An Even Weirder Review: Storage Wars

Storage Wars is an awesome light bidding game with a strong bluffing element and some neat take-that elements which is on the upper end of mass-market, making it perfect for family get-togethers or for use as a light filler. It also really captures the feel of the show, with every “Big reveal” feeling like there ought to be a commercial break right before it. Plus, with a playtime short enough that nobody can object to it, you might be able to get a few rounds in!

I make a habit of browsing the game shelves at big box stores like Toys’R’Us and Wal-Mart, and every once in a while I find the odd little title (something like Monopoly Deal, perhaps) which is extremely fun and playable with family members. So I was back in my hometown for the holidays, and while I was wandering the expanse of Wal-Mart, I happened upon Storage Wars. Now, I was familiar with the show, and several of my family members are big fans of it and its parallel “What is this stuff worth” shows, so I was a little intrigued. I flipped it over and took a look at the back, and found it…

…well, SUSPICIOUSLY Gamer-y, to be honest. I wasn’t disappointed.

In Storage Wars, players start with a fistful of money and a character card indicating specific categories of objects (antiques, collectibles, etc) they’d like to collect. In turn order, players draw three item chips from a bag, peek at them, and stick them into one of four containers. In this way, each player has a little bit of knowledge about what each box contains, and who else might be interested in it, but most of the box’s contents are still a mystery. (Side note: I kind of love the little cardboard storage crates in this game and how the tokens slot into them.)

Armed with this limited knowledge of each crate’s contents, the crates are then auctioned off to the highest bidder, with players able to bluff the bids higher than they know they’re worth; This part of the game felt gleefully like “Liar’s Dice”, or “Skull & Roses”. A player who put two tokens in one crate might successfully drive up the bidding to $800 despite knowing their combined value was only $200… then find out that the total crate was worth $2200 to the winner due to another player’s $1000 dollar contribution, which just HAPPENED to be an Antique! What’s more, certain item tokens are harmful, like Water Damage which reduces to total value by several hundred dollars, or the dreaded Black Mold which obliterates the value of everything in the crate! After three rounds of crate-filling and crate-buying, players total up their goods and their remaining cash, and the player with the most value is the winner.

I mentioned the comparison to “Skull and Roses” earlier, and I think that goes a lot of the way to explaining why I REALLY like this game. Some of the tensest, most fun moments come from pushing the bid on a crate that you KNOW is worthless higher and higher, hoping each time that the other players don’t call your bluff, just to set someone up for a big loss. It’s only really suitable as filler in my main game group, but it’s already gotten several plays among my family (some even without me!) because it’s a simple game using ideas anyone can understand (buying stuff for less than it’s worth). What’s more, the mechanics really do mirror the show (buying sets of stuff with only minimal knowledge) and provide enough player interaction via the damage chips and bluffing elements to give it a nice dose of real “Take That!” feel despite being a series of auctions. It’s also interesting that players have limited starting cash, which factors into their end-game scoring, and makes the last set of crates somewhat more tense as players nearly run out of cash… it’s possible to sell items for half their value, but nobody in our games was wanted to take the bank up on that offer.

I only have a couple complaints with the game, and they’re not really complaints because the game is exactly what it aims to be, but I’ll express them anyway because the typical BGG user might also think the same things.

First of all, the “power level” of the chips is pretty widely spread, from as low as $0 for garbage to $2000+ for safes, antique cars, and such. The median value in our game felt like it was around $400 – $500 dollars, making for a couple REALLY swingy bids where high-value chips were involved. Additionally, the colors aren’t distributed evenly along the chip values, which makes certain types more valuable, meaning certain of the character cards are probably better than the others; For example, “Collectibles” seemed to have a lot of low-cost chips and a few very high ones, where “Antiques” are seemingly a bit more uniformly distributed. Might have been influenced by the specific draws in our games, but I found myself jealous of certain character cards.

Secondly, it’s possible to just draw poorly and end up with very little information about each crate. Drawing nothing but penalty chips, or off-type low value chips, makes it very very tough to figure out what each crate might be worth.

In terms of component quality, things are kind of a mixed bag; The chips are nicely designed and already punched out (fantastic!) and the player cards are on some decent cardstock too. The 4 storage crates are just cardstock fold-ups, which work alright but are kind of flimsy feeling, and the bag for the chips is made of a weird material and doesn’t make it easy to shake and shuffle the chips up. The box the game comes in is functional but made out of pizza-box-feeling cardboard, which is a shame, but I’m not gonna knock too much off it; after all, the game only cost me about $12.

Finally, and this can be a penalty or a benefit, this game had my design brain just BUZZING with ideas. After a few plays, I suggested that we play it by, instead of adding ALL our chips in turn order, adding one chip at a time in turn order. This added something neat, made it easier to use the penalty chips even for the first player, and gave some decisions about holding a chip until last in order to “protect” it? I’d also thought about adding random chips on top of the crates that were public to all players, either revealed before everyone adds their own chips, or revealed to everyone before players start bidding… ooh, and what if players could save a chip for next round? Or pay for the right to peek at another chip in a crate? Or, or, or, what if there were sets of items that were worth more the more of them you got?! Or or or or or…

Anyway, it’s the mark of a really great family game that has me thinking of ways to “gamerize” it but end up questioning if it would benefit from that treatment. Part of what makes this game great, in my opinion, is that simplicity that makes it so accessible. Even without my meddling, Storage Wars is one of the most interesting games of its weight I’ve played in a while, and certainly the best game I’ve bought from Wal-Mart in a long while. If you’ve got a family who like board games but hate “your” board games, this is the perfect middle ground. +$200 if they’re ALSO fans of the show. Look out for the water damage though; the game is cardboard and would lose a lot of value if it got soggy.

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About anevenweirdermove

about.me/drew.g.hicks
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