For a long time, I've heard just how great For Sale (Uberplay, 2005 - Stefan Dorra) was as a "filler", a game that can be played in a short amount of time. Originally released in Germany in 1997, it's taken eight years before an English version was produced (although no language translation is necessary). Comments from www.boardgamegeek.com include "my favorite filler", "a marvelous filler", "best.filler.ever.", etc. Well, with praise like that, I was eager to play it!
And the critics were right! For Sale is extremely simple, consisting of only two auction rounds. The ease of play, the simplicity of the rules, the quickness of the game, the fact that it can accommodate up to six players, and the beautiful components make For Sale a truly great filler indeed. Currently, when I have only about fifteen or twenty minute and a small group of people, it's my game of choice; and I think it will stay that way for quite a while. Everyone I play with enjoys it - it's the kind of game that you sit around wishing you had designed.
Each player takes a certain amount of money (depending on the number of players), in $2 and $1 chips. A deck of property cards is then shuffled (thirty cards, numbered one to thirty, with houses of different sorts on them. The "1" card is a cardboard box, while the "29" card is a penthouse suite, etc.) A pile of check cards is placed nearby; they won't be used until the second half of the game. The player who lives in the largest house is the first player, and the first round is ready to begin.
In each round, a number of property cards are turned face-up equal to the number of players in the game. The first player bids any amount of money that they wish with play passing clockwise around the table. Each player, in turn, must either raise the bid or pass. When a player passes, they discard half of the money they bid (if any, rounding up) and take the lowest valued property card on the table, placing it face-down in front of them. The last player remaining in each round must pay all of their money to the bank but get the highest valued property card on the table. This player also goes first in the next round. Rounds continue until all the property cards have been distributed.
The check cards are then shuffled and placed in a face-down deck. There are thirty checks, valued between $0 and $15,000. In each round of this phase, one check is turned face-up for each player in the game. Players then choose one of their property cards and place them face down on the table. Properties are revealed simultaneously and "sold" (discarded) for checks in the middle. The player who played the highest valued property takes the highest check, etc. This continues until all the property cards have been discarded and check cards distributed. At this point, the game is over. Players add up the totals on their checks, along with any remaining money they might have. The player with the highest sum is the winner!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: Alvin Madden does some incredible artwork - he's one of my favorite game artists. All he did in this game was the box cover and the deck of property card, but I just adore his illustrations. The cards could have simply been numbered from one to thirty, but having the residences pictured on each one with each property getting a little more livable with higher number really helps add some thematic flavor to the game. In our games, we always mock the person who ends up living in the cardboard box, and always "ooo" when that same person manages to make some money from it. The money chips are two-sided cardboard tokens, in two different colors, are a good size, and are easy to handle. The checks look fairly close to the real thing, and both checks and property cards are of high quality - they can take a good deal of wear and tear. Everything fits inside a smallish box that looks bright and cheerful on the shelf.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is seven pages of large, nicely formatted rules. They're very easy to read with color illustrations and examples. It's one of the nicest rule booklets I've seen; and while some might consider the amount of space unnecessary, it makes reading it a whole lot easier. The game is very easy to teach people - one of the easiest I've ever taught. I merely explain both rounds in about thirty seconds each, and the game takes off. People catch on quickly, both to the rules and the strategy.
3.) Strategy: "Fillers" are not often known for their strategy. I mean, how can you have much strategy in a fifteen minute game that involves six people, right? For Sale bucks the trend, however, because the canniest auction players will win the game. The way the two different rounds fit seamlessly together is impressive. All during the first round, players can be planning for the second, trying to get the properties they need, while conserving some money (the coins often decide the winner). But even if they have a great hand of properties, a player must be careful to play the right card at the right time during the second round. It's not rocket science, but the choices are meaningful - while fortunately can be made quickly.
4.) Auctions: I really like how the two auctions are different, yet work together. The first round, players go head to head, playing a little game of chicken, seeing who will "pass" first. In the second round, it's all about bluffing and trying to read your opponents. Because of this, I greatly prefer playing with five or six players, since some property and check cards are removed in a three or four player game - and that throws one's "perfect" knowledge off a bit. Not enough to be annoying, but I like knowing that every property number is in play in the game.
5.) Fun Factor: While I have stated that For Sale is best known as a "filler", it's one of those games that often takes longer than you think. And that's simply because people wish to play it over and over again. Scores are close, but strategy (excellent bidding) will win the game. I think the popularity of the game results from the fact that while "die-hard" gamers are satisfied with the level of tactics the game presents, the game is not unnecessarily unkind to new players. It's not difficult to estimate the value of each thing up for auction, like in other games. Players simply push their luck a little and hope to win.
If you don't own For Sale, you should pick it up. I can't think of any reason that a person wouldn't want it in their collection, unless they despised any and all auction games. The speed at which the game plays, the way that the theme actually makes sense to pretty much anybody, and the number of players are all contributing factors to why For Sale is a clever, great game. The very slight "blind-bidding" at the end might turn some people off; but those people are few and far between, and you will entertain scores of others with this magnificent little game.
"Real men play board games."