Tuesday, September 13, 2016

High Society is a quick but brutal little auction game

It took me a number of years to find a copy of Reiner Knizia's High Society. I had read about it almost since I first discovered Boardgame Geek and designer games but it had been out of print in the US when I first started looking for it.

High Society was one of Knizia's earlier games, back when he was primarily known for auction games. At one point, it was even considered part of his 'auction trilogy' with Medici and Modern Art, until Ra kicked it out. Maybe it's part of a second trilogy with Dream Factory and Amen-Re :D Regardless, it's always been well regarded.

When Gryphon Games reprinted it, I immediately snatched it up. And then it sat on the shelf for quite a while. Part of it was that I had so many games at that point it was hard to work it into rotation. Part of it was that it was it was a quick, light game when my gaming group was all about big, heavy games. And part of that was whether or not it could live up to its reputation.

Eventually, I forced my group to play High Society. And it was an instant hit and went into regular rotation. It helped that I was past my try-new-game every session phase and more focused on getting replay value out of the good games.

The elevator pitch for High Society is that you are a bunch of the idle rich, trying to buy more status symbols than everyone else. However, if you spend too much money, you'll lose the status of being rich and the game.

Mechanically, you all start out with the same amount of money and a series of tiles gets flipped over and auctioned off. Most of them are positive points but some of them are special or even negative points. Four of them are red and when the fourth one shows up, the game ends immediately.

Before you figure out who has the most points, you figure out who has the least money. That person is out. If there is a tie, everybody is out.

And that's the wrinkle that turns High Society from an auction game that you would never remember to a tight, brutal, little game that really makes you say 'let's play that again.' It's simple rule but it makes the entire game so much edgier.

High Society is a quick, simple game. It doesn't have the weight or length of most Knizia's other great auction games. However, it lacks a lot of tense, tough auctions into the fifteen minutes it takes to play. It took me a while to find and play it but it turned out to be worth it.


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