Review of Q.E.

Designed by Gavin Birnbaum and published by Cubiko Games

One of the central aspects of auction games is the limits on capital.  Which has many advantages, in terms of game play – but this also introduces a artificial limitation into many games, as spending beyond one’s means is common in practice.  So what would happen if capital was completely unlimited?

Q.E. set out to find out.  Essentially a filler game – though with the beautiful production values Gavin brings to his Cubiko designs – the game consists of nothing but sixteen blind auctions, wherein only the auctioneer and the winner know the winning bid.  Every industry won scores on four different criteria – each item has a base value of 1 to 4 points, plus a bonus for each industry matching the player’s country, a bonus for multiple in the same industry, and a bonus for a diversity of industries.  But then the person who had the highest sum of winning bids across the entire game has their score reduced to zero, and the person who spent the least receives a small bonus.

This probably sounds like something too simple to work; it certainly did to me.  But – it does work, and quite well. The rules suggest that the first auctioneer open the bidding at 10, but in practice – it really doesn’t matter what that first open bid is.  The game – and the players – adjust to it. Even if someone makes an outrageous bid to start the game – the game adjusts for it, albeit more slowly. In the majority of cases, I’ve seen bids naturally inflate over the course of the game.  But – even if the bids deflate, as sometimes occurs, I have never seen a high initial bid price anyone out of the game.

So, it works.  But is it enjoyable?  That’s likely going to depend to some extent upon how one feels about auction games.  For me, if a game is not short, I need more than auctions to keep my attention. Q.E. doesn’t offer more than auctions but is short enough that – much like For Sale – it works very well for me.  And while it’s a very different sort of auction than most games, I’ve seen the game go over well with fans of auction games – and with folks like me who tend to stay far away from blind auctions.  The game is unique enough that it might even be able to win over some who dislike all auction games – but that seems overly optimistic.

The production of the game is in line with other Cubiko productions, and for me the most recent edition has found a nice balance between providing useful information (the emphasis of the first edition) and a place to carry out business (the focus of the second edition).  The erasable markers and felt erasers work very well, and the simple shapes for the flags and industries are remarkably effective, leading to players frequently calling specific tiles by some real-world equivalent. For example, the German autos are commonly called Volkswagen, and the U.K. airline British Airways.  This helps the theme of the game – quantitative easing, for which the game is name – stand out.

Q.E. ranks as one of my favorite releases from 2017, and is one of those rare designs I appreciate more the more often I play it.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:

Dan Blum (2 plays):The blind bids make the game a bit more opaque than I’d prefer, which keeps it from an “I love it” rating, but in general I agree with Joe that it works very well. It’s too bad that it’s large (for what it is), expensive, and limited to a fairly small number of copies; the physical production does work well but a smaller, cheaper production could also work and would make the game more widely available.

Lorna: Generally I’m not terribly fond of blind auctions but you do have partial information in this game. The simplicity of the rules and the quickness of the game really add up to an interesting game

Patrick Brennan: I’m not a fan of pure auction games, and I dislike blind-bidding games. And yet … this somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat and generates gaming goodness. There are 16 auctions, and each auction only takes a minute or so so the game is pacey. The items up for bid have three attributes – nation, industry and 1-4 VPs. At the end of the game, there are bonus points for items you’ve collected in your home nation, and for same-industry sets and diversified-industry sets. As each player starts with a secret industry, this auto-provides different values of each tile to each player. The great thing is that the winning bids aren’t revealed – you know the auctioneer’s valuation, but bids are secretly given to the auctioneer and only he and the winner know what the winning bid is – unless all bids are below his valuation, in which case he openly wins it at that price. The opening bid for the very first item can be any value, and that value effectively sets a value around which all other items are evaluated. So if an item worth 2VP goes for 10, then an item worth 4VP might be valued at 20. But of course each player will value each item differently, depending on whether the nation and/or the industry of the item are ones that are wanted for their bonus sets. The final catch is that whoever pays the most throughout the game (it’s recorded on the back of each won item) is knocked out High Society style, and whoever pays the least gets serious catchup points. I’d be happy to play this again which, in a genre I avoid like the plague, speaks pretty well to its general likeability I reckon.

Alan How: I like or love all the games from Cubiko, but this one is in the like category. I’m not an auction fan nor do I dislike them, but this one is so different that it is worth investigating. I’m happy to own it, will play it occasionally but not seek it out.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Joe H., Lorna, James Nathan
I like it. Dan Blum, Patrick Brennan, Alan How
Neutral.
Not for me…

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