My journey to actually getting around to playing High Society took a surprisingly long time, considering that I am both a Euro-lover in general and a member of the cult of Knizia. Unfortunately, at the time when I started to get really interested in tracking High Society down, it was in between printings and companies, at least as far as getting a copy in this country was concerned..
Fortunately for me, Griffin Games came to the rescue and reprinted it, along with Money, another Knizia game that I had been wanting to try out. I snagged both of them and got Money onto the table without much trouble. Unfortunately, poor High Society fell under the curse of “too many games, not enough time”.
Finally, I put it on the table and threatened to hold my breath until I turned blue if we didn’t play the darn thing.
So we played High Society and it went from “That box over there” to “We still have a little time. Let’s play High Society.”
I admit I had been a little worried about how it would actually play. While High Society does have a good reputation, we had all played plenty of auction games. Everything I had read about High Society had it weighted on the light side of the scales and how different and unique was one more auction game going to be?
High Society managed to crush those fears and exceed my expectations. Instead of just another auction game, it turned out to be a very tight game full of tough decisions that very much had its own flavor and feel. While it only takes about fifteen minutes to play, they are a very full fifteen minutes.
While most of you probably already know how to play the game, here’s a brief rundown of how it goes. It’s an auction game themed around the idea that the players are the insufferable rich and bidding on luxury items that will give them prestige. Every player gets a handful of cards that are different denominations and everyone has the same distribution. The auction deck consists of sixteen tiles. Ten of them represent straight up stuff that is worth points while the other six are either multipliers or penalties. Four of the tiles are red and the fourth red tile turning up automatically ends the game.
The auctions themselves are very simple. You keep on going around the table while people either raise or pass. Last person left standing pays their bid and gets the tile. In the case of the penalty cards, the first person to pass gets the tile and everyone else has to pay their bid.
And of course there’s a catch. Whoever has the least money when the game ends automatically loses. If there is a tie for poorest, there is no tie breaker. They’re all out. I’m sorry. This is a game about rich folks and if you’re not rich, you’re not winning, no matter how much cool stuff you have.
That little detail, that you have to have money in your pocket as well as points in front of you, is what turns High Society from a completely forgettable game to a rock-solid one. Add on the fact that you don’t know exactly when the game is going to end and you have a solid little game that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
All auction games have brinkmanship, the struggle to find out how far you can push the price and how far you yourself are willing to go. I can’t think of a single game that includes auctions where going broke is a good idea. However, in High Society, going broke definitively cinches that you are going to lose.
And just to add a bit of salt to your wounds, since everyone has the same mix of money, other players can figure out the state of your wallet, if they’re willing to pay attention. Let me tell you, playing High Society with an accountant is a trip. Playing it with an accountant who likes to play poker, that’s even more of a trip
It took me years from first hearing about High Society to finally playing it. Not every older game lives up to the hype. I honestly didn’t expect High Society to. In the end, though, it reminded me why I started for looking for Knizia games in the first place.