Last month, I did a list about roll-and-move games, trying to find some good titles that use the mechanism. Most people will cite that or player elimination as their least favorite mechanisms. It’s never been that way for me. For me, my least favorite has always been auctions. It’s usually because I just can’t figure them out – I either end up not being able to win something I really want, or I way overbid for something I don’t need so much. That’s not the game’s fault (usually), but to me, it’s not really very fun. However, as I’ve grown in my game playing repertoire, I have found a number of auction/bidding games that work for me. So this month’s list is going to catalog a few of those, and in the process, try to find some common threads that will get me to play an auction game. Here we go.
Cyclades (2009, Bruno Cathala/Ludovic Maublanc, Matagot) is a game about gaining the favor of the ancient Greek gods in order to build two cities on a group of islands. In a round, players will taking turns bidding on one of the available gods. The first player bids on one, then the second player can bid. If the second player outbids the first, the first player must then immediately bid on someone else. This continues until everyone has won the favor of a god. Players then take actions based on the god they won.
- Poseidon gives you a ship, and you can pay gold for more. You can also pay to move a ship up to three spaces, as well as to build a dock.
- Ares gives you a soldier, and you can pay gold for more. You can also pay gold to attack another island – you need a ship or line of ships that connect the island you’re on and the island you’re attacking. Ares also lets you pay to build a fortress.
- Zeus gives you a priest, and you can pay gold for another. These reduce the amount you need to spend when bidding. You can also pay to build a temple, which reduces the cost of mythological creatures.
- Athena gives you a philosopher, or you can spend gold for another. You can also build a university.
- Apollo is basically the pass space – you don’t bid on him, you just go there if you can’t or don’t want to do anything else. He gets you one gold if you own multiple islands, or 4 if you own just one. He also gives you a prosperity marker for one of your island, and it earns more gold at the start of the round.
There are three ways to get a metropolis – discard one of each type of building, OR discard four philosophers, OR conquer someone else’s metropolis. At the end of a round where someone has gotten their second metropolis, the player who still has two wins.
Cyclades is a kind of Euro-wargame hybrid, with auctions and resource management combined with trying to spread influence and conquer islands. The auction here is a very important part of the game, and it’s a kind of a White Elephant style. White Elephant is called by a lot of different names, but it’s a Christmas gift exchange game where one player chooses a gift, then the next player can steal or choose a new one. Here, it makes this into a little bit of a game of chicken – often, you’ll want to bid on something you don’t want to drive the price up for those that do, and so you won’t necessarily get knocked out of the one you want later. Cyclades is a beautiful game that I’ve only played once, but I found the auction here to be one of the most interesting aspects of it.
For Sale (1997, Stefan Dorra, Eagle-Gryphon Games) is a light 3-6 player game about buying and selling real estate. The game is actually played in two halves. In the first half, players take turns bidding on a slate of properties. As you drop out of the bidding, you pay half of what you had previously bid (rounded down) and take the lowest valued property still remaining. The winner of the bid has to pay all of their money, but they get the most valuable property. Once all properties have been claimed, you move into the second half of the game. A number of currency cards are laid out, ranging in value from $0 to $15,000. Each player chooses one of their properties, then reveals. The highest revealed property gets first choice of currency cards, and lowest gets whatever is left. Once all have been claimed, the player who has collected the most money (currency cards plus leftover cash) is the winner.
This is a filler game that takes 20 minutes to play. It’s very simple and streamlined, and it works well for what it is. On the surface, this is not a game I should enjoy – the bidding style is last-man-standing in the first half, and blind bidding in the second. It’s a pure auction game, and those usually don’t sit well with me. But I like this one. I think part of its appeal is that you’ll always get something if you “lose” the bid, and you’ll get it for a discount. There’s some strategy there as you try to figure out when it’s OK to settle. Turn order really matters in the game, which I think is a weakness due to the random distribution of cards, but the game is so quick that it’s not too much of an issue.
Isla Dorada (2010, Bruno Faidutti, Funforge/Fantasy Flight) is a game that took most of its inspiration from Alan R. Moon’s 1998 Spiel des Jahres winning Elfenland. So much, in fact, that Alan R. Moon is given co-designer credit. The idea is that you’re an explorer trying to collect treasures and explore an island. However, there’s a single expedition, and everyone has their own idea about where to go. Players begin with a curse card (a location they do not want to visit), a destiny card (a goal for more points), two treasure cards (which can be collected when you visit the indicated location), and six adventure cards. In each of the 16-17 rounds, you will have a round of bidding where players can attempt to direct where the expedition is heading via cards in their hand. You can travel by land, sea, or air depending on the cards you play. The winning bid gets to move the party to their desired location. At the end of 16 rounds, the player who has scored the most points is the winner.
There are several different ways to move – yaks move you along mountain paths, camels move you through deserts, gonogos move you through jungles, kayaks move you on water, drakos and zeppelins move you through the air. So when you bid, you combine the cards to announce how much you’re bidding. This is a last-man-standing style bid and really works for me because you know exactly what the stakes are for yourself. If someone is trying to move you to your cursed site, you want to try and subvert that. If someone is trying to move you to one of your treasure sites, you probably want to let them. Your currency is movement, and it works very well. I liked Elfenland as well when I played it, but this game has the advantage for me because it is really a beautiful game. It didn’t make much of an impact on release, but it’s one I really like.
Keyflower (2012, Sebastian Bleasdale/Richard Breese, R&D Games) is the seventh game in the so-called Key series, which is just a general prefix for these medieval-themed games. In each season, tiles are laid out in the center and players take turns bidding on them. You have a certain number of meeples behind a screen, and will place some either next to a tile you want to own or on a tile you want to use. If there are other meeples there, you must play more but must keep them the same color. Once everyone has passed, the winners of each bid claim their tiles and any meeples that are on them. As the game progresses, you’ll be trying to upgrade your tiles in order to earn points – the player with the most at the end of the game is the winner.
This game is a very interesting combination of a worker placement game and an auction. Each turn, you must decide if you want to use your meeples to bid on tiles or to use them. If meeples are played on tiles you own, you’ll get them back. If you lose a bid, you’ll get your meeples back. However, bidding and using tiles that are up for bid will lose those meeples for you. It’s a very clever system, and there’s a lot going on. When I play, I often find it difficult to narrow in on a certain strategy, but I enjoy it.
Metropolys (2008, Sébastien Pauchon, Ystari Games) is a city building area-control game where players are putting up skyscrapers around the city. In each round, a player will put a building in one of the regions of the city. The next player may put a higher numbered building in an adjacent region or pass. When all but one have passed, that player claims the region by flipping their building upside down while all others get their buildings back. If the region has a token, you’ll collect it. When one player gets rid of all their pieces, the game ends. You score for collected tokens, highest building in a region, and secret objectives. The player with the most points wins.
This is a last-man-standing bidding style, but adds the extra twist of making it an area control game. You’re bidding by building. You can also direct the bidding by going in a certain direction, and you can bluff bid to make others raise their own bids or go somewhere they didn’t want to. It’s quite a fascinating game, and probably one of my favorite auction games that I’ve played.
Nanuk (2009, Mark Goadrich/Brett Myers, Steve Jackson Games) is a game about hunting and boasting in the Arctic. In each round, players will take turns planning a hunt by boasting about how many animals they can bag in how many days (I think we can get two seals in two days!). To continue the bidding, the next player must then increase the number of animals (I think we can get three seals in two days!), or increase the number of days (Three days!) or both (I think we can get five seals in six days!). You can also change the type of animal if you increase the animal number (six fish in six days!). Eventually, one player will pronounce that the hunt is doomed (DOOOOMED!), then all other players (except for the one who made the last bid) decide who they agree with. Those who agree with the hunt can seed it with some animals while the naysayers ante up a card each. For each day that was declared, a card is revealed from the deck. If you get all six fish in six days (from our example), those who went on the hunt split the pot. If not, the doomers do. If a Nanuk symbol is revealed when drawing, the hunt fails unless someone has played a statue. After the deck has run out, everyone scores a point per pair of animals and three points for a full set. The player with the most points wins.
This game is very much like Liar’s Dice, only with more of theme and a lot more strategy. It’s got a real push-your-luck bidding style, accompanied by some negotiation and cajoling to get people on your side. The auction involved here is basically deciding who gets to lead the hunt. There’s a set collection aspect to the game, and it’s a lot of fun. I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if you can track down a copy, do it! I need to play this one again…
No Thanks! (2004, Thorsten Gimmler, Z-Man Games) may seem like an odd choice for this list, but hear me out. This is a quick 20-minute game where the object is to NOT get points. One player flips over a card (numbered 3-35), and then can either take it or choose to pass by putting a chip on it. Eventually, someone will take the card as well as all chips that have been accumulated. At the end of the game, you get points based on the value of each card you took minus the number of chips you have left. Cards that are in sequence (i.e. 21-22-23) are only worth the number of points of the lowest card (in this case, 21 instead of 66). The player with the lowest score wins.
The first time I saw “auction/bidding” listed as a mechanism for No Thanks!, I immediately thought “That is NOT an auction game.” But the more I think about it, the more I think that this is a perfect anti-auction game. Players are “bidding” to NOT take a card through chips. The eventual “winner” of the card not only gets his chips back, but everyone else’s who did not want it. So you’re getting paid to get something, and everyone else is paying to not get it. If you think about it like that, the game hits a whole new level of awesome. Great game.
Power Grid (2004, Friedemann Friese, Rio Grande Games) is not a pure auction game, but there is an auction step. In Power Grid, you are trying to supply power to cities all across the country (US or Germany in the base game, with many other maps). The first thing that happens is an auction step, where players bid on one of the available power plants. Once you win one, you’re done for the round. It’s a last-man-standing type of auction. Power plants use resources to power a certain number of cities, and these are purchased in the next phase. Then you can build cities, creating a network, Finally, you power as many cities as you can and collect income. The game is over at the end of the round where someone has built their seventeenth city, and the player who can power the most cities wins.
This is a game that is about route-building, but there’s a lot of resource management going on. One of the most important things for your strategy is this bid for power plants. You want to be collecting the right kind of resources and powering cities as cheaply as possible, so you need the right kinds of power plants. One of the things that makes this auction interesting is that you have a slate of four power plants to choose from when starting an auction. But you can also see the future market as there are four more power plants visible. So you may want to wait for one of those, or you may want to snatch up another plant. The auction is not my favorite part of the game, but it does work and it is very important.
Skull (2011, Hervé Marly, Lui-même) is the only game I know of that is entirely played with coasters. Each player has a deck of four coasters, including three roses and one skull. You also get a player mat. At the start of each round, each player chooses one coaster to play face down on their mat. Then, in turn order, each player can choose to play another coaster on top of the pile or make a challenge. If you challenge, no more coasters will be played. You announce how many coasters you intend to reveal, and other players may increase the bid or pass. Once all but one have passed, the challenger must reveal the announced number of coasters, first from his own pile, then from other piles is applicable. So if you’ve played three coasters and challenge with 5, you’ll have to reveal all three of yours and two more from your opponents’ tiles. If you turn over a skull, you lose a random coaster from your hand. If not, you win the bet and flip your mat. If you win two bets, you win.
This game, like Nanuk, follows the Liar’s Dice model of bidding by making educated guesses about what others are doing. If you want to look at it as an auction, you’re auctioning off the right to flip coasters and possibly win a bet. The stakes are high because you lose a coaster if wrong, which is a quarter of your deck. The game is a lot of fun, moves really quickly, and is an example of bidding that I like.
The Speicherstadt (2010, Stefan Feld, Z-Man Games) is a pure auction game with a pretty unique bidding mechanism. At the start of each round, a supply of trade cards equal to the number of players plus one is dealt to the board. Players then take turns placing one of their three workers above a card. Once all workers have been placed, it’s time to purchase. The player in the lowest position above each card must decide if they will buy the card or pass. The cost of the card is equal to the number of workers above it – if there are four workers there, it costs four. If you pass, the next player decides if they want it, but now the cost is reduced by one since one worker has passed. You’re trying to collect goods to ship, contracts for those cubes, merchants to sell those cubes, firemen to avoid penalties, and other special cards. When the final fire happens, the player who has accumulated the most points is the winner.
I’ve only played this game online, and I can’t say that I’ve completely got the hang of it, but I wanted to bring it up because it is a very cool bidding system. By placing a worker first, you are ensuring that you will get first crack at purchasing the card. But by placing second, you ensure that the first player will have to pay more money. It’s really clever, and makes the decisions very critical. I like it, and would love to play the real version sometime.
Sunrise City (2012, Isaias Vallejo, Clever Mojo Games) is a city-building game that uses worker placement, drafting and a clever scoring mechanism. You begin the game by drafting some role cards, and you play one at the beginning of each round. You then proceed to a zoning phase where you play tiles, and then comes the bidding. Players take turns putting a chip on one of the visible squares. You can outbid another player by placing your chip on top of theirs, but if you place one on top of your own, it is locked and no one else may take it. You can then place a building tile on one of the spaces you control – these buildings will take up two spaces. The buildings keep going up. As you play, you score points, and every time you pass 10 points, you get a star. If you land on 10 exactly, you get two stars. After four rounds, the player who has collected the most stars is the winner.
The bidding here is more like worker placement than an actual auction, but the ability to outbid others by stacking on top of them makes it more than just claiming spots. It’s a pretty cool game with some great components – the tiles are REALLY thick. I’ve only gotten to play it once, and I really liked it – the scoring method is interesting, the bidding works well, and you’re building a city up as well as out. It’s a good one.
Now that I’ve talked about some auction/bidding mechanisms that I like, let me tell you about a few I do NOT like. Generally, I do not like blind bidding – this is where everyone makes a bid in secret, then reveals. I do not like once-around auctions, where you only get once chance to bid on something. I do not like speculative auctions, where you’re bidding on something with no idea of what its value will be later. I do not like bidding for turn order – it’s stupid. I do not like it when games that have nothing to do with auctions throw in one single auction mechanism on some card somewhere. That’s right, Robosmokies, I’m looking at you. As much as I love Galaxy Trucker, that card is no longer in my game.
I also want to make mention of the Dutch auction, which is something I’ve heard about but have never played in a game. This is where a price is set, then it starts dropping. As soon as someone bids, the item is sold. So it’s kind of a push-your-luck thing – how long are you willing to let it go before buying it? That’s a fascinating system, and I’d love to try it out sometime. Might be a little nerve-wracking.
Anyway, there’s my list. Let me know some auction games you like or dislike. Thanks for reading!