Bidding for Second Place

I have this game idea where it’s a bidding game, but the second place is the one that wins it.

That’s it, that’s the whole of the idea.

There are a couple of games that already work on this principle. The idea that you want to avoid overdoing your efforts to hit a target is something that’s been in games since, well, Snakes and Ladders, where you have to land on the last tile with the exact, correct roll. Curling and Bowls are both games about getting as close as possible to a target without actually touching it, which implies the same vision of doing ‘exactly enough.’

In the case of the auction game, though, you aren’t sure about what you’re trying to do; you aren’t just expending resources that you want to save, but you’re also trying to hit just behind the player who bids the most. I think there’s interesting tension there, in the form of being second.

The problem I’m wondering about is what kind of theme can fit this?

In an auction, the idea that the first place loses the thing somehow is confusing. I can’t imagine why someone would do this, unless the auction was deliberately set up to be unfair. Blind auctions in the real world sometimes have rules like buy-in, so you have to place a bid in the hopes of getting something and you may not even get all the money you bid back,  which is a great swizz for people engaging in these kinds of nonsense trades.

The problem is that auction games about auctions are… weird? They need something to justify the mechanics, why they’re not just, you know, an auction. Consider that many auction games rely on expending resources that are limited – like cards. In the real world, money’s fungible – so you can just make change and bid the amount you want. Once you start introducing game mechanics to auctions, you need to introduce enough that they explain why the auction is being run like a real mickey mouse outfit.

Here then are some thoughts about what this ‘hit second’ auction may be all about:

  • You’re bidding on religious iconography, and the church keeps identifying the richest person based on the high bid, swooping on them to demand tithing
  • You’re extremely exciteable idiots, meaning that ‘winning’ the auction results in you throwing a huge party immediately, and forgetting to pick up the item
  • You’re raiding hackers, and the first person to break a server are the people who are immediately driven away – you get prestige, but not resources
  • You’re all contingents of a raiding army – the highest value represents the biggest army, which is put to the task of destroying enemies, while the second biggest must do the work of developing the land
  • You’re Canadian, and too polite to take the thing if you win
  • You’re artists working in a fragile medium like ice, and the person who tries to do the most has their artwork collapse
  • You’re dealing with rallying Australian voters, and Tall Poppy syndrome syndrome means the top position loses
  • You’re cultists rousing Cthulhoid horrors – and the cult that gets too much attention gets eaten
  • You’re smuggling stuff past cops, and the people who move the most product are the ones who get caught.

What about you? Got some ideas?

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