Flea Market is a silly but surprisingly engaging family game of dice-rolling, junk-dealing and movie allusions (for the adults in the room) where players buy and sell gewgaws from each other with the goal of becoming the first to turn his or her $24 starting money into $45. With dice rolls at the game’s heart, there’s a fair degree of randomness, but a little understanding of probability also means that there’s ample room for light strategizing that even a child can understand.
Each item in the game bears a number from 3 to 18, and has an image of an item from a famous film (e.g., the Maltese Falcon, the One Ring, a tri-corder), although the latter has no actual bearing on its value. Instead, on a specific player’s turn, he becomes the Agent and rolls the game’s three white dice together to determine which item will come up for bid. All 16 items begin on the track on the central game board, so either the item is pulled from that track and placed in the center, or, if it’s already been purchased, the player who owns it must put it up for auction. As you might have already figured out, the items numbered 10 and 11 will come up most often, while in multiple plays so far we still haven’t had items 3 or 18 hit the stage.
If the item is unowned, then all players roll their dice, a specific colored pair for each player, to determine what their possible bid for the item will be. Each player may choose to reroll one of the two dice before revealing the value to the other players. The player with the highest total then chooses whether to buy for that dollar figure or pass to the next-highest bidder. If no one buys the item, it goes to the Agent for free.
If the item is owned, the process is the same except that the current owner doesn’t roll his/her dice. S/he gets an immediate bonus based on how much of the central track is already exposed, and if no other player buys the item it’s returned to the owner. There’s no benefit to holding items at the end of the game, so if you buy item number 3 or 18, you might be stuck with it until the bitter end. The first player to accumulate $45 wins, and with the bonuses gradually increasing over the course of the game—our games always ended with the item bonus at $6 or $7—there’s a rough cap on how long the game can run, because there’s always more money in circulation.
This simple set of rules provides a surprising amount of decision-making, enough to keep an adult player engaged while getting the kids into the fun of buying and selling. Items 9 through 12 will have the highest expected value over the course of the game (10/11 first, 9/12 shortly below that) because those are the most common sums when rolling three six-sided dice. That knowledge affects purchasing decisions and how much you’d want to bid—whether to reroll one of your dice, and whether to let an opponent hang on to a particularly valuable item and perhaps collect multiple bonuses for it.
The one drawback of Flea Market is the materials themselves. Perhaps befitting the title, the components are … well, they seem cheap. The game’s tokens for money are equally sized cardboard rectangles representing $1, $5 and $20 bills—sorry, no sawbucks—with graphics that are impossible to distinguish at a glance. The twenties have a slightly greener tinge than the ones and the fivers, but that’s it. Tokens would have been better, and we just use coins now as stand-ins because they make that aspect of the game much easier. The box itself lacks any kind of storage for the various tokens—no bags, no plastic tray—which would make setup a little easier.
Flea Market requires three to five players and a full game takes 30 to 40 minutes. My nine-year-old daughter had no problem with the rules and seemed to grasp the basic strategy (without knowing the actual probabilities of the dice rolls) enough to keep up with the adults at the table. It’s very good value at about $20 if you’re looking for a light, fun game to play with your kids that doesn’t throw all semblance of strategy out the window.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.