High Society offers itself as a game of high stakes. As a game, the balance is just right in terms of pay offs and risk, but like any game that depends on bluff and social interaction, the iPad may not be the best platform for it.
High Society’s premise can be summed up as gambling for status objects and prestige items. These items range anywhere from a trip around the world to a stately mansion, down to the merest elegant diamond.
What is elegant about this game is the balance of risk assessment. You make bids from a number of pre-set denomination cards, ranging from 1 (million) up to 25 (million). Each value can only be successfully bid once, which means as the game progresses your options for bidding begin to dwindle. This is not just putting all your chips in first and have nothing to play with later, it’s also not having the smaller denominations to allow you to just bid slightly higher than the last person. As these options diminish you’ll find yourself having to make a judgement about whether jumping up to the next denomination and any gaps therein is worth the value of the item on the table.
However, complications are thrown in with red cards that multiply acquisition values and blue cards that cause you losses and deprecations. You have to bid for these, and the person who chickens out on bidding on the blue (bad) card takes it, while the highest bidder must lose their bid to avoid that fate. Tough to make a call on that, since any losses are also affected by multipliers.
Beyond that, you have to make a balance between acquisitions and conserving funds. The game can only be won by acquiring status objects with the most amount of points, but if you are the person with the least amount of money at the end of the game you are automatically disqualified. So spend, but don’t go all out. Make sure you have more objects than everyone else, and at least more money than the next person. However, since everyone’s hand is hidden, you’re either counting cash (cards), or making guesses. It can take a few goes to figure out the winning strategy, but I’ve found that never bidding more than twice the object’s value in money is a good rule of thumb.
Where the game shines in elegance of concept and mechanics, it is somewhat let down but medium and interface. Like I have mentioned before in other reviews, I don’t think the iPad is the best medium for any games that have a high element of bluff and social interaction. Most of the fun in these games comes from convincing them bid, or guess what they’re bluffing. Here, a lot of that is reduced to algorithms and I don’t think it ever translates well. Since there is no multiplayer you can’t even make it a pass’n’play travel game.
Likewise, the graphics and interface for this game are pretty minimal, almost bordering on utilitarian. Whether that is something that can ruin the experience for you is personal preference, but I think that not utilising the iPad for its graphic power is a waste of an app. It will say in its favour that I like the fact that the table will adjust to whichever rotational direction you’re using the iPad. It can be played both vertically and horizontally. It’s little things like this which I appreciate.
Ultimately though, there seems to be a recurring theme for Reiner Kniiza’s games. They all seem to have some well thought out mechanics, that probably work well in real life. With the vast plethora of Knizia games out there, I have found more than once to be disappointed by the presentation. I am getting the distinct impression that Knizia (or whoever holds the rights to these games) is just trying to saturate the iPad market with cheap ports of existing IP, if only to get the jump on the competition. I think this is a terrible strategy, because the more Knizia games I play the less tempted I am to try a new one on the off chance that it’s good. Days of Wonder on the other end of the spectrum have delivered two brilliant games over two years and I greatly anticipate anything else they come up with.
Verdict: 4/0 – The game is good, but it lost my interest after a few plays. Its replay value greatly diminishes after you begin to anticipate rules of thumb for risks. At that point it’s just punching numbers.