Designed by Kei Kajino, with art by Marco Primo, Reputation is a bidding game with a difference. The 3-5 players are competing to amass the most money over the game's ten rounds but they also have to build their reputation because the player with the least reputation is eliminated, regardless of how much profit they've accumulated over the course of the game. In a five-player game, the two players with the lowest reputation are eliminated.
Players each choose or are dealt a corporation and CEO: you can play with matching or assorted pairs. These all give various in-game or end-game scoring asymmetric abilities. All players start the game with 10 workers. It is these that are used to bid for the contracts that become available each round: a public and a private sector contract. The public sector contracts specify the positive reputation they give to the successful contractor (2-5 reputation) and their initial cash value (8-12 credits). The credits are placed on the contract card. The cards also specify the number of workers required to fulfil the contract (2 or 3). The private sector contracts show only their negative reputation yield (-2 to -4).
To bid for the public sector contract, you place the requisite number of workers on the card and you move any number of credits, but a minimum of one, to the private sector card. The next player can replace your bid with theirs not by increasing the number of workers - you only ever bid the number of workers shown on the public sector card - but by moving additional credits (again, at least one) to the private sector card. In this way, tho' the public sector contract gives positive reputation to the successful bidder, it is likely to end up with quite a low cash value. On the other hand, the private sector contract increases in value thro' the bidding process and so could end up quite lucrative despite the hit it gives on reputation. The bidding for the private sector contract is more conventional: the first bid has to be of least one worker and subsequent bids have to be at least one worker more than the previous bid. You cannot be the winning bidder for more than one of the two contracts on offer each round: while you're the winning bidder for the public sector contract, you can't bid on the private sector contract, and vice versa.
The bidding for contracts then is a interesting tactical tussle, but there's more... For the public sector contract, your two neighbouring players (ie: to your left and right) have the chance to 'co-sponsor' the project. They compete by 'sealed bid' (ie: placing the number of worker meeples they want to bid in their clenched fists). Becoming a co-sponsor means you'll also score the reputation on that public sector card, but it does tie up your meeples. Players get to return a meeple from each card but it's a two-stage process (ie: you won't immediately be able to use returning workers in the next round of bidding). In addition to the money and positive and negative reputation you earn from your successful bids, you get an end-game bonus that depends on the number of meeples in your HQ. That means, depending on the state of play, it might even be beneficial to lose bids in the later rounds, especially if that helps you in scoring for the asymmetric power of your corporation or CEO. It adds to the tension of late-game bidding if you follow the recommendation in the rules to keep your private sector cards and your money tokens face down, but they were open information when you won them so this just adds a memory component to the game, which is an option that will appeal to some players more than others.
Reputation plays quickly - our Board's Eye View plays mainly took around 30 minutes - and its novel bidding mechanic gives rise to some interesting dynamics and a fair few push-your-luck gambles. Ninja Star have done a good job with the production, tho' it's a pity that the contract cards are duplicated rather than unique. And is that the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, on the box lid? :-)