Introducing High Society
I think I may just have found my all-time favorite filler. Yep, something I enjoy even more than For Sale: High Society. High Society doesn't need to prove itself because it already has: it's been around for over a dozen years. If you're familiar with it, then it will need no introduction, and you can get right to the review because you already know why this game is great. But if you're reading about this time-tested classic for the first time, then whet your appetite by considering what others say about it:
"Definitely the best filler. Lots of very hard decision and agony for a game of 15 minutes. Gets better and better all time." - Jussi Kahlos
"Truly one of my favorite games, and one of my Top 3 Knizia offerings. Agonizing decisions provide a very fun experience, and newbies love it." - Chris Pizula
"Best light medium weight game I've ever played." - Marko Koskelo
"One of the simplest auction games ever made, and one of the best. ... a typically brilliant Knizia design." - Gil Hova
Now you're interested? Until recently it was out of print, and the good news it is now available again, as part of the new series of Gryphon Games. In fact, perhaps the well-established reputation of High Society is the reason that they put it at the top of the pile in the new series, coming in at #5:
Was it the High in High Society that made it get to the top of the pile? Excuse me, bad pun. Just like this one: Do you know why they call the rich and famous "high society"? Because when you greet them with "Hi", they reply with "Society!" But I digress. As I was saying, High Society is at the top of the pile, and of the three Knizia games in the series, it is arguably the best. Why? It's been called the filler game for gamers. It offers just that little bit more spice and depth that true gamers will find lacking in For Sale, and yet without it becoming inaccessible to non-gamers.
This successful Knizia auction game for 3-5 players has been around since 1995, when it first appeared in German. It's been rethemed and republished more than once, and Gryphon Games has done us a service by making it available in English once again. But what exactly is the new edition like? If you're wondering what the Gryphon Games edition is like, what you get, and how the game works, then you've come to the right place: this guide is for you.
What editions are there of High Society?
The well-informed will already know that High Society has been through several different editions already:
1995 - First edition: Ravensburger (German)
2003 - Re-published edition: Uberplay (English)
2004 - Re-themed animal edition: Amigo (German "Einfach Tierisch")
2006 - Re-themed animal edition: University Games (French "Animalement Vôtre" & Dutch "Beestenveiling")
2008 - Reprinted edition: Gryphon Games (English)
The English edition went out of print when the company that published it - Uberplay - went out of business. Gryphon Games has now come to the rescue of English speakers by republishing the game with new artwork by Paul Niemeyer.
How are the editions different?
Obviously in some instances the difference has to do with theme. In the rethemed animal editions, for example, players are zoo owners competing to add some novel new animals to their collection (e.g. the Party Lion, Paper Tiger, Bookworm, and the Water Bird in the German "Einfach Tierisch"). The cards to be auctioned, naturally, feature animals:
The other editions all have the same theme, and the cards to be auctioned feature luxurious possessions, albeit with different artwork. Side-by-side, here are the 1995 Ravensburger, 2003 Uberplay, and 2008 Gryphon Games editions:
Besides the artwork, there are no significant differences between editions. As far as the rules are concerned, one small change is the tie-breaker rules - the German editions state that in the case of a tie, the most money wins, whereas the English editions state that "Ties are broken by the highest single Luxury Possession Card" (see discussion here). And there have been a couple of minor rules ambiguities that arose as a result of the English translation from the original German. There have been some slight changes to the theme from the Uberplay edition, for example the Misfortune cards "Tax Evasion" and "Gambling Debts" are now known as "Mansion Fire" and "Scandal". Aside from this I'm not aware of any differences between the editions besides artwork and components.
What do you get with the Gryphon Games edition?
So what exactly do you get with the Gryphon Games edition of High Society? The box is the same size as all the others in the Gryphon Games series:
The tagline tells us that the game is about "Fame, Fortune, and Fate". The theme is primarily getting luxury possessions and flaunting them, as we learn from the back of the box:
Here's the overview from the game itself:
"The late 19th century was a time of booming growth and boundless opportunity. Emerging industries made some Americans rich overnight, rewarding them with stunning wealth and a permanent place in history. They spent vast amounts of money purchasing Old (and New) World displays of this wealth - including carriages, gems, works of art, European castles and mansions. But around every corner, disasters lurked. Status and worldly possessions were always vulnerable to scandal, theft, and tragedy.
In High Society, count yourself among this group of the most influential and wealthy. You start with a personal fortune in cash and spend it on ostentatious possessions and status symbols while attempting to avoid threatening calamities. Can you emerge victorious by amassing the greatest collection of possessions while still retaining more of your cash than at least one of your High Society rivals?"
So what do we need to play? The inside of the box has a solid plastic insert that stores all the game components neatly:
In shrinkwrap, we find a deck of 55 cards, and 16 thick cardboard tiles:
Here's the complete list of components:
● 55 Money Cards
● 10 Luxury Possession Cards
● 3 Recognition Cards
● 3 Misfortune Cards
● 1 Rule Book
Let's just walk through the components and see what we get.
The rules are slightly longer than the other rule-sets in the Gryphon Games series. This time it's two sheets of thin card (instead of just one), folded in half:
But it's still very manageable, considering that part of this space is taken up with strategy tips under the heading "Hints for Success", some illustrative diagrams, as well as examples of bidding and scoring.
Components: Money cards
The money cards are used for bidding:
These come in five colours, a different colour for each player:
The quality of these is high, and the artwork on the reverse side is also good:
Each player gets a set of 11 cards of their colour, in the following denominations - $1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 25 million:
The artwork on these cards might look familiar - that's because it is identical to the artwork on the currency cards in the Gryphon Games edition of For Sale.
Components: Luxury Possession Cards
The Luxury Possession Cards, Recognition Cards and Misfortune Cards are made out of chunky thick cardboard, and all look the same on the reverse side:
There are ten Luxury Possession cards that you bid for:
These are worth High Society Status Points and will be tallied together to determine your score at the game end. So what are they?
A carriage, a gem, and a work of art:
A stained glass window, a trip abroad, and an ancient artifact:
A racehorse, a yacht, and a castle:
And most valuable of all, a mansion:
Components: Recognition Cards
These are the other kinds of cards you bid for - they double the total value of your High Society Status Points:
Components: Misfortune Cards
These are the three cards you want to avoid - a Mansion Fire, a Scandal, and a Thief:
The Mansion Fire halves your High Society Status Points, the Scandal reduces them by 5, and the Thief forces you to discard a Luxury Possession card. All bad scenarios for the rich and famous!
You'll also notice that some of the cards have a red border. This is used to trigger the end of the game - as soon as the fourth card with a red border is turned face-up, the game ends immediately.
So how does all this come together?
The aim of the game is to get the most amount of High Society Status points. But there's an interesting Knizia twist: the player with the least amount of money at the end of the game automatically loses, and is ineligible to win! This makes the game constantly tense.
Each player gets 11 Money cards of one colour. The sixteen Luxury Possession cards are shuffled together with the Recognition and Misfortune cards, and you're ready to go!
Game-play: Flow of Play
Bidding on Luxury Possession and Recognition cards
The starting player turns up the top card from the draw deck, and starts bidding by playing one or more Money Cards from his hand as his bid. In clockwise order, each player has the chance to increase the bid by laying down additional Money Cards, or to pass. If you pass you get your Money Cards back in your hand; but if you increase the bid, you may not exchange played cards with ones from your hand - this makes hand management tense and interesting! Bidding continues around the circle until everyone except one player has passed - his Money cards are discarded, and he places the purchased Luxury Possession card or Recognition card face up in front of him. And then basks in the warm glow of his success, naturally!
Pictured here is some frantic bidding in a three player game for the privilege of owning a yacht!
Bidding on Misfortune cards
The bidding process is the same, but bidding ends when the first player passes. This player must take the Misfortune card and apply its effect at the end of the game. Brutal! If this happens to you, you do get your Money cards back, whereas the other players who bid lose the Money cards that they bid. Thematically, this implies that players are paying to avoid misfortune. It's a great concept that really adds a nice twist to the game.
Pictured here is a five player game where all the players are laying down money in an effort to avoid the misfortune of a Scandal!
The player who acquired the last card starts the next round, and this process is repeated until the fourth card with a red border is turned up, which immediately triggers the game end.
First the Money cards are counted, because the player with the least amount of money is out of the game and loses automatically. This mechanic reminds me of Knizia's Quo Vadis?, where players must get a pawn to the Senate or else they are ineligible to win, and adds a delightful aspect of tension to the auction process.
High Society Status points are then counted by following this process:
● Add points from Luxury Possessions
● Subtract 5 for Scandal (Misfortune)
● Double points for each Recognition
● Halve points for Mansion Fire (Misfortune)
You win if you have highest total of High Society Status Points, with the player owning the highest Luxury Possession Card determining the winner in the case of a tie.
Here's an example of scoring from the rule book:
How do the Uberplay and Gryphon editions compare?
The components in the Uberplay edition certainly have a different look than those in the Gryphon Games edition.
Luxurious Possession cards
The original Ravensburger featured pictures with very few colours, but in my view it creates a cartoon-like effect that works:
But of the English editions, do you prefer the more cartoonish artwork of Uberplay?
Or a more realistic artwork of Gryphon Games?
And with the Money cards, do you prefer the simpler style of Uberplay?
Or the style of Gryphon Games?
It's largely a matter of preference. For this game, I personally lean towards artwork that is more cartoonish. The theme is hardly intended to be taken seriously, so in that respect garish and simple artwork seems more appropriate, especially when playing a game like this with children. But in the end, I think most of us are happy to have our hands on this game any way we can, regardless of the artwork!
What do I think?
High Society is an established game that has stood the test of time, and already has a proven track record of success as a solid filler game. I'm not overly crazy on the theme, and in that regard I personally prefer artwork that offers a caricature of luxury possessions, since the media and commercials already provide enough misguided influence encouraging us to wrongly focus our lives on material things. Life doesn't consist in the abundance of possessions, and it's better to have a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. Real wisdom is knowing that the love of money is the root of all evil, and the same goes for the love of diamonds, yachts, and the desire to be rich and famous. But that's an issue with the theme - and not a significant one, because I doubt that people take the theme seriously, although the effect on children shouldn't be minimized - and it can be solved somewhat by minimalist artwork that pokes fun at the theme.
But far more important than the theme or the artwork is the game-play. High Society is a brilliant bidding game, and offers a lot of tension and fun for the 20 minutes of time it takes to play. Both the Misfortune cards as well as the rule that the player with least money at the end is ineligible to win help create deliciously difficult choices. In the final analysis High Society is slightly more complex than For Sale, and is a great quick auction game for more hardcore gamers, but it can be enjoyed with non-gamers as well.
What are other people saying?
There's quite a list of folks who give High Society the highest rating possible on BGG! Here's some representative comments, that help convey some of the reasons why people are so excited about this game:
" I think this is best light auction game I've played. For such a short game this is quite meaty game although there is a lot of luck involved. Knizia's best filler." - Olli Mäkiketola
"This is my favorite filler. Every game has a slightly different feel, depending on how the cards are revealed and how many players there are." - Scott Kaczanowski
"Every single bidding round is full of tension. The smartest bidding and scoring system of auction games - Knizia best of. " - Tamás Fekete
"A fast, nonlinear little auction game with excruciating decisions. Delicious. Absolutely brilliant. There are at least two brilliant ideas here: the cards you spend never come back, so you lose flexibility as well as raw purchasing power; and the player with the least money left at the end of the game can't win." - Mats Kristoffersen
"In many ways it is the best Knizia design of all." - Mike Siggins
"Meatier than For Sale. So much fun and strategy in such a quick game! It's definitely worth your wild to hunt down this game and pay triple the original price! BELIEVE the hype!" - Phillip Schwarzmann
"It's a bit more complex than For Sale, but it makes for a much more enjoyable game as well. The unpredictable end game also adds a flavor of luck into the game, so you have to make decisions based on imperfect information. I haven't been a big fan of auction games, but this one's started to warm me up to them. Highly recommended." - He-Joon Kim
The final word
Given that High Society was out of print until recently, we can be grateful that Gryphon Games has republished it for us. Is the artwork an improvement on the Uberplay edition? The jury is still out on that, but the fact is that the Uberplay edition is no longer available, so if you're look for a quick and tense filler with some meat on it, grab the Gryphon Games edition while you can!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
- Last edited Fri Feb 13, 2009 5:05 pm (Total Number of Edits: 7)
- Posted Fri Feb 6, 2009 4:02 am
Beautiful Art, Strong Player Colours - I'll be picking this one up!
There really isn't much new information here but I thumbed it because it does a good job of comparing the versions and the slight rules changes.
Definitely want to pick this one up but I'm not sure it's worth $25.
☃ daniel ☃
The Uberplay edition sold for $14.95 MSRP, or about $11 at online discount retailers (source: http://www.fairplaygames.com/games.asp?filter=Manufacturer-U...) . Personally, I don't enjoy this game all that much and think that the new FRED price of $25 is too steep, especially considering that they prevent it from being sold at a discount. The game is very dry, and the auctions are not very tense, leading to a overall boring game.
Excellent review. Highly visual!
JL San Miguel
Simplify, prioritize,... enjoy! :-D
Thanks a lot.
I was able to get it for half off. Word is, FRED gives out free games to retailers who buys over $150 of their games. At $25. I couldn't have been bothered.
The Uberplay edition sold for $14.95 MSRP, or about $11 at online discount retailers (source: http://www.fairplaygames.com/games.asp?filter=Manufacturer-U...
) . Personally, I don't enjoy this game all that much and think that the new FRED price of $25 is too steep, especially considering that they prevent it from being sold at a discount. The game is very dry, and the auctions are not very tense, leading to a overall boring game.
Your reviews never cease to impress. Thank you for doing a great job!
Lo, this is a great review—verily (and I speak with all due gravity) the greatest board game review I have ever seen. Well done sir, and I thank you.