As promised, RPGnet has transformed another Reiner Knizia card game into an iPhone/iPad app. The coders' last such project was the very well done Money. This time around, it's High Society [US$2.99], and RPGnet has kept the interface and look of the games almost exactly the same but swapped the bidding, set-collecting gameplay from Money with the bidding, card-collecting gameplay from the High Society tabletop game. Like with the first app, High Society is smooth and intuitive, allowing you to easily wrap your head around the new challenges and strategy. While they appear similar, the two games are quite different – as different as two light, auction-based card games can be.
The High Society card game was originally released in 1995, and it has since been published in a variety of editions. The RPGnet app takes its art from the latest physical version, currently in print from Gryphon Games (there's even a code in the app for a 10 percent discount off the card game, which almost covers the price of the app). Keep reading to find out if that discount is something you'll be interested in.
Like Money, High Society is a game of making the most of a limited starting hand. This time, each player starts with the same hand of eleven cards – money cards worth 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 25 (OK, OK, since this is a hoity-toity art auction game we're talking about, those values are actually in the millions, but it's easy to lop off all the zeroes to get a better handle on the situation). Each round, one card is auctioned off and, for the most part, these cards are luxury items that you want to own in order to join those in high society: luxury yachts, diamond rings, etc. Games go quickly since there are only 15 cards to be bid on. Four of these are red-bordered cards, three that double the value of your cards and one that halves it, and the other two are misfortunes (more on these in a bit).
The real trick to the game is buying what you want while keeping money in hand. The money cards you start with are all you ever have throughout the game, and they are not only limited by total value ($106,000,000) but also by denomination (you only get one $1,000,000 card to ever use. If someone bids $15,000,000, and you've already bid $12 million and want to go to $16 million, you better hope you have some small cards left, or you may have to overbid).
Having small money cards is also important because some of the cards auctioned off are misfortune cards. These cause various bad things to happen to the person who ends up with them – the thief steals your most valuable item, the fire halves the value of your items, and the scandal is worth negative five points. Who would bid on one of these cards? Well, everyone will, because the misfortune goes to the first player to pass. Unlike a standard auction, everyone who bids on a misfortune loses their bid amount, except the player who passes.
In clever Knizia style, there is one more twist: the person with the lowest amount of money at the end of the game (determined by the appearance of the fourth red card, which is not bid on) is automatically eliminated. Thus, you can't just spend all your money collecting valuables. What would the neighbors think? That $25,000,000 card is tempting to use, but it's also tempting to keep so you have a chance to win.
The real fun of an auction game like this is the psychological component, when you can strategize against a player's personality and bidding style. RPGnet says that each of the AI opponents has its own personality, but we apparently didn't play enough games to determine what these are. This didn't detract from the fun of playing on the iPad, but it made us remember that face-to-face games are much more engaging. Just as in Money, the UI in High Society is easy to use and understand. Touching things makes them work the way you expect them to, thanks to the MobileEuroCard gaming engine that is used here and was originally developed for Money.
The app's biggest problem is that, even though it's a universal app, it only works on the iPad right now (we couldn't get it to run on a first-gen iPod touch, and many App Store reviewers are reporting the same problem). We assume this will be fixed shortly – Money works just fine on the iPhone, after all – but if you don't have an iPad, wait until this issue is fixed; keep checking the App Store to see when that might be. *UPDATE: The issues was with iOS 3 and has been fixed.
In High Society, you can play against between two and four AI opponents, and if you set them to the most difficult level, then it'll be tough to beat them, especially if you're just learning the game. On the easy and medium settings, you can touch an opponent's hand of cards to see how much money they have left, giving you the same advantage that card counters have in real life.
We do have some complaints, of course. There's still no Undo button and we wish the main menu screen had a little reminder list of what the current settings are (most importantly, number of players and difficulty level), but we can live without it. We almost wish High Society and Money were bundled together into a single Knizia card game app. Then, we could fire up the app and pick our poison (well, technically, Poison came to the iPhone from another developer). But that's just nitpicking. We're more than happy to have these excellent card games available on our iDevices. We noticed in the latest update to Money that there's a note saying Knizia's Kingdoms is on deck. Keep 'em coming.