Cashflow 101 is a serious boardgame by a personal finance educator and author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series of books. Cashflow is the most successful serious boardgame ever made. Perusing online group sites, like Yahoo! Groups or Meetup, you will realize that there are active Cashflow boardgame clubs in every major city around the world. It may be easier to find people to play Cashflow than Catan or Puerto Rico. It is amazing that a game that is self-published and retails for $200 has a large global fanbase.
Cashflow is a financial simulator using RPG elements and simplified stock and real estate markets. You can play several pregenerated character professions in the upper class like a Doctor and Lawyer or lower class professions like Truck Driver and Janitor. The characters have stats like debt, income, spending, and other financial details but they all net out to one value: your cash flow. Cash flow is how much one keeps after all the expense are paid from a paycheck. In Cashflow, although upper class professions like the Doctor get paid more, their expenses are higher so the cash flow for a Doctor is not significantly better than for, say, a Teacher or a Janitor.
The goal of the game is in two parts. First goal is get out of the Rat Race -- the daily grind of working at a job, represented as a hamster wheel-like circle on the gameboard. You exit the Rat Race when your passive income is greater than your expenses. Passive income is money that is earned that you do not actively work to earn, commonly rental income in Cashflow. The typical way to increase your passive income is by trading stocks to earn a lump sum that you can apply as down payment on a condo or a small home that you can rent out and later trade up to bigger properties. Sounds simple, right? What is hard for most people is this -- it is nearly impossible to get out of the Rat Race without borrowing money. Thus the key to getting out of the Rat Race is not if but when and how much one should borrow. Many of us feel that debt is bad and thus borrowing money to invest, even in game, makes people uncomfortable. Only if you can overcome your discomfort of debt can you exit the Rat Race.
Being a roll-and-move game, here are some spaces in the Rat Race:
- Downsize -- get laid off and lose two turns but still pay expenses.
- Charity -- pay 10% income to roll two dice rather one die for movement for three turns. On average, allows you to collect more paychecks at a faster rate.
- Doodads -- random luxury goods ranging from gourmet coffee to a down payment on a yacht. Interferes with building critical mass of capital need to invest in the real estate market.
- Opportunity -- choose between Small or Large opportunities. Small opportunities cards have stock and small properties while Large opportunity offer multi-unit properties or large houses and businesses like a pizzeria or a car wash.
- Baby -- surprise, you are a dad/mom! The most cash flow draining event in the game.
- Market -- draw a market card that has a potential buyer for your real estate properties.
Once you exit the Rat Race, you go around a larger outer track trying to land on a dream space that you marked with your color cheese at the beginning of the game. The game gets dull right after you exit the Rat Race because there is no strategy or planning -- roll your dice and pray that you land on a specific space to end the game. I recommending only playing to exit the Rat Race and skip the outer track.
Game design-wise Cashflow is innovate in the use of RPG elements in a creative way but is marred by the archaic roll-and-move mechanic and poorly balanced cards, such as the $1 stock which later can be sold for up to $40. However Cashflow tends to offend many in the gaming community who simply see the game being too simple for $200 and therefore judge it as a scam. Understand that Cashflow is targeting people who want to learn more about investing and is better than a video or a book on investing because you are actively engaged in a simulation. As with many serious games, fun is secondary to learning something and Cashflow does a good job of teaching about passive income and risk management. As much as we ask people to understand that games are not not "mere entertainment" and therefore accept or at least tolerate Super Columbine Massacre RPG, we should accept Cashflow seriously as well.