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.
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty: 2 (of 10)
High Society! was originally published in 1995 by Ravensburger. The 2003 edition is by game publishing newcomer, Uberplay Entertainment.
High Society! comes with:
- 55 money cards
- 16 bid item cards
- 1 rulebook
Money Cards: The money cards are smaller than regular card size, printed on solid card stock with rounded corners. There are 11 money cards each for 5 different players. Each different player is denoted by a 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 bag of each card is printed with a money bag logo and the front of each card is printed with a unique denomination between $1 and $25 million dollars. The cards are printed to fan correctly, so that you can see the denomination of the card to the top left when you have a handful of money cards.
Bid Item Cards: The bid item cards are printed on a very solid, textured card board. They have full-color artwork on the front, showing the item up for purchase. A colored border clearly shows the type of card it is: gold for luxuries which add or subtract from your status; red for recognition that multiplies or divides; and blue for the special thief card. Each card also has a value which is shown in a large hexagon at the top.
The bid item cards are quite attractively produced. I was a bit concerned about shuffling them, because they’re so thick, but it turned out that they shuffled fine. However, some of my other playtesters felt that they were overproduced; one player in particular would have preferred that everything been printed on card stock, and the whole game packaged in a tuckbox, so that it could be more easily portable.
Rulebook: The rulebook is printed in full-color and amply explains the fairly simple rules. There are plenty of illustrations to show what the different card types are, along with a complete example of scoring. Overall, the rules are easy to follow.
Box: The box for High Society! comes with a plastic tray which holds all the various cards and keeps them separated. I find this an important element when packaging a card game in a larger box. The tray is quite large; the game could probably have been packaged in a box half this size.
Deciding the packaging size for card games can always be a problem, as offering them in smaller boxes can cause lower price points which disinterest retailers and; smaller boxes also provide considerably less draw on store shelves, which can ultimately impact sales. Thus, I'm generally understanding when a game company decides to package a card game in a larger box and simply look for two things: that the packaging has been adequately modified (usually with a tray or divider) so that the cards don't get lost in the box; and that the company has included value-adds or higher-quality components to account for the higher price point. Uberplay has generally done both of these with their production of High Society.
Overall, I find the design of the money cards fairly average, but think the bid item cards and the full-color rulebook are very high quality and so I give High Society! a "4" out of "5" for Style. (And I ultimately offer this with a slight caveat because I know that some of my fellow playtesters would have given it a "3" out of "5", having preferred smaller game components and a cheaper production.)
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 rotate around the table with each new item put up for bid.
The Bidding: The core of the game centers around a simple auction system. A bid item card is 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 your 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.
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 big-screen TV, while "10" is a private island estate). 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 affect:
- Tax Evasion: Marked "1/2" and halves your final status total. Colored red, just like the recognition cards.
- Gambling Debt: Marked "-5" and subtracts 5 from your final status total. Colored gold, just like the luxury possession cards.
- Thief: Causes you to discard one luxury possession card of your choice, or, if you don't have one, the first luxury possession card you receive. Colored blue.
End Game: The three recognition cards and the Tax Evasion 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: 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 gambling debt), then multiplying for recognition (or tax evasion). The 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. Knizia has since released a second set of auction games in 1999 and 2000, which includes: Ra, Taj Mahal, Traumfabrik, and Merchants of Amsterdam. Auction games seem a common subject in European games. A notable French auction designer is Bruno Faidutti, who released Fist of Dragonstones (a closed auction), Queen's Necklace (a turn-based Dutch auction) and many more, often in conjunction with other designers.
Looking at Knizia's own works, you can see bits and pieces of the design of High Society! mirrored in many other games. Gold Digger and Kingdoms are a few other Knizia games involving players adding and subtracting numeric values throughout a game to arrive at a final score. (High Society is much superior to Gold Digger; as for Kingdoms: you'll like it better if you're a fan of tactics, and you'll like High Society better if you a fan of auctions and bidding.)
The Game Design
Overall a strong game design, here's some of the nice factors in High Society!:
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.
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.
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, the money cards already 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.
I find myself somewhat at a lost on the final Substance rating. The design of High Society! is very solid and it does a very good job as a waiting-for-people-to-arrive or last-game-of-the-night game. However, if you're looking for a longer, more strategic, and more variable game, this won't fit the bill. Ultimately, though, a game should be rated for what it is. 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.