…I was due to upload this review weeks ago but I was unavoidably detained by the rozzers on an ill-fated Sunday morning whilst investigating the mysterious case of the disappearance of Lady Plinnington-Cringe’s Virtue…not the most popular name for one’s personal pet alligator, I grant you, but these Victorian ladies of leisure are what they are…
Press play for a Victorian Parlour ambience to accompany your read
…needless to say the old bill took less than kindly to my being perched on her window ledge, peering in at her lace curtains, and as with all good tales, a well placed euphemism can never be underestimated…
Legendary are the tales told of The Hellfire Club. Since time immemorial we have decided the fates of Empires. How times have changed…
What’s All The Fuss About?
In essence The Old Hellfire Club is a storytelling card game that features a push-your-luck and memory mechanic that adds to the mix a spark of tension to what is claimed to be an otherwise hilarious game. At its heart is the deck of Boast cards. The Boast Deck themed around a full spectrum of Victorian melodrama from motives and perils to crimes, insults, and tea time, each illustrated with an excerpt from an original Victorian era masterpiece! Players are gathered in a gin den and forced cooperate to tell a story including the plot elements from their own cards. But there is a but …opponents can challenge the active player’s boasts by playing less impressive cards of the same suit with lower values. Thus, the diabolical lies are unmasked, embarrassing truths revealed and any pennies earned by the active player that turn are lost!
So, semi-paraphrasing what the game is about, we can conclude this is a multiplayer card game that, although contains cards with pictures and suits and numbers and…well, all sorts. This data is almost secondary to the key element. Fabrication. Porkie pies. Lies and boasts and incredible story telling.
I shall say from the offset that I have no imagination, not a fun person, and party games that involve telling stories are not my ‘go-to’ genre. So, with that said, and approaching the game from a disadvantage, is it, in fact, any cop?
Immersion or Subversion?
There can be no doubt this has the potential to be immersive… by that I mean it is a truly immersive, without a doubt, but this is reliant upon us, the players. Not that we have to dress in Victorian clobber or visit opium dens but we can fully immerse ourselves in the Victorianesque story telling aspect… the Victorian tale fabrication, if you like, by avoiding the ‘tactical’ gameplay. If we try not to think merely in terms of which card will most likely defeat our opponent without pushing our luck too much, but in terms of adding the card we play to the whole narrative. To take the previously played card and embellish the context within our own cars, weaving a tale of such complex intrigue, that a spider’s web spun in zero gravity whilst under the seductive influence of opium will seem like the epitome of clarity and uniformity.
It is up to the individual how deeply into the game they wish to lose themselves, but my recommend is to do it to the max. The mechanics of the game do not have much to do with Victoriana, it is true. Rather they are a means to provide a starting point for our narrative to begin, draw upon and embellished.
This is a surprisingly simple game. We have a hand of cards (all with suits-colours and numbers) that get played in a vain attempt to tell a wild tale to impress patrons in the gin bar…all in an attempt at parting them with their copper coins to reward our story. I say simple but there is a level of complexity beneath the simple story telling. If we play a card to the table we can use the title and flavour tex…even the Victorian art work to inspire the next part of our tale. Once that part of the story is exhausted we can play another card and continue to develop the tale. We can stop at any point if we are weak or we can push on to create an ever more elaborate tale. However, in the end we are always looking to make money from our words. Each card has a point value (not related to the title or flavour text) with which we are looking to score big. Cards of 7 or 8 value rewards us with a penny and over nine points score us a two lackluster pennies… if we choose to bank the cards. Cards below nine score nothing, sadly, but help tell our tale. Sometimes we have a hand of low cards and must tell the story with them in order to get a large card out to score.
“Simple…lame…uneventful”, I hear you yell in dismay. Actually it gets more complex yet. At any point an opponent can interject and challenge a player by playing a lower point card of the same suit. In this way they interrupt the story and make out that the active player is, in fact a great big fibber, and what really happened is what ever the interrupting player relates based on their played card. …all bets are off unless an even lower matching suit card can be played…the active storyteller loses any potential scoring possibilities this round. This is where cunning and push your luck nicely meld. Only high cards score pennies…and we must push on to score big…but in doing so we are open to interruption from opponents who know the real truth of the story. The game can become a very ‘back and forth’ affair with lies, bluff calls and counter bluff calls through the use of ever decreasing valued cards. This is a fun element to the game rather than true tactical strategy but it does lead to greater player interaction and improves down time as non-active players can always become involved.
There are patron cards that add an extra level of strategy to the story telling. These have a wide range of scoring abilities offering penny rewards for playing certain cards or scoring certain card types. This can be a gamble but if the gamble pays off, the bigger the drink buying kitty for later!
Benefactors lurk in the background (on benefactor cards… not real strangers stood in the kitchen as we play) carefully listening to our tales. If we are fortunate enough to collect the highest collection of a suit that corresponds to the benefactor, we satisfy their predilection and take the benefactor card… ultimately gaining additional pennies at game end from each such benefactor.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I have a print and play version which contains about 50% of the cards that will be available in the final game. It would be foolish to comment on the quality as these are draft printed on paper by my own fair inkjet printer. However the layout of the cards with its authentic Victorian artwork fits the bill perfectly. The snippet of art, card title and flavour text all help with setting the scene for the next portion of the grand tale.
*Since writing my little ditty, I have had the pleasure to play with a proper swanky prototype which, I believe, is going to be something close to the finished article.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: James Frew
- Artist:Variety of public domain Victorian paintings
- Playtime: (recess for those of the US persuasion):
- Gangs of One:2-6
- Age of Consent: 14+
- DOB: 2019
Yes…this is not a solo game, nor will it be. I cannot see a way to automate lies, deceit and pure outright exaggeration. This is firmly in the 2+ player category and is its strength, especially with higher numbers. This is why it has found its way into the STD category, where the family have been conscripted in to help test out the game
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: This is very much down to how good a story teller we are but
also how good a strategist we are. We need to know how far to push our luck, when to cash in our tall tales and when to interject an opponents narrative. Points make prizes…well, they make Victorian pennies…but as the money making giant said ‘every little helps’. As a head to head or heads to heads, dependant on player count, there is always going to be a winner and plenty of losers, who will drown their sorrows in copious amounts of gin, no doubt. It is all about the old pennies
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book accompanying my PnP copy is a mere four pages in length and, although still a working document, does a good job of clearly explaining the rules in a way that makes it a quick and simple matter of jump right in to the game. Gameplay is not overly complex so the rule set is equally uncomplicated.
- Lucky Buggers: There is no die rolling so the only luck element here (other than random nature of the card draw) is just how far we are prepared to ‘push our luck’. Obviously the more high scoring cards we play, the he more chance we win pennies but we also open ourselves up to sneaky opponents nipping in with a challenge…claiming we are fibbing and as a consequence make us lose face with our potential patrons…wave good bye to cash for the next round of drinks, good people!
- Highs and Lows: This is definitely a game to be played as a social event. It is about the playing as much as the winning. He theme is what players make of it but at the end of the day if we can adapt our imagination to the prompts on the cards, hilarity and hock value should be plentiful
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: This is but a deck of cards and as each player works with a small hand of cards plus a small area to layout current cards contributing to the round’s story, only a small coffee table is needed…in fact players could feasible play around a small stool…but unless it was clad in plush green velvet, it really wouldn’t be cricket!
- Set It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: Hellfire Club needs only the Patron and Benefactor cards separating from the main deck at the point of set up, then there is the dealing out of appropriate cards to players dependant on player count (plus a reserve pile of coins)…so in reality only a matter of moments before the hilarity, deception and tall tales commence. Equally packing up is a matter of boxing the cards and not running off with the authentic Victorian pennies (if a deluxe copy is played with…I surmise at this point as I know not for sure the exact plans for coins.
- Pay Per Play: In it’s current state, the game is a print and play file, printed onto cheap, nasty print paper and plastic sleeved… but for my review purposes, the game is sound and I didn’t need fancy smancy cards and tokens and coins and… coins? The final game, I am lead to believe, will obviously find its way onto quality card stock for all playing cards but there are rumours to suggest that the game will, in one form or other, come with authentic pennies (I was born just before decimalisation, somas a child had many of such coins to play with, even if not legal tender. If this is the case, it will add a quirky sense of realism to the game. Now I have never been a fan of fancy smoke and mirrors, glossy thin veneers to patch up a weak game so I won’t allow victorianesquen coins to sway me. That said, and I am not sure yet as to what the Kickstarter entry point will be for a base game, but from my playthroughs, there is certainly a huge amount of game, entertainment, opportunity to bluff, lie and blag friends and family. From a simple deck of cards, even when replaying already familiar cards, the way stories will develop when in conjunction with an almost unlimited combinations of other cards, never the same will two games be. This is probably the key point to look at when considering value for money and influencing a decision to back or buy. There is plenty of value for money here, especially when looking beyond the cost of components. There is a big social game contained within its humble packaging.
Me, Myself and I:
As I was not able to play this solo, I enlisted the help of the family, and so it is more Me, Myself and several others…and I!
Not being accustomed to this nature of game, it took a while to relax into the outrageous narrative element and move away from the purely strategic aspect of my normal comfort zone. This game is not really about winning but more about the journey taken to the game’s conclusion. Once we, as a group, settled into the story telling, the fun aspect improved dramatically and all players began to buy into the potential for hilarity. There is always a competitive element underlying this and some level of strategy/timing to be drawn upon, but at the end of a game it was always a time to reflect on the ludicrous suggestions we had made (counting up the plastic pirate coins I had used didn’t seem so important).
This is a perfect party or holiday game. Small enough to travel anywhere but big enough to accommodate player’s imagination. We had a blast fibbing through our teeth… Like I had the bottle to bottle up the Queens Farts, to be sold as a hallucinogenic narcotic on the Victorian Ebay… Vbay, as it could, and should, be known.
Yay or Nay?
I really need to devise a system for none solo games as it is unfair to let the Victorians get their industrial revolutionised hands on the BSoMT 1d8 die for a role against solitarianism. However, and contrary to my normal investment in time and energy (or a reluctance to participate) in to story telling, The Old Hellfire Club provides a great platform to feed the imagination. There is strategy regarding the value of cards we play and daring with how far we want to push things but ultimately the card Art and titles (as well as the flavour text) kicks us off onto a wild adventure. Playable with younger players, yes, but this most definitely lends its self to a more discerning adult audience…especially a creative bunch of adults.
All games are what we make of them, and how much we put into them, but if fun with friends or family, light strategy/high push your luck and blatant fib telling are your thing, this is a must. Due to be Kickstarted soon, I recommend you take a look once the campaign goes live. (link coming soon). If you are not afraid of letting your imagination run wild, embellish every card played to help build a narrative (rather than simply playing a card to beat an opponent) then this game will reward us all with a delightful Victorian storytelling wheeze!
Now if you really will excuse me I have to rush off with all haste to the British Museum where I have to meet Mary Saecole for a sly snog behind the Gong Farmer exhibit, just to buy a huge quantity of opium and try to force entry into the Savoy wearing some rather dubious flammable clothing…but why the Savoy was wearing flammable garments I have no idea… suppose it just goes to show the lengths we go to, to serve Queen and country…
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
The Old Hellfire Club BGG page https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/250593/old-hellfire-club
Live Playthrough with Monkeys With Fire
The Old Helfire Cub on Twitter
Old Hellfire Club Kickstarter