“Tokens and treasures, yesterdays pleasures
Cheap imitations of heirlooms of old
Dented and tarnished, scarred and unvarnished
In old Portobello they’re bought and they’re sold”
~Portobello Road, Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The punters are flush with cash, and you are flush with all manner of delights and curiosities to catch their eye. In Bizarre Bazaar, two players vie to be the best vendor at the Bazaar by installing vendor booths and manipulating the actions of potential customers to make sure they spend more money at your stalls. The objective is to be the better vendor for five days.
Bizarre Bazaar is an economic game for 2-4 players that takes 45-90 mins. It plays best with 2 players.
Each round (day), players alternate taking actions until both players have taken five. Actions include buying a new card or a booth to put a vendor card in, moving and freezing a customer card to lock it in place and prevent your opponent from moving it further, buying special power cards, or even just passing to acquire currency.
There are five currencies in the game: Cheddar, Lettuce, Bread, Bucks, and Dead Presidents. They’re all worth one point at the end of the day, but many cards require that you pay a specific currency to activate them. For example, you can purchase Bizarre cards, and these cards have all manner of varied powers. They might move customers around more than usual, or cause customer cards to give you extra currency outside of the normal sequence. There are five Bizarre cards available for purchase at a time, but unlike many other games where there is a communal river of cards available for purchase, unpurchased cards do not become cheaper over time. Rather, each spot requires a specific currency, so maybe you can’t afford the 3 Cheddar to buy an effect you want, but if you wait a day (and your opponent doesn’t take it first of course), it will slide down into the Bucks slot next turn.
After each player has taken their five actions, then the customers shop. Customer cards indicate what currencies they carry, and in what amounts. Vendor cards specify which currencies they accept. If a customer is lined up with a player’s Vendor and is carrying the currency that vendor will accept, then the player earns currency to drop into their Today’s Earning box. A customer can shop at both player’s vendors. For instance, if there is a customer that is only carrying 3 Bread and is positioned such that both players have vendors that can accept Bread, each player receives 3 Bread. If a customer and vendor only partially match, the player receives what currency they accept, so if a Customer carries 2 Bread and 2 Cheddar, but a vendor will only accept Bread and Lettuce, the player would receive 2 Bread.
Once all customers have spent their currencies, players compare how much they earned today (plus any bonuses received earlier due to Bizarre cards, or points bonuses from installing new vendors). The player with the most earned has won the Day. If neither player has won the Days, the currency in the earnings box transfers into your wallet and play continues. The first player to win five Days wins the game.
If an economic game and an abstract strategy one had a baby, Bizarre Bazaar would be it. While collecting cash is the object, winning the game is actually based on successfully manipulating customers and currency types. During the first round, freezing customers won’t seem important, but as the game continues, you’ll begin to see how customer movement is everything in this game.
A step by step rule book leads you from start to finish with plenty of pictures to illustrate the actions. Player cards are also available to help remember actions. Individual vendor and bizarre card instructions are generally clear but there is no guide in the rules for these. Additionally, print is VERY small and white on color and as such can be difficult to read.
Legibility is an issue for the entire board. I like macabre art. I like cartoony art. I like engraving style art. Unfortunately, mixing the three makes for a confusing board game where even the play spaces are hard to determine. Sticking to one would have both increased the visual accessibility of this game as well as created a more cohesive, aesthetically pleasing look. I do LOVE a good pun or play on words, so the different types of currency with their symbol (a deer for bucks, etc.) are super fun.
The box lists the player count as 2-4, but it’s really a two-player game. Additionally, players are just added to the team, and I’m not sure how they would enhance gameplay (as my partner mentioned, that’s just a good way to add ‘fighting your teammates’ to the game.) As a two-player game, it’s quite solid mechanically, with just enough actions to feel like your setting yourself up but not so many that you start to really lean on the workings of your economic engine. Customer manipulation causes a lot of fun, ‘oh no you didn’t’ style player interaction and most of the powers seem well balanced. Additionally, making this a best of series instead of going to a set time increases or decreases time-based on how well the sides are doing—no one’s forced to sit through ten rounds with no cash in their pocket.
Overall, I actually enjoyed the gameplay in Bizarre Bazaar. Economic and strategy games are some of my favorite genres and while this isn’t the top of either, it’s a nice, easy to pick up version of the two. This isn’t all trading and cash acquisition, nor is it an afternoon of player piece manipulation. I also particularly appreciate that the rulebook will have you set up and running quickly via pictures and brevity, though I’d appreciate more explanations for some things.
Sadly, as much as I like some of the individual art in this game, the design lets it down majorly. The board is cluttered, and cards are hard to read, filling each turn with a lot of squinting a searching to see what is where. A graphic design rehaul would lift this one from ‘fun but frustrating’ to ‘almost amazing’.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – Fun mechanics mash up tragically masked by a muddled, visually challenging graphic style
• I can’t play what I can’t see
• Player count is definitely 2, no need for the add-ons