The life of an adventurer is something that most readers of this site have likely experienced at least once. Hitting up the local shop for supplies is an important part of that experience, be it in a tabletop dungeon crawl, a cute JRPG quest or an epic PC game storyline. Those shopkeepers supply vital weapons, armor and magical doohickeys to heroes of all shapes, sizes and skill levels. What must it be like to watch these brave warriors and wizards wander into town and possibly never return? Wonder no more, as board game designer Jonathan Ying (Imperial Assault, DOOM: The Board Game) brings that experience home in his board game Bargain Quest!
There are two goals in a game of Bargain Quest; to deal with the monsters plaguing the town and to end the game as the most prestigious item shop. At the beginning of the game, players choose their shop board which will become the central part of their tableau. Each board folds open, and it’s fun to watch players react to the flavorful artwork of each board. Players also select the monsters that draw the heroes to town. The monsters get tougher as the game goes on but they also act as a timer for the game.
The heroes come from a deck of cards and have a few important characteristics. Color-coded symbols along one side of the card highlights the item types they are looking for, their attack and defense values show how likely they are to earn the shopkeeper stars for hurting the monster and surviving their encounter, and most have some sort of flavor text that makes them feel unique. The Witch Hunter, for example, forces a shop with any magic items to discard those items for her business, while the Young Hero has terrible attack and defense ability but gains bigger bonuses from the items they equip. Players compete for the business of the heroes that come to town through a mix of drafting, risk and reward.
At the beginning of every turn, players draft a hand of cards for the items available in their shop. Once the draft is complete, each player lays a card face down in the window of their shop. This display item is important because it sets up the order used for players to choose which hero goes in what shop that round. It also is the one item that can’t be sold, so the player must wrestle with taking out their best item for a round versus selling something that’s both profitable and likely to help the hero on their quest. The item must match one of the colors the hero wants and the quality of the item (as shown by a heart rating on the card) determines the order in which the shopkeepers choose the heroes coming to town.
Once the heroes are loaded up with items it’s time for adventure. Heroes earn stars for damaging the monster and surviving the encounter for the shop that suited them up. It’s not always simple math, as adventure cards can further modify the heroes attack and defense. A scared hero might lose out on the benefits of their cool armor if they are suddenly scared or their forgetfulness means they left the shop without picking up the magic sword they just bought from the counter. Surviving heroes get more gold to spend if they kill the monster or a lesser amount if the monster survives. Any spots in the adventuring party caused by the death of the hero are filled by a few fresh faced draws from the hero deck. All items are discarded and the heroes head back to town with more gold to spend. Shopkeepers improve their shops at the end of the round by either hiring an employee or expanding their storage space. Players should be mindful of one fact; if the hero deck ever runs out, everyone loses because the monsters destroy the town. That means while players should do their best to empty their shelves every turn to get gold from the heroes, they also need to make sure the heroes are still effective. That sometimes means selling a cheap but effective item instead of the “cool” goggles that cost a lot but do absolutely nothing.
What impressed about Bargain Quest outside of the mechanics was the personality the game exudes. Jonathan’s sister Victoria is responsible for the art in the game. She’s worked on a lot of Disney properties and her work backs up Jonathan’s sly sense of humor and references to popular elements of the fantasy genre.
It was very easy to become attached to certain heroes and want to see them succeed or fail based on the personality that came through in the art. Players started imagining interactions between heroes and shopkeepers. Players cheered when their hero flipped adventure cards that made their heroes whomp the monster and yelped with sadness when their favorites went down for the count. The shop boards reinforce this personality well, with styles ranging from a steampunk submarine to an Asian bazaar.
The Yings offer a lighthearted take on fantasy tropes but the game underneath features some sharp decision points every turn. Should a handful of bad items go to a hero that’s certainly marching to die with the hopes of a better hero coming to town in their stead? Is it time to expand the display window at the cost of gold, which is one of the main resources that determine victory?
Currently, Bargain Quest is running a Kickstarter for a new printing as well as a major expansion. The Black Market expansion allows for a wider range of items that can be massively powerful or completely useless to players who upgrade their shop to be part of the black marker. Fans looking to pick up the best deal for the game should look at the New Deluxe level, which features a copy of the game, the new expansion, reprints of the original Kickstarter add-ons, and three sets of bonus pack cards featuring art and characters from fantasy themed webcomics like Table Titans and 8-Bit Theater.
The Kickstarter ends on August 28th, but the game is worth checking out by anyone who has ever dreamed of living in a small room behind a magical item shop with an 8-bit chiptune running through their head all day.
What’s the best bargain item you’ve scored in any game? Tell us in the comments!
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Images Credits: Rob Wieland
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He’s worked on dozens of different tabletop games ranging from Star Wars and Firefly to his own creations like CAMELOT Trigger. He can be hired as a professional Dungeon Master for in-person or remote games. His Twitter is here. You can watch him livestream RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players here. His meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.