Consider that title a badly mangled pun about auctions. And aches. It’s there if you stare at it enough.
Last night I got a chance to play Die Macher, which is widely considered one of those games everyone should play at least once. It is 26 on Board Game Geek’s top 100 games. (Then again Twilight Struggle is number 3, so what the hell do they know?)
The game takes four damn hours. There’s tons of fiddly bits. (But not as many if it were Fantasy Flight Presents Die Macher). There is some needless randomness. But at the heart of it, you have a very tight, vicious auction game.
Lots of games you might not expect to be auction games have auction elements- any sort of bid for first player can play a role. Battlestar Gallactica has auction elements. (This is most evident when you have a skill challenge that people vocally differ on, such as brigging someone or freeing them from the brig, or when known cylons play into challenges.) CCG booster drafts are an auction.
What’s an auction? You have some resources that you turn, usually into another type of resources, which turn into points. One or more of those rates of exchange is variable, set by interplayer relationships.
(I suppose you can have a game where you bid directly for points- but that seems rather simplistic and unengaging. Take Six is the closest I can come up with, but that involves forming sets, which might be construed as another resource.)
For Sale is probably the simplest example of this: in the first round, you bid money for houses. The bids keep going up, and when you drop out, you take the worst available house. Bid the most, pay the most, take the best prize. Bid the least, pay the least (nothing in this case), take the worst prize. That goes on until all the houses are gone. Then we bid on checks- everyone secretly selects a house, and we see the checks that are in play. Bid the most, get the best prize. Bid the least, get the worst prize. Checks are worth victory points. (So is money, so you have an incentive both to save your money, and make sure your houses gain more income for you than they costed.)
Most auction games fit this feedback cycle. You have a primary resource that you use for bidding, which you turn into other resources, which you use to actually do stuff. Stuff gets you points. Because there’s a layer of mechanics between the first type of currency and the points, you can’t be certain what the second type of currency is actually worth. The fun of an auction game comes from making that estimation- both of the ‘actual’ value of the resource, the opportunity cost (what else could you do given the same resources?) and how much you’re willing to pay to make sure someone else doesn’t get it.
Take another example, you have Beowulf, which has as it’s primary resources cards with various symbols. Through various challenges, you can turn these into points, or into other things- treasures, more cards, really special cards, or avoiding bad things. How many points is a card worth? How many points is one of the tier 2 currencies, like a treasure, treaty, or special card worth? Those are the judgment calls one has to make. Often the prize itself is a currency in another auction- feedback.
In a Magic booster draft, the auction cycle involves the primary resource of picks, a secondary resource of cards, a tertiary resource of your actual deck you build, and a victory condition of games won. Everyone gets the same number of picks, from a reasonably balanced starting platform. You turn a pick, the right to take a card, into a card. You turn lots of cards into a (hopefully) competitive deck. You win games with your deck to do well in the tournament. (Which is also an auction, because that gives you prizes, which make your collection position better for trading and constructed events…) Consider how the dynamic of the auction changes if feedback elements are introduced- if after winning a game, you get to take a card from the loser’s deck (gaining more cards), or games where you get to keep all the cards you draft (those cards go directly into your metaresources), versus those where the rares go to the winners. Or if you drafted decks from two packs, played a game, drafted cards from another pack, played another game, drafted cards from a fourth pack, and played a final game.
So what’s this got to do with Die Macher? Essentially, too much feedback, and resources which are too random. The resources you have are money, dudes, media, special cards, opinions (sorta), and polls. Money buys dudes and media at a fairly fixed rate, and opinions change slowly that your primary resource is certainly money (it’s also the only thing not worth points of any kind.) The only two things with an actual bid on them are turn order and opinion polls. Right of turn order should have obvious benefits to any seasoned game player. The opinion polls are basically a random boost or penalty to a certain player in an area. They are very potent, but unreliable- and they are one of the biggest interfaces with the other players. I liked the feedback cycle created by many of the game components (which are really too complex to explain here), but the fact that the primary thing you bid on sometimes doesn’t even help you when you get it- that seems a bit odd for such an otherwise precise game.