Last night I played a traditional Italian card game, Mercante in Fiera (Merchant at the Fair) with a big group of friends. While everyone had a great night, as the auctioneer was very entertaining, and everyone was very committed to having fun, the game itself struck me as being mostly random luck. I couldn't figure out a reasonable strategy, and in the end chose to be very conservative in order to minimise my losses. Some players lost huge amounts of money, having bought as many cards as possible. Of course, the fun in bargaining and bidding for cards has its value, but if you are focused purely on winning, what is the optimal strategy?
In our group, there was around 20 players, who paid €5 each for the first card, and then everyone bid on the remaining 20 cards. The final pool was over €500, divided into 5 prizes (ranging from €25 to €250). I would estimate that the average price paid during bidding was €20 per card (the prices rose as the game went on and people became more excited).
What strategy recommendations would people make?