There was all sorts of Xiaochi and other street food on offer, as well as a variety of speciality drinks. It was still rather quiet, but already the stall owners were busy. The streets were heavy with the scent of various herbs, spices and all sorts of wonderful flavours. As it was getting darker, more and more people found their way into the wonderful maze of this amazing Taiwan Night Market by Zong-Ger from Good Game Studio.
Dawn of Taiwan Night Market
No. Taiwan Night Market isn’t yet another romantic Western interpretation of an aspect of the seemingly enigmatic and mysterious Far Eastern culture. Zong-Ger, aka Bob, aka Zong-Hua is one of the most prolific board game designers in Taiwan. His game is based on first-hand knowledge of these street markets. It was inspired by a Facebook game called Restaurant City, which, as far as I can tell, was shut down at the end of June 2012. After his initial idea and some playtesting sessions, the designer struggled to turn it into a workable board game and put the project on hold.
Years later, Zong-Ger came across the artwork series Cat Boss’s Street Vendors, which was created by, as they call themselves, part-time illustrator and pet owner Nuomi. Zong-Ger was very impressed by the artwork and wanted to make a game out of it. That’s when they returned to the design of what is now known as Taiwan Night Market. Of course, Nuomi had to be the person to make the art for the game as well.
The rest, as they say, is history. We now have a game designed by a Taiwanese designer about the famous night markets in Taiwan, published by the Taiwanese publishing house that Zong-Ger founded. I don’t think it can get much more authentic than that.
It makes for a game experience that’s not quite as Westernised as many other games. Taiwan Night Market‘s gameplay is different and really fitting for the setting. The illustrations add to the feeling of the game and the components complete the picture of what is a wonderful game that is easy to learn and quite quick to play.
In the game, you try to open stalls in prime locations and attract the most customers. At the same time, you’re also trying to expand your little empire of stalls to make even more money.
It all starts with a maze of completely empty streets. At the beginning of the game, there is no market whatsoever. The only thing that is there are a number of plots that are open for bidding. They are the seeds from which your food chain will grow. So one of the first things you have to do is decide which plots are most likely to attract the most people. At the same time, you have to try and predict which of the possible four types of ware customers will want.
Then it’s time to bid and hope for the best. Bidding itself is the first mechanism that you will come across that is a bit different. Instead of some sort of open or even blind bidding, you place one of your bidding tokens on a bidding card. That card is divided into 9 slots representing increasing amounts of money. However, the bid amounts don’t just go up linearly. Instead, the bid value rises in different steps.
So you can bid 0 dollars and the next player can bid 1, then 2, then 3 and also 4. After that, it goes up to 6, then 8, 10 and 12 dollars. You can even go above 12 dollars by placing two bid markers. That makes for a really interesting twist. Not only can you start your bid with nothing, but you eventually have to go up higher more quickly.
As with all bidding games, gauging correctly where to start is important. It’s equally important to outbid other players at the right time and with the right amount. After all, it’s whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins.
It’s all about the money. Paying too much at the wrong time can easily lose you the game. However, you also don’t want to be outbid on a commercially valuable plot. You really have to speculate to accumulate. Spending the right amount at the right time is going to really help you along and give you a good chance of winning.
I would say that the core and the most interesting part of Taiwan Night Market is the bidding phase. While in your first game, you might all be very polite and not outbid each other, that’ll soon change when you see how much money someone is making. Suddenly, everyone will be happy to keep the leading player in check. Mind you, outbidding someone else just for the sake of it is likely to backfire. If you spend too much on a plot when you’re already not doing well, you just make the situation worse for yourself.
However, if you can successfully bid up a plot just enough for another player, without being left with a huge bill at the end, you will be able to slow the other player down. So quite quickly players will realize that sometimes placing a fake bid on something in the hope that someone else will pay through the nose for it, is a thing in Taiwan Night Market. The bidding phase is about bluffing and double-bluffing, which makes it so much fun in my view.
After bidding, it’s time to pay and choose what stall to erect. You need to look at what customers are waiting at the different entrances to the maze of streets. You have some influence on the types of customers because you can add a certain number from your own secret pool. So if you want to make sure that at least one customer will come to your stall, you can choose the relevant one from your supply. It’s not a guarantee, but it can help in the first couple of rounds of the game.
Once all plots have been filled, it’s time for the customers to start walking along the streets and find the food or drink they’re looking for. The Taiwan Night Market has three entry points. As the customers wander along the street, they will go to the first stall that serves the food or drink that they have been looking for. The stall owner will get paid for the visit and after the customer is finished, they go home.
So being close to one of the market’s entrances gives you first dibs. However, you can also build a little empire. If you have two or more stalls of the same food or drink type right next to each other, you cannot only serve more customers, but your establishment also has more doors for customers to come in through and pay you for their visit.
At this point, the bidding phase takes on another level. You not only want prime real estate, but you also need to ensure competitors don’t encroach on your patch and don’t expand their food or drink empire. You may be forced to bid on a plot that’s not really useful to you, but will stop another player from monopolizing the market.
Fast Family Fun
As you can tell, there is a lot to Taiwan Night Market. At the same time, the rules are pretty simple. There is a little sheet that tells you how many customers to add each round, because that changes, but other than that, every round is the same. So once you understand the gameplay in principle, it all becomes about the meta. You need to gauge what other players want and decide when to invest where and how much.
Even so, the game is suitable for younger players. It can easily be played with 10-year-olds with some basic grasp of arithmetic, maybe even younger players. The whole game is over in under an hour, even if you play it at 5 players if you have the expansion, because most things happen in parallel, except for the bidding.
The illustrations and wonderful components are another reason why it’s suitable for younger people, even though Taiwan Night Market is very much an economic simulation, which can be quite dry. A lot of attention has been paid to detail. Even though there are only four types of stalls, each type comes with a number of different illustrations. So the board looks quite varied, even if many stalls are of the same type.
I can certainly recommend the game to anyone who loves economic simulations, but doesn’t want to spend hours on boring number crunching. Taiwan Night Market is a lovely game that will appeal to a wide range of player types and age groups. Go on and treat yourself to some wonderful street food.
- Taiwan Night Market: https://www.
kickstarter. com/ projects/ tbdgames/ taiwan-night-market/ description
- Rulebook: https://boardgamegeek.
com/ filepage/ 255230/ taiwan-night-market-en-rules-v09
- Good Game Studio: https://www.
facebook. com/ GoodGameStudio
- BGG listing: https://boardgamegeek.
com/ boardgame/ 367201/ taiwan-night-market
- Restaurant City: https://www.
facebook. com/ restaurantcity/ ? locale= en_ GB
Transparency FactsI feel that this review reflects my own, independent and honest opinion, but the facts below allow you to decide whether you think that I was influenced in any way.
- I bought and paid for the game myself.
- At the time of writing, neither the designers, nor the publisher, nor anyone linked to the game supported me financially or by payment in kind.
Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.
Sound Effects: bbc.co.uk – © copyright 2023 BBC
Music: “Relaxation” by AShamaluevMusic.
These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this review: