Monday, September 12, 2016

Why For Sale is a classic

For Sale is one of those games that is a definitive classic. It came out in 1997 and it's given the world almost twenty years of solid gaming since then.

For Sale is a game about the gentle art of flipping houses. In the first half of the game, you are buying houses, preferably as cheap as possible. In the second half, you sell those houses, preferably for a lot.

The game consists of two decks of cards, houses and checks, and a stack of coins. The houses have a numeric value from one to thirty while the checks range from zero to fifteen. My copy, at least, has pretty goofy houses, ranging from a cardboard box to a space station. I'm willing to bet there are editions where the coins are cards too. 

Everyone gets a starting pot of coins, which you'll use for bidding in the first phase. You deal out houses equal to the number of players and then the bidding starts. You go round and round the table, with folks either raising or passing. If you pass, you give the bank half your bid (which could be zero) and take the cheapest house that's left. Only the winner pays their full amount but they get the highest value house.

After you run out of houses, you start the second phase. Selling those houses. Deal out checks equal to the number of players. Everyone secretly chooses a house and simultaneously reveals them.  Checks then get handed out in order of house value. You know, highest value gets the highest check. Remember, some of them as worth zero so you can get hosed.

After all the checks get auctioned off, you count up the value of your checks and whatever coins you have left from the first part. Whoever has the most money wins!

Obviously, For Sale is an auction game (and by Dora's, not Knizia! That always surprised me) but it's a gentle one. Every round, everyone gets a card, no matter what. And, if you're lucky and/or patient, even that lousy cardboard box might be worth something.

At the same time, the game rewards good judgement. You have to know when to pass, when to unload your junk houses and when to pull out your high value homes. No one gets buried but good play wins the day.

It's that combination of simple, easy to understand rules with forgiving auctions and meaningful decisions that has made For Sale a classic. 

I have heard For Sale called the king of fillers, meaning it's a game that takes less than a half hour and can be used to fill in the time around longer games. The word filler often gets a lot of flack, although less since Love Letter inspired waves of micro games. Personally, life with a toddler makes games like that a real gift. And For Sale takes the fifteen minutes it takes to play and makes them a real fun gaming experience. 

I haven't played For Sale as much as I have wanted to. It came into my collection when I was trying out new games constantly and it got lost in the shuffle. Despite that, I remember how it was always fun with every group I played it with. A lot of the games I played from that period in my gaming life have left my collection but For Sale is a game I'm going to hang onto.

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