WBG Score: 6/10
Player Count: 2-5 players
Published by: Unique Board Games LTD (UBG)
Designed by: Izik Nevo
A Free Market in New York? Seems unlikely! But it does exist in Board game form at least. You may have missed this one from Unique Board Games. Released in 2020, this game has flown well under the radar for a few reasons I expect. But I am going to park all pre-conceptions and just talk about the game itself. Which is really rather good.
At its core. Free Market NYC is worker placement game with an interesting commodity speculation and action queue mechanic. And also with auction style nodding and area control! But we will come to that! You are playing as a business leader in the middle of the American great depression. Doing all you can to bring in trade and commerce to your home city. Make the most bucks and win the game!
The era and city does not really shine through in the game, but the sense of business does. You feel close to the prices of goods and the moving markets. The feeling of building your economy is strong throughout and keeps your focus and attention. Its fun to try and beat the system. Buy low. Sell high. And this is all done in a very familiar ‘gamer-friendly’ way. Imagine playing Century Spice Road but being able to buy and sell the cubes. And the prices fluctuate throughout the game.
At first glance, this game does appear quite complicated. The rule book and board look busy and intimidating to new players. But it can be learnt relatively quickly, an hour I would say. And taught in twenties minutes or so. It feels a lot at first to learn as there are 17 steps in each round. But this isn’t really the case. The first four steps are quick and more mechanical; more set-up in truth. And two of which you miss in round one anyway. And then the 13 steps after, well you can only choose to do three of these. So, in round one there are only five steps. There are a lot of available phases sure, but not a lot of things to do. Just a lot of choice. The rule book does not convey this clearly so it may seem intimidating and laborious if you assume as I did you need to go through 17 phases each round, but you don’t. I thought it important to clarify this.
Like any worker placement game, this is what makes the game fun. You want to have choices and feel your selections make a significant difference to your overall success in the game. The strategies you employ should genuinely influence your game. So, in most worker placements you have a lot of choices. Just like this game. But usually, it is a map with multiple locations and you place your worker based on what you want to do. In Free Market, it is a line of actions you go through from left to right in a linear manner. This makes it feel more mechanic and perhaps less appealing. But this is just a assumption, not an actual feeling when you play. It looks complicated. It is less visually appealing than what most are used too. But it’s essentially the same thing as many other work placement games, just with more structure.