For those of you who don’t know I am big into finding a good bargain. As a matter of fact I would say that I have acquired a large percentage of the board games in my collection from various rummage sales, thrift stores, and online clearance sales. While there are some board games utilizing the bargain hunting theme I have yet to play a truly great board game that utilizes it. Today though I am looking at a game that I had high expectations for, Bargain Hunter. The version I am looking at is the 2010 remake of the 1998 game made by Uwe Rosenberg and not the 1981 Milton Bradley game of the same name. In the addition to the bargain hunting theme I was excited about the game because it was created by Uwe Rosenberg. Those of you not familiar with Uwe Rosenberg might better know him for his many board game hits including A Feast for Odin, Agricola, Bohnanza, Caverna: The Cave Farmers, Le Havre, Patchwork, and many other games. Despite not being the biggest fan of trick-taking games I was still really interested in checking out Bargain Hunter for the aforementioned reasons. Bargain Hunter is an interesting take on your traditional trick-taking game offering some clever ideas that some players will appreciate more than others.
How to Play Bargain Hunter
- The number of rounds that will be played depends on the number of players.
- 3 Players: 6 Rounds
- 4 Players: 4 Rounds
- Shuffle the cards. The player who most recently went to a yard sale will be the first dealer. They will deal eight cards to each player. The role of the dealer will move clockwise in subsequent rounds.
- The rest of the cards are set aside to be used in other rounds.
Playing A Round
Before the first round all of the players will choose one of the cards from their hand to be their bargain for the first round. The item featured on the chosen card will be the item that the player will try to collect during the first round. The player to the left of the dealer will be the first to choose the card that will begin their bargain pile. This card will be placed face up so all of the other players can see what this player is trying to collect during the round. The next player clockwise will then choose a item for their bargain pile and so on until all of the players have chosen an item. Two or more players may choose to place the same item on the top of their bargain piles.
The player to the left of the dealer will then start the first trick. They will choose one of the cards from their hand to play face up on the table. The color of the card that was played is called the “lead color”.
Each player in a clockwise direction will then play a card from their hand. If a player has a card in their hand of the lead color they must play it. If the player has two or more cards of the color they can choose which they would like to play.
There are only two exceptions to playing a card of the lead color. If a player has an Irresistible Offer card they can choose to play it instead of playing a card of the lead color.
The other exception is if the player has no card in their hand of the lead color. In this case the player can play a card of any other color. When a player plays this card they have to immediately decide whether the card they played is “trump”. The player can choose to make it trump or not make it trump. Any color other than the lead color can be declared trump. Once a color has been declared trump no other colors can be declared trump during the current trick.
As there are two of each card in the deck if two of the same cards are played in the same trick the player who played the second card must immediately decide if it is higher or lower than the other card. If this matching card is the Irresistible Offer card the second card is always higher than the first.
The trick ends when each player has played one card. The winner of the trick is determined as follows:
- If an Irresistible Offer card was played it will automatically win the trick unless another Irresistible Offer card is played. In this case the second Irresistible Offer card will win the trick.
- If a trump color was chosen the highest number played in the trump color wins the trick.
- If no trump color was chosen the highest numbered card played in the lead color wins the trick.
The player who wins the trick will take all of the cards that were played. Any items that they collected that match the top card on their bargain pile are immediately added to the top of the pile. Any items that do not match the top item in the bargain pile will be added to the players junk pile. All of the cards in a player’s junk pile are placed face down.
The player who won the trick will also start the next trick by playing any card from their hand. The previous lead and trump colors do not carry over to this trick as the players can choose new colors for both in this trick.
This will continue until the players play all of the cards from their hand.
After a round has been completed the players will get the opportunity for “spring cleaning”. Each player will sort the cards in the junk pile by item type. They should do this so the other players can’t see the cards in their junk pile.
Then starting with the player who won the last trick each player can get rid of all of their cards of one item type from their junk pile. The player must first discard a certain number of cards of the item type. In three player games they must discard three cards of the item type and in two player games you must discard two cards of the item type.
If the player discarded the necessary number of cards they can then add the rest of the cards of that item type from their junk pile to the top of their bargain pile. This type of item will be the new bargain that the player is looking for in the next round. The player will no longer be able to add cards directly to their bargain pile that match the previous bargain(s).
Several players can choose the same item type for spring cleaning. A player can also choose an item type that was a previous bargain. A player may never choose an Irresistible Offer card though as the player has to keep it until final scoring. A player can also choose not to spring clean any of their item card types in a round.
As long as all of the rounds have not been played yet the next round begins. The next dealer will take all of the cards that were discarded during spring cleaning and shuffles them. These cards will be placed on the bottom of the deck. The player will then deal out eight cards to each player. If there are not enough cards to deal eight to each player only deal enough so each player gets the same number of cards.
End of Game
The game will end after the required number of rounds have been played. Before tallying final scores all of the players will get to take another spring cleaning action. Thus in the final round the players can spring clean twice.
Players will then count up all of the cards from their bargain pile and will score one point for each card. Each player will then subtract one point for each card in their junk pile. The player who scores the most points wins the game. If there is a tie the tied player with the least cards in their junk pile wins the game. If that doesn’t break the tie the tied players will share the victory.
My Thoughts on Bargain Hunter
After playing Bargain Hunter I am not exactly sure what I think of the game. There are some things that I thought that the game did really well, but it also felt like the game was missing something.
At its core Bargain Hunter is a trick-taking game. The game is played over a number of rounds with each round consisting of eight tricks. Like all trick-taking games one player leads the trick by playing a card. All of the other players then follow up by playing their own card which must match the color lead by the first player if possible. If a player doesn’t have a card that matches the lead color they can play any card from their hand. The winner of a trick will be the player who plays the highest card in the trump color or the lead color. This player then leads the next trick and this process continues until all of the cards have been played. For each trick that is won the player will take all of the cards played which will be used to score points at the end of the game.
If you are at all familiar with the trick-taking genre this should already be familiar to you. The main gameplay game doesn’t differentiate itself much from your typical trick-taking game. Your opinion on the main gameplay is likely going to have a pretty big impact on your overall opinion of Bargain Hunter. If you have always hated trick-taking games I see no way that Bargain Hunter can change that opinion. People who really enjoy the genre though have a lot to look forward to in Bargain Hunter. As someone that is somewhere between the two extremes I will say that I had mixed feelings about the trick-taking mechanics. The main mechanics are fun, but they aren’t the most dynamic.
As Bargain Hunter was designed by Uwe Rosenberg though it should come as no surprise that there is more to the game than just your typical trick-taking mechanics. I would say that there are two main differences between Bargain Hunter and your traditional trick-taking game.
The first major change/addition to Bargain Hunter comes from how the trump color is chosen. As I am far from an expert on trick-taking games I am not sure how many trick-taking games have a similar method of choosing the trump color/suit. In Bargain Hunter the first player in a trick to play a color that doesn’t match the lead color will get the option of choosing between making their color trump drastically improving their odds of winning the trick, or choosing not to make their color trump which means they are guaranteed not to win the trick. While I am assuming other trick-taking games use this as well, this is not the case in most trick-taking games.
I am not sure whether I like this mechanic or not. It gives players a lot of power when they don’t have any cards that match the lead color. It also adds quite a bit of strategy to the game. Due to the other new mechanic choosing which tricks to win and lose is key to winning the game. In this situation the player has to analyze whether they want to win the trick or lose it. Normally you would think that you would want to win as many tricks as possible as it gives you more cards. That is not always the case in Bargain Hunter though as in many cases you are actually better off not winning the trick. What I like about this mechanic is that it gives players more options to impact their own fate.
The problem with the mechanic though is that it may be a little too powerful. Just because the lead player played a color that you don’t have basically allows you to decide who will win the trick. You can choose to make your own color trump which very likely will win you the trick. If you don’t want the trick you can make it impossible for you to win the trick. Due to this mechanic it seems like one of the best strategies in the game is to reduce the number of different colors in your hand as quickly as possible to increase the odds that you will be able to take advantage of this mechanic. In a lot of ways though it just comes down to luck as you regularly don’t have a lot of control over what card(s) you can play in a trick.
Winning and losing tricks becomes really important due to the other new mechanic in the game. In addition to the trick-taking mechanics there is also a set collecting mechanic. All of the cards in the game feature an item except for the two Irresistible Offer cards. The ultimate objective of the game is to try and add as many cards to your bargain pile as possible. In each round you will have one item at the top of your bargain pile. Every card that you collect during the round that features that item can immediately be added to your bargain pile scoring you points at the end of the game. All of the other cards will be moved to your junk pile. Cards in the junk pile will count as negative points at the end of the game so you want to limit how many cards you add to it throughout the game. After each round you get the opportunity to remove one type of item from your junk pile. If you have enough cards of that item type you will get to add them to your bargain pile which will score you points at the end of the game.
It might not seem like a lot at first, but this mechanic really drives the rest of the game. The key to doing well in the game comes down to winning the right tricks. You need to win tricks in order to acquire cards that will score you points. At the same time though you don’t want to acquire a bunch of cards that will ultimately just lose you points. You need to balance these two things in order to maximize your score. There will be tricks that you could win that you should try to lose just so you don’t get stuck with a bunch of cards that you can’t really use. Sometimes this is out of your control, but choosing the correct times to win or lose a trick will probably decide whether you win or lose the game.
Ultimately you probably want to try and be picky in the game. There is no reason to win a trick just to win it. You need to mostly just focus on winning tricks featuring the item currently on the top of your bargain pile or item types that you already have in your junk pile so you can eventually add them to your bargain pile. Unless you have an actual use for the cards in a trick you are probably better off not winning the trick as you likely will get stuck with a lot of cards that you can’t use. This mechanic is really interesting as it adds quite a bit of strategy to figuring out which tricks you should try to win and which you should try to lose.
This leads to the game having pretty low scores though. It might be because none of the players I played with are experts in trick-taking games, but we really struggled to score points in the game. Based on my experience it is not hard to score negative points in the game as you will collect more junk through the tricks you win than cards that you can add to your bargain pile. Even the player that wins will likely score barely over zero points. I kind of wish the scoring was a little higher as I am not a huge fan of scoring next to zero points. The low scores do keep the game pretty close though. I really think the game should give you more opportunities to discard/add cards to your bargain pile. The overall length of the game is about right. With the four player game though it just feels like you can’t get much accomplished in the game before it ends. This leaves your junk piles full of cards losing you a bunch of points.
In a lot of ways I think Bargain Hunter is an interesting twist on your typical trick-taking game. The basic gameplay is similar to almost every other trick-taking game. The addition of being able to choose if your card is trump and the set collecting mechanics make Bargain Hunter feel a lot different than your typical game from the genre though. These additions seem to add quite a bit more strategy to the game. Instead of just trying to win every single trick you need to be picky on which ones you win. You also need to figure out which items you should prioritize so you don’t get stuck with a bunch of cards you don’t need. In general I like the additional strategy as it feels like the game doesn’t rely on quite as much luck as your typical trick-taking game.
This additional strategy comes at a cost though. One of the main reasons people like the trick-taking genre is that the games are usually really easy to play. The additional mechanics added to Bargain Hunter makes the game quite a bit harder to play though. The game is not super hard to learn, but it does take more time than your typical trick-taking game. The game takes probably five to ten minutes to teach. The mechanics are not that difficult, but it will probably take at least a round or two before all of the players know exactly what they are doing. Bargain Hunter is the type of game that will take time to master. The strategy takes some time to fully understand as you are prone to make mistakes in your first game or two. If you are willing to put the time in though I think there is quite a bit of strategy hidden beneath the surface in Bargain Hunter.
As for Bargain Hunter’s components I will say that there are some things that I liked and some things that I think could have been better. This review is based on the 2010 reprint of the game. Basically the game consists of a bunch of cards and the instructions. The cards are basically what you would expect. They are thick enough that they should last as long as you take care of them. The artwork is kind of basic, but it is also kind of cute as well. The cards are designed pretty well where they don’t have a bunch of extra unneeded information. The biggest complaint with the components is that the box is much larger than it needed to be. The box could have easily been cut in half if not even more. Outside of having standard box sizes I see no reason why the box is as large as it is.
Should You Buy Bargain Hunter?
At first glance Bargain Hunter looks like your typical trick-taking game. That is not all that surprising as the main gameplay is the same as every other trick-taking game. As a game designed by Uwe Rosenberg though it is not surprising that he designed some unique twists on the genre. There are two main differences between Bargain Hunter and every other trick-taking game. First players who don’t follow the lead color can choose whether their card’s color will be trump or not. This is big as who wins each trick can be really important. The other unique mechanic is that all of the cards in the game feature a different item. You need to limit how many tricks you win in order to mostly just receive items that you can add to your bargain pile. Winning too many tricks will leave you with a bunch of cards that you can’t use which will ultimately lose you points. Trick-taking fans are likely going to have mixed feelings about this. On the positive side these new mechanics add some strategy to Bargain Hunter as well as make it a unique experience. The problem is that these mechanics make the game more complicated as it takes some time to fully understand the game.
My recommendation mostly comes down to your feelings about trick-taking games. If you have never really cared for the genre I don’t see you enjoying your time with Bargain Hunter. People who like trick-taking games though and want something unique should enjoy their time with Bargain Hunter and should consider picking it up.