Money is played with a deck made up of 69 cards. Each of the seven different currencies (suits) in the game – Australian dollars, Brazilian reals, Canadian dollars, European euros, Japanese yen, English pounds and U.S. dollars – has nine cards (three each of 20 and 30 and then one each worth 40, 50 and 60). There are also six Chinese coins, which function a little differently than the standard currency cards and are each worth 10.
Each player starts with six cards and each turn bids on one of two piles of four cards. The highest bidder gets to either a.) exchange his bid for one of the two lots, b.) swap his bid for another player's bid or c.) take his bid back into his hand. After he's done, the next highest bidder does a, b or c, too. On almost every turn, then, the overall value of your hand will grow and you'll have more to bid with in the future while collecting some cards for final scoring.
The trick to winning, though, is that final scoring. This process is slightly complicated, which is par for the course in a Knizia game. The goal is to collect sets of currency, because the more you have of a particular suit, the more it's worth. For currencies you've collected with a total value of under 200, you get the value minus 100 (but never less than zero). If you manage to collect 200 or more points of a currency (there are 300 points of each currency in the game), you get the full value of the currency. And, let's not forget those low-value 20s and 30s, because they're worth something, too. For each triplet you collect, you score 100 bonus points so if you get all nine cards in a suit, you'll score 500 points. The Chinese cards are always worth ten points each. Sound hard? It's not that bad, and on the iPhone, of course, all the math is done for you, and the app even keeps a running total for your score on the bottom left of the screen throughout the game. Very useful. You play until the deck runs out and then total up your scores. Read the in-app game rules here and here.
For a detailed look at the currently available card version of Money, which includes bluff cards that you don't need in the app, read this.
When crunched down into the iPhone's small screen, it's kind of difficult to see and correctly tap the cards in your hand (iPad, here we come!), but in all other aspects, the app version of Money is, well, money. The cards look good against the green "felt" background and the numbers on them are as clear as they can be on the small screen. There is no numerical deck countdown, but the deck does visually shrink so you know when the end of the game is getting close, a nice touch.
When playing with friends, Money takes around 10-15 minutes. On the iPhone, it's a five-minute affair, which is grand. The shuffling and math are all handled for you, so you just have to concentrate on figuring out which bids to make and which currencies to focus on. Usually, having two strong currencies is enough to beat the AI opponents. This is the major weakness of the game, because the AI is not exactly strong, even on the most difficult "hard" setting. It seems, with a game this mathematical, designing a wicked good bot opponent would be doable. Then again, as game players and not game designers, perhaps we just don't know whereof we speak. Shannon Appelcline, the developer, wrote a little over a month ago that, "Good players can beat them [the AI opponents] regularly, more average players less so. I'm certain we'll have some new options on future releases." We hope so. For more on how the game came to be, you can read some insight posted by the developer here and find a more in-depth essay on how some parts of the game were coded (i.e., the input and output methods) here.
The six AI players do have names and skill levels, and you can see who you are playing against – and if they are the better or worse opponents – by touching their cards for a moment. Because of the iPhone's limited screen real estate, the app can only display two or three AI opponents at a time, and there are no pass-n-play or networked multiplayer options available. So, while the app can be played with up to four players at a time, the analog card game can handle up to five. Five players is a bit long and chaotic anyway, so it's a sacrifice we're willing to make. Thankfully, the game has no sound effects, and iTunes plays in the background just the way we like it to. Cheers for that.
This is the first Eurogame iPhone app from Shannon Appelcline, but there should soon be more. Fans of Reiner Knizia's 1995 game High Society, for example, can get extra excited. An ad in the Money app says is a iPhone version of High Society is coming sometime in the second quarter of 2010. We look forward to that review almost as much as we want to play just one more quick game of Money right now.