(image courtesy TheKeck @ BGG)
Auction games are hit-and-miss for me. As I mentioned in my post on Modern Art, I’m terrible at evaluating the worth of things. I did eventually come to like Modern Art, though, and I do really enjoy other auction games like Ra, For Sale and Nefertiti. When I first discovered the original German version of Hollywood Blockbuster – called Traumfabrik – I was extremely interested. Rebuilding classic films using actors and directors of my choice sounded like a lot of fun and the game is by Reiner Knizia, one of the most prolific game designers out there. It seemed like a sure thing even with my uncertainty on auction mechanics.
Traumfabrik was only available in Germany for quite some time until Uberplay finally brought the game to the US as Hollywood Blockbuster. The theme remained the same but they had to replace all of the real actors and film with parodies. At first I was extremely annoyed by the change but after playing the game I realized it really didn’t make that big of a difference. In fact when I play I typically see the titles and names as the things they are trying to parody and just ingore the terrible puns (like actors Nickeless Wage and Keanu Breeze).
Hollywood Blockbuster takes place over four years as players try to put together the best films possible. A year has three auctions and two parties where players will be able to acquire the components needed to complete their films (actors, directors, special effects, cameras, etc.). The first auction is strictly for a high profile director while the others are for a random set of film components. There are also two parties where players get a component based on who has the most popular actors in their films. A film’s final value is the combined value of all the film’s components. When you complete a film you immediately score its points. At the end of each year bonus points are given for the most valuable film and at the end of the game bonus points are also given to the best film in each category (comedy, drama, action) and also for the worst film. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.
That portion of the game works fairly well and people always have fun trying to complete their films and make them the best – or the worst – possible. Unfortunately things break down once we dive into the auction mechanic behind it all.
Each player starts the game with a certain number of contracts which are the currency for the game. That starting amount is fixed; no money will enter or leave the game. Each auction players take turns going around the table making bids for the film components currently up for sale until someone finally wins the auction. Here’s the catch: the winner’s bid gets redistributed evenly amongst all the other players. If there is a remainder it sits in the middle and gets redistributed with the next auction.
(image courtesy hotrodqt @ BGG)
I find this leads to a real problem with the game. There are only six auction each year. Since your bid gets redistributed, winning an auction means you are immediately poorer and all of your opponents are now richer, making it increasingly less likely for you to win the next auction. In practice what happens is players need to pick a couple of auctions they feel are imporant for them to win and focus on those, holding out on the others to make sure they get the proceeds and guarantee them enough money to win the auctions they want. The bidding process feels rather shallow because it is generally in your best interest to maximize your bid on the auction you need. There’s no real disadvantage because you’ll get your money back in a few rounds.
What I’ve found is that this ultimately leaves you without many interesting decisions to make over the course of the game. Pick a couple of rounds that matter and make sure you have enough contracts to win them. With no way for money to enter or leave the game its just a matter of timing your auctions so you have money when you need it.
My second complaint is that it generally feels like it is in your best interest to complete films as quickly as possible and there’s little room for other strategies. If one person is tearing through films they are likely going to win the game. Trying to save up and pile all of your most valuable film components on a single movie means you aren’t finishing other films and you aren’t getting points. There are a limited number of films in the game, so it is also quite possible that there will simply be no more films for you to complete as other players gobble them all up. Also, while having a bonus for worst film is a clever touch it is rarely worth specifically trying to grab the worst film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone intentionally pursue worst film and even come close to winning the game.
You should be able to finish a game of Hollywood Blockbuster in a half hour to forty five minutes, though, which is nice when you need a quick filler. It is also fairly easy to teach and the theme will appeal to many so it is a good intro game or a game for a younger crowd. In that regard I think Hollywood Blockbuster works quite well. Unfortunately I don’t think most serious gaming groups will find much satisfaction playing Hollywood Blockbuster with their peers.