A friend got Stefan Dorra’s For Sale at Unpub 4. I had heard of the game as one of the classics, but had never played before. I have lost all 5 games I’ve tried but I still want to play again, which is a testament to the staying power of this game. As an older hobby game (1997), its pedigree is well established, in fact it is game #172 on Board Game Geek. (For reference, new game IDs are over 150000) And even the current Gryphon games edition has been around for 5 years. So why I sat down to write this not because I thought the game needed another review, but because I want to provide a more insight into who I am as a player and designer. (And It looks like I’m not the only one just learning the game now. Jamey Stegmaier, also just played it for the first time, and posted his thoughts.) And so this is the first review in the category of Retro Reviews, where I look at older games.
What You Get
House Cards numbered 1-30
Offer cards. 2 each of values of $2-$15 and $0.
Cash Tokens (mostly $1s, and some $2s)
I don’t understand why the $2 coins are in there. Did they not want to print another sheet of coins? The quality of the components is fine, though this game is probably a good candidate for sleeving, because it it has a good chance of being played a lot. The box is probably bigger than it needs to be, but there is apparently a travel version that uses cardstock coins instead of cardboard and comes in a smaller box.
What You Do
Players start with a fixed amount of investment cash. $18k in 3 and 4 player games. In the first half of the game, players use cash to buy houses. Shuffle the houses and remove a small number (based on players) so that you never know if the one you are waiting for will show up.
In each round, reveal 1 house card per player, and take turns bidding for the highest card with cash, keeping your remaining cash secret. Bids must always increase. If you decide to pass, or are forced to due to lack of cash, you take the lowest cost property remaining, and keep half of your bid rounded down. The player winning the bid loses his entire bid and starts the next round of bidding. After all of the cards have been bought, the second half begins, in which players sell houses for offer cards. Again, some are removed so you don’t know what offers will appear. In each round, deal 1 offer card per player and players simultaneously choose a house to sell. Players receive the most valuable offers in order from highest house to lowest. At the end of the game, the player with the highest total of offers and any remaining cash wins, with ties broken by most cash.
The strategy in the first half comes from raising bids to force people to lose money for low house cards, while saving enough money to buy high value house cards. You never want to give up a valuable house for cheap, but it’s also important to spend wisely and track others’ cash reserves to try and price them out of bids in later rounds. In the second half, strategy comes from trying to outthink others to claim the highest offers. It is sort of a bluffing mechanic without exchanging bids. For example, you have the highest value house (a space station) and a good offer comes up. If everybody plays a low house in expectation of your playing the high house, you can instead play a lower card and keep the high value house for later.
What I Liked
This game is a very fast play, on the order of 20 minutes, and is also very quick to setup and cleanup, making it an equally great filler and a good game to play multiple times in a row. It’s also very accessible, taking almost no time to explain the rules, with no real complex cases to remember. Because a lot of the depth comes from the interaction, every new group of players is a new game. (Watch out for the quiet players, they can be tricky!) It feels great when you pull off a big coup and win a high value offer with a low value house, but because each game is so quick, you don’t feel bad even when you lose.
What I disliked
I am a very conservative player by nature, so I have a hard time making risky plays. Even so, I have fun playing it, and that is actually one of the strengths of the game. It is more interesting when played with a mix of personalities. With more players, luck is a bigger factor because you have fewer sets of cards to bid on, and more cards in each set. The likelihood of getting stuck with a bad distribution of cards increases. I think it’s a small enough effect that it won’t impact gameplay, but there is definitely a luck aspect. Luck also shows up when various cards are removed. For some people, not knowing what is available will be hard to deal with.
We played the first few 3-player games wrong, and included all the cards, which made it a more strategic decision. Interestingly, games with more players use all of the cards, but with more bidders, you still won’t know what cards you have a good opportunity to bid on.
This is almost a social game in disguise. When a set of 3 high value houses and 1 very low value house appears, there is a murmur at the table about someone ending up with a bad hand. And when offers are revealed, the taunts start showing up. The final reveal is always exciting.
Obviously because bidding and bluffing are the main mechanics, the game doesn’t work with 2 players, but it’s still a great game for groups and families. There are a few variants (including an interesting AI for solitaire play).
My final note is portability. Take the cards out of the box, and swap out some plastic or metal coins instead, and you’ve got a great quick game you can take and play almost anywhere. This is a classic and timeless game that will undoubtedly be around for a long time, and would be a great fit in any house.