Review of High Society

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

February 11, 2009

by: Shannon Appelcline

Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 4 (Meaty)

A fun auction game by master Reiner Knizia that plays in just 20-30 minutes.

Shannon Appelcline has written 688 reviews, with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.84 The reviewer's previous review was of For Sale.

This review has been read 4721 times.

Product Summary
Name: High Society
Publisher: Gryphon Games
Line: Gryphon Games Bookshelf
Author: Reiner Knizia
Category: Card Game

Cost: $24.95
Year: 2009

Review of High Society
High Society is a Reiner Knizia auction game, centered on purchasing luxuries, avoiding losses, and at the same time not ending up with the least money.

Players: 3-5
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes

This is a review of the newest edition of the game, published by Gryphon Games; the review is a revision of my review of the 2003 Uberplay edition. Though the rules are the same for the new edition, the components are quite different.

The Components

High Society comes with cards and rules:

Money Cards: The money cards are printed on sturdy linen-textured cardstock at slightly larger than normal card size. There are 11 money cards each for 5 different players. Each player's cards are denoted by a unique color (purple, blue, green, brown, red), both front and back, which makes it easy to separate the cards at the end of the game if they've gotten mixed together. The front of each card is printed with a unique denomination between $1 and $25 million dollars that's easy to see if you fan the cards. If you've played other games in Gryphon's bookshelf series, you'll appreciate the fact that these money cards feature the same designs as the currency cards in High Society.

Bid Item Cards: The bid item cards are just the same size as the money cards, but they're actually printed on thick cardboard. They have full-color artwork on the front, showing the item up for purchase; these are a variety of classic "high society" items, such as manors, diamonds, and statuary. The artwork for them all is elegant and attractive. A colored border clearly shows the type of card it is: gold for luxuries which add or subtract from your status (or for the thief which steals a luxury); red for recognition that multiplies or divides. Each card also has a value which is shown in a large hexagon at the top.

Rulebook: At eight pages, High Society is the longest rulebook in Gryphon Games' bookshelf series to date. However, some of that is taken up by illustrations, examples, and careful descriptions of the game contents. The rules themselves are actually quite simple. The rules are printed full-color on sturdy cardstock.

Overall, I find the design of the money cards fairly average, but think the bid item cards and the full-color rulebook are both high quality and attractive and so I've let High Society eke in a "5" out of "5" for Style.

The Gameplay

Each player starts off the game with $106 million dollars,arranged among 11 bills as follows: $1, $2, $3, $4, $6, $8, $10, $12, $15, $20, or $25 million. Each player's goal is to gain the most status, through the purchase of luxuries and recognition and the avoidance of misfortune.

After the disbursement of the money cards, a first bidder is chosen; this first bidder will move on to the person who won each previous bid following the first round of play.

The Bidding: The core of the game centers around a simple auction system. A bid item card is randomly flipped up and the first bidder places down one or more money cards as a bid or passes. Each player in turn then either bids a higher total value of money cards or else passes. When a player passes, they're out of the auction and retrieve their money cards from the table. When everyone but one player has passed, the remaining bidder pays the money cards on the table to the bank.

Here's the first catch: Once you've played a money card to the table you can't take it back unless you pass, and you are not allowed to make change. Thus, for example, if you played a $10 million dollars as a bid, and one of your opponents bid it up to $11 million dollars, and the lowest remaining money card in your hand is a $12 million dollar card, you must either bid at least $22 million (by adding the $12 million to the $10 million on the table) or drop out. You can't replace the $10 million bill with your $12 million.

Here's the second catch: Three of the cards are "misfortunes", which are bad rather than good. Bidding works as usual, except that the first person who passes must take the misfortune card, while everyone else has to pay their last bid to the bank.

(I'll talk about the third catch when I discuss end game scoring, but, in short: don't spend too much money when you're bidding, or you'll lose no matter how good of stuff you got.)

The Cards The bid item cards are divided into three broad categories: luxury possession cards, recognition cards, and misfortune cards.

There are 10 luxury possession cards, numbered between "1" and "10" ("1" is a horse and buggy, while "10" is a huge lakeside manner). Each adds its value to your final status total.

There are 3 recognition cards, each marked "2x". Each multiplies your final status total by two.

There are 3 misfortune cards, each with a different effect:

End Game: The three recognition cards and the Mansion Fire cards are each marked with a red border. The instant the fourth of these is revealed, the game ends. At this point you figure out scores to see who's the winner.

There's a catch in the scoring too, as already noted: the player who ends with the least money automatically loses the game. So, you can't bid too much for your bid items! After the big loser is knocked out of the game the rest of the players add up their status points, first summing the luxury items (and Scandal), then multiplying for recognition (or Mansion Fire). The remaining player with the highest total "status value" wins.

Relationships to Other Games

High Society is a member of Reiner Knizia's classic auction trilogy of games, originally released between 1995 and 1996, which also includes Medici and Modern Art. He's put out a lot more auction games since, but this was one of his simpler originals.

This game was previously produced in the United States by Uberplay, who put out a somewhat similar edition several years ago. Though the quality of the components is about the same for the two editions, the artwork (and theming) of the two is quite different. Gryphon's High Society falls back on the historical theming previously used in German editions of the game (well, actually it uses Victorian theming whereas the old German edition looks more 1920s, but close enough), and I think it comes across much better than Uberplay's dot-com theme; the artwork is also superior in my opinion. Is it enough to replace an old Uberplay edition? Probably not. (Unless you love numbered bookshelf editions like I do.) But this edition is surely the right one to get given a choice.

This new edition by Gryphon Games is part of their "bookshelf series" of games, all of which are high-quality and quick fillers. (And all of which are numbered.) The other four games in this series released simultaneously with High Society are Roll Through the Ages, Knizia's Gem Dealer, For Sale, and Knizia's High Society.

The Game Design

Overall High Society is a strong game design. Here's some of the nicest factors:

Quick Gameplay: High Society is a rarity: an auction game that plays very quickly. There are a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 15 auctions in each game. The 20-30 minute playing time is a very accurate quote based on my experience.

(Though also see Reiner Knizia's Money, another release in this same Gryphon Games series and another very quick auction.)

Player Numbers Create Variability: Another nice factor in the game design is that it plays very differently with different numbers of players. In a three-player game you can feel largely in control, because you're going to get a chance to bid on most any item at a reasonable price. In a five-player game, cards can slip past you entirely, particularly if bidding starts with the player to your left. These notable changes in gameplay ultimately increase the replayability of the game.

I had one complaint with the gameplay of High Society! which is possibly as much philosophical as a real problem:

Cognitive/Random Divide Notable: I find the core mechanics of the game somewhat in disharmony. On the one hand you have very intellectual and cognitive gameplay wherein you're trying to determine optimal prices for cards and figuring out how to make sure that you don't end up with the least money. On the other hand you have very large random factors in the game. The ordering of the four red cards can make or break a game for a player (because you don't get to bid on the last one), and likewise if the thief comes up early enough it can cost a player a luxury worth tens of millions. This disconnect felt in some ways uncomfortable, but was considerably resolved by the quick length of the game. If randomness did do you in, you could just play again.

(This element also bugs me less than when I first played the previous edition of High Society, because I can now see it as a risk/reward analysis. You're taking chances when you're buying luxuries early or when there are a couple of red cards out, and you have to take that into account.)

Finally, in the general comments on game design, it's worth noting that this is a game where a player can have a big advantage if he counts cards (specifically, if he counts the money cards used by other players). If either all of your group enjoys card-counting games, or none of them counts cards, the game will work fine. If you're somewhere in between, where a couple of players will count cards and the rest won't, I suggest leaving played money cards face up and fanned out, so that your card counters don't have a big advantage.

Overall, the design of High Society is very solid; it does a very good job as a waiting-for-people-to-arrive or last-game-of-the-night game. There's not a whole lot of depth, but that's fine given its length. As a very quick auction game, the play and design of High Society are clearly above average, so I rate it a "4" out of "5".


High Society is an extremely quick auction game. If auction games are your style, and you're looking for something that plays in half an hour or less, this one is recommended.

This new edition by Gryphon is nice, not only because it gets this classic back in print, but also because it offers a more cultured and classier theming than earlier editions--which supports the setting of the game just right.

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