by Mrs. Saint
The sun is just starting to come up. You’ve been working for hours, dusting the shelves, making sure the items in the window gleam and look their best. After all in just a few hours, the market square will be busy. It’ll be bustling with would-be heroes ready to stock up before they head out to show their bravery and face whatever monster or evil threatens the land, and you need to make sure you lure the heroes with the most money to spend into your shop.
Note: some images from our actual game play may contain heroes or employees from the Chaotic Goods expansion.
Bargain Quest, published by Renegade Game Studios, is a card drafting game where each player is a shopkeeper. You’re vying against the other shop owners to get the best items and bring in the best customers. Your customers are the would-be heroes who you’re going to try to sell the most items to before they fight whatever monster awaits them on the outskirts of town.
The game is for 2-6 players. Your goal is to earn the most money and star tokens by the end of the 3rd round, when the final monster is defeated.
Game setup consists of selecting your shop, getting your starting money, assigning the first player, shuffling and arranging the various decks (item deck, adventure deck, employee deck, hero deck), sorting the upgrade cards into Display Upgrades and Storage Upgrades, as well as creating the monster deck. The Monster Deck is only ever three cards. Monsters in Bargain Quest are assigned a rank. Easier monsters are Rank I, medium difficulty Rank II, and hardest monsters are Rank III. You randomly pick one monster from each of the ranks. You do not know which monsters you’ll face, as they are face down until it’s time for the game to begin. The final step is selecting which heroes will be your customers. Once the hero deck is shuffled, you draw the number of heroes equal to the number of players and place the heroes face up in the center of the table.
Monsters and heroes each have a unique ability. The monsters’ abilities typically impact the group at large, whereas the heroes’ abilities typically only impact the hero or what the shopkeeper who sells items to that hero can do (such as the Rogue’s ability to steal opposing shopkeepers’ money).
A round of Bargain Quest plays over six phases:
- Supply – the monster is revealed (if it’s face down), the item cards are dealt (4 to each player) facedown, and then the card drafting takes place. For card drafting, each player selects one of the four item cards they were dealt. It is considered drafted when it is placed facedown in the shop area. The remaining cards are handed facedown to the player to their left. This continues until all cards are drafted.
- Display – players choose which card they will put in their display. Each card has a heart value and the highest heart is considered higher appeal.
- Shopping -heroes pick and go to the shop with the highest appeal that has matching class icons on their displayed items and shopkeepers sell items to heroes that visit their shops. Display items cannot be sold, so they return to your hand after this phase.
- Adventure – each hero is dealt an adventure card (again if you’re playing with them; we will talk about why some may skip this step later in the review), then each hero faces the monster. Successful attacks earn one star and do one damage to the monster, and successful defense against the monster’s attack also earns one star. Any hero that lives collects the monetary reward listed on the monster ( at the bottom-left of the monster card if the monster was undefeated and bottom-right if the monster was defeated) and discards all items, and any hero that didn’t make it is replaced.
- Upgrade -this is where you purchase either an upgrade card or an employee card for your shop. Upgrade cards are either for storage or display upgrades. Employee cards vary in what they do. Some interact with your heroes, some interact with the other players, and some even block the monsters ability.
- Storage -this is the final phase of play in a round. You pick what card(s) you’re going to keep and discard the ones that do not fit into your storage limits. Then you go back to the supply step and a new round starts.
The quest token is essentially your first player token. The player who gets it each round depends on who has the last hero to enter their shop. When the last hero enters a shop, that player claims the quest token. The quest token indicates who goes first during the adventure and upgrade phases.
You continue through the six phases of a round until all three monsters are defeated. The game ends immediately after the Adventure Phase where the Rank III monster is defeated. Scoring is a matter of tallying up your coins and star tokens, with each ten coins a player has being worth one point. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
If for any reason you burn through the entire hero deck, the game also ends and all players lose because the monsters have invaded and killed everyone.
Bargain Quest is a game that Mr. Saint and I first demoed at Pax Unplugged in 2018 and then were fortunate enough to be able to late pledge the kickstarter. There is a lot we like about this game. Like so many other games, Bargain Quest is all about capitalism. It uses its unique artwork and game play to poke fun at the dark side of retail capitalism, because, let’s face it, the shopkeepers are no different than the large retail and online retail companies we buy stuff from every day. They post all the right words and images on their websites and social media pages to make us feel like we matter to them as customers, but if they sell us a flashlight and it goes dead in the dark and we fall off a cliff, well….hey thanks for the money. That’s at the heart of what’s happening in Bargain Quest.
Some might argue that it’s better as a shopkeeper to make sure your hero survives. You will get two star tokens if they make it back. But do you care if they survive if you’ve got a lot more of their money? That was rhetorical. No you don’t, because there will always be a new hero in the next round that replaces them, and who knows, they might have even more money.
Maybe that sounds a bit dark and you’re wondering, “why on Earth does Mrs. Saint like this game if this is how dark its theme is?” Well, as I said, Bargain Quest makes this dark narrative fun with its fantasy theme and gameplay, so that you really forget the darker side of capitalism is what it’s all about.
Truthfully, to me, the first three phases of play are like an intricate word problem from middle school math class. You’re trying to rapidly calculate based on your storage items, the item cards you’ve been dealt, the heroes that are available, and the monster’s stats and ability: what is that best first card to take to maximize your money and potential stars for the round? You saved a three heart card for your display, it’s sitting in storage, but now, well now it may be better to sell it. So, should you pick this other high appeal card even though it has no other value to you in terms of ability to sell it if you decide not to use it for your window display? Or is it better to take the lower appeal card that you could use for any of the heroes?
However, unlike math problems from middle school, the game makes the calculation fun, and if you get it slightly wrong, going later isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. Based on the cards your opponent drafted, they may not want the Mage as a customer, they may want the Paladin instead, so you could still end up with your first pick.
What some may not find fun, is the elements of randomness to Bargain Quest. You’re at the mercy of the draw. Both the card drafting, but also the adventure card placed on your hero before they go into battle. You may have carefully handled what you sold so that you maximized money gained and planned on your customer surviving to maximize star count but then Unlucky or Forgetful comes along and ruins your opportunity to get one or both of your stars. The opposite is true as well, you may be feeling despondent that your hero will not damage the monster or survive the encounter, and then you’re dealt an adventure card that helps you do both.
The rule book does provide an alternate play variant where the adventure cards are not used. However, we always play with them because we usually have a good chuckle at whatever the adventure card does, even when it costs us stars.
Bargain Quest also has an Advanced Two Player variant, which is our preferred way to play. This makes some slight changes to set up and rules that allow for four heroes instead of two and six items cards for the draft instead of four. We find this to be a much more enjoyable experience than the standard rules at two players but that’s really a personal preference.
This is a game we recommend for both veterans of the hobby who are looking for something light and fun, and for newcomers to the hobby looking to try a fantasy card drafting game that is easy to master and fun to share. The game play is simple enough that it can be used as a gateway game. The box is compact enough that you can easily transport it to game night or take it with you on vacation. The artwork is beautifully illustrated by the incredibly talented Victoria Ying who has also worked on huge blockbuster movie hits like Frozen and Little Miss’s favorite Moana and fun fact: she is the sister of Jonathan Ying, Bargain Quest’s game designer. Another bonus of purchasing this game, Bargain Quest offers a lot of diversity in the heroes, monsters, and employees so everyone will feel this is a game for them.
Much like Champions of Midgard, it’s a game I enjoy so much that even losing is fun.
Check out more Bargain Quest reviews and information at the below links:
What’s Eric’s Playing?– read Eric’s review about Bargain Quest.
Renegade Game Studios – if you are interested in Bargain Quest, check out the publisher’s website to see the latest expansion for the game that’s now available for pre-order.