The Estates is an auction game in a closed economy that the players can shrink more and more to make a tight game!
Designer(s): Klaus Zoch
Artist(s): Daan van Paridon and Thijs van Paridon
Publisher: Capstone Games
The Estates is a game all about bidding and winning the right auctions to control the city. It is a simple game yet there is so many options. The closed economy of the Estates is especially interesting as it makes the playing space feel extremely tight for some player whiles others are collecting all the money.
I love how the Estates combines building and bidding (and a little illegal earnings) to have each player compete to create the strongest position of influence over the board state. With each check counting for a million dollars, you would think that there is plenty of money to go around, right? Well, 1 million dollars won’t get you very far when it comes to the Estates.
This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.
The Estates is a game for 2 to 5 players, but I think 3- 4 are the best player counts. A typical game of the estates will only take about forty-five minutes to an hour and the game recommends playing rounds for longer play times with combined scoring.
The goal of the game is to get the most earnings from either high valued building in the newly developed areas and sneaking away with as much illegal earnings as possible.
At the beginning of a game of the Estates, one player is chosen to be the active player. They will take their turn leading the auction, the winner of the auction will place something on the board, and then the active turn will pass to the next player. There is no upkeep after a round of turns. Players will continue to take their turns until the game ends
Setup for the Estates is simple. The game board should be placed at the middle of the table. The six company certificates, twelve face down roof tops, three building permits, cancel cube, and mayor should all be placed near the board.
Twenty-four of the Thirty-Six Floor cubes will be drawn randomly to be used in the game. They should be set up in a three by eight grid near the board. This grid will be random every time. Which cubes will be used change as well as their accessibility in the grid. This makes each game unique and different!
Lastly, every player should receive $12 million in checks. I love how the currency in this world is inflated to the millions. This could easily be just $12 but no. It must be $12 million.
A players turn consists of three phases: The illegal earning phase, the auction phase, and the placement phase. For illegal earnings, the player has to decide to take a $1 million dollar check out of their hand and stow it in their personal cash box. It will be out of play for the rest of the game.
A player will choose one item to be auctioned off during the auction phase. Then, beginning with the player to their left, each player will bid for the chosen piece. After each player has bid (either raised the previous player or passed), the active player must either give the piece to the highest bidder and take that players bid or keep the piece and pay the highest bid to the player who made it.
Whoever won the bid (the active player or highest bidder) will then place the piece on the board. There are five different types of pieces: floor cubes, rooftops, building permits, the mayor, and the cancel cube
Concept: Placeable Pieces
The first type of placeable piece I wanted to go over is a floor cube. These cubes have the most rules around them and have the most influence on the game. Each cube must be placed in either an open slot on the board or on top of another floor cube with a lower number. So, a five can only be placed on a six, a four can be placed on a five or a six, and so on.
The first cube of a color placed will granted the placing player the corresponding company certificate. This player will then earn money from these colored cubes if they are the highest cube in the stack.
The second type of placeable piece is a rooftop. Only buildings with rooftops will be scored at the end of the game (which we’ll get more into in the End Game section). A rooftop piece prevents any other floor pieces from being placed in a stack.
The building permits, mayor, and cancel cube are all special pieces. Building permits will extend or shorten the development row making it more difficult or easier to fill. The mayor will double the value of a row (positively or negatively). And the cancel cube will cancel out one building permit.
The game ends when two row are completely full or if no more rooftop or floor cubes are available. All buildings in completed rows will score positive points and buildings in incomplete rows will score negative points. And yes, it is possible to have no completed rows.
A building will only score points for the play who holds the company certificate matching the color of the topmost floor cube. So, in a stack containing three different colors, only the topmost color matters for the purpose of scoring (either negatively or positively).
Who Will Like it?
The Estates is a very interactive game that has a high level of competition. Player will challenge spaces and hostilely take over buildings. And, at the end, at least one row will score negative points and potentially plunge a player’s score. The game feel like, silly, and cutthroat all at the same time.
I think it has a more simplified and smoother core system than a game like Modern Art but more structure than a game like Intrigue. Bidding is at the core of The Estates I would only play if you liked or are interested in that mechanic.
What I Think
The Estates is a very fun game, but it can break if you are not careful. Although, I’m not sure how much I should factor bad gameplay into the core of a game.
What did I like?
I love the game space of the Estates. The limited options for picking which floor cube or randomly choosing a rooftop can really contribute to the game. It is amusing to me that you must choose which company you spearhead wisely. A company with only large number cubes will more than likely be a bad investment, since those floor cubes will be covered.
But also, investing heavily in one row can be extremely risky! You can have an all-positive return, or it can be all negative. The mayor doubles the scores which can really plunge you into the red.
What didn’t I like?
There are not many negatives that I have about this game. I do find the roof tiles being random to be an interesting choice. Maybe not one that I would have made but I don’t think it takes too much away from the Estates.
The game is so heavily influenced by the players decisions. And the structure put in place for the game makes it go smoothly.
The Estates is a great bidding and auctioning game that really plays with the closed economy and the needs of when to bid. Not bidding and saving money may seem like a good idea but not getting a company is effectively a death sentence. You need to take the risks to get the rewards.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
The rulebook is a very good rulebook that is easy to read and covers all the details in the game. It also has a fun layout, and a verbiage makes the rulebook interesting to read. There are also great gameplay example and picture to help understand the game.
In my first play, I did not realize how important funneling money could be. I also did not realize how wildly the game can swing from someone getting 24 points from a building to getting negative 24 points for that building. The special items can be used for good but are often used for evil.
Every game of the Estates I play feels different. Players make interesting decisions, but the game keeps the focus on slight panic. I have discovered that giving one player all the money is a bad idea. It does break the game.
But if the players did not make stupid mistakes, the game is always tight, and it is fun to figure out the best path for every player. And make all of them get negative points. I have purposefully ended the game where no one got positive points and the game became who was the least negative.
I cannot deny it. The Estates feels like a perfect game. It is something I could play again and again which is surprising because I am not that big into bidding games. But something about the Estates just clicks for me and makes me want to play another game.
*See my rating scale Here