Monday, August 30, 2010

Eurogame Review: Reiner Knizia's Money!

Reiner Knizia is so prolific that even great designs sometimes slip through the cracks. Case in point: Money!. Initially released in 1999 (by Goldsieber in Europe and Rio Grande in America), it didn’t really find its audience. A small Rummy/bidding game wouldn’t have attracted a lot of notice in a year that saw Tikal, Torres, Union Pacific, Lost Cities, and Ra (the last two being Knizia designs), and I honestly don’t remember even seeing the original version of the game.

We have to thank Gryphon Games for bringing it back into print as the first entry in their Bookshelf Series. They’ve provided it with a handsome production in a compact box at a reasonable price ($25), and even made it the flagship release for their line of Apps.

Since this is a set-collecting game with a bidding element, there are some mechanics that are familiar from other Knizia games. The theme is based on currency trading, as you try to build sets from among 7 different types of global money. The cards are designed to look like different real and imaginary currencies, with 9 cards in each set. These cards break down into different denominations: 3 each with a value of 20 and 30, and one each with a value 40, 50, and 60. One of the currencies represents Chinese coins, each worth 10.

Players have a starting hand of 7 cards, and turns are defined by bidding. Each turn, two new lots of currency go up for bid. There are 4 cards in each lot. Using the cards in hand, players can bid any amount for the right to choose the first lot. The high bidder can select either of the lots, replacing that lot with the cards from his bid. Second highest bidder chooses next, and so on.

Lots are replenished from a draw deck, and then the bidding cycle begins again. The goal is to focus on buying lots that will build a single kind of currency with a face value greater than 200. Any currency in which you have less than 200 points at the end of game results in 100 points being subtracted from your final score. Having all three 20s or 30s also helps, since they earn you a 100 point bonus.

The game is simple to scale from 3 to 5 players merely by removing 1 type of currency for each player below 5. It’s easy to teach, and plays in 20 to 30 minutes.

As in Knizia’s Lost Cities, Money! requires you to make difficult decisions. It all comes down to choosing the right sets to build, and unloading unfinished sets to avoid the point penalty. There isn’t as much room for pain in Money! as there is in Lost Cities. Start the wrong dig in Lost Cities and you’re going to feel the loss no matter what. Collect a bad lot in Money! and you can unload it in the next turn, and even benefit by allowing it to pad out your bid.

A number of factors have pushed this to the top of the pile during family game nights. Aside from a couple of scoring steps, there is nothing really complex about the rules. Anyone who knows how to play Rummy will figure it out right away. The bidding adds an interesting element of strategy, as you watch what other players are taking and try to place bids that will get bad cards out of your own hand without benefitting someone else.

The appealing theme, high production values, easy-to-learn rules, and a decent amount of player interaction make this one a winner. Tomorrow morning, we’ll take a look at the App conversion to see if it captured these qualities in handy portable form.


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