Played it 5 times in the last week, all 2 player, and loving it so far.
Interestingly enough, I suspect this is one auction game that will work fine with two. One of the two games I played tonight was with two players, and while it did not have the interesting incentive structures of the three player game, it was just as cuthroat and almost as entertaining. I doubt I would ever choose to play this one with two when three or four players are available, but it is certainly not a bad choice.
Here are is our preferred recipe. It revolves around keeping as much information open as possible.
Once around valuation - Give me your best offer and I can match it and pay you or take your cash... and cash is open.
Draw 12 roofs, leave their value as open information in rows and columns as the floor. Selecting a roof to auction follows the same procedure as the floors (i.e. can only take exposed roofs at the end of rows)
Any building with a zero roof is now worth zero points for the whole building (this can a huge benefit or a huge liability depending on the situation). Late zero roofs can cause end of game auctions to go pretty high.
Values on floor are open information (we stack the cubes on their sides so that pips face outward, rather than upward)
Best of three rounds, with a running score. Dissolving of illicit earnings is all or nothing between rounds.
The game ends up (at least for us) with the feeling of playing Container
, but with the benefit of working with 2 players. In the early game, bids are conservative and the deltas in cash usually are kept to a minimum. There will come a time mid-game (usually after two of the permit cubes come out), where players start to have to commit and build out a row or use all the resources at their disposal to prevent an opponent from completing of a row. As a result, the game really accelerates towards the end as you are trying to pull just the right number of levers, and in the correct order, to have the final points payout come your way. Although each round feels very tight, the score usually ends up lop-sided as one person's strategy finally clicks into place, and in the 2 player game, this is usually at the (huge) expense of the other player. This is why you have to play three games. Once you have recognized that you will not win this round, you start setting yourself up for round two. Once you have positioned yourself to win this round, you need to find a balancing point between preventing your vanquished foe from sneaking back into the round (sometimes there can be one cube left that will really ruin your day), and setting yourself up in the next round. Sometimes, if you are a savvy player, you can offer that one cube (to your opponent) that blows your plans to smithereens at an astronomical price and they will take it.. tank this round and get ready for round two. Save those illicit funds!!
The 2 player game has a lot of the things that I find so intriguing in three player games... tempo management, brinksmanship, positioning, market manipulation (albeit usually through timing), how could I not love it? Though, like most games I love, this one is a product of group think. Perhaps my group thinks in such a way to make it great at two player (and to be honest, I have only ever played it as a 2 player game). Best of luck in making it work for you.