For Sale: A four-sided game review

For Sale boxFor Sale is a light family card game designer by Stefan Dorra. It takes 20-30 minutes to play, accommodates three to six players well and can be picked up for well under £20.

As the name and box suggest this a game about buying and selling properties but don’t worry – there’s nothing to be scared of here, even if you don’t usually like auction/bidding games. As the game length suggests it’s not a brain burner: instead it’s light, fun and fast.

Inside the box you’ll find two decks of cards (properties and cash) and a set of coin tokens. Everything is high quality, the cards linen-finish and the tokens chunky, while the cartoon art on the property cards is really charming.

Teaching

For Sale round 1For Sale is a game of two halves, but both are simple to teach and learn. Even better you can teach each half when you get to it, giving players less to process and remember.

Everyone starts with a handful of coins and during round one these are spent to buy properties. Once all properties have been bought (every one will finish with the same amount) they’re sold for money in round two. The aim is to finish with as much money as possible.

Before each turn of round one a number of properties equal to the number of players is placed face up on the table. From their secret stash of coins players choose in turn to either up the current bid or take the lowest value card on show (and taking back half of any coins they’d bid so far). The ‘winning’ bid pays full price, but gets the best card.

Once all properties are bought, round two begins. This time a number of money cards equal to the number of players is placed face up on the table; players bid for them with the properties bought in round one. There is an identical number of property and money cards; each round players bid one of their properties and everyone flips them over at once (called a ‘blind bid’). You take a money card in ascending order, the best property taking the highest value money card.

The system is extremely elegant. All the property cards are valued differently (1-30) and there are two of each money card (two of each valued $0-15), meaning there is never any confusion over bids – while all the players get something each round. When all the properties are spent, you add up your money cards and see who won.

The four sides

For Sale componentsThese are me, plus three fictitious amalgams drawn from observing my friends, and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: While this may look like an overly simplistic game with an uninspiring theme (pretending to be an estate agent isn’t my idea of fun), For Sale is actually one of the best ‘filler’ games I’ve played. It ticks all the boxes: good player range, easy to teach, plays fast and keeps everyone involved throughout.
  • The thinker: I’m not prone to enjoying filler games as by their nature they tend to lack depth and strategy. If it were my choice I’d play something a more challenging, such as Hive or Blokus, but there’s no escaping the fact this is a well designed game and I’m happy to play when the occasion arises.
  • The trasher: You mean I get to buy and sell houses?! Goodie! But seriously there is some fun to be had with For Sale, as any bidding game is an opportunity for table talk. You can also try and psyche people out a bit in the second half and I’ve seen some real silly card-slapping-the-table action when the mood is good.
  • The dabbler: While I don’t like auction games, I do quite like this one as it has a few things going for it. First it’s great that you get something every round so never feel out of it or under pressure. Also the art is cute and for a game that plays ages 8+ that’s important – they’ve even gone the extra mile adding a different animal to each card for the younger ones (and the young at heart!) to find and talk about as you go.

Key observations

The most important thing to note is  this is an extremely highly regarded game. With more than 3,300 players giving this a comment and an ‘out of 10′ rating on Board Game Geek you have to get past 3,150 before you find rankings below 6.

Criticisms from those who really don’t like it label For Sale as “too simple” or “uninteresting” with “no hard decisions”; “too light”, or as just a “simple auction game”. To the wrong player For Sale will be all of these things, but as the numbers above show these people are the minority. I’d suggest avoiding this game only if you have a very severe reaction to one of these gaming ailments!

My only real issue, and it’s a small one, is price. The current edition is well produced and nicely packaged, but at 60 cards and 72 cardboard coins the price tag seems a little steep. It has been put in quite a large box to fit into Gryphon Games’ ‘Bookshelf Series’ but could live in a box half the size (and has previously). However similar games (such as recent release Diamonds) have a similar price point and I don’t see it as a barrier to entry.

Conclusion

For Sale round 2I was introduced to For Sale at a London on Board gaming meetup and fell for it on my first play. It went into my collection soon after and had regular plays for a long time after.

But in 2013 it didn’t see a single play, as my regular gaming groups didn’t really do old fillers; then in 2014 it returned to the table with a bang when I got involved in a local group which includes a lot of less rabid gamers. It has gone down a storm with gamers and newbies alike, rekindling my own enthusiasm for the game.

No game is truly a ‘must have’, as opinions and tastes vary so much, but For Sale would certainly be a contender for a top 10 ‘Swiss army knife’ of titles that would meet all your gaming needs. I’ve played a lot of fillers before and after, but very few have the staying power of this classic.

For more filler and family games check out my board game ‘Where to start‘ guide.

Cherry Picking: A four-sided game review

Cherry Picking boxCherry Picking is a small box set collection card game that plays in about half an hour. It costs less than £10 and can accommodate two to six players, putting it in solid ‘filler’ territory.

As the box suggests it has an almost childlike, family friendly card style and theme that, while beautifully realised, don’t really add to the game.

The card stock is more than adequate, the rulebook clear and simple; overall it’s a very professional package (as you’d expect from publisher Zoch). Set up and pack down are also very simple as all but six of the cards form a single deck. The only fiddly thing is you have to remove certain cards if playing with two, three or four players, but this is easily done.

Teaching

Cherry Picking in playThe rules of Cherry Picking couldn’t be simpler. Players are dealt a number of cards and, on each turn, everyone will choose and play one of these cards simultaneously.

To set up, place the six different coloured ‘tree’ cards (think of them as suits) in the middle of the table. You then shuffle the deck, place a card beneath each tree, then deal the rest of the cards to the players.

In brief, you just need to tell people each card they play will allow them to take a card from beneath one of the trees and place it in their scoring area – so by the end of the game they’ll have the same number of scoring cards as they started with in their hand.

There are four types of cards: fruits (in the six ‘suits’) and three types of wild card. Once revealed they are placed in a specific order – so if a card you really want is out there, you may think you want to play a wild card that will be played early in the round.

But here’s the trick: If two of you play the same type of wild card, you keep those cards instead of taking a card from the centre. Keeping wild cards isn’t often a bad thing – in fact it may work out better than getting what you’d hoped for.

End game scoring is what you really need to get across. There is a player aid, but its the kind of ‘aid’ that only really makes sense once you know what you’re doing anyway. You basically want sets – but they have to very specific to get you points.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious amalgams drawn from observing my friends, and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Cherry Picking is a game of anticipation, but as with any simultaneous choices game you’ll also need a healthy dose of luck. It’s fascinating watching as people try to work out what to do – while you’re trying to suss them out. That guy needs a cherry to make his set, but does he have that wild card you know is floating around – because you have the other and want to play it at the same time, so you get to keep it. I love this in games and it’s beautifully realised here.
    The thinker: This is a game I’m sure I could grow very fond of, especially if played with the same group over a prolonged period of time – so that we can get to know each other’s play styles. The game rewards thought but with new players there’s precious little of it going on! It then becomes a little too random, as players simply don’t really know what they’re going for. But despite its random nature this is a charming game I will seek to play more in future.
    The trasher: You mean I get to pick fruit from trees?! Where do I sign! Really, Cherry Picking is every bit as exciting as the real thing; it’s just a set collection card game with boring looking cards and no interaction. If you’re doing well, I can’t mess with you – and if I could, and tried to, I’d probably fail anyway because someone else played the wrong card at the wrong moment. I was lost at the start, bored in the middle and lost the will to live by then end. At least it was short.
    The dabbler: While pretty, I didn’t get on with this game that well. It tends to be played mostly in silence; a series of random choices leading to a rather mathsy scoring section – there just didn’t feel like there was much fun going in. We went in with hope, but once we started playing there was very little enthusiasm around the table – and those who did enjoy it seemed to express that through wry smiles, as if part of some aloof club. It’s OK I guess, but not really for me.

Key observations

Cherry Picking cardsSome players simply find Cherry Picking underwhelming. Themeless card game fillers tend to have rather obvious take-that elements or moments of great loss or triumph; and as this doesn’t it can be seen as missing one of the key elements of the genre. One person’s charming is another’s lacklustre.

Then comes the luck element: how much of the game is chance, and how much skill? When playing poker it becomes immediately obvious that the read is everything, but then bluffing is an element – and there’s no real bluffing in Cherry Picking.

But with just a bit of experience you can start to see the optimal moves and try to play around them; but of course, to do that, you have to get past those initial games where it can seem – and be – all about the luck of the draw.

And here the scoring doesn’t help much. With it only happening at the end of the whole game it can be confusing until you’ve played through once – and again, will you have liked it enough to want to play again?

Conclusion

Cherry Picking player aidPersonally, I think first time designer Jeroen Geenen should be applauded for creating a fantastic little card game; but I fear the rather lacklustre theme may mean it doesn’t quite reach the size of audience it deserves.

If you like traditional card games such as rummy I would definitely recommend you add this to your collection. The simultaneous action selection is a lovely twist on a tried and tested theme, while the multiple styles of wild card also add a lot to the genre.

The luck/skill ratio will seem out of whack for some, but often I think unfairly. This is a 30-minute filler, but doesn’t often seem to be judged on that criteria – probably due to the nature of the gameplay and the lack of table talk/take that attitude on display.

I’ve enjoyed every game I’ve played, although it should be said the two-player variant in the rulebook isn’t great (the designer has an improved one here). The game is quick, simple and cunning while giving some real head-slap moments when you just get pipped to the card you want.

Would it benefit from a more traditional theme, or some more aggressive cards to add a little spice and ways to get around some of the randomness? Possibly for some – but I like it just the way it is, thank you very much.