Wine Collector Auction Game [In the Lab]

[In the spirit of Earth Day this week, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas for games with an ecological or natural theme. Imagine these games printed on 100% recycled chipboard. Also see my post on sustainable game components.

I read a story once about counterfeit wine bottles. Some unwitting collectors will buy these fakes without realizing it. The funny thing is that the bottles are worth more when you're not certain that they're fake. So, collectors keep these and/or sell these suspected forgeries, all the while never knowing if they're legit. It's like "Schrödinger's Cabernet."

There has to be a game here. Maybe an auction game? Let's explore.

Assume there is a deck of double-sided cards, or "bottles." The "back" of the card shows a vineyard and the estimated value of wines from that vineyard. The "front" of the card shows the value of that specific bottle, which may be much higher or lower than the estimate.

BLECH VINEYARD [6 Bottles. Estimated Value: $2.]
[$1] [$1] [$1] [$2] [$3] [$4]

QUIET VINEYARD [9 Bottles. Estimated Value: $3]
[$1] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$2] [$3] [$6] [$7]

STABLE VINEYARD [9 Bottles. Estimated Value: $4]
[$1] [$1] [$2] [$3] [$4] [$4] [$5] [$6] [$10]

GOLD VINEYARD [6 Bottles. Estimated Value: $5]
[$2] [$2] [$3] [$5] [$7] [$11]

WILD VINEYARD [6 Bottles. 3M/2S/1P. Estimated Value: $6]
[$0] [$0] [$0] [$12] [$12] [$12]

There are also four available roles. Each role rewards you for collecting particular types of wines.

BLECH COLLECTOR - Score 6 points if you have the most BLECH cards in your collection.
QUIET COLLECTOR - Score 5 points if you have the most QUIET cards in your collection.
STABLE COLLECTOR - Score 4 points if you have the most STABLE cards in your collection.
GOLD COLLECTOR - Score 3 points if you have the most GOLD cards in your collection.

2-4 Players

Choose a player to get the "first player" token.

Deal a role card to each player.

Each player begins with a $20 in poker chips. Keep a general supply available for the rest of the game.

Taking turns, each player draws three cards from the top of the deck and keeps two. The unselected card goes to the top of the deck.

Remove one card from the deck for each player. These cards will not be used in this game.

Shuffle the remaining deck and place it in the center of the table.

Each turn has five phases.
1. Each player may offer a card for auction.
2. Each player may spend $2 to appraise an available card.
3. Each player may bid on an available card (including the top card of the deck).
4. Each player may open a bottle by revealing a card in their collection.
5. End of turn. If the top card is unsold, discard it. Pass the first player token to the left.

1. Offer (Optional)
You may take a card from your collection and put it up for auction by pushing it forward. It is now available for purchase in the auction. For each player without cards up for auction, add one card to the market. Then, draw one extra card and add it to the auction. In the end, there should be one card per player, plus one. So, in a two-player game, there will be three cards up for auction. In a three-player game, four cards. In a four-player game, five cards.

2. Appraise (Optional)
You may "appraise" one bottle that is up for auction. When you appraise a bottle, look at the front of that chosen card and put it back down without revealing it to anyone else. If you appraise a bottle, pay $2 to the general supply.

3. Bid
Taking turns, each player bids at least $0 for one card that is up for auction. The next player may do the same, and so on. On your turn, if someone has placed a higher bid on your card, you may place a new higher bid on that same card or you may offer a bid on another card. In the end, each player should have one bid on one card. The highest bidder for each card takes that card into her collection.

If you bought another player's card, pay that player. If you bought a card from the deck, your spent money goes to the general supply.

The unchosen card is discarded for the rest of the game. If that card belonged to you, you get paid that card’s shown value from the general supply.

4. Reveal (Optional)
You can also earn money by "opening a bottle." Choose one card in your collection. Reveal its front. You may collect the money indicated from the general supply. Keep that card in your collection, face up. It is still in play and may still be auctioned at a later point.

5. End of Turn
The first player token passes to the player on the left. The game ends when the deck runs out of cards. Complete the rest of that turn and proceed to scoring.

You score one point for the total value of your collection as it is currently visible. So, yes, you could score more points than a card is actually worth. You might also score fewer points than a card is actually worth. That's the risk of wine collecting!

In addition, score one point for every $3 in your supply and score points from your role card.

The player with the highest score wins!


  1. Are the grape varietals shown on the estimated value side? Also, why do you hate merlot?

  2. Yes, the varieties and their distribution are shown on the estimated value side. I don't mind Merlot, but I figured there ought to be a low-value variety paired with a player role that gets high value from it. That led to the rest of the varieties being relatively higher and higher value, but awarding fewer bonus points to that role.

  3. I'm concerned that knowing the varietal throws off the "reveal" mechanic, since you can tell which cards are likely (or guaranteed) to increase in value if you open them. For instance, you should never open a Merlot unless you're really desperate, since it will just decrease your score.

  4. Hm... So keep the variety entirely secret? Hm... Definitely makes Mad for Merlot more interested in opening bottles than Pulled by Pinot.

  5. Card counters already have a slight edge once people start opening bottles.

  6. Oh, perhaps nerf the bonus a bit? "Score X points if you have the most Y."

  7. Have you ever played Masterpiece? It's an art auction game which deals with the same imperfect knowledge problem, but the values are distributed randomly. Theoretically that randomness represents the fickle nature of public taste--but there were 2-4 "FORGERY" cards mixed in with all the value cards.

  8. How does it randomly distribute values?

  9. There are two different decks of cards-- one with values, ranging from "FORGERY" to $40M or something ludicrous like that, the other postcard-sized prints from the Art Institute of Chicago collection. There's also a board, with pawns that you move around, which paces the game with spaces that say "Museum Auction", "Collection Auction", "Draw a Value Card," etc. Every time there's a museum auction, you draw a painting and a value card (sight unseen) and go for the auction. Every time you draw a value card, you have to assign it to one of the paintings in your private collection--even if it's a "FORGERY."

    The benefit your variety has is that it's not truly random and enable some gaming of the system. Because the values are drawn with no respect to the painting on the block, Masterpiece becomes a game of hedging bets and bluffing.

  10. Thanks! That makes a lot of sense. Do you think doing this double-sided card thing is an interesting direction then? Players definitely have more information about the deck this way.

  11. It's interesting, but as someone has mentioned elsewhere, it would get easy to game. What if there was some sort of randomized market involved? Every turn, roll a die, if it comes up "merlot," merlots are more expensive that turn? And then the individual bottles have mods instead of set values? I don't's definitely an idea with some value.

  12. I guess my hesitance to take that direction is that it's already been done. Part of what interests me about this current direction is that deduction is possible. Perhaps there needs to be a broader range of values among the vineyards – or simply more cards in each vineyard – but making the values random would lose the deductive elements of gameplay.

  13. Good point about poker chips being used. There are probably more poker chips in people's homes now than play money. I like auction games.


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