For Sale is a razor-sharp auction game that consists of two very distinct halves. In the first half, each of the players around the table will be bidding on real estate properties of varying value; while in the second half, you’ll use the properties you just acquired to try to get the best payday you can.
There are 30 numbered property cards in the game, with the 1 being the least valuable (a cardboard box) and the 30 being the most (a...space station). Each round, you’ll lay out cards equal to the number of players and the bidding begins. There’s no calling in For Sale, you can either raise or you can pass, which means you’re out of the round — but you don’t go out empty-handed.
The first player who passes takes the lowest-numbered card on the table, and drops out. The next player who decides to pass takes the next-lowest, and so on until all the cards are dealt. Passing players must pay half their last bid to the bank, except for the only player who didn’t pass — they get the highest-value card, but they also have to pay their entire bid.
This is the brilliant wrinkle at the heart of For Sale — it’s an auction game where you sometimes may not even want to win a round of bidding. A player who hasn’t bid anything yet can just pass on their turn and get the lowest card effectively for free; and that might be a really good move if there are only relatively high cards left. However, that makes it better for the next person who decides to pass and so on. It’s a delightful game of chicken and yet that’s still just half the game.
In For Sale’s second half, you’ll reveal cheque cards instead of property cards and each player ‘bids’ by choosing one of their accumulated properties and placing them face-down. Reveal them simultaneously and the highest card that was played gets the highest cheque on offer. Simple and elegant, but just to throw a wrench into the works, there are also a couple of zero-value cheques; you definitely don’t want to bid the lowest property in the rounds they come out. At the end of the game, add all of your cheques to any leftover money from the first half, and that’s your final score.
I almost didn’t play For Sale because I usually don’t like auction games. Happily, I was persuaded to give it a shot and it entered my collection shortly afterwards. A thinky game that gives you real decisions to make and still winds up in half an hour? That’s a perfect addition to just about anybody’s game shelf. It also plays up to six players, which is often an awkward player count for most games; but like everything else For Sale does, it does that wonderfully well. You can get flashier games out there, you can get bigger boxes; but don’t be fooled, because there’s a lot of game tucked away in For Sale.