[Editors note: The following is a Nemesis Review, featuring opinions from our in-house eurogamer, @Farmerlenny, and his deadly enemy the thematic space-loving @Futurewolfie. Make sure to read both opinions to get a better overall picture of the game!]
When I lived with my sister, she used to love watching shows that involved house flipping, the practice of buying low and selling high. She liked the home upgrade part. Ho-hum. I was interested in the business side—how much did the person get for fixing up that house? Was it a wash, or did they make some fat cash?
With the recent recession, house flipping is on a bit of a hiatus as a boom industry. But it’s possible to relive the glory days through a little card game called For Sale.
(Ed. Note: The pictures in this review are from @FarmerLenny’s copy of the game, the old Uberplay edition. It has since been released as part of the Gryphon Bookshelf Series with much the same components.)
How It Works
The goal of For Sale is to end the game with the most money. The game is played in two phases and with two thirty-card decks. In the first phase, players bid to acquire high-valued properties; in the second phase, players bid their properties to earn the highest-valued checks.
At the start of the game, each player receives an amount of money in cardboard coins, $14,000 to $18,000 in $1,000 and $2,000 increments, depending on the number of players. Players have the option to keep their treasuries secret (I normally stash mine in my shirt pocket, the benefit of wearing unhip clothes). Each phase is played in rounds of bidding. At the start of a round, someone will flip over a number of cards equal to the number of players. In the first round, these cards represent houses valued 1 to 30, 1 being a cardboard box, 30 being the space station. (It’s been said that each picture has an animal somewhere in it; I haven’t found every animal, but finding the animals can keep wary players involved in the game.)
The player who won the last bid will begin the round. On a turn, a player will have a binary choice: bid or pass. To bid, a player must bid at least $1,000 more than the last bid. To pass, a player will take back half of his bid (rounded down) and keep the lowest-numbered property still available. (If a player hasn’t bid and wants to pass, he takes the lowest-numbered property for free.) Bidding continues until every player but one has passed. That last player pays the whole bid but takes the highest-numbered property. The round continues until the property deck runs out. That’s it for phase one.
In phase two, at the start of each round a number of cards equal to the number of players is flipped over. The cards in phase two are checks, ranging from $0 to $15,000 (with two of each in the deck, skipping $1,000). During each round, players will secretly select one card from their hand of properties to “bid” for the checks. Once each player has chosen a property to bid, players reveal their bid simultaneously. The highest property takes the highest check, and so on down the line.
After the check deck runs out, players count their money, and the player with the highest total wins.
For Sale is simple and quick (a game can be played even with newbies in about 15 minutes), and it doesn’t seem like much, but it is hands down, far and away my favorite “filler” game.
For Sale is a filler game in the best sense. I realize the term “filler” is often used derogatorily in the hobby gaming world to denote a quick game that doesn’t require much strategy, fluff that non-gamers might enjoy but something that won’t satisfy meatier tastes. While it’s true that this game is quick to play and is no brain-burning Euro, I think the choices are interesting enough to keep a broad range of gamers engrossed.
I’ll admit: a good deal of the reason I’m enamored of For Sale is that I love auction games. Ra is one of my favorites, and bidding in general is a way to make fast friends. (El Grande, anyone?) But while I admit my predisposition toward auction games, I think there’s more to my love for this game than that.
One thing I love about For Sale is the breadth of its applications. I can’t think offhand of anyone I’ve taught it to that didn’t like it. I’ve taught it to young and old, male and female, gamer and non, and all have enjoyed what it had to offer. I introduced it to some high school boys who usually play games in a cool, subdued way, and even they were emotionally invested in the game’s outcome and asked for another round. The simple rules make it a good choice for a game to teach and play on the fly, and the high stakes of buying and selling real estate work to keep players invested.
I also like the streamlined play. Because each turn involves a binary choice—bid or pass?—the game moves briskly. But just because the choice is binary does not mean it is easy. Players have to weigh their options. Do they settle for the lowest-numbered property, or should they bid, risking that they will have to pay the full amount? Players only have $14,000 to $18,000, so while the 30 is attractive, is it worth an $8,000 bid? How much do I have to bid to keep someone else out of the running? How can I get the elusive second-place property so that I still get half my bid back but end up with a decent property? In the second phase, what do I think the other players are bidding so I can take the highest check for the lowest bid possible? The game is such that one player won’t win every bid, so the balance comes in determining which bids are worth winning and which aren’t. And in the second phase, having the highest property cards is not a sure sign of victory. Bidding high when everyone else bids low can waste a high-valued property; sacrificing a lower-valued property can sometimes ensure victory in a later round.
For Sale is not a game to organize a group around, and it’s best with the full six players (though still fun with four or five), but it’s a welcome addition to any game night or maybe even any gathering (…okay, let’s say most gatherings). It may not be a game you can play for hours, but it fulfills its purpose as a filler game marvelously. I think every collection should include this game.
I’m not a fan of auction games. I’ll be honest, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m not very good at them. The only auctions I’ve ever been to are those at sci-fi conventions where they auctioned off signed posters and memorabilia that people pay ungodly large amounts for, and I just have no interest in that. In games about strategic, long-term bidding, I feel like I never know when to hold back or when to really go for it. (Incidentally, I also suck at Poker. I will not play you for money).
So here it is folks: I enjoy For Sale. I think it’s a great little game. It’s very simple and very quick, and it breaks the auctioning down to a very basic, easy-to-work-with level. When you bail on the auction, you get something. The items you bid for are clearly distinguished—namely in that they, too, are basically just more numbers to bid with—making it a lot easier to determine what’s worth bidding on and what’s not.
Even if you mess up a few rounds of the first phase, the way the second phase works gives you hope to recover some of that amount. True, a lot comes down to luck. You may end up every round being a 15-10-5-1 arrangement on the checks available, but far more likely you’ll get a 10-9-9-8 or something like that so you can blow your low-valued properties and make up a lot of points.
It helps that the game is quick. Even if you managed to land a complete set of absolutely mediocre properties, it doesn’t take too long to finish up. You can do your best to recover and if you don’t… well, there’s always another round.
For Sale is definitely easy to learn—the concept of bidding is fairly familiar even with non-gamers, and there are no extreme twists or hidden rules to catch you up. It’s a game you can essentially teach by playing through, and it goes so fast you’ll probably play two or three games before even thinking about quitting.
The art is friendly and colorful, and it supports up to six players (the more the merrier, I say!), so it should serve as a pretty good family game, a quick filler between games (or maybe as that break for Twilight Imperium…), or just to pass a little time with friends.
The game knows what it is, and it’s implemented quite well. No complaints here from me. Except this: supposedly there is an animal drawn/hidden in each one of the property cards. But I cannot for the life of me find anything on the space station. If you know where/what it is… please let me know in the comments. It’s driving me nuts.