Some of the most immediate and pleasurable experiences on the tabletop are auction board games. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most often maligned. Some players often assume that auctioning is just about yelling higher and higher numbers at one another until the highest number prevails; in fact, the best auction board games and bidding games offer a wealth of possibilities.
So, what exactly is an auction board game? Auctions can take many forms, and they don’t just always show up in the auctioneer/bidder format that most people are familiar with from TV shows or the local county fair.
At the core, an auction board game is about competing to assign value to different objects or game scenarios (in other words, bidding). Because of this loose definition, there are many creative ways to create auction board games outside of the well-known bidding war.
Best auction board games
- 1. High Society: Uphold your social standing by flashing your cash.
- 2. Condottiere: Wrestle for territory in tense bidding battles.
- 3. Hit Z Road: Survive a roadtrip across a zombie-infested USA.
- 4. The Estates: Send your buildings and profits sky-high with backhanded property deals.
- 5. Irish Gauge: Take the express route in this railway auction board game.
- 6. Skull: A fast and furious bluffing game that'll get into your head.
- 7. El Grande: A classic auction board game that feels just as fresh today.
- 8. For Sale: Careful bidding and bluffing win this high-stakes auction board game.
- 9. Biblios: An auction game with slightly more complexity without the cost of extra time.
- 10. Taj Mahal: The World Wonder lends its name to a grand auction board game.
The auction board games on this list don’t always feature an auction in the way that people traditionally expect, but they fall under the spirit and idea of what an auction is.
Sound good? Here are 10 of the best auction board games out there.
1. High Society
Uphold your social standing by flashing your cash
The first Reiner Knizia-designed auction board game to hit this list (spoiler, he’s really good at designing auction games), this one is a masterclass in game design: simple rules, high tactical ceiling.
Players are wealthy debutantes throwing money at various luxury items while trying to avoid social scandal. Each has a hand of cards with different monetary values on them in the same increments (4, 12, 25 and so on) and use these money cards to bid on cards of different values.
When you win an auction, your cards/money are spent; if you don’t, you get your money back. Players bid on cards that give points one at a time while bidding to avoid the ones that lose points. Most points wins, but there’s a catch: if you’re the player with the least amount of cash left at the end, you automatically lose, no matter how many auctions you won.
High Society brilliantly makes players walk a tightrope of sabre-rattling, timidity and nail-biting management of the cards in their hand, all in about 15 minutes. The latest edition from Osprey Games with art from Medusa Dollmaker is both beautiful and portable.
Wrestle for territory in tense bidding battles
Condottiere is a hallmark of creative auction board game design. At first glance, it looks like a map-based battle game. Players are issued a hand of numbered cards and cards with special abilities and then compete in auctions (or “battles” in the game’s parlance) for territories. When a player wins a territory, they get to put a piece on it. Once players have linked together a certain number of territories, they win.
The auctions in Condottiere are always high-stress affairs where players are trying to win or manipulate the game in their favour without exhausting their hand. No other game elicits “Whoops” quite in the way this one does. It has an interesting publishing history going back to 1995, with Pandemic maker Z-Man Games recently publishing a new edition.
If you’re a purist, you’re going to want to play with the original Eurogames rules, rather than the new ones that add too many cards. If you’re a fan of The Witcher card game Gwent (including its digital board game counterpart), you’ll like this game too, as the designers of Gwent took tons of inspiration from this clever little card game.
3. Hit Z Road
Survive a roadtrip across a zombie-infested USA
If you’re looking for a quick and dirty auction board game with very fun artwork and theming, Hit Z Road is the game for you.
Designed by Martin Wallace, the premise is that a kid named Martin created a board game while he and his parents were on the run from a zombie apocalypse. Players have to manage dwindling supplies of ammunition, gas, adrenaline and survivors in an attempt to survive their journey. They bid for turn order in costly auctions, which then decides who gets to pick the first route each round.
No game makes getting to go first as high-stakes like this one. Plus, it’s got plenty of dice chucking and a fun combat system with cute little wooden zombies. And, if you’re a fan of inside jokes, you’ll notice plenty of board game humour peppered throughout.
4. The Estates
Send your buildings and profits sky-high with backhanded property deals
The Estates is one of the most delightful auction board games ever made, and it’s also one of the meanest. Players are shady property developers building stacks of buildings out of little coloured blocks with numbers on them.
Each turn, one player is the auctioneer and chooses a block to auction. Players bid once, and then the auctioneer gets to decide whether to pay the high bidder for the privilege of placing the block, or be paid by the bidder who then places it.
Players place their blocks along three rows and a building is complete when it is topped with a little roof. If a player places the first block of one of the different colours, they’re the “owner” of that company. However, when a building is complete, only the player who owns the company of the top block scores the points for the building. On top of that, the game ends when two of the rows are complete, and the third scores negative points.
This results in some of the most backhanded playing this side of savage strategy classic Diplomacy. You’re auctioning opponents blocks to get them to bid or put them in terrible positions, extending rows while laughing maniacally, capping buildings early. Its a raucous, cut-throat good time.
5. Irish Gauge
Take the express route in this railway auction board game
Do you like trains? What about tiny yellow, red and blue wooden ones? Yes? You’re in luck because there’s a whole series of train board games that are full of auctions, buying little shares and making cute little routes. They’re called cube rails games, and Irish Gauge is one of the best - though you also can’t go wrong with its siblings Chicago Express, Paris Connection and German Railways. The best part? All of these games usually clock in at under an hour.
They’re also full of delightful bidding wars where auctioning a share of someone else’s company is the equivalent of invading their country in an area-control game like Risk. There’s nothing quite like getting a good dividend payout that you can then use to win more auctions with. Publisher Capstone Games recently reprinted Irish Gauge with lovely art from Ian O’Toole, so now’s a better time than ever to pick it up.
Buy Irish Gauge on Amazon US.
A fast and furious bluffing game that'll get into your head
Skull is so simple, it can be played with a deck of cards. It’s a quick and dirty party board game of bidding how many roses cards you can flip, without revealing a skull card.
Perfect for new gamers or the end of a long session, Skull scratches the same itch as poker without needing any money for stakes.
7. El Grande
A classic auction board game that feels just as fresh today
Published back in 1995, El Grande is a classic board game that refuses to show its age, in part due to its novel auction mechanic. Players are trying to win majorities by placing cubes in various territories on a map. Each player starts with the same hand of power cards that have a numerical value on them. These power cards also allow players to place their pieces on the board to control territory. The higher-numbered cards secure players a higher ranking in the turn order, but they also don’t give as many pieces to place on the map.
Players hold a single bid auction with their power cards, and the player who wins gets the first pick of “action cards” that allow players to manipulate the board state further. So, every round in El Grande is about weighing the need to act now versus acting much later in the game - a delicious choice. There’s a big box that’s available for cheap on the reg that’s got fun expansions too.
8. For Sale
Careful bidding and bluffing win this high-stakes auction board game
For Sale is an auction board game in two acts. In the first act, you use your limited funds to bid on different properties that range in value from one to 30. The winner pays the highest bid, but all the other players lose half of their money, rounded down. Then, players use the properties they’ve bought in a second round, making a single bid with their recently-won property cards to win check cards that, in addition to the money you have left over at the end of the game, constitute your points.
A good game of For Sale is a high-stakes game of chicken, full of feints, bluffs, double bluffs and surprise wins. It’s a game where a 1 card, played properly, can turn the tide of the game just as much as a 30 card. Make sure you get the travel version - it’s great to take to a cabin for the weekend.
An auction game with slightly more complexity without the cost of extra time
On its face, Biblios might resemble For Sale in the two distinct phases of the auction board game. But the overall experience of playing is a dramatically different one.
The first section of the game has players allocating cards of different values to themselves and the other players. In the second part, players use the cards they’ve acquired to run auctions on cards in the discard pile they’ve built together. Whoever collects the most cards of a type gets the most points at the end of the game. Add in a tiny bit of market manipulation, and you have a clever game of build-your-own-scoring capabilities that plays in under 20 minutes.
It’s a scale-up in complexity from other beginner board games featuring auction and bidding mechanics, but it is totally worth it.
10. Taj Mahal
The World Wonder lends its name to a grand auction board game
The second Knizia game to grace this list, this gem is not often placed at the top of his oeuvre, but the auctions in this board game are a bidder’s dream.
Over the course of 12 auctions for the right to place little palaces over an interconnected map, players will bid on six mini-auctions simultaneously using cards with symbols of six different types. The catch? The first person to withdraw wins all the mini-auctions for the symbols they have the majority of, then their cards are removed from the bidding. It becomes a rollercoaster of decisions of what to bid, and when to leave and maximize your rewards.
If you love an auction board game that offers clever decisions at every turn, Taj Mahal won’t disappoint, in spite of its unusual ruleset. The newest version of the game has fun little stackable palaces too.