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Subject: "Antiques Roadshow" Meets a Random-Number Generator rss

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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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Overview

High Bid is a relatively simple auction game about collecting sets of rare antiques. The trick is that each antique is worth plenty on its own, but considerably more as part of a set. Throughout the game, you will add new antiques to your collection and sell off mis-matched high-valued antiques in order to build the highest-valued collection at the end of the game.

If you ever watch Antiques Roadshow, you know that the valuation of antiques, especially really odd collectibles, is sometimes hit-or-miss. The appraisers on the show will often give a number of possible sale prices to the treasure-hunters who bring their stuff to be valued, depending on the strength of the market, the possibility of the item being a forgery, the season of the year, and who knows what else. In High Bid, this variation in the valuation of antiques is captured, though perhaps a bit too randomly. Values can fluctuate by as much as a four-fold difference based on nothing but the roll of a die. There are a few ways to mitigate some bad luck, but ultimately not quite enough to really feel like you are controlling your fate. Close, but no cigar.

Gameplay

Each player starts with some seed money, but no antiques in their collection. Every round, a new antique will be put up on the auction block and the players will bid on it in the typical fashion. The winner takes the antique, and may then sell a number of the other items in their collection should they wish to. This goes round and round until the deck of antiques runs out or someone makes over $5,000 and thinks they have a more valuable collection than anyone else (they don't have to try to claim victory once they reach $5,000 if they don't think their collection is the most valuable). The different antiques up for auction belong to a number of different collections or sets. If you get all of one set, the value of the set as a whole is represented by a large bonus. Winning the game depends upon completing high-valued sets.

There are a few twists to keep the game interesting. First of all, the higher-valued sets typically contain the most highly-valued individual antiques. This means that in order to get the huge bonuses for the big sets, you'll have to hold on to valuable antiques that you could be selling off individually for big bucks. This makes for some very interesting decisions come selling time. Ideally, you'd like the largest bonuses as they make you the most money in the quickest fashion, but money can become excruciatingly tight in the game, and you will need to have income or you won't be able to buy up any more of your high-valued set should the antiques come out. Managing your cash flow is the key strategic decision in this game and you can, with poor play, end up in a situation where you just have to sit and pass until the end of the game, because you won't be allowed to sell anything (and, thus, make more money to bid with) until you actually win an auction. This can get frustrating.

The other twist is the "buyer" cards. These special cards, when turned up, are included with a regular antique card in an auction lot. The winner of the auction receives the buyer card in addition to the antique, and can use it later to purchase antiques the other collectors have sold off for cash, to fill in holes in their collections, or as extra money at game's end. Obtaining a buyer card or two at a crucial time can dramatically swing the balance of the game in your favor. To give players with smaller cash-on-hand balance a chance at winning these crucial cards in the bid, the auction style used switches to a blind-bid system whenever a buyer card is included in the lot. In practice, however, this usually ends up with the player with the most money simply bidding as much as he has to win the auction because of how valuable the buyer cards are to completing high-value sets (either as wild-cards or by purchasing sold items that complete the set). This happens often especially at the end of the game when players are scrambling to fill in their sets. Because the buyer cards can fill in high-valued sets as well as low-valued sets, a player can reach the $5,000 mark fairly easily if he happens to have the highest cash balance when a buyer card or two comes up in an auction, while the other players probably won't have finished their sets by then.

The most unfortunate part of the game, however, is the mechanism for selling off antiques, which models the variability of collectibles markets perhaps a bit too well. Depending on your roll, you could get anywhere from $1,000 to $200 for the sale of one particular antique. Sometimes, you won't get to sell at all; other times, the antique will go back up for auction and other players may be able to buy it from you for next to nothing unless you try to bid the price up. It works out that you have to plan to receive no more than 50% of the potential value of an item when planning your cash flow receipts and when purchasing your antiques. If you intend to sell an item for cash later, you had better not pay more than 50% of its value for it, as that's likely all you will get (at least a 50-50 chance on the die of receiving 50% or less with a sale, as I recall). One bad roll at a crucial time can really set you back, perhaps beyond the point of no return. Fortunately, the game doesn't last so long as to make this experience taste too sour, but it's still a bit troubling for people who like to feel that they control their fate in a game.

Conclusion

The one glaring flaw of this game is the overly random selling procedure. Because this is your only way of getting much-needed cash flow in the game's very tight monetary system, it means that your fate is decided largely by the luck of the dice. You can allay some of this risk by bidding low, but you will be creamed by someone who bids high and then gets a lucky roll when selling the same item back. The correlary problem is that the percentage difference between a good roll and a bad roll is very high, especially with the added bonuses and penalties. You could potentially get $0 for your sale, or as much as over $1,000... for the same item. This range of variability makes it very hard to plan, and often forces you to give up any chance at winning just so you can have enough money to keep playing. Still, the game is light-hearted and short enough to be fun for what it is. It's not quite as clever as something like For Sale, but it's a fun diversion in the auction filler genre with a nicely applied theme. It's cheap enough to be worth looking into if you like this sort of thing.
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