Going Once, Going Twice, A Review of Vault Wars

So here’s the deal.

I have a box.

This box holds five items. I show you one item. A gold bar. True gold. The truest gold you’ve ever seen. I place it in the box, and say that there are four other gold bars in the box.

My offer is a million dollars – or whatever gold goes for these days.

Would you buy it?

Vault Wars cover

Name: Vault Wars

Players: 3-5

Publishers: Floodgate Games

Year Published: 2015

Designer: Jonathan Gilmour, Ben Harkins

Artists: Kelly McClellan, Peter Wocken

Vault Wars is a small box bidding game in the same vein as Smile. Where each round you’ve scavenged the left over items from a failed DnD campaign and are auctioning them off for profit. At the end of the game the auctioneer with the most gems is the winner.

Not money.

Although money is a currency. It’s used to establish the gameplay loop of Vault Wars. As you need money to buy gems, but need to sell gems to get money.

The programmer in you will cringe at that infinite loop, but it’s not a one to one ratio. Which is where it becomes interesting.

What a vault in play looks like. A pile of cards, next to a vault card, next to a face up Junk card.
It can’t all be junk. Can it?

Each round you’re given a vault card to auction off for money. This card tells you how many “treasures” are in the vault – and these are drawn randomly from a treasure deck. The vault card also tells you how many of these cards are displayed publicly for everyone to see. And then how many cards each player is allowed to look at privately.

You’re allowed to look at them all of course. Because you’re starting the bid.

The auctioneer creates the starting price, but also doesn’t get to bid again in the auction. Only winning if no one else bids. Making setting the starting price a tough but enjoyable decision. If it’s too high – no one will bid. If it’s too low -you’ll miss out on the items.

But maybe they’re trash items anyway. And in that case you’ll need all the charm of a snake oil salesmen to get the table to pay as much as possible. In order to ensure the price is right you’ll need a suit, a microphone and your best Drew Carey impersonation.

From there, bidding goes around the table, with players ducking in and out of the auction. It’s an old auction style, whereby until bidding is done, everyone is in and able to bid (except the auctioneer).

Depiction of the loan shark. A shady man sitting behind a desk flicking a coin.
I can’t put my finger on it, but I don’t trust this guy.

There’s a lot of fun to be had here, as everyone usually has a some separate private information. And trying to figure out why people are throwing money at vault, or why not, is a fantastic opening for table chatter. It also forces you to make irrational decisions.

They must know something I don’t!

However, recent auction games (Smile and High Society) have veered away from this auction style towards having you raise the current bid – or being out of the auction. And Vault Wars is a prime example of why. As the bidding is both not as tense, and slower than these other games.

Making the game drag on longer than it should.

With the exception of a few of the vaults, they all come with some ability that changes the rules of the auction. Making each auction a grab bag of mechanics rather than letting the simplicity of the main mechanic shine. Because of this your group never gets a chance to form a metagame. As you’re always more focused on the rule changes, than the players across from you.

It also doesn’t allow the game to flow at a steady pace. As each auction requires you to read out the rules.

Displaying all of the components in Vault Wars as well as the box it comes in.
Loving the portability

Moving past the auctioning, the final parts of the round allow you sell off any items you bought and don’t want. Equip any items you can – and sacrificing the gem value of these items in the process. And take a loan if you’re running short on cash.

This continues until you’re all out of vaults to auction. At which time everyone reveals one of their two super secret personal objectives, and all of the gems earned are counted.

The winner is then determined by the girth of their gem collection.

Like Bargain Quest and Adventure Mart the theme here is light hearted and on point. All the cards reflect the silliness, but also stay true to their RPG roots. Answering the age-old question of where do shopkeepers get all that stuff?

But it’s because of this great theme, and a lot of great little mechanics found throughout that makes me feel so unfulfilled with the board game. I thought I was buying gold when in fact it turned out to be blunted swords, and dragon eggs.

My dudes, I have had a week! My internet has only become available tonight. Meaning I wasn’t able to get to my drafts. So I’ve barely cobbled together this review in the final hour. Phew!

I’m also going to my mate’s bucks party tomorrow. Which they’ve asked me to bring board games to – their first mistake. There are 8 of us, so the games I’m bringing: Escape the Aliens from Outer Space, Crossfire, Shadows Over Amsterdam, and Telestrations.

I think that’s a good mix of dumb party, and smart party. Although I’m fully aware we’ll probably be playing Switch and drinking. Which in that company isn’t a bad way to spend a weekend either.

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