In the 17th century, a phenomenon occurred whereby the price up tulip’s increased to the point where they cost more than a house. The simple tulip took the Dutch Republic by storm and became the world’s first speculative bubble. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, no bubble ever does, and in February 1637 it burst. Tulips turned from being incredibly sought after to actively avoided. Many other bubbles have followed this similar pattern throughout history, in more recent times the United States Housing bubble caused tremors across the world and one could argue that board games on Kickstarter are sitting on their own little bubble waiting to be popped. However, all of this started with what became known as Tulip Mania and it is exactly what the board game Tulip Bubble is all about.
Players will take on the role of weather tulip barons who are eager to make their fortune from the sale of tulips. However, you need to act quickly as any tulips you own once the bubble pops are worthless (just like the real-life economic event). Players are buying different coloured tulips and making specific sets to sell to various collectors for, at times, insane money. The player with the most money after the crash is the winner. However, if you ever have 120 guilders during the market phase, you can buy the fabled black tulip and win the game immediately.
Each round, new tulips will be revealed and players will place tokens onto the once they wish to purchase. If two players put a token on the same tulip, then an auction begins. You bid back and forth with the winner paying the loser the difference between the final bid and the market price of the tulip. Meaning that you can quite easily make a lot of money in Tulip Bubble and never actually buy that many tulips. And this is the first fantastic element of Tulip Bubble.
In Tulip Bubble you can hide your money and cards you own behind a little screen, meaning other players don’t know exactly what you want. However, when buying a tulip, you can choose to finance it. This means that the bank pays for it and you promise to pay them back some point later on. The downside is that everyone sees what tulips you have at any given time while they are financed. This means that if you know somebody needs a red tulip to finish their set, then you can force an auction into the realms of crazy money and make a profit from basically holding a flower to ransom. Get it wrong, however, and you’ll shell out a lot of cash for a flower you maybe didn’t need.
This is fantastic and will often lead to moments where you look around the board and see that two players are going to get into a bidding war over a yellow tulip and decide to get involved only to stop bidding really early on just so you can rake in some free money. If you know what people demand, then you can make some easy money from the supply.
Alternatively, you can force players to bankrupt themselves. That’s right, Tulip Bubble might be a game about flowers but it isn’t for the soft-hearted. Buying and selling tulips is tricky, the market might go up or down each round meaning, those red flowers you bought might sell for less than you bought them for last round. However, the alternative might be true. For example, if Emily just gets that last red flower she can sell to a collector. To sell to a collector she first needs to pay off the finance on her various tulips, buy that last one to complete her set and hope that she doesn’t get into a bidding war with one of the other players. Unfortunately, Nevi (that’s me) has spotted that she needs that last flower. So he decides to start an auction for that little red flower. Emily knows exactly how much she can spend on this flower to be able to pay off her financing is only around 15 guilders, which means anything more than that and she might make a little in the process but won’t have enough to make any real cash this round. The bidding goes back and forth and, unfortunately for Emily she has miscounted, she needed 17 guiders to pay off her finance. So while she has won the auction, she can’t sell to the vendor this turn and has instead left herself with basically no money. This means she either needs to sell some flowers off at a loss or, no there is no or in this example. She needs to sell flowers at a loss and then slowly rebuild her tulip empire.
Tulip Bubble is brutal. Make a small mistake or buy one flower you don’t need and it will cripple you. Alternatively, make some smart purchases, take part in the right auctions and you will have more flower money that you know what to do with. Every decision in Tulip Bubble matters and carried extraordinary weight. Do you buy that yellow flower, will somebody sell to that collector before you, how high can you go in this auctions? The answers are never simple and if you get it wrong your tower of flowers will blow away in the wind.
In this way, Tulip Bubble expertly emulates what an actual economic bubble is like. It is volatile, people will crash and burn, while others rise to the top. And it does so, in a pretty small box with very few rules. Every time I’ve played Tulip Bubble, I’ve wanted to go again to see if this time I could be King of the Flowers. While it isn’t for the faint of heart and it will have you crunching numbers on occasion, it will also see players who take a risk and a leap of faith, at times, be rewarded. You will have players who go with their gut and see it work out perfectly, while others will run the numbers and make simulations in their head and see nothing for their troubles.
While it is brutal, it is also constantly engaging. Much like the economic bubble it seeks to emulate, Tulip Bubble is full of high-risk plays, rises to riches and bankruptcy, and I always love every minute of it.
Thank you for reading, if you would like more board game reviews from this publisher then you should read George’s review of Mini Rails. Alternatively, you might feel like a nice book after this stressful board game, if so why not check out our Bookclubbing page.
As always, if you want to support the site then please use our Amazon Affiliate Link. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and we get a small kickback on each purchase.