I don’t watch that much TV – most of the time Netflix is babbling away in the background with some strange movie or other – but I do have something of a weakness for a little show called Storage Wars. The premise is simple: people bid on abandoned storage lockers in immense warehouses, having only had a cursory glance at the contents inside. Whatever they find inside is theirs to do with as they please, but most sell what they discover and many of the people on the show seem to make a reasonable living out of it, even is what turns up most of the time is crap.
The main thrust of the show, of course, is when something is found that is collectable or valuable – of if the buyer’s really lucky, both. A good score can set them up for ages, and in an industry where hundreds of dollars can be thrown away on a few crates of nothing on a seemingly regular basis, that’s very useful indeed. The show even spawned a not-very-good game of its own but Floodgate Games have taken the theme and amped it up somewhat. Vault Wars is currently on Kickstarter, and it’s one of the finest auction games I’ve played in a long time.
A thematic sequel to their also excellent Epic Resort, Vault Wars is all about what happens when fantasy heroes go off to battle monsters… but don’t come back. There’s a lot of stuff hidden away in their lockers and if there’s no-one to claim them, the island’s denizens throw them open for anyone to buy – as long as you’ve got the funds, you could pick yourself up some rather interesting items. There’s also the risk of buying a lot of junk, true, but you’ll have a bit of information before you put your money down.
Up to sixteen different vaults are available, and before play begins there’s a drafting round where players choose the ones that will be used in the game. You also start with a bit of money, of course, and a couple of ‘Aspiring Hero’ cards – you get a bonus at the end of the whole game, but only for one of them. Think of them looking to get hold of some useful gear so they can go on their own adventures, only at a bargain rate. If they manage to turn up a fistful of jewels in the meantime, even better!
At the start of a round, players choose one of the vaults from their hands. Each one of these will skew the way the auction for that round will work and some can even be claimed as items to add to your collection. In order from lowest to highest, players take turns being the Auction Master but before the fun starts we need to give out a little information about what’s in the current vault. The Auction Master pulls some cards from the Items deck, as decreed by the vault card, and gets to look at them all – they’re the one selling it, after all. You’ll then flip cards face up, the amount of which is also on the vault card, then pass the remaining ones around the other players. They get to randomly check out some of them so they have a little information about what they’re potentially going to buy… and then the battle begins.
The first bid is made by the Auction Master themselves, but after this they have no involvement in the round. Any rules on the vault card itself must be followed, but generally the normal bidding process is followed; you can either bid higher or choose to pass. Should everyone pass, the highest bidder hands their money over to the Auction Master; however, if they happen to win with their opening bid, the money goes to the bank. It’s pretty easy to run low on funds in Vault Wars, but thankfully at the end of a round you can sell some of the items you’ve picked up to get a bit more ready cash – but what kind of stuff can you find?
Mostly, you’ll pick Junk. Actual cards called Junk that will disappoint you greatly, these will fill up your pile of items that you claim from the vaults. I’ve managed to bid up some huge collections, take the cards, sure that I’m getting an handful of awesome… and get nothing but a stack of crap. Junk does have a use – you can use (a lot of) it to pay some rather hefty storage fees at the end of each round in lieu of gold, – but most of the time you’ll be looking for sets of armour that comes in Dwarven, Dragon and Elven flavours as well as different Gems. The more of a single Gem type you collect, the more points you will get at the end of a game. There are also Artifacts that bestow pretty useful abilities which will be fought over, especially in early rounds.
Of course, you may be broke but not want to get rid of your valuable items! Thankfully, payday loans are available on the island and a quick visit to the Loan Shark will get a bit more money in your pocket. The only trouble is that you must take a Corruption Token too, guaranteeing negative points when all is said and done. In a game where money can become quite scarce early on, choosing whether or not to bite the bullet and lose a fair chunk of points is a big decision – really, you should be looking to play carefully and conserve funds but all it takes is one person at your table to decide to play fast and loose with their cash… then the table can easily go full tilt (in a good way – after all, what’s an auction game without at least one round where things are bid far beyond their actual worth?).
I’ve found that many auction games are affected by the people you’re playing with, moreso than any other genre out there, but Vault Wars is certainly one of the best. Things are tempered by having each vault play out in a slightly different way, and having them come out randomly means that you really need to plan when they’re revealed at the start of a round. Players who want to blow through their money are discouraged from doing so with the joint risk of not only losing points but also potentially picking up a load of junk. It’s one of the most well balanced releases in the field of auction-based games, and certainly as enjoyable as my current favourite, For Sale.
However, where For Sale is a simple, straightforward affair, Vault Wars is a bit more complex and requires planning, forward thinking and no small amount of bluff. Designer Jon Gilmour – probably best known for his epic Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games – has scaled things back somewhat for this new game, but it’s no less entertaining and is tight as anything. The game also looks cool, using the same artists as its big brother Epic Resort, but even playing with the prototype version of the game has been a bloody wonderful experience. The end release can only be better, especially the deluxe version that comes with metal coins that are on the KS page.
In short, Vault Wars is an absolute bloody pleasure. An hour of roaring at friends, accusing them of deception, while all the time you’ve been lying through your teeth as you scrabble for every coin and every point available to you. All this for a mere $20? It deserves a place in that bag that you always keep by the door, stocked with games for emergencies – everyone has one of those, yes? Just as long as when you get the game you don’t leave it in a vault on some paradise island. Throw your money down, now. You’ll have more fun with this than your First Season DVD of Storage Wars, that’s for certain.