Hey, bidder, bidder! Some board games give you the best stuff in a first-come, first-serve manner. Others require you to fight and control territory. But some engage in a more civilized warfare and distribute benefits to the highest bidder. If you like to get the winning bid, and make other players pay more than they want to, then here are three exemplars of the genre.
Perhaps the most auctiony of auction games is the Knizia title, Modern Art. Players start with a hand of paintings by various artists and then, one at a time, begin auctioning them off. But you don’t always sell them in the same way. Sometimes you conduct an “open auction” where players can bid at any time and in any order. Other times, you do a “once around” where you get one chance to bid and the next player can either outbid or pass. Or perhaps you do a closed auction where everyone secretly makes a bid and then simultaneously reveals.
Plus, the quirk here is that the winning bids don’t go to the bank. Instead, they go to the player auctioning off the painting. At the end of a round, players get paid money based on how popular certain artists were. And that popularity is determined by how many of their paintings were sold at auction. But because the money goes to the auctioning player, you have to be careful how much you buy it. If the painting is only going to be worth ten grand, you don’t want to buy it for 11. Not only are you losing money, but your opponent is getting a huge windfall.
The variety of auctions here keeps this game humming along nicely – along with some rampant speculation about which artists are going to be popular this season. Modern Art plays cleanly from three to five and is well worth your attention.
Image Credit: Mayfair Games
Although the name is hard to pronounce, Speicherstadt is fantastic. Named after the warehouse district in Hamburg, each round a display of cards is put out. In turn order, any player can mark a card with a dude. If another player wants the same card, they can also mark it with their dude by placing him slightly behind. Easy, right?
Well, the trick here is that, after all dudes are played, the cards are sold in order. The first player to have put a dude there gets the first chance to buy it. But the price is the total number of dudes. So if everyone wants that card, you might get the first crack at it – but it will be pricey. If it’s too much, you can decline and remove your guy. Then the next player has the option to buy it. And since your guy is gone, he can buy it for one coin less.
The result is an absolutely fabulous, cutthroat auction game. Sometimes, you put a guy on a card just to increase the price for other players, making them pay more. Other times, you back up a card in the hope that another player won’t want it and you’ll get it on the cheap. And, of course, you curse when other players line up behind you. And, unlike other auction games, the result isn’t immediately known. You hope that someone passes, but maybe they end up buying the card even at the expensive price, and you wind up with nothing.
Image Credit: Z-Man Games
The Princes of Florence
In Florence, you show your prestige by building out a Palazzo that can be staffed with artists and craftsman. They create the finest performances and bring prestige to your house. But we can’t all have nice things. And in Princes, that means auctions.
At the beginning of each round, players auction off lakes, forests, gardens, jesters, bonus cards, or builders. Players simply circle around adding to the price until everyone but one person drops out. Because there are so many things to sell off, you might think that they are all roughly equivalent in terms of power and impact on the game. You would be sadly mistaken.
You see, the Jester is, by far, the most amazing piece in the game — especially early on. If you can get an early jester, it pays extreme dividends over the course of play. Later jesters are still worthwhile, though not quite as good as their earlier fellows. For that reason, skilled players have been known to pay as much as a third of their starting cash for a first round jester.
But this doesn’t represent an imbalance or design flaw in Princes. Instead, it simply recognizes that it is up to the players to manipulate the auction and ensure that they are well aware of the relative value of the items. If someone puts a jester up for auction, you better bid it up and make sure they pay a pretty penny for it. After all, if the price is high enough, it stops being so great. Princes is the most straightforward, and also the most cutthroat of auction games.
Image Credit: Rio Grande Games
Which auctions do you enjoy most? Tell us about it in the comments.