If you're looking for a light auction game that's accessible enough to be playable as a family game, you need look no further than Pappy Winchester; a game designed by Jérémy Pinget, published by Blue Orange and distributed by Coiledspring Games.
The premise is that the eponymous family patriarch has died and he's left his descendants to battle it out for his property. Pappy's land is divided into 19 lots and the game is essentially a sequence of auctions where the 3–5 players bid against each other for ownership of the plots as their numbers are selected to come under the hammer. The twist in this game is that the winning bid isn't paid into the bank; it's instead divvied up among the other players. This makes for some interesting tactics and effects: you'll need to pace yourself because early auction success will enrich your opponents and place you at a palpable disadvantage in later auctions.
At the start of the game, each player is dealt two secret objective cards which give them a bonus when they own certain specified location types (desert or forest locations, for example). These will give you a marked incentive to try to win particular auctions because they make certain plots of greater value to you than to other players. In addition to these secret objectives, there are several common objectives. These offer an all-important in-game injection of cash for being the first to meet their specified condition (for example, first to own four non-adjacent plots).
Meanwhile, there's also a set collection element going on as players accumulate the tokens on the plots they win. Amongst other things, tokens can be used to move the train along its track and the steamboat along the river. These both deliver cash payouts to the owners of adjacent plots.
Tho' Pappy Winchester is mostly a game where cash is king, there's also a single-use per player duelling mechanism. If you are left in an auction that has come down to just two players, you can play your duelling token. This determines the outcome of the auction on a 50/50 card draw, so it's a mechanic you're only likely to use when you're up against a player who has more cash in hand than you have. Given, however, that the game comprises 19 auctions, this single use per player option feels rather like its been thrown in for thematic flavour rather than direct impact. In our plays, we didn't find there were any games where it materially affected the outcome.
We've had great fun playing Pappy Winchester. It plays quickly – each of the 19 auctions takes no more than 2 minutes – and it benefits from attractive cartoon artwork by Sylvain Aublin and appealing cardboard constructs for the train and river boat. We're not fans of paper money but the notes in this game suffice; tho' we would've much preferred gold nuggets. We'd also like to have seen Blue Orange include a draw bag for the auction tokens. It proved annoyingly fiddly randomising the 19 tokens face down on the table so we ended up pressing into service a drawbag from another game.
By the end of the game, each player's objectives probably won't be much of a secret (not least because the cowboy tokens let you spy out an opponent's objective card) but there's still a frisson of excitement as the end-game bonuses are totted up to determine who will be Papa Winchester's principle beneficiary...