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Your favourite lightweight auction games
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Between my different game groups, I often play a variety of lightweight auction games, usually card based. They're terrific filler games to start or end a gaming session when there isn't time for a heavy game, or not everyone has arrived.

There are lots of auction games light enough to be playable in under 45 minutes, and they've mostly got their own twist on some basic mechanics. This list includes most of the ones I own, but please add any I missed and vote for your favourite. I'd love to discover new ones.
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1. Board Game: High Society [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:611]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Probably the most unique among the games here. Every player has a set of money in several sizes (ranging from 1,000 to 25,000, no two alike) and bids on valuable cards (value 1-10) to have the most valuable collection at the end of the game.

Sounds simple? There are several really cool twists.
- When bidding you can only add more your money cards to the bid, you can't take anything back
- The auction length isn't known. It ends immediately when the 4th (of 4) red-bordered cards is turned over, the card you were waiting for may never appear.
- The person with the least money left, loses. No matter what. Don't bid too much!
- Some of the cards are negative (half points, -5, lose a card). The auctions for these are just as normal except that everyone pays their whole bid except the person who passes and takes the card.

A really fun little game, it's a shame that the latest FRED distribution version is broken (card colours visible from the side) and has to be played with the cards the box. The older Ravensburger and Überplay version also had nicer art. Check the marketplace!

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2. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:215]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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A two-stage light auction game. In the first phase players bid on properties of various values (1-30), in the second they use their property portfolio to collect money cheques from clients.

Players receive a small amount of money coins and strictly increasing bids are made on sets of four properties. Players who pass pay half their current bid and receive the least valuable property. The winner gets the best one, but pays full price.

In the second phase, sets of four cheques with values including 0 are revealed. Each player secretly chooses one of their properties and they are revealed together. The players receive the cheques in order of property value.

Twists:
- Unused money in the first phase also counts at the end of the game
- In the blind auction in the second phase, second-guessing your opponents is the key to winning. Wasting high values properties early is fatal.

This is a great and easy-to-teach game that has the appearance of more variety thanks to the two phases.

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3. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:336]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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This is a really simple game that uses a bidding mechanic we'll see a lot on this list. It has very little additional chrome so all you've got left is a really great filler game.

The object of the game is to score the least negative points. A set of cards is auctioned of with values ranging from 3 to 35. These count as negative points). Nine of the cards are discarded unseen before the game starts.

Each player has a set of plastic bidding chips and each turn may bid one chip onto the card, or pass and take the card along with any bidding chips on it. Any bidding chips in your hand are worth +1 point at the end, so they're valuable!

The twist is this: Runs of cards only score for their lowest card. If you have 30,31,32 (only worth 30) then you can take a 33 for no further penalty, but to everyone else it is -33 points! How high can you bid the pot before you risk someone else taking it. Also, since 6 cards are removed, betting that you can complete a run is very dangerous.

This game is full of 'take that!' moments and plays really quickly. Seating order and the people you're playing with can matter, but that's okay for a 20 minute game.

There's a 'tactical' variant where three of the removed cards are known (10,20,30) which can significantly change the values of some cards. Some people like it.

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4. Board Game: Felix: The Cat in the Sack [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:804]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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This is an auction game with a bidding mechanic not unlike No Thanks! or some of the other games on the list.

Players are seeking to collect cats which may have varying positive or negative values. They bid on sets of mostly unknown cats with 'mice' chips, bidding is dropping a chip in the pot from your hidden collection.

Each set of cats contains one cat chosen secretly by each player. When bidding starts only one cat is visible, as players pass and drop out (losing any money bid), more cats are turned over.

Twists:
- There are (small) set prizes of money for the people who pass, increasing as more people pass. These can be more valuable (1 pt per mouse) than a bad set of cats and a good deal unless you've already bid too high.
- Some of the cards modify the sets. Big dogs chase away the best cat, little dogs chase away the worst cat, multiple dogs fight and chase nothing away.
- As more cards are turned over fewer people at the table know exactly what's left until only one is face down. Cards are colour-coded so you know who knows what.

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5. Board Game: Biblios [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:265]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Scripts and scribes is another two-phase game, only one of which is an auction. Players attempt to control five suits of cards, resources and workers by collecting the highest total value of cards in each.

In the first phase each of the N players draws N+1 cards, keeps one, puts one face down into an auction pile and puts the rest face up on the table. The other players choose among these cards.

The cards are split between the worker and resource cards and gold cards of value 1-3.

In the second auction phase of the game, most players will have established a set of suits they plan to win. Each card in the auction deck is auctioned off for gold cards (winning bid is discarded). The exception is gold cards which are auctioned off by bidding number of cards of any kind to discard.

Gold cards are worthless at the end of the game but are the only way to win the auctions in the second phase.

Twists:
- During the card-division phase, the player only picks up one card at a time, so there could be a better card coming.
- The to-auction pile is shuffled before the auction phase which can lead to surprises
- The value for winning a particular suit can vary from 1-6, represented by dice. During the game, acquiring a Bishop card allows you to change the values of 1 or 2 of these dice up or down.
- large value cards coming up for auction can really swing the game if the leaders in those suits don't have remaining gold to bid for them.

This small game was self-published by Steve Finn and despite glowing reviews has been pretty hard to get hold of since it has only been available in his small print runs. Keep an eye out for reprints.

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6. Board Game: Don [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2144]
 
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Republished as Serengeti

This is a fairly simple set collecting game with a moderately fiendish auction wrapped around it. There are 6 suits of cards (boroughs or types of artifacts) and they are auctioned off in random sets of size 3, 2, 1, 3, 2 etc. Each player creates a value bid in front of themselves

Each suit of cards only comes in 5 values between 0 and 9 These values don't matter for scoring, only the number of cards you have in a set yielding 1,3,6,10 or 15 points for all 5 cards.

Money is closed. Auctions are simply naming an increasing value around the table with the winner paying their full bid.

Twists:
- If you pass on an auction before bidding you receive 2 money from the bank, if there is any money left there.
- You can't bid any amount whose last digit matches a card you have bought. As you collect more cards, it becomes more difficult to bid!
- When an auction is won, the money paid is divided up among players who own cards ending in a matching digit. Any leftover (or if noone has any) goes to the bank. Who does your bid benefit?

I need a few more plays of this game to get a feel for it, but it seems pretty nice. I particularly like the way you can force your opponents to overbid by bidding just below a blocked range of numbers for them, or even force them to bid an amount which gets paid to you.



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7. Board Game: Mogul [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2112]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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This game has a simple auction as the core mechanic, but adds some steps between buying things and gaining points. The game has a railway stock-market theme and winning basically involves buying up lots of stocks and cashing them in on the market before the crash.

Each player receives some bidding chips and 1 brown share. The deck of cards consists of shares in different railway companies. Each share is coloured and has a different coloured border. When a share is revealed, anyone holding the same stock receives one victory point per share held.

Players bid on each revealed share by adding a chip from their secret supply to the bid. Anyone passing takes all the chips currently in the pot and is out of the auction. The winner gets to choose to either take the share or sell any number of shares they hold that match the border colour. The person who came second in the auction gets the other option.

Twists:
- different stocks have different amount of shares, so they can be more valuable.
- it's possible to take a 'loan' at the start of your turn and collect a few money chips in exchange for victory points
- Almost all the points come from selling stocks but you have to sell yours before everyone else does.
- The crash card is shuffled into the last 5 shares. The game ends immediately when it is turned over and all remaining stocks are worthless.
- selling shares is always done at the cost of not getting another share

Seating order plays an unfortunate role in this game since some people will hardly ever let chips past, but they do they drop out of the auction. This game has some interesting mechanics that push it just a little beyond the light filler in complexity, but it still plays nicely fast.

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8. Board Game: Byzanz [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:1673]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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In this game, players compete to buy collections of goods in a serious of auctions in order to complete sets of goods for sale. There are 6 types of goods with card values ranging from 1-4, 4s being the rarest. At the end of the auction round players can sell sets of three of the same cards for a points value of the highest of the three cards. There are also wildcards can help make up a set, but have a value of 0.

The auction here is simple, lots of size starting with the number of players down to 1 are put up for auction. The lots are only revealed one at a time and players bid around the table by playing cards from their hand at face value. Bids can only be increased, no cards can be taken back.

The winner loses their bid and gains the set of cards, but they must discard one of them with the bid.

At the end of the auctions, all cards bid and all cards discarded from the won set are arranged in the market by suit and then the players in reverse order (the person who won the smallest set going first) choose to pick up all cards of a single suit (wild cards count as an extra suit)

Players create scoring sets and then discard down to 7 if they have more cards. There are 4-6 rounds depending on the number of players.

Twists:

- There's a 7-card limit between auction rounds that prevents people hoarding cards trying to collect high value sets or cards for auctions.
- Winning the earlier large sets puts you last in collecting the market sets which can be really important
- Bidding too many cards of the same colour means people who you outbid can choose from the market creating a nice set
- As you can only add cards to your bid, having only high valued cards means you are much less flexible
- Sets of 3 wildcards can be sold for 5, but this is very rarely worth it.

This game runs a little long for what it is, and the interacting bidding systems make it just a touch too fiddly for the lightness of the game. It will still get some play, though.

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9. Board Game: Lascaux [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:1863]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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This is a lightweight auction game in the spirit of Mogul or No Thanks and sits somewhere between them in weight.

The object of the game is to collect sets of cards with animal cave paintings on them. The person with the most cards of a given type receives that number of points.

Each card contains a single animal cave painting and two colours. In each auction, a set of cards is revealed to have either all 6 colours visible or a maximum of 7 cards. Players secretly select which colour cards they would like to take by selecting a bid token with their symbol and a colour on the reverse. Bidding as as No Thanks with players either adding a chip to the pile or passing. Players who pass get all the currently bid stones and place their secret colour token face down on a stack.

After the second-last player passes, the winner puts disc on the top of the pile and the discs are revealed in order (in reverse order of passing). As each disc is revealed, the owner collects any cards remaining that match the disc. The lower in the stack the more likely that you'll get no cards at all.

Twists:
- Not exactly a twist, but a cool component gimmick. The bidding stones are actually irregularly shaped pieces of iridescent shell
- Winning an auction isn't important, you only have to be ahead of people who want to grab the same colour or cards that you do. It's perfectly possible to get some interesting cards as the 3rd or 4th taker.
- The standard No Thanks balancing of good bidding
- Unclaimed cards are part of the next auctioned set so they may well suddenly become more valuable.
- The scoring mechanic of majority scores points for each card, everyone else gets zero can lead to some tension if a couple of players are competing for points, but don't make it worth trying to catch a leader in one suit.

Another fine addition to the lightweight game pantheon. Slightly nicer components than some of the other games.

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10. Board Game: Razzia! [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:809]
Jonathan Morton
Sweden
Spånga
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This is Ra in half an hour or less, and it's tiny. I'm convinced that it would out-rank Ra if it had been published first.
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11. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:178]
Andreas Johansson
Sweden
Linköping
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I spent 200 GG and all I got was this lousy overtext!
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I spent 200 GG and all I got was this lousy overtext!
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A light auction game by the good doctor Knizia.

The chief twist is that the value of the works of art(?) you are bidding on depends on the popularity of the artist, defined as the number of paintings by him/her sold during the game.
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12. Board Game: You're Bluffing! [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:884]
Steve Kearon
United Kingdom
Cardiff
Wales
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One of my favourite card auction games. Players are attempting to collect sets of four identical animals. The game ends when all sets have been won, and your VP is the sum of the animal face values times the number of sets.

Twists?

- on your turn, you can turn a card & auction it, with the highest bidder paying you or you paying the highest bidder. A great way to screw cash out of someone who really wants a card.

- instead of turning a card, you could try to grab a card off someone else. You offer cash cards (blind). If the other players accepts, he takes your cash and you get the animal. If he wants to resist, he counter-bids, and you exchange bids. Whoever bid more gets the animal.

- Cash cards are in odd denominations 0, 10, 50, 100, 200, 500. You start with 0s, 10s, 50. The others enter the game randomly as certain animals get auctioned off.

- no change given.

Another virtue is that the starting conditions can be tweaked to shorten the game length.
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13. Board Game: Bausack [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:581]
desmodus
France
Bantzenheim
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Die Ärzte, Bad Religioon, Bauhaus, Dom Perignon, In Extremo, Joy Division, Lacrimosa, New Model Army, Nirvana, Officine Panerai, Placebo, Rammstein, The Sisters of Mercy, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cure, The Mission, Die Toten Hosen, Umbra et Imago
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The mechanism is light even if the components are to be ranked in the "heavy" section.
One of my favorite games.
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14. Board Game: Circus Maximus [Average Rating:5.96 Overall Rank:5154]
Daniel Danzer
Germany
Stuttgart
southwest
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All players bid with their traders valued 1 - 8 in three steps ...
Perfectly matching this list, I guess.
 
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15. Board Game: Hoity Toity [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:896]
Jim Jackson
United States
Amity
Pennsylvania
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My wife and I enjoy introducing this to lightweight gamers. It's entertaining, well-balanced, and has a sleightly fruity bouquet, blah, blah, blah. No guff, it's a good game.
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16. Board Game: Fairy Bucks [Average Rating:5.89 Unranked]
Frank Griese
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A very light game, where cards are auctioned using Fairy Bucks (money).

Best of all, it is free to print and play.
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17. Board Game: Dream Factory [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:366]
G. L.
United States
Decatur
Georgia
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With 4 or 5, it might be a little over the 45 minute mark, especially the first time. I've had great success with this as a gateway auction game.

The problem with introducing auction games to new players is that it is generally very tough for new players to accurately price the value of a lot. I think this game counteracts that to some extent; the direct translation of money into points helps make the value of a lot be more transparent to a beginning player.

I introduced this game to 4 new players just the other night. I tried to make sure I offered some basic strategy tips before we started (some rules of thumb for tile valuation, emphasized the importance of actors for parties, etc.). The final score? 70 (me), 66, 65, 62, 47. The person in last place was just overtaken at the end for some of his bonuses, and didn't get any of the Oscars. The other 4 players were all within 8 points of one another. I view the close scores as evidence that this game is both a very good gateway game and very well balanced in terms of rewarding multiple different strategies.

BTW, I have played Modern Art with the same group and while they had great fun playing snobbish art dealers for an hour, they were totally mystified by the mechanics.

I'll also second the recommendation for Bausack. I have the cheap imitation Bandu (found thrifting for 2.00), and it was the hit of Christmas this year.
 
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18. Board Game: Fiji [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:3691]
Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Another lightweight Friedemann auction game. This is another game up on the upper limit of lightweight in terms of playtime and complexity.

This is a two-stage games where players start out with an identical set of different colours gems and bid 1-4 gems blind trying to meet a set of exchange criteria (usually the most or least of a colour). The unique best match to the critera can take an effect which usually involves getting more gems, but can also modify the goal conditions.

After three sets of exchanges, the player with the best match for the goal conditions of gems collect shrunken heads. After four rounds, the player or players with the most shrunken heads wins!

Twists:
- The goal cards for each round are dealt out and are visible through the three exchange sets.
- If more than one player has the best match for a criteria, they cancel out and the next best player executes (if they are unique). It is possible noone will make an exchange
- If there are not enough gems in the supply to fully pay an action, it is skipped
- All the player bids are returned to the central supply and provide the pool of gems for the next exchange.
- some effect cards gotten from winning exchanges allow minor modifications of the goal conditions.
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19. Board Game: Varg Bid [Average Rating:6.06 Unranked]
P.D. Magnus
United States
Albany
New York
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This quick-playing auction game uses the Decktet. Although I designed the deck, FNH designed the game. It plays best with 3-4 players.

It has several nifty mechanics. Some of these:

Cards are both the items up for auction and the currency used to bid on them. Players take turns putting a card from their hand up for auction, so you need to be careful that you don't auction a big card you can't win - and conversely you want to cash in on big cards that your opponents unwisely auctioned.

You discard any cards you bid, even if you lose the auction. So you sometimes end up in bidding wars to make sure that you get something for your cards.

The game continues so long as any players have cards left. If you are the last player left and have two cards left, you can put one up for auction, bid on it with the other, and win the auction. So there is an incentive to hang on to your cards.
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20. Board Game: Katzenjammer Blues [Average Rating:5.90 Overall Rank:3707]

Eugene
Oregon
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Bid for card using the very cards you win to eventually make melds of 4-of-a-kind. The penalty for using too many wildcard jokers is the special twist. Best with 2 or 3.
 
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21. Board Game: Cash-a-Catch [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:2011]
Andreas
Germany
Nagold
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Of course there is Fangfrisch aka Cash-a-Catch where fish is auctioned, collected by the fishmongers (players) and then sold to the bank. There is an actual auction taking place with a nice mechanic: the catch is steadily growing while the price is fixed. Long waits give better deals, but might give the deal away. A fast paced game and a good filler. My review on this is here: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/436099
 
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22. Board Game: Fzzzt! [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:2016]
Maaike Fest
Netherlands
Nijmegen
Gelderland
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A great lightweight auction card game with a slight dominion influence, because the cards you win can be used for bidding in later rounds.
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