lows get lower.
At the end of the game, bonuses are awarded for having a majority of the high-value genre icons in your back catalog – and penalties for having a majority of the lowest-value genres. It can hurt a lot!
The Comic Book Bubble has bright colorful packaging and a fun theme. But I wondered how the game would handle investing and speculating. There are lots of other economic games out there, and they can get complex very quickly.
Can a game about investing – buy low, sell high! – can it stay family-friendly?
That was what we were concerned about. And of course with speculation, there’s always a little dash of randomness thrown in there. Especially for our friends who like deep strategy games, how was that going to work out for them?
The cycle for relative valuation of the genres feels very natural to me, and it didn’t take long for me to get into the swing of the game: Buy, Superpower, or Speculate, then maybe Sell.
I was very surprised that even though valuations can go negative in later rounds, there’s a minimum floor price for all comics ($1). This is great and keeps players from either trying to game the system (I buy this for negative five dollars, so the bank pays me!) It also takes the edge off when you’re left holding a comic whose value has dropped to less than nothing.
It also helps keep players from running away with it.
Some of the friends we played with did not expect the game to be nearly as swingy as it is; the valuations can change rapidly, even if you weren’t trying to change them.
I kind of enjoy it and also think it’s a good way to show my kids the dangers of betting and speculation – you could lose a ton of money really quickly!
I tried the solo mode as well. It’s very promising and feels just like the regular game. You have to be very tuned in to the relative valuations and how quickly they can change. Try to control it a little bit more, but with a lot of randomness as well.
Try The Comic Book Bubble if you love comic books, or if you want to re-create those crazy days of the 1980s and 1990s when collectors could make a fortune – but only if the publishers didn’t make one first. [Andrew: also to validate my teenage years. Anitra: Sure, that too.]
If you’re the type of person who hates wild swings in your games or get really bummed out by bad luck, this might not be the game for you.
I think this could also be a great way to talk about investing with your kids, and why speculation and day trading can be so dangerous. We also love games that make a safe space to “practice” tough skills from real life, so that’s another great thing here.
Check out The Comic Book Bubble on Kickstarter this summer.
The Family Gamers received a pre-production copy of The Comic Book Bubble from APE Games for this video.
SNAP review music is Avalanche, provided courtesy of You Bred Raptors?