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High Society; Elegance and Strategy Intertwined

In the highly probable scenario that I were to be trapped on a desert island with two other hardcore gamers and a light, medium, and heavy game, I would have to make sure I was stranded with 'High Society' occupying  the 'light' slot.  

Dr. Knizia's gem from the 90s is without question a paragon of beautiful game design - it consists of a deck of 16 cards numbered 1-10 plus three 'good' (point multiplying) cards and 3 'bad' (point reducing) cards. Each round, a card from the 16 is flipped, and players bid to see who will take it. The person who acquires the most points wins. Each player has an identical hand consisting of money used to acquire - or avoid, in the case of the 'bad' - cards. The game ends when the fourth card with a particular design is turned over - and this is a complete unknown - it could theoretically end up as the last card (this hasn't come close to happening in my hundred-plus plays:).

For those who enjoy pure auctions, this is a delight: far simpler than Ra, and with more immediate gratification than Modern Art, High Society also enjoys a strong push-your-luck element, as players sweat over whether to expend irreplaceable high-denomination cards and gamble that the game really has no chance of ending soon.

I'm under the spell of the purity and simplicity of this game. It take no more than 5 minutes to explain, and everyone who plays it enjoys it. It's also scores very high in my own 'strategy per cubic inch' metric of quality.

There are (at least) two delicious treats in this game: There is a shadow of Knizia's trademark 'best of the rest' victory condition in the rule that - at the end, before points are even tallied - the immediate loser is the one with the least money in her hand. This genius rule binds players not to overbid, no matter how much their inner voice/greed/victory lust demands otherwise. 

The other delightful - and game-making, in my opinion - mechanic is the 'avoid bad cards' auction. This means that you are bidding to AVOID the terrible (eg 'lose 5 points' or 'divide your score in half') card that occasionally shows up. One can literally hear Inigo Montoya (or me, if I'm playing) shout 'to the pain' as players decide whether to expend precious resources to avoid the card or simply to eat it. Man, it's good.

I have but one caveat to this game: To relish it, one must play with exactly three (3) players. This is essentially a perfect information game - card counters can do tremendous damage if they know that the player across from them simply cannot beat their bid because they've already expended the card to do so. Because of this perfect information - the only question is how the 16 cards are ordered - players can exploit the game system to their own ends. This is largely impossible when more than three players are involved, not only because one can't directly impact another - which pressure is part of the game's joy for me - but also because that extra bid or two loosens the incredible tightness of the play. It's still fun with more, but more random; kind of like when three people play pool together, versus two.

 Get thee High Society.


1 comment

  • Thank you for the review! Validates my appreciation of this game. I agree, frequently this game gives you a ridiculous climactic moment relative to its size and weight. I do have to say though… It was not Inigo Montoya That said “to the pain”. It was Wesley
    Nick

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