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Review: Lady Richmond

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In 2015, HABA–traditionally known as a publisher of fine children’s games–exploded into the family market with the hits Karuba, Adventure Land, and Spookies (all of which received very favorable reviews on iSlaytheDragon). Lady Richmond is among the new set of family games following 2015’s auspicious start. How does it compare to the earlier darlings?

How It Works

Lady Richmond is an auction game for two to five players. Players are potential heirs to Lady Richmond, fighting for their inheritance at the auction block. The player with the most valuable assets at the end of the game wins.

Lady Richmond set up for four players.

To begin, each player gets three “cheat” tiles in their color, along with 10 coins (which they may keep secret). The auction board is placed within reach of all players, and the red auction block is placed in the center of the board. The treasury box is placed near the board. Seven cards are laid out face-down.

Players take turns revealing cards one at a time until one player grabs the auction block. That player makes an opening bid, and bidding proceeds clockwise around the table. If a player passes, that player may not reenter the auction. Once all players but one have passed, that player pays the bid coins into the treasury box and claims all face-up cards for a personal face-down score pile.

Each player also has three “cheat” tiles, each of which can be used once per game during their turns to bid. One tile allows a player to “borrow” money from another player. One allows the player to switch a card won previously with a card on the board (face-down or face-up). And one allows the player to look at two face-down cards.

Most cards have a basic point value (positive or negative), but there are also auctioneer cards that change the flow of the auction by discarding cards, pausing the auction, replenishing all players’ money, or causing an auction for face-up and face-down cards.

The point cards in Lady Richmond. The value of lots is very easy to discern in this game, although deciding how much to bid is still a challenge.

The game ends when the last card is revealed. Players count up their points, and the player with the most points is the winner.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gimmicks

HABA often includes on the back of its boxes a scale that lets players know what they’re in for. While this scale can sometimes be misleading (what game won’t have maxed out fun?), in the case of Lady Richmond, it is right on. Because when you hear that Lady Richmond is an auction game, you might think of chin-stroking hobbyists quietly puzzling the right price for what’s on offer. But the high “excitement” scale here and only middling “strategic” rating should clue you in that, well, this isn’t your grandmother’s auction game.

Maxed out excitement with not a lot of strategic decisions–this is an apt appraisal of Lady Richmond.

And for some, that will be welcome news indeed. And the person who doesn’t typically like auction games (or who doesn’t know that auctions are a “thing” in hobby games) is probably the primary target for this one. That is to say, this isn’t a game to rally your Ra or Medici group around; you’ll want to save this one for the family.

Lady Richmond is full of gimmicks intended to draw in skeptics through sheer charm. First, there’s the thematic window dressing of potential heirs fighting over an inheritance. Each player ostensibly inhabits the role of one of these heirs, receiving three tokens that match the art, but while the rulebook includes a brief backstory of each character, this really is just window dressing. But the window dressing works. I remember the game 13 Dead End Drive from when I was a kid, and the illustrations here have a similar vibe–and a similar charm. Greedy heirs fighting at an auction house, while perhaps not as exciting as space exploration or daring adventure, is a whole lot more interesting than trading in the Mediterranean, at least (again) if you’re trying to cast a wider net.

The rulebook includes a flavorful (and unnecessary) backstory for each of the players in the game.

Then there’s the way auctions are started: simply by someone grabbing the auction block. Unlike, say, Ra, where you can use your turn to call for an auction–like a civilized person–in Lady Richmond, it’s a free-for-all. This is a little subtle, because from reading the rules and even the first time I played it, I didn’t see the advantage of being the first to reach for the block. You get first bid…but why does that matter? Well, Lady Richmond is not a brain-burning strategy game. There’s luck, speed, and even a little spite involved, and players have to be crafty. Each player has three cheats, each of which can be used only once, and cheats can only be used when it’s your turn to bid or pass. This means that if you want to snatch up that high-value card before another player can, you might want to start an auction and switch it out before another player has the chance. Or if you know that other players are low on funds, you might be able to get a bargain by starting the bidding at more than they can afford. (Of course, funds can shift hands through the “borrowing” cheat and it can be hard to track hidden funds anyway.) So even though this is mostly a gimmick (each player can only cheat once, and bidding first is not always–perhaps even often?–an advantage), it works.

The auction block. Gimmicky, but also pretty.

Then there’s the components. Each player has wooden coins, and these are oversized and satisfying. Do they need to be this way? No, but they’re great. Winning bids are paid to a treasury, a free-standing cardboard “box” that hides the money spent from players’ view. Is this necessary? Again, I would say no, but it’s a nice component and I’m not sad it’s included. The auction block is a chunky wooden piece with gold foil shapes on it–again, probably more lavish than required. In each of these cases, the look of the game serves as a gimmick to get players involved.

The coins are large and wooden. Very cool.

Without the gimmicks, I’m not sure I would enjoy Lady Richmond much. With the gimmicks, I’m still not sure I should enjoy Lady Richmond much. But there’s a quality here beyond the gimmicks and the simple rules that makes it fun to play, even if I wouldn’t say it’s a great game.

The coin box where bids are paid. Again, gimmicky, but a nice component.

The problems with the game as an auction game are fairly obvious, at least if strategy is your highest ideal. First, there’s the luck of the draw. Seven cards are added to the auction board whenever the previous cards are removed, and cards are revealed one at a time. There’s no rhyme or reason to when things come out. This in itself is not necessarily bad. I love both Ra and Medici, and in both games, players don’t know what will be drawn next from the bag or revealed from the deck.

But in Lady Richmond, even what you think you’re bidding on can change because of the cheats. You may think you’re bidding on a valuable artifact only to find it switched with pickled eggs, and you don’t get to change your bid when a switch occurs. Or you might think you have just enough money to remain in the running for the bid, only to have your precious coins snatched from you. You might value lots poorly and waste your money early only to be brought back into the game (essentially rewarded for your profligacy) through an auctioneer card. All of these things can be infuriating–if what you’re after is a strategy game. Even though you can plan for these things–Forrest still has his switch cheat, so I’d better bid low to make sure the item is still there–the chaos they introduce to what would otherwise be a fairly tame game makes the whole premise shaky.

The nasty switch cheat can change the value of an auction in a heartbeat.

But, again, this isn’t a strategic auction game; it’s an exciting family game. And when you view the game through this rubric, even the “unfairness” of switches, borrows, and windfalls is a little more forgivable. I’m sure there are countless people who have sat through auction games with, effectively, nothing to do because they played poorly early on. I’m sure there are countless others who have checked their phones impatiently while Calculating Callie figures out the exact value of a lot. Auction games are some of my favorites, but not everyone feels the same, and for them, the brand of gimmicks Lady Richmond introduces might be just what the auctioneer ordered. The rules are simple (and the scoring is even simpler), the game doesn’t disqualify poor play, and it’s fast. And you might find yourself laughing, too, as you adjust your expectations.

Each player has three cheats, each of which can be used once per game. These serve to make the game more exciting but less strategic–again, Lady Richmond is targeting a specific audience.

That’s how it went for me and my group who are mostly seasoned auction game players. I taught the rules, and I saw many raised eyebrows. One player bid high for an early lot, which was promptly rewarded with a payday auctioneer card, essentially giving him his earnings for free. After this inauspicious beginning, however, players began to loosen their grip on strategy and lean into the luck inherent in the game system–paying large sums in the hope that another payday was soon to arrive. I once paid 11 coins (I “borrowed” from a neighbor) for a set of dentures because I wasn’t watching carefully enough who had their switch cheats remaining. (A payday soon followed, reviving my fortunes–and my chances.) I’m not saying this “forgives” the game (if anything requires forgiveness)–for my taste, I’d still rather play Ra, Medici, Modern Art, Mogul, High Society, Money, etc.–but I can see this reaching a different audience than those games, and I’m not averse to playing it some more in those situations.

It might be time to call an auction…

Lady Richmond‘s box says “game night approved,” and while I’m not sure I’d bring this one out with my hobbyist friends–it is a little more chaotic than our tastes run–it seems like a good choice for a family game night or for introducing a more casual crowd to auctions. It’s more forgiving than almost any of Reiner Knizia’s auction games, and while I wouldn’t rank it with these in terms of interest, it does provide the high “excitement” promised on the scale on the back of the box. As an auction fan, I would seldom choose this, but if someone else wanted to play, I wouldn’t turn down playing (or secretly die inside). If you know what you’re getting yourself into–this is a very simple auction game dressed up in gimmicks–Lady Richmond should delight. While I don’t think it’s as good or bound to be as universally loved as the other games in HABA’s family line, Lady Richmond is a pleasant diversion, as long as you can enter with the spirit of a greedy and unscrupulous inheritor.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank HABA USA for providing us with a copy of Lady Richmond for review.

  • Rating 7.0
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Summary

Pros:

Great components dress up the game
The game is exciting and unpunishing, which makes it more accessible to those who don't usually play auction games
Simple rules and scoring make this a breeze to teach.

Cons:

The game is subject to potentially large swings of luck and uncertainty
Some of the design choices intended to cause excitement don't make much gameplay difference
This is not really a game for hobbyists

7.0 Good for Gimmicks

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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