Type: Auction / Euro

Time to play: 45-75 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Players (2-5 Players)

Ever wanted to take a really simple rule and then an equally simple situation, but create a game full of cut throat choices? Well clearly the designers behind The Estates had exactly that vision. What’s more – they succeeded. The good news is that somehow this actually makes the game a joy to play.

So what is the mechanic – an auction. The game is basically an auction repeated until there is nothing left to auction. The auctioneer selects a piece, everyone bids once (each player must pass or bid higher than the last bid) and then the auctioneer decides whether to (a) pay and take the piece at that price or (b) be paid by the player with the highest bid and let them take the piece. This is a very odd auction but it’s a part of the magic of this game.

The situation? Well you are building three streets – full of houses made up of blocks of different values. Each building is going to be worth points equal to the total value of the blocks at the end of the game. Oh and each house will belong to the person who owns the colour at the top (you own the colours by buying the first cube of that colour).

One small trick – the buildings can also have a roof which contributes to the points but doesn’t change ownership. If a house has a roof it is complete, if the row has buildings in every open plot and each building has a roof, then that row is complete. If the row is complete then each building is scored as a positive for the player controlling it. If the row is not complete, then each building is a negative for that player. In other words, you are building throughout the game without actually knowing whether that building will be a positive or a negative until the late game.

This is part of why the game becomes vicious. You will end up bidding on blocks that are the last of your colour, bidding on blocks that you are simply using to hurt your opponents with, bidding on blocks to switch the ownership of buildings, oh and bid just to drive the price up! Such a simple mechanic and such a simple situation, but so many possible reasons to bid.

The game takes another turn as the choice of cubes to bid for is limited during the game, and as you can only place lower numbers as you go up the building (i.e. can only place lower than a 3 on a 3). These simple rules make this easy to teach, quick to play, but absolutely vicious.

There are few games I play where all players can end the game with a negative score, and everyone played well. As you get good at the game there is not only the challenging set up of getting on complete streets, or into high value buildings, but you have the development permits to extend streets and the mayor’s hat to double the score of a street. So many more chances to derail your opponents or watch your own plans go up in smoke.

Watching players play this is amazing – people who bid wildly for a cube, only to realise there were only 2 places the cube could even go. Perhaps even better is that moment when a player picks an item and the whole table just says “pass” and lets the auctioneer have the piece…

If you didn’t want this kind of cut throat, passive aggressive and vicious game…. then don’t get this. The only reason to be disappointed with this game is the very ruthless way your friends will play. Okay, it’s probably also fair to say that whilst this does create great stories they are only skin deep and big war games players will also potentially just want more depth.

Last notes,

  • If you want a fierce filler for a fun game night – this is a must buy
  • If you don’t want to spend 45 minutes being confused about what went wrong after turn two
  • If you win, try because you might not even get a company next time!