High Society is a classic game from the renowned German game designer, Reiner Knizia. Originally released in 1995, it has since been re-released at least a half-dozen times in the English-speaking world alone. Its most recent edition comes to us from Osprey Games, who have graciously donated copies to give out for International Games Week 2019!
The game’s setting, or “theme,” is evocative but does not dominate the play. Each player is an ambitious social climber, seeking to amass and display luxuries while not quite running out of money. (Something like Jay Gatsby’s rise, but around 1900.) Players begin with an equal set of money—cards in eleven different denominations. There is also a deck of “status” cards, and each round one will be flipped over and offered for auction. One player starts the bidding, and going around the table each player may either raise the bid, or pass. You must bid using the cards in your hand, without making change—and, since each card is a different denomination, you have to be careful how you bid!
Once only one player is left in the bidding, they take the status card and pay their money to the bank, and the others put their money back in their hands.
Each status card is worth a certain number of points, from a mere bottle of perfume (one point) to a luxurious sailing excursion (ten points). But there are also cards players don’t want—scandals, faux pas, or simply being out of style. Bidding goes around the table again, but this time the “winner” is the first player to pass, who takes the card for free while the rest of the bidders lose everything they bid. These cards reduce your score.
The high score wins—unless that player has the least money remaining! You can’t be a complete spendthrift in this world…
The art in High Society is in a gorgeous Art Nouveau style, created by Spanish artist Medusa Dollmaker. The social climbers depicted on the cards are a diverse lot, and always evocative of the theme. However, in keeping with the setting in 1900s Paris, all the card captions are in French. All but one of these is also a term in English, however, and none of the art or words affect the play of the game itself.
Games take about a half hour once players have a round or two of experience under their belts. The game takes between three and five players, although is usually considered best with four or five. The game is simple, but knowing what to bid can be tricky for first-time players or gamers not used to auction games. Some gamers might be baffled—but some, once the game ends, will want to immediately shuffle up again now that they get it. New players around the world have had that reaction for almost twenty-five years!
Osprey has done gamers a great service by bringing this classic back, in such a beautiful package. Thanks again to Osprey for their generous contribution to International Games Week 2019!