For Sale

Stefan Dorra’s auction game For Sale is another surprisingly engaging game from Fred Distribution. You get a set of 30, well-illustrated Property Cards (by artist Alvin Madden), another set of 30 Currency Cards, and a collection of 72 thick, cardboard coins, worth either one- or two-thousand conceptual dollars.

Before we go into detail about the design and mechanics of the game, allow me to leap to a conclusion: This is a remarkable little game – easy to learn, sweetly short (maybe 15 minutes), engaging from beginning to end, bringing people (3-6 players, ages 8 and up) closely together, almost always surprising, almost always making people laugh. Play it between games, play it to open or cap a game session, play it after dinner, play it before bed. Play it once. Play it again and again all evening long. Play it with strangers or friends or family, even. And it’s still fun.

Aside from the elegance of the execution and cleverness of the design, what makes this game so successful is the interaction between players. It’s all about learning each other: trying to predict what other people will do while remaining inscrutably unpredictable. Like a friendly game of poker, only friendlier, lighter-of-heart, and without any consequences other than fun, and getting to know each other a little better, and surprising each other a little more often.

The game is played in two phases. In the first phase, Property Cards are dealt out (3-6, depending on the number of players), face-up. Players then take turns, bidding for the card of the highest value, unless, of course, they are so taken by the clever illustrations that they start bidding for the property that looks the most fun (ooh, a tree house!). Which may be counterproductive in terms of things like winning, but fun’s fun, and who can put a value on that?

The bidding process is unique and very efficient. After the first player makes her bid, the next either bids higher or passes. If you pass, you get the lowest-value Property Card. If you’ve already bid, take back half your bid (rounded down), and give the rest to the bank. If you continue, you must increase the bid. When all but one player have passed, that player gets the property of his choice and gives all his bid to the bank. This phase continues until all the Property Cards have been sold. If you’re too enthusiastic of a bidder, you’ll probably run out of coins before all the Property Cards are used up. Not to worry. You may not get the properties you want, but you’ll still get something.

Once all the Property Cards are sold, the “real” part of the game begins. Now, players use the values of their Property Cards to bid for Currency Cards, whose value ranges from zero to $15,000. Here, the bidding process is a bit more familiar. Again, as many Currency Cards as there are players are dealt face-up on to the table. All players select one of their Property Cards, place it face-down on the table, and then simultaneously reveal their bid. The player whose Property Card has the highest gets the first choice of Currency Cards. The next highest gets the next choice, etc. Property Cards that were bid are returned to the bank and the next group of Currency Cards is revealed. This continues until all Property Cards have been used. Players then add up the value of all their Currency Cards and any remaining money coins. The player with the highest score wins.

It pays to conserve, it pays to observe, it pays to remember what cards have already been played, it pays to remember how risky or conservative people tend to be. It pays to play. Not in money, maybe. But in fun, most definitely. Major FUN.

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