Thu May 13th, 2010 at 10:37:28 PM EST
(C) European Tribune, 2010, all rights reserved, etc.
- Take one set of ordinary playing cards (preferably the Denialists' Deck or the Iraqi Bad Guy deck the Americans put out in 2003, but any deck will do). Aces count as ones (unless the players bribe each other to count them as something else).
- Hand each player twenty (20) Greenback tokens and give each player a pile of Debt tokens. Finally, place a pile of Greenbacks, a pile of Debt tokens and a pile of Credit Rating tokens in an easy-to-reach place (the players represent banks, so let's call this the Central Bank). Functionally, Greenbacks can be used as Central Bank Debt tokens (the two kinds will never end up in the same pile unless you're engaging in some seriously shady accounting), but if you have enough different kinds of tokens, it is recommended that you keep them distinct for psychological reasons.
- Shuffle the cards and deal each player a hand of three cards
- The player most recently convicted of accounting malfeasance goes first. If tied, the player with the highest personal equity goes first.
- The turn passes counter-clockwise.
During his turn, a player may perform one (1) of the following operations:
- Create an Asset:
- Place a card from his hand face-down in front of him on the table
- Place a second card from his hand face-up on top of the first card
- Pay the Central Bank at least a number of Greenback tokens equal to the face value of the face-up card (he may pay more if he wishes).
- Place a number of Credit Rating tokens on the card equal to the price paid for it.
- Draw two new cards from the deck. If there are less than two cards in the deck, the player shuffles any Liquidated Assets back into the deck before drawing.
Once an asset has been created, nobody (not even the player who created it) may look at the face-down card.
- Engage in a repo with the Central Bank, by replacing any number of Credit Rating tokens on an Asset with Central Bank Debt tokens, depositing an equal number of the player's Debt tokens in the Central Bank and collecting the same number of Greenback tokens from the Central Bank. There must be at least one Credit Rating token on the Asset for every nine Central Bank Debt tokens at all times. (Loans between players (covered later) are not bound by this restriction.)
- Purchase an Asset from another player, by paying that player at least one more Greenback than the total number of tokens (of all kinds) on the Asset. Move the Asset to the purchasing player, being careful to not reveal the face-down card, and place a number of Credit Rating tokens on the card so that the total number of tokens on the card matches the selling price.
Example: Alice has an Asset with a 7 of Clubs face-up. It has three Central Bank Debt tokens, one Credit Rating token and five of Bob's Debt tokens on it. Charlie wants to buy it, and pays Alice (3+1+5)+1 = 10 Greenback tokens. He then places 1 Credit Rating token on the Asset, bringing the total number of tokens to 10.
A player may not refuse to sell an asset if offered a sum of Greenbacks greater than the one he paid to acquire it. [Playtesting will be needed to show whether this rule is essential or can be dropped. But I think it's essential.]
Additionally, during his turn, the player may perform any number of the following operations:
- Unwind a Central Bank repo by paying the Central Bank a number of Greenback tokens, replacing the same number of Central Bank Debt tokens on one of his cards with a Credit Rating tokens and reclaiming the same number of his Debt tokens from the Central Bank.
- Take out a loan from another player. The debtor hands the creditor a number of Debt tokens, the creditor hands the debtor the same number of his Debt tokens and a number of Greenback tokens (the number of Greenback tokens does not need to match the number of Debt tokens that changes hands - indeed if the lender is prudent, it never does...). The creditor's Debt tokens are placed on one or more of the debtor's assets. Once a Debt token has been placed on an Asset, it may only be moved with the consent of the creditor, or by paying out the loan.
Debt tokens placed on an Asset displace Credit Rating tokens. If there are no more Credit Rating tokens to displace, the Debt tokens are simply added (obviously The Market believes the asset to be worthwhile collateral for that debt load - who are the rating agencies to say different?).
Example: Alice has an Asset with 6 Credit Rating tokens and three Debt tokens of various origin. For whatever reason, Alice borrows 7 Greenbacks from Bob, but agrees to take on a debt of 8 tokens. Alice hands Bob eight of her Debt tokens. Bob places Alice's Debt tokens in front of him. Bob hands Alice eight Debt tokens and seven Greenbacks. Alice places the Greenbacks in front of her and Bob's Debt tokens on the Asset. The first six Debt tokens displace the six Credit Rating tokens - the last two are simply added. Note that this operation would not be permitted if one or more of the three Debt tokens already on the Asset in the beginning were (a) Central Bank Debt token(s), since it would violate the repo conditions.
If at any point a player lacks the required Greenbacks to purchase or create an asset, complete an agreed loan with another player or pay out a loan that has been Margin Called by another player, he may issue a Margin Call against a loan.
Hand one Debt token from the pool in front of you over to the player who originated it. That player hands you a Greenback and gives you back one of your Debt tokens on one of his Assets.
Example: Alice wishes to buy one of Bob's Assets for 12 Greenbacks, but only has 4 Greenbacks herself. However, she has 9 of Charlie's Debt tokens in front of her. Alice tells Charlie that she wishes to cash in 8 of his Debts. Charlie pays Alice 8 Greenbacks and hands Alice 8 Debt tokens from his Assets (replacing them with Credit Rating tokens) and Alice hands Charlie 8 of his Debt tokens back.
Optional Rule: If another player wishes to prevent the loan from being Called, he may offer the calling player a new loan at par (that is, where the number of Greenbacks matches the number of Debt tokens exchanged). If this loan is sufficient to cover the calling player's need for Greenbacks to complete the original transaction, the loan must be accepted. The Debt tokens must be placed on the most recently acquired Asset where it is legal to do so.
Example 2: On Bob's turn, Bob wishes to buy the Asset back from Alice for 13 Greenbacks. Bob only has the 12 Greenbacks Alice paid him on her last turn, but he also has one of Charlie's IOUs, which he decides to call in. Charlie does not have any Greenbacks left after Alice called in his debt last turn, but does have one of Alice's IOUs, which he decides to call in.
Alice, however, does not want to pay Charlie just now, so she offers Bob a loan of one Greenback. Bob has to accept this loan, hands Alice twelve Greenbacks and a Debt token, gets the Asset and places Alice's Debt token on the newly acquired Asset.
If a player lacks the required Greenbacks to meet a Margin Call and cannot obtain them elsewhere, he must Liquidate one of his Assets.
- Turn the face-down card in the Asset face-up.
- The Central Bank pays the owner of the Asset a number of Greenbacks equal to the combined face value of the two cards.
- The player redeems all Debt tokens on the Asset, redeeming Central Bank Debt tokens first, and the remaining in any order he wishes.
- If the player does not have sufficient Greenbacks to meet all the debt that he must pay, he must Liquidate another Asset. If he has no further Assets and still cannot pay his debt, he is Bankrupt and leaves the game. Any unredeemed Debt tokens from a Bankrupt player are worthless.
Endgame begins when one of the following conditions is met:
- There are at least [number of players]x5 Assets in play.
- At least [number of players]x2 Assets have been liquidated.
- At least one player goes Bankrupt.
- The players agree to enter Endgame.
- There are less than two cards in the deck after reshuffling Liquidated Assets back into it.
During Endgame, each non-bankrupt player gets one turn, in the normal turn order. During this turn, the player may send out any number of Margin Calls to his fellow players, may engage in any number of repo operations with the Central Bank and may Liquidate any number of his Assets. The player may not originate Assets during his Endgame turn (discard all hands when Endgame begins), but he may buy one Asset from another player per the ordinary rules for buying Assets (although if that player seems a bit too keen on financing the purchase, it should perhaps raise some suspicion...).
After the last player has had his Endgame turn, all non-Bankrupt players embezzle the Greenbacks in their bank's coffers and abscond to Switzerland. The player with the most Greenbacks wins.
Regulatory Arbitrage (Optional Rules)
- The first player to go Bankrupt is considered Systemically Important, and the Central Bank will make up the shortfall plus 10 % (rounded up) with fresh Greenback tokens. Play may then continue as normal (i.e. his Bankruptcy does not trigger Endgame, although the liquidation spree preceeding it may).
- Each player may, once per game, get a triple-A rating on one of his assets, at which point the Central Bank will buy it for twice the value of the face card.
- If an Ace is part of an Asset, the Asset is Subprime, and yields no Greenbacks when Liquidated.
- If a Jack is part of an Asset, the Asset is Fraudulent, and the player must pay 1 Greenback to the Central Bank in fines and/or bribes when the Asset is liquidated. (No, he does not get any Greenbacks for the other card.)
- During Endgame the Central Bank engages in Quantitative Easing. Repos carried out during Endgame are not subject to the requirement that at least one Credit Rating token must remain on the Asset.
- Include any number of Jokers in the deck (the number may be decided in advance or by the person who shuffles the deck, depending on your play style). A Joker in an Asset means that you have bought a Credit Default Swap on the Asset. If the Asset has more debt tokens on it than you will get Greenbacks from the Central Bank during Liquidation, you may hand the Asset over to another player, with all debts intact. It is now his problem. Proceed with Liquidation according to the normal rules.
- The player who reshuffles the deck when it runs out may stack the deck if he pays 4 Greenback tokens to the Central Bank (one for the Senate majority leader, one for the House majority leader, one for the Treasury Secretary and one for the Chairman of the Fed).
- Players are permitted to engage in slight-of-hand with the tokens in front of them, but if they are caught in the act, they are summoned to a Congressional Hearing and lose their next turn (if this turn is their Endgame turn, they are still permitted to carry out Central Bank repos and make Margin Calls, but may not purchase assets).
There is no financial or other penalty beyond the loss of the next turn, but debt that has been "magically" converted into credit must be repaid immediately, possibly triggering Liquidation (although refinancing is permitted if the other players are willing to extend new loans).
On his own turn, any player who suspects that slight-of-hand has gone unnoticed, he may demand an SEC Audit of another player. If he can prove that there is an accounting irregularity (that is, if the number of Debt tokens on the audited player's Assets does not match the number of Debt tokens he has surrendered to other players, and vice versa), the offending player is summoned to a Congressional Hearing. If the books are sound, however, the accusing player is summoned to a Congressional Hearing.
This rule also applies if the player messes up his bookkeeping by accident.
[EDIT 14/05/10-1300: Simplified the rules to reduce the number of different kinds of tokens needed. I still have the original version if people think that one's better. Added the CDS and stack-on-reshuffle optional rule and the endgame condition that you run out of cards.]