Innovative Auction Mechanics in Games
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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This list highlights auctions in games that have a twist. Not a twist, but a twist.

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A pitfall I find with subjective lists like this is that too many "weak" items (things you think are cool but others might not) get added, making them unwieldy to read. Hence, I will sort this list by thumb count every night. I will account for items that were added later on (and have a shorter thumbing window). So thumb if the mechanic sounds cool, and you're gonna go check out the game now, not merely because you know the mechanic.

I'd use polls so you don't feel like you're thumb-bombing me, but they're a hassle when the list is open to new items.

If you thumb the list, more people might notice it and filter the items better. And more people might thumb your item.

If you add a game, please add only those with auction/bidding mechanics with a twist, which means no English (open) auctions, blind-bidding, once-around etc. A good rule-of-(not)-thumb is: if it's in Modern Art, it doesn't count. Please describe the mechanic sufficiently, intending it for somebody who hasn't played the game before.

I am especially interested to see if there is a game with a Vickrey auction: reveal bids simultaneously, and winner pays the second-highest bid.
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1. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:219]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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This game is notable for multiple-item auctions. Each person will obtain one house every round. First person to pass on the bidding will obtain the lowest-valued house, and pay only half his bid. Repeat until there is only one bidder left. This highest bidder pays his full bid.
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2. Board Game: Metropolys [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:455]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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In Metropolys, the value of what you're bidding for (you bid for spaces) changes with every bid! This means you sometimes want to pass, then jump back in later. Or sometimes you want to put in a small bid even if you don't like the current space, in hopes of nudging the space up for bid toward a place you want, at the risk of winning that undesirable space. Either way, you have to think very carefully about the exact amount you bid.
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3. Board Game: Merchants of Amsterdam [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1021]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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This one features a Dutch auction: the price keeps going down, and the item goes to the first person to slam the thing.



Theoretically, this should yield similar results to an English auction. In practice, this thing is tense, and it's easy to overpay for things. Perfect for using against AP-prone players.
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4. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:95]
Swood
United States
Stamford
Connecticut
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As you may well know, the twist in RA is the fact that players can only bid with a small selection of fixed, unique values. Each player begins with a set of bidding tiles that are evenly balance, but completely unique.

Upon winning an auction, the player must surrender the winning tile and exchange it for the previous winning tile. This newly received tile may be higher or lower in value than the one just surrendered.

Therefore, each successive auction win will serve to increase or decrease your future auction viability simply through the act of participation.

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5. Board Game: Don [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:2163]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Players bid money to "own" numbers (1-9; they're colored too, but that doesn't matter for the auction). It's an open auction, but:

1. You cannot bid a number whose last digit corresponds with a number you already have in your play area.
2. The winning bid is distributed among players who own the last digit of the winning bid (note this means you can never give part of your winning bid back to yourself). This is the only way to obtain more money.

This introduces a dynamic where owning more numbers makes it easier to get more money (and the cards are worth VPs), but also makes it easier for other players to screw you. If your opponent owns 3, 4, 5 and 6, bid 2 and watch him agonize over whether to up his bid to 7, or let you have a cheap deal.
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6. Board Game: Money! [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1027]
Ender Wiggins
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In this clever Knizia game, players use blind bidding to auction off two featured lots of money. So you're using money to bid for more money! Highest bidder gets first choice, then second highest bidder, etc, all the way down to the lowest bidder. How's that possible? Here's the twist:

1. If you take one of the two lots, the money you bid replaces it and becomes a new lot available to the other players to get with their bids. This creates a delicious tension: by making a high bid in order to get the cards you need, you may be giving away cards with high values that other players need!

2. Instead of taking one of the two lots, you can use the money you bid to take the money bid by another player - but then the money you bid becomes their new bid. So if you choose to take the bid offered by another player, it means that you're giving them cards with a higher face value than what you're getting (and they'll be next in the bidding order, and so get to choose next), so you better be certain that the benefits are worthwhile!



Want to know more? See my pictorial review:
mb So you're wondering about the new Gryphon Games edition of Money!
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7. Board Game: Zahltag [Average Rating:5.76 Overall Rank:7375]
Steve Duff
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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You bid on government contracts, so it's the low bidder that wins, and receives payment in the amount bid.

If you tie for low bid, you share the contract for a lesser amount, so it's possible to lose money.
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8. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:177]
Donald Dimitroff
United States
Beltsville
Maryland
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Right now I am feeling very: turbed, pirited, heveled, combobulated, and not tinguished, so don't you dare "dis" me!
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A set are regions are up for bid.
Players in turn place their markers in a region.
Prices are: 0-1-3-6-10-15-21-etc.

If a player is outbid for region, that player must move his marker to a different region. He cannot bid in the region he was just in (unless he has a special card).

Bidding continues in the manner until all players have bid on a region.
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9. Board Game: New England [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1188]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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This Moon/Weissblum design has an unusual mix of auctioning and drafting. On your turn, you select a price from 1 to 10, with the proviso that no two players can select the same price. Players then go in order from highest price to lowest price and when it comes around to you, you can take one or two of the available items, paying the price you selected for each one. So you can go for a high price, allowing you buy the best items, but it will cost you. Similarly, picking a low price will save you money, but you may only have crap to choose from. It's a nice, innovative mechanic in a subtle and underrated game.
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10. Board Game: Das letzte Paradies [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:8360]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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You asked for it, you got it. This early Knizia game uses a Vickrey auction system, where the players bid in the fist, but the winner only has to pay the amount of the second highest bid. This is nice, as it alleviates the frustration of badly overbidding in a blind bidding game. There are some other nice ideas in this game as well, such as the variable worth of properties. Unfortunately, the ideas don't gel that well and the game is hugely overproduced (and subsequently very expensive). It's little remembered today, but it does use Vickrey.
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11. Board Game: Oasis [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:851]
Gerald McDaniel
United States
Lakewood
Colorado
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In Oasis, each player 'bids' for player order in the next turn. Bids are made by turning over face-down cards in your stack. You do not know the card until it is turned over (placed as a bid). You then decide whether to add to your bid with a second card, and then with a third. The current first player selects the bid that appeals to him most, collecting and/or playing items designated by the cards selected. Then, the 'first player' token moves from that player to the one whose bid he accepted. Likewise, the second player, third player, etc.

The twist is that you don't know what you are placing as your bid before you place it, and you then have to decide whether to try to sweeten your bid or leave it as is. You can bid up to three cards. If you bid with one card, you draw two cards to add to your stack; if you bid two cards, you draw one; if you bid three cards, you draw none. So, you have to balance your effort to be 'first player' with the loss of cards from your stack, reducing your future bid strength. Also, the more cards you bid, and the more lucrative your bid, the better your opponents come out of that turn.

I think it is an interesting concept and a game I enjoy playing.
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12. Board Game: Nefertiti [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:661]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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Place bids in different multiple-item auctions. When the auction closes, bids are resolved in order from highest to lowest. The highest bidder has to pay his bid into a pool, but obtains a bonus in addition to the item he wins. All subsequent bidders have a choice: pay their bid for an item from the auction, or take half the money in the pool.
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13. Board Game: Medici vs Strozzi [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1259]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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In this two-player game, the auction is very simple: the active player sets a price and his opponent either pays it and takes the tiles, or she lets the active player pay it for the tiles. It doesn't sound like much, but it's absolutely brilliant; correct valuation is critical and this procedure cuts to the chase immediately, which really rachets up the tension.

M vs. S also shares the innovation found in the original Medici, where the active player chooses how many tiles to auction on his turn, turning the tiles over one at at time before deciding when to call for an auction.
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14. Board Game: Industria [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1223]
Ian Klinck
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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One player is the auctioneer, and selects which order a set of tiles are auctioned. After the other players bid, the auctioneer can decide whether to accept the highest bid (and keep the money), or decline all bids and keep the auctioned tile - but the auctioneer role passes to the next person!
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15. Board Game: Varg Bid [Average Rating:6.06 Unranked]
P.D. Magnus
United States
Albany
New York
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A minimalist auction game in which players bid for point cards. Players take turns putting cards up for auction and playing cards to bid on them. The twist is that the bid cards and the point cards come from the same hands. A players with a high-rank card must decide whether to put it up for auction (hoping to win it) or save it for bidding.

This is one of the games in The Decktet Book. In the published version, players have to pay their bids even if they lose the auction.

An aside: Although I wrote The Decktet Book, this game was designed by Felbrigg Herriot.
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16. Board Game: 'Ohana Proa [Average Rating:8.00 Unranked]
J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
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A marginal utility listing at best as the game is unpublished. The auction is straight-forwardly odd. It is built from standard bits, but couched in an odd framework that leads to schizophrenic players.

In 'Ohana Proa, players in turn-order iteratively explore routes among islands by placing a fee on them. The fee can be in either of two currencies (one is worth twice as much as the other). This is repeated in turn order for a second route, and then (optionally and expensively) a third. The total value of all fees spent by a player on route exploration determines the turn order for the rest of that round and the exploration order for the next round.

So far, so simple: a fairly straight-forward 2-pass auction with an expensive option for a third pass. Bidding is done using fixed currencies and there is a strong contextual advantage to being both first and last (ie players will often alternate being early and late in turn order). Except that the currencies rot: Fish (one of the currencies) last two rounds before having to be discarded, and one third of each player's shells (the other currency) must also be discarded each round. Thus there is an enforced time-value to money. Next, the routes being explored will (can) in future produce the currency used to explore them, and there is a commanding need to have an income-balance (usually not 50/50, but rather an inverse of the gestalt of the other players) of both currency-types in order to buy short-lived gifts for other players, which also rot and which are time and turn-order sensitive.
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17. Board Game: Katzenjammer Blues [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:3714]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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I'm not sure what the first game was where the players use the items being bid on to make their bids for subsequent auctions, but 1998's Katzenjammer Blues is the first I can think of. Players bid on groups of cards, using cards they've won in previous auctions by arranging them in poker-style melds. It forces the players to incrementally improve their hands and, with two or three players, makes for a very tense and skillful game.
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18. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:454]
Huzonfirst
United States
Manassas
Virginia
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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This game uses an Evo-style auction, but the twist is that players can't change the amount of their bid if someone outbids them. Consequently, they have to be careful about bidding too low, lest they be left with nothing left to bid on (each tile has a minimum bid). Another innovation is that some of the available tiles can only be "conquered", which means you can buy it (with no chance of being outbid) if you pay $3 more than its minimum bid.
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19. Board Game: Edel, Stein & Reich [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:801]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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This, together with Nefertiti, Lowenherz and Tower of Babel, features what I like to call "Surplus Transfer Auction", a hybrid of auction and trading. The winner pays the loser some money as a consolation prize.

In Edel, Stein & Reich, players simultaneously select one out of three actions. If 2 players select the same action, they take turns upping bids of gemstones to each other. Whoever "wins" this auction (offer is accepted) gets to take the action, but has to pay the loser his bid.

Go for the strong action and risk an auction, or go for the weak one and hope nobody takes it? Or just try and block what you think Player X will choose? If you're caught in the auction, make an offer your opponent can't refuse, or milk one from him!
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20. Board Game: The Golden City [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:1121]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Not sure if this is the best auction mechanism to translate into a game mechanic, but anyway, The Golden City features an all-pay auction, a la Swoopo. Your first bid is free. Every subsequent bid costs a little more.

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21. Board Game: Löwenherz [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:508]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Similar to Edel, Stein & Reich. Differences:

1. Players take turns selecting actions, instead of simultaneously choosing them, so there is more control over whether to have an auction.
2. If 2 players cannot agree on a mutually beneficial bid, then they participate in a blind-bid all-pay auction to determine who gets to perform the action (and loser gets nothing), while the other players rub their hands in glee.
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22. Board Game: Tower of Babel [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:913]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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This one is so twisted it might deserve its own mechanic.

The contractor role is passed around in fixed turn order. Each turn, the contractor "puts an item up for auction" as a call for assistance in obtaining that item. Other players make simultaneous bids/proposals to the contractor. The contractor decides whose offers to accept ("winners") and whose to reject ("losers"). "Losers" get consolation points in addition to retracting their bids. "Winners" pay their bids and, together with the contractor, get a share of the item: a chance at majority and set collection bonuses.

An astute contractor, however, tries to ensure the benefits he gains from the accepted proposals far outweigh that gained by the "winners".
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23. Board Game: Vasco da Gama [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:279]
Sheamus Parkes
United States
Carmel
Indiana
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It's subtle. But in many ways you are bidding on the actions. The prices aren't set in stone, but you are wagering that you will pay more to do an action first...
 
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24. Board Game: Queen's Necklace [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1315]
Ian Klinck
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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A reverse auction: Every turn, the price of the items available drops, and the player can buy them for that price.
 
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25. Board Game: Mü & More [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:525]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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On the surface, it's simple: you bid cards from your hand (revealing a little information about your hand), and highest bidder is the Chief, 2nd-highest bidder is the Vice. Both roles are captains of their respective team in trying to score the most points through trick-taking.

But you're allowed to underbid (bid less than the highest value), and this brings in a whole mess of signals which you have to disentangle from each player. With underbids, players might be signaling any or all of this information.

1. I have a hand that supports you and I want to be on your team!
2. Pick me for your team! (you think I have a supporting hand but I'm gonna #%!# you over on the inside)
3. I'm fishing for supporters to be on my team.
4. Don't pick me for your team.
5. ...and many more I haven't noticed yet.
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