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Original article, with pictures, can been seen at http://bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com/2012/10/art-high-tea-an...
Designed by Reiner Knizia
Published by Gryphon Games (Bookshelf #5)
Players with 3-5 players
Playtime is 20-30 minutes
High Society is all about using your wealth to acquire great works of art. These works of art have values associated with them, and whoever has the most value at the end of the game wins. Players have to avoid the thief, the scandal, and the dreaded fire. The trick to the game, if you spend the most money, you automatically lose.
There are only two components to the game, a hand of bidding cards for each player, and 16 tiles to bid on. While the components are a bit sparse, they are functional. The tiles are really nice quality with excellent artwork. The bidding cards are a bit thin, but nothing horrible.
Flip a tile, bid on it until everyone has passed, rinse, repeat. Ok, maybe not that simple, but that's the core of the game. There are 3 "bad" tiles, which have slightly different rules. When one of those comes up, bidding goes until someone passes, at which point they keep their money, but suffer the consequences, while everyone else pays what they bid. The game continues this way until the 4th red boarder tile shows up, at which point the game is over. It's an auction game, but the idea that the person who spends the most automatically loses keeps the game interesting.
Like many auction games, High Society offers a good amount of back and forth between players. The "most spent = loss" mechanic keeps players on their toes. It isn't just a matter of bidding what you have, you have to have an idea of how much money other players have left. While you're not able to attack or do anything to directly mess with others, how you bid does have an impact. I would say the interaction is a bit subtle, but it's definitely there.
Though the theme is not strongly tied to the game, the theme does come through. High Society won't really make you feel rich, but bidding $25 million instead of $25 does start you down that path. I see it more as a collection game while trying not to spend the most money, but there's a theme there if you want it to be.
I'd call this a short learning curve. The game takes less than 5 minutes to explain, so it gets people in quickly. Bidding games make sense to a lot of people, though how much things are actually worth takes awhile to figure out. Hint, typically twice what the number on the art is. The special tiles are up to you.
Why I like High Society
This is one of the very few auction games I own. High Society captures the tension of auction games and keeps it short. The thing that brings me back is the twist that I've talked about over and over. It's so easy to overspend and not realize what you've done until it's too late.
Why I don't like High Society
I would have liked some more variety in the tiles that can be purchased. Not that I want more tiles in a given game, but having a larger set of tiles that could be in the game would be nice.
The game has a limited shelf life, meaning that there's only so many times you can play before it starts to feel the same. I've played this a fair amount through the iOS implementation, which is well done, but it kinda feels the same every time. New people do change the dynamics of bidding, which is good, but if you play with the same group, this will get old fast.
High Society is a well designed game. The mechanics are sound, and the game offers something different from other bidding/auction games. I kinda feel neutral about the game. It's not a bad game, but it's not great. I'll play it whenever someone asks for it, I may even suggest playing it, but it really depends on the people and the situation.
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I liked it well enough, but my wife hated it. It was that you have the lowest money you are out aspect that she hated. She also wasn't a fan of the bidding high to not receive a negative.
I love this game, and think that it's very well-designed. The fact that the lowest player is out only adds to the tension!