Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Don

Design by:  Michael Schacht
Published by:  Queen Games
3 – 6 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

This is a neat new auction game from Michael Schacht, the designer of such games as Web of Power and Kontor.  My initial reading of the rules left me in doubt as the game sounded very dry and fiddily.  However, after my first playing, I immediately took a liking to it.  I’ve since played a dozen more times and my enthusiasm for the game continues to grow.  What’s even better is my wife, who normally isn’t fond of auction games, really enjoys it, too.  In fact, she is 3-0 in her playings, whereas I am still winless!

What makes the game so interesting are the novel bidding mechanics and restrictions.  I’ve not seen such methods utilized in the same form in any other game.  Creativity is always a BIG plus for me.

The deck of 30 cards comes in 6 colors, with 5 cards per color.  Further, cards are numbered 0 – 9, which means that each color does NOT have a full set of numbers.  The only other components included are incredibly thick and sturdy bidding chips, each designed so they snugly fit together, making them able to be sturdily stacked.  The only thing missing are player shields, which would have been nice as chips are meant to be kept secret.  As is, every time we play we are forced to scrounge for materials which would be suitable as shields.

The rules and mechanics are simple, yet the clever mechanisms require constant vigilance and planning.  The start player reveals a card and it is up for auction.  Auctions are held in a ’round-the-table’ fashion until only one player remains.  He pays the amount of is winning bid into the ‘pot’ and takes the card, which is kept face-up before him in full view of all the players.  On the very first auction, the money in the pot is now divided amongst all the other players.  Nothing special or unique here.  However, it gets much more interesting from here on out.

On the next round, the player who won the previous auction now reveals TWO cards and these are auctioned as a set.  The following round, THREE cards are revealed and auctioned.  Then, this cycle is repeated (1 – 2 – 3) until a total of 15 auctions have been held and the deck is depleted, at which point the game is concluded.

After round one, players may NOT make bids which end in ANY numbers which match cards they have previously collected.  So, if Jerry had previously won cards with values 3, 4 & 7, he may not bid 3, 4, 7, 13, 14, 17, etc.  So, the more cards you collect bearing different values, the more restricted you will become in your bidding capabilities.  Astute players will often raise the bidding to those levels, forcing players to raise the bid considerably or drop out of the current auction.  Very, very clever.

But, it gets better!  When a player wins an auction the money is placed in the pot.  The player possessing the most cards which match the last digit of the winning bid receives ALL of the money in the pot!  Thus, if Jerry bid 8 to win an auction and Steven has the most ‘8’s’ in front of him, he receives all of the chips Jerry bid, plus any chips remaining in the pot from a previous round which weren’t distributed.  If more than one player ties for the most in a particular value, the chips are distributed equally amongst them.  If no one possess any cards matching the last digit in a winning bid, the chips are then distributed as equally as possible amongst ALL of the players (except the player winning the auction) with any remainder being left in the pot.

This payment method is ingenious as it forces players to carefully monitor their bids to see who would receive the payout if they win the auction.  Often, players feel forced to increase their bids to a different number so no one opponent will receive a windfall. 

Further, this method also encourages players to acquire cards which have values which are likely to be bid more often, thereby resulting in an increased probability of payoffs following auctions.  Very, very clever.

A final twist is that the values on the cards mean NOTHING in the final scoring!  Once the deck is depleted, players score points based on the colors of the cards!  The more of a color a player possesses, the more points he scores:

1 card:    1 point
2 cards:   3 points
3 cards:   6 points
4 cards:  10 points
5 cards:  15 points

Finally, the player with the most chips in stock at game’s end receives 2 points.  The player with the most points is victorious. 

Thus, the factors to watch out for now not only include the numbers YOU possess and the numbers your OPPONENTS possess, but the color of the cards up for bid.  All of these factors can sometimes stagger the mind, but make for an intriguing game which I, at least, have found difficult to master.  Yet, I keep wanting to play it over and over again.  Either I’m masochistic, or there’s a very good game here!

The only thing which continues to puzzle me is the theme and box graphics, which includes pictures of various characters from the Godfather motion picture.  The theme of the game isn’t thin … it’s non-existent.  I’m also curious as to how European firms seem to be able to utilize the images and names of famous characters and individuals (witness Traumfabrik), while U.S. game companies would have their pants sued off if they tried to do such a thing without first acquiring the rights to such images and names.  Perhaps this is just another sad indictment of our ‘sue or be sued’ legal system.

For a game with such simple rules, it is filled with choices and decisions and requires constant vigilance.  Kudos to designer Michael Schacht!

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Responses

  1. Fun little game. the fact that you can’t bid numbers that you have collected is a unique mechanic to me. (6/10)


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