Scott Nicholson is a board game celebrity. The tabletop game industry is somewhat of a niche hobby, so an articulate spokesman and expert on the subject can quickly become an important and leading voice. Scott Nicholson is one of those influential voices. He was one of the first reviewers to embrace video technology when it became readily available to the masses, and his Board Games With Scott series of video reviews quickly gained a large following. It helped many new gamers, myself included, make informed decisions about which games to buy, and some of my purchases were certainly due to Scott's videos. Even though he's no longer actively doing video reviews of board game, Scott continues to enjoy a large measure of respect for the valuable and influential contribution to the game industry that these reviews made.
But a video camera alone does not a good reviewer make. Scott combined technology with his own wealth of experience about games, which includes the study of games at an academic level. He's a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, and he's made many academic contributions on the subject of games and play. He is also a regular contributor to the Dice Tower's weekly "Boardgame Breakfast" with his "Ivory Dice Tower" segment.
All this is to say that Scott knows a lot about games, and is a respected figure in the board game community. So what happens when someone like this tries his own hand at designing a board game? Scott's first published design, entitled Tulipmania 1637, appeared in 2009 and only met with mixed success. His more recent effort, Going, Going, GONE!, is a much lighter game, and has been very well received. It's a fast-paced game, where players are quickly bidding on five simultaneous real-time auctions, trying to build up a collection of items that will earn them the points to win the game. So let's find out more about this fun game that promises to provide fun for gamers and non-gamers alike!
Designer Scott Nicholson with his game
The box is somewhat big and bulky, almost surprisingly so given the components included. One of the things I really like about the cover is the artwork, which clearly features Scott Nicholson as the auctioneer, and also references his Board Games with Scott show. While this might seem over the top to some, I appreciate inside jokes like this, and think it adds to the appeal.
The back of the box lists the components you get, along with an overview of what the game is about and how to play. It includes the following description of game-play:
In Going, Going, GONE!, players try to win items by bidding on five simultaneous auctions while the Auctioneer counts down from 10 to 1! Players bid on these five simultaneous auctions by physically dropping their wooden cubes (known as "Bucks") into any or all of the five transparent Auction Cups, each of which represents an auction for one or two Item Cards. At the end of the countdown, the Auctioneer says "GONE!" and quickly places the Auction Paddle over the five Auction Cups to close the auctions. The player who has the most Bucks in each Auction Cup wins that auction and takes the Item Cards for that auction. Collections of items may be sold throughout the game for more Bucks, or players can keep building their collections to sell them at the end of the game. The player with the most Bucks at the end of the game wins!
Here's what you get with the game: ● 240 one-buck cubes (40 in 6 player colours) ● 10 ten-buck chips ● 49 item cards ● 5 auction cups ● 1 auction paddle (with instructions)
First of all we get a deck of 49 auction cards, representing the items that players will be bidding on for points. They have a linen finish and appear to be good quality. I've seen games with better artwork, but you can be the judge of that yourself. Most importantly, each card features both an item and a country.
There are seven different items (antiques, sports cards, cars, comics, games, paintings, and toys) that you can collect sets of.
And there are seven different countries (Britain, Japan, China, Italy, United States, Canada, Germany) that you can collect sets of.
Each country has a complete set of all seven items; or to phrase it differently, each item has a complete set of all seven countries. You'll earn points (bucks) by collecting sets of these through auctions. This means that there are two different ways to get sets: one item from multiple countries; or one country with multiple items. The more you have in a set, the more points you'll get.
Points in this game are represented by wooden cubes in six player colours: red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black. They are 10mm cubes, which makes them slightly larger from the standard size seen in most euro games. Altogether there's 40 in each colour.
Since you will potentially getting scores in excess of 40 points, the game also comes with some small round cardboard chips that represent 10 bucks each.
Going Going Gone also comes with five plastic cups, which are used for the auctions. Since the game consists of five real-time auctions, in which players are simultaneously placing bids by placing cubes into these cups, it's essential that they are extremely durable. I'm happy to report that these are made of very solid plastic, and should be able to stand up to a lot of use and abuse - which they're very likely to receive given the frantic nature of this game!
The game also comes with a large cardboard auction paddle which one player will use to indicate the conclusion of the auction phase by placing it on top of the five auction cups, thus preventing further bids. You will find some complaints about the quality of this paddle, with some reports that the handle came off. We haven't had any problems with it so far, but I can see the potential for damage here if it's treated roughly. I gather that future editions will eliminate the handle, so if you're looking for a quick fix, check out the solution Scott himself demonstrated in this video.
The auction paddle also doubles as an instruction manual, with the entire rules being printed on the front and back. Scott wanted something accessible, and clearly the idea of putting the rules where they can be readily referenced by the players was part of his thinking here.
Going, Going GONE can handle up to six players, and regardless of the number of players, the set-up is essentially the same. You put all five cups in the middle of the table, and give all the players 25 cubes (bucks) in their colour, placing the remainder in the box lid. The deck of item cards is shuffled and seven cards are dealt out randomly to represent the first five auctions. Two of the auctions will have lots of two cards each, while the other three auctions will have lots of one card each.
Bidding in Auctions
The game lasts for seven rounds, in other words, so over the course of an entire game you'll go through the complete deck of 49 cards. Players take turns in clockwise order to conduct a round of auctions. The auctioneer counts down from ten through zero at a steady pace, i.e. "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GONE". He can do this as fast or slow as he likes, as long as it is consistent. During the countdown, all players (including the auctioneer) frantically place cubes (bucks) in the five cups in an attempt to win the auctions in progress. When saying "GONE", the auctioneer places the paddle over the cups to prevent any further bids being made.
At this point the auction winners are determined, with ties being resolved in favour of the person closest to the auctioneer (moving clockwise from the auctioneer). Auction winners pay the cubes they bid for an auction to the supply and in return get the auction lot of cards for that auction; other players get back any cubes they unsuccessfully bid.
After a round of auctions has been concluded, players have opportunity to sell their collections in order to get more cubes (or "10 buck" chips if necessary, although you can't use these for bidding). Cards sold earn points for sets of the same item type or country, according to the chart below. So for example, three cards with different items from Canada would earn you 12 cubes, but three cards from different countries with paintings would also earn you 12 cubes.
Players sell off all their cards after the final round, and at that point the player with the most cubes/bucks is the winner! In the example below, a player has scored 76 points, largely with the help of a collection of five Japan cards (30 points), and collections of four games (20 points) and three cars (12 points).
A more strategic variant mentioned in the game's instructions is that you can play with cards face up, so that other players can see the cards you have collected so far. Scott Nicholson has come up with a whole host of other variants, some of which border on silly, but others which are genuinely amusing to try. For example, you can use the box as a backboard and have players throw cubes into the cups, effectively turning it into a dexterity game. It may sound ridiculous - until you try it, because it actually is a blast to play this way! Other variants include having players share the countdown and varying its speed, or even trading cards at the end of each round.
Auctions: I'm a big fan of auction games, and this game is all about this mechanic! Auctions can be exciting, as people get involved and engaged, and Going Going Gone does a great job of capturing the excitement that auctions can bring. The set collection mechanic would be rather uninspiring on its own, but the mechanic of bidding cubes within a short time limit really makes the game work. Scott Nicholson has a long standing interest in auction games, particularly simultaneous auction games, as you can see in episode 66 of his Board Games With Scott series (BGWS 066 - Simultaneous Auction games). It's nice to see that now he's drawn from his wealth of experience to add his own contribution to the auction genre!
Set collection: The basic mechanic of simple set-collection is easy to explain and works well. I like the fact that there are different options for collecting sets, and you can go for either matching countries or items, or even adjust your strategy as the game progresses; this helps give players varied goals to work with. You need to evaluate the auction lots quickly and shrewdly, by scanning what's available and remembering what's already in your hand, and also take into consideration what other players might be going for. While it's not nuclear physics, it's also far removed from mindless decision making. That makes Going Going Gone a party game without dispensing all strategy, because it doesn't just degenerate to pure silliness as many party games do. At the game end there can be some potential for minor analysis paralysis as players try to figure out the optimal way to arrange their sets in order to score the most points, but generally speaking it's not difficult, and anything that generates the largest set will usually produce the most points for you overall.
Fast and lively: The real-time auctions ensure that this game is super lively. The timed countdown forces bidding to be fast and frantic, and while it can be chaotic, it keeps the game fast, competitive, and light. Cubes will sometimes be flying, especially as players try to quickly get in before the auction closes and paddle slams down, and the game encourages players to make last-minute bids in this fashion. In real life, auctions often can be boistrous and noisy, while the sedate calculating auctions of most euro games tend to be somewhat the opposite. Going Going Gone restores some of the speed and excitement back into auctions. Furthermore, not only is the game-play itself very quick, but an entire game can be played in around 15 minutes, which is ideal. It certainly makes it stand out from many other auction games, particularly the more thoughtful and calculating kind.
Chaotic: You're going to find the word "chaos" mentioned a lot if you read any reviews about this game. It's also a word that we heard a lot when we played the game! You can try to plan your bids, but the reality is that you often only have a matter of seconds to put cubes into the cups, and the process in which this happens is far from organized or orderly. At times cubes will bounce out the cups; the auctioneer may place the paddle down quicker than you expect; and sometimes you'll even see a cup get knocked over and cubes spill everywhere. You have to prepared to approach the game light-heartedly; if you take it too seriously, because these kinds of unplanned for moments could cause great frustration, but when played with the right spirit and with the right group, they can produce a lot of laughs.
Light filler: Scott Nicholson has stated on numerous occasions that he intended this game to be a fun light game, playable in public settings, and easily accessible for new players. I think he's succeeded wonderfully in achieving these goals! You can't calculate your bids too carefully or seriously, because the pace of the game prohibits it, but this also keeps the atmosphere light and fun. You do have to plan what sets to go for, but within that context the gameplay is easily learned and remains light-hearted.
Frantic fun: Going Going Gone really does produce more fun than it should. Of course, once you add in some of the more zany variants, these in themselves can produce fun. But the game is manic fun by virtue of the real-time frantic auctions, as players hastily toss in cubes, desperate to outbid their opponents just before the final "Gone!". Under the pressure of the moment, sometimes you'll bid much more than you should; sometimes you'll completely miss a bid for an obvious lot; and sometimes you'll see your cubes bounce off the paddle milliseconds after an opponent has slammed it down - and this is all part of the fun. This kind of pandemonium might not be for everyone, but it does generate a lots of laughs!
Highly social: The nature of the game lends itself to being suitable as a very social game, simply because of the fast pace and easy laughs. Players can't help but be engaged and involved, and the mechanics of the game ensure that even introverts won't be sidelined, but can't help themselves be part of the action. It really is a kind of party game, and the more players the better!
Easily accessible: With the kind of niche that Scott is trying to reach, it's important that a game be easy to explain and to understand. The rules for Going Going Gone can be explained in little more than a minute or two, and most people will catch on quickly just by watching a round, children and adults alike. This makes it ideal to use in almost any group or situation.
Variable play: The variants suggested by the designer do help extend the replayability of the game. We tried the basketball variant, where players use the box as a backboard and where you literally throw the cubes into the cups from a small distance away. That changed the game totally, and created a whole new set of laughs and fun. Obviously to play like this you don't need to take yourself too seriously or the game too seriously, but if you're prepared to give things like this a try, you can expect to get a lot of extra enjoyment. Most of these variants have the feel of one-time novelty hits, and you aren't likely to play them over and over, but they do help make the game feel fresh and offer alternative ways of playing.
Not cheap: One area where this game has been the subject of criticism relates to the cost, given the components that come with the game. There's not a lot inside the box, and the price-tag certainly isn't insignificant. However, in defence of the designer and publisher, appearances can be deceiving, and it seems that the reason for the higher than expected cost is largely because the publisher chose not to spare expense to ensure high quality and durable components (see Scott's video explaining this). Despite this, however, for some people the price point will simply be too high for a game that is billed as a filler.
Durable components: One area where the components do excel is in terms of durability. A game this fast and frantic needs cups that can stand a lot of abuse, and while this does add considerably to the cost, I think the publisher made a good choice by giving us components that can last; having transparent cups also is a good move because you can see what others have bid. The handle on the paddle isn't strong, but will be removed in future editions - see Scott's own recommended fix here. The cards are durable (though not everyone is a fan of the art), and the cubes are an ideal size and do the job well; they're functional and certainly a better choice than the designer's original plan to use chips, although I would have liked to have seen the "10 buck" tokens in larger size and larger numbers to assist with final scoring.
Inside jokes: The box cover makes no secret about the connection with Board Games with Scott, and one of the auction items includes boardgames that are shamelessly other titles from the Stronghold catalogue. Not everyone will appreciate this, but personally I'm a fan of clever inside references in board games, so easter eggs like these just add to my amusement.
What do others think?
Going, Going, GONE isn't a game for everyone, and here are some reasons why: ● Chaos: The main reason that some people don't like it is due to the chaotic and freeform nature of game-play, especially when people hold back their bids to the closing stages of an auction. The frantic real-time auction does make thoughtful and calculated decisions impossible, and isn't for everyone. While some will just thrive on the chaos that the frenetic bidding requires, other gamers may well find this frustating. The fact that players have liberty to come up with their rules and use the game as a sandbox for their own variants and create their own fun can add to this feeling. ● Cost: Another criticism voiced by several gamers (also here) is about the relatively high retail price of the game, particularly given that the components aren't exactly elaborate, numerous, or outstanding quality wise. In defence of the components, don't miss this video from Scott in which he explains some of the publisher's choices about high component quality to ensure durability. ● Replayability: Others expressed concern about the potential for the novelty factor to wear off, and felt that the game doesn't have long-term replayability.
For the most part these criticisms don't flag any inherent issues with the game's design as such, but confirm that it is a game that fills a particular niche as a light and entertaining social game, and naturally not everyone is looking for a game that fills this niche. Scott Nicholson would be the first to concede that if you make a game that some people love, others will hate it, and that's exactly the case here. To my thinking, some of the criticisms are simply an indication that the game is geared towards a particular target audience, not that the game is inherently flawed.
Let's hear from some of the folk who enjoyed the game, to add some positive comments to the mix: "Try to get the most money by collecting sets of different types through a chaotic bidding mechanism. Good job Scott." - Ricijs Zaleskis "Quick, easy to explain, and fun. Not much to it, but that's the beauty of it." - Adam on the Geek "12345678910STOP! This game is a hoot." - Brian "More fun than it should be. This has the makings of a winner." - Rick Baptist A good game for being social and breaking ice." - Eric Foldenauer "Everyone I saw playing this was laughing and enjoying themselves. Great family game." - FrozenHoHos "Good filler material, quick, animated, and fun." - John Gulla Good fun with time pressure (no downtime) and simple set collection that certainly does not overstay its welcome." - Alex Munger "So much excitement! It's great, manic fun." - Tyler DeLisle "I really dig this game. I like fast paced filler social games and this is it." - Eric Seymour "Fast fun that gets some laughs." - Jason Edwards "A delightful, fast, and fun auction game. Nothing else like this out there." - Geoffrey Engelstein "This was a blast. Super easy to learn. Everyone was laughing throughout the play." - Nate Hendon "Fun, accessible and highly interactive." - Bryan Watson "It's fast and forces intuitive play which is facinating." - Antti Koskinen "Very light but so much fun. Guilty pleasure of Essen 2013." - Geert Celerier "Chaotic auction madness! I thought I would try to play rationally but totally got sucked in and ended up throwing in cubes as the auctioneer counted down. Does exactly what Scott designed this to do." - Kevin Peters Unrau "This is laughter in a box." - Barry Doublet
So is Going, Going, GONE! for you? There are going to be people who despise this game because of its chaos or its high component cost, and I can see their viewpoint. This isn't a game that's for everyone. But this is also not a game that should be taken any more seriously than it intends to be, which is to say: not very seriously at all! So it should not be too easily either dismissed either - we all know that the gaming industry very much needs games that are quick, light, easy, and fun, and that we especially need good games that meet these criteria. In my estimation Going Going Gone ticks all these boxes and meets this need.
Scott Nicholson has been around the game industry block more than just a few times, so it's nice to see his expertise come together in producing something that is light and fun. This title is not something to pull out as a substitute for your favourite heavy weight euro, but it should go a long way to satisfying its target audience. And while the price tag is higher than usual, you do get components that can go the distance. With the kind of abuse they'll expect to see, you'll need that level of durability.
Durability, accessibility, simplicity, brevity, hilarity - Going Going Gone hits all the right notes, so if you're looking for a fun social game with these ingredients, definitely consider this one!
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