Saturday, April 2, 2011

High Society review

Once, deeded lands and blue blood were required to be among society’s elite, but now you can just buy your way into the upper crust! In High Society players compete to see who can squander their newly found riches the fastest by amassing a collection of expensive and ostentatious items. Gems! Yachts! A carriage! Okay, so the carriage isn’t quite as exciting but you do need some way to transport all of your new stuff I suppose. Obtain the most gaudy and frivolous wealth and you win! High Society is a quick playing card game for three to five players. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes to play.

Gameplay is very simple. Every player begins with a bundle of cash in a bunch of different denominations. At the beginning of each turn an item comes up for auction and the players take turns bidding on it, with the high bidder eventually winning the stained glass window or the champion thoroughbred. Each of the ten items is valued at somewhere from one to ten (the carriage is worth one, while the chateau on the lake is the most valuable). At the end the player whose items total the most in value wins. It isn’t quite that simple because there are some catches to how you can bid and score.

The real strategy comes in how you bid and spend your money. Each player has eleven money cards to spend, each of a different value from 2 million to 25 million. Once you bid on an item you can’t pull that particular bill from the table, you can only add to it. For example; if you bid 4 million on a painting and then your opponent bids 8 million, you are not allowed to replace your 4 million with a 10 million. You can add a 6 million to it for a bigger bid but that 4 million stays in place. It matters because you may find that you have used up all your small bills when you want some towards the end of the game. It may make sense to lead with a big bill and try to scare the other nouveau riche away from the bidding altogether.

The other tricky things are the negative cards that come up for auction. I’m not sure what sort of auction house allows a Mansion Fire to go up for bid, but unfortunately it is a reality of your situation. The negative cards totally suck for everyone. You are either going to wind up with something that really crushes your final score or you are going to spend a lot to not have to take it. Essentially players are paying to not have the negative event effect you. I actually think that this might be the best part of the game. And it’s also why you need to hang onto some of those small bills, so you can maybe get out of the negative auction without having to throw down some massive dollar amount. Wouldn’t you rather spend it on a castle?

The final twist comes when the game ends. The player that has the smallest amount of cash left in their hand immediately loses. It’s as if the crocodile from Cleopatra wandered over to 19th century America for a snack. So make sure you keep some cash in the bank or all of your worldly possessions mean nothing. The remaining players then add up their total value and adjust for whatever negative cards they have. Someone wins. I’ve seen players win with a single luxury item, often the big spenders find themselves eliminated in the crocodile round.

In some ways High Society has the same pitfalls as Incan Gold in that the art is sort of crummy. I would be way more impressed with the castle and inclined to spend millions on it if it just looked a little more extravagant. The game is really simple, which is why I think it could use a little boost from the art in the game. Don’t get me wrong, the art is not dreadful. But I do think that a game like this is fun when people get into the feel of the game and actually want the items. Which would be easier to do if they actually looked awesome. I like High Society. The best thing about it is that is quick and really easy, but that’s not a knock on it at all. The world needs game like this because sometimes you only have a half hour and still want to enjoy a game.

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