Review: The Estates

Designer: Klaus Zoch
Artist: Daan van Paridon, Thijs van Paridon
Publisher: Simply Complex (Capstone Games)
Category: Auction/Bidding
Players: 2-5
Price: $51.31 Amazon.com

The Estates is the second entry in Capstone Games’ “Simply Complex” line, and a reprint of the relatively-obscure Neue Heimat. A follow-up of sorts to The Climbers, another game I really enjoyThe Estates is an auction game with some very cutthroat tactics. It is an amazing experience, so long as all players are okay with “in-your-face” gameplay.

Review

I love games that are mean and nasty. To me, the more cutthroat a game is, the better. The Estates is a delightful exercise in blood-boiling gamer-rage, which is right up my alley. (I swear, when I’m not at the game table, I’m really a delightful person.)

The Estates is a game about building high-rise towers. Inside the box is an abundance of chunky, wooden pieces, including floor cubes, roofs, building permits, and more. Each turn, players auction off one game piece, which either gets placed on the board immediately or discarded.

The game-action takes place on a central board, divided into three rows of spaces. When play begins, only the 12 spaces to the left of the river (the “dirt” spaces) are available for building. The other ones (the “grass” spaces) may become available later.

The 36 floor cubes come in 6 colors, numbered 1-6. During setup, players randomly choose 24 of these blocks to be used. The chosen floor cubes are placed in a 3×8 grid. At any given time, only the 6 outermost cubes are available to be auctioned off. Each player starts with 12 “checks” (essentially $12 in game money).

At the start of each turn, the active player may stow a check in front of himself, under the board. Thematically, this represents embezzling $1. If he chooses to do this, the check is out of the game, but will be scored at the end.

Then, he selects a piece to auction off. Usually, this will be a floor cube or roof piece. Unlike many auction games in which the bidding goes around and around until only one person remains, The Estates grants each non-active player a single bid, and that’s it.

Suppose the first player auctions off the red 5 floor cube. Starting with the player to his left, each opponent gets to bid once. Let’s say someone bids $1, the next person bids $2, and the last person passes. The price of the block is then set at $2—the highest bid.

The auctioneer can then decide to sell the block to the highest bidder for this price, or keep it and pay that price to the highest bidder. Either way, someone buys the item from someone else, and it immediately gets placed or discarded.

When a player places the first floor cube of a color, he takes the matching company certificate, meaning he owns that company/color. At the end of the game, each building with with a cube of that color on the top floor will score that player points… for better or for worse.

Most board spaces can accommodate multi-level buildings. A player can place a floor cube on top of another, as long as the new cube has a lower number.

The purple 4 has been placed on top of the red 5. If the game were to end right now. The purple player would own this building, since her cube is on the topmost floor.

A roof may be placed on any building, regardless of its number. Roofs range from 1-6, and they end a building’s construction (obviously).

The addition of a 5-value roof bumps the value of the building to 14 points (5 + 4 for the floor cubes, + 5 more for the roof).

In addition to floor cubes and roofs, a player can auction off a building permit, the cancel cube, or the mayor piece (top hat).

Building permits can lengthen or shorten a row by 1, 2, or 3 spaces; this is how buildings can extend beyond the river.

This 2-value building permit extends the row by 2 spaces.

The cancel cube allows a player to remove a building permit.

Lastly, the mayor piece doubles the value of all buildings in a row, whether positive or negative.

The mayor has been placed on the middle row, meaning that the value of all buildings there will be doubled.

Play continues until either 2 rows of buildings are complete, or until there are no remaining floor cubes or roofs available.

Since 2 rows of buildings are complete, the game will end immediately.

Buildings in completed rows score positive points, and buildings in incomplete rows score negative points. To determine the value of a building, the owner adds up the values of its floor cubes and roof (if it has one). The player earns that many points, positive or negative, depending upon if the row is complete.

Checks in players’ possession add to their scores, and the person with the highest total wins!


Though it may not look like it, The Estates is absolutely DIABOLICAL. It’s a likely contender for “meanest game I’ve ever played.” I love it, but I recognize that this style of game is not everyone’s cup of tea.

The game space offers potential for devastating plays. Discussion among players will often be along the lines of “That’s a nice, complete row of buildings. Wouldn’t it be a shame if someone came along and messed it all up with a building permit?”

It’s funny, sometimes it doesn’t even feel like the winner played better than anyone else, but rather that they just “lost the least.” I find it hysterical that a completely viable strategy is to not own any companies/colors, understanding that your only source of points will be money, and spend your entire game trying to make sure your opponents finish with negative points.

Tactical play permeates the entire experience. If it looks like a building you own is going to score negative points, try placing a cube of someone else’s color on top, so they get saddled with the loss. Likewise, if a row of buildings looks like it won’t get completed, placing the mayor piece there will add insult to injury, doubling the effects.

The seemingly-trivial act of stowing a single dollar at the beginning of a turn carries a surprising amount of weight. This game has a “closed economy,” meaning that all transactions are player-to-player, and no money gets added throughout the game. Thus, the act of removing money from the supply deflates the game’s economy, making all remaining money that much more valuable. It’s subtle, but very interesting in its own right.

The wooden components are amazing. Capstone Games always does a bang-up job making their products feel high-quality, and The Estates is no exception. Its 3D look gives it an attractive table presence, further enhancing the overall fun factor.

The Estates is one of those games that just gets better and better the more you play. As folks discover its strategic minutiae, the experience becomes increasingly richer. However, this game is not for the faint of heart. It’s important to make sure that all players are good sports, and that they are all okay with extremely cutthroat gameplay. If these boxes are checked, The Estates will be a smashing success.

(PS: For the safety of all players, I recommend playing on a very heavy table, one that is hard to flip. Trust me on this one.)

A review copy was provided by Capstone Games.

The Bottom Line

I love The Estates. It looks great, it plays great, and it always leaves me wanting to play again.

 

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