I was surprised by this game. When I first acquired the Avalon Hill version Auction, I wasn't expecting much. But in actual play, I found it very fun.
A couple posts for Auction/High Bid indicated that there were games that lasted only 20 minutes. I kept that in mind when I suggested to play it to fill a gap of maybe 30 minutes to an hour. The actual results were beyond my expectations.
First off, the printed money to me seemed a little too bulky to use and unnecessary. As far as I could tell, the game didn't call for the money to exchange hands with anyone other than the Bank. Horrible Auctioneer that I was, I clumsily attempted to divide the money to the players and found that there was too much money to hand out and that the paper it was printed on was too thick. So I dispensed with that and decided to go with the initial idea I had of not using the paper money, and rather have each player write down the game's starting amount on a scrap piece of paper. Things went more smoothly after that, but with this method of banking I would say you have to trust the players to not purposely or accidentally cheat.
The first game I played was with three people who included myself. The only experience I had with the game prior to live play was a read through of the rules and solo play. The rules of the game are easy, but there were a few stumbling blocks I found when learning and trying to teach the game. I'm not sure if it was because of the way the rules were written/organized, but I think it had more to do with just one or two minor things that I overlooked and forgot about in my reading of the rules. After the players turned in the excess buyer cards I dealt to them and replaced them with item cards, play was well under way and exciting.
But the game didn't last the mere 30 minutes I was expecting. I severely underrated the decision making involved in building just the right set from the combination of drawn item cards and things that were sold through the course of the game. Added to that, items that players need don't always show up on demand and hopeful set builders can become further frustrated when random events happen that call for an item card to be discarded (on the upside, often with a 100% payout of the item's value). If players have enough money and are determined enough, bidding can also go on for more than a couple minutes. But in general, each round of bidding is almost always fast paced and exciting. We never completed the game, however.
The second game I played was with just me and one other person. Once more, we had maybe an hour to kill and I wanted to try the game again and with just one other player. I found that game to have gone really well, better even than the game with myself and two other players. Unfortunately, we also couldn't complete a full game. I had a good number of low value 3 Card collections and the other player had maybe two 6 Card collections that he was in the process of building. None of our required cards except maybe one or two of mine were on the edge of the board at the time. At the end of play, it turned out that the cards we needed were near the very bottom of the deck.
As much fun as I had with this game, and as much as I would recommend it for an engaging distraction, the game is indeed highly random. I like the opening bid and selling mechanic, where the number you roll on the die indicates how much you receive or must spend. Admittedly, I found having to roll a six-sided die back to back two, three times and then consulting a table was rather bulky for such a simple game. My feeling seems to be well founded, considering that one of the versions (probably an earlier one) actually had a special six-sided die that must have served to determine if an opening bid or sell was 25, 50, 75, or 100 percent. Hooray for cost cutting! But, if it wasn't for cost cutting this game probably would have ended up in my hands later rather than sooner.
The Special Value cards bring added randomness to the game, perhaps too much randomness depending on one's taste. I found these cards to work a lot like the event cards from Monopoly. Especially with the cards that tell all players to sell a certain category of item at 100%, though, they could bring "down and out" players low on money back into play.
I believe bluffing would be a valuable skill to win the game. It can be important to not tip off to another player that the card that is in auction is something you want, otherwise the players can and will milk your greed for what it's worth by continuously raising the bid. There were several points where I sincerely worried that trying to raise the price of the auctioned item would backfire and that I'd have to pay a hefty fee for something that wouldn't guarantee me a good return of my money.
Finally, the number of supported players (2 - 4) is extremely limited. I think it would be better if the game supported more of them at once. I'd say the game technically allows for 5, because four players could serve as bidders and the 5th be the referee and Auctioneer. Even for the player who is only serving as the Auctioneer, though, I believe he or she would still have a lot of fun playing the role.