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Games: Adel Verpflichtet and Barbarossa

Klaus Teuber is an odd designer. Even before cooking up the stellar Settlers of Catan -- a game that was to boardgaming what Mark Maguire was to baseball -- Teuber already had two prestigious "Game of the Year" awards under his belt: one for Barbarossa and a second for Adel Verpflichtet. This is doubly surprising because these three games couldn't be more dissimilar -- you'd never guess the same guy invented all three.

Settlers of Catan I won't go into -- Lord knows you can find enough information about SoC elsewhere on the web. Barbarossa and Adel Verpflichtet, however, are relatively unknown, despite their award-winning status. I have recently purchased both, and I enjoy them quite a bit.

In Barbarossa, players first create riddles by making tiny sculptures out of clay. These are placed in the center of the board as the game begins. On a turn, a player will move around a circular track and carry out the instructions of the space he lands on. Two of the spaces on the board allow a player to point to any riddle in the center of the board and ask it's creator for a letter -- the first letters, say, or the third. Two other spaces are marked with a question mark, and allow players to ask others about their riddles. A player may ask any number of "yes or no" questions about the riddles -- "Is this edible?", "Do I have one of these in my house?", "Does this have to do with horse?" -- until they get a "no". At that point the player gets a second round of questions, but this time he may try to guess someone's riddle by writing down what he think it is and showing the creator. If the player is correct, a plastic arrow is stuck into the sculpture and points are awarded. If the guesser is the first to identify a riddle, he gets 5 points; if he is the second, he gets three points; once a riddle has two arrows in it, it is "dead" and can no longer be guessed.

What makes Barbarossa interesting is that the creator of a riddle also gets points when his riddle is unraveled. After the correct guess is made and an arrow is stuck into the sculpture, all the arrows in all the riddles on the board are counted. If the total number of arrows is less than five, the creator loses points; if the total number of arrows is 5-10 the creator gains points; and if the total arrows exceeds 10 then the creator, again, loses points. So the trick is to make moderately-difficult riddles -- riddles that are neither to easy to guess nor too hard. In a sense the whole thing is decided before it even starts (while the players sculpt their riddles), but that doesn't stop the game from being entertaining from start to finish. And it's hilarious to see what the other players use as their riddles and what sculptures they make to represent them. (In my last game, my wife made the Kingdome, which drove me crazy because I was certain it was a hamburger ...)

Then we have Adel Verpflichtet, which I played last night for the third time and am truly starting to enjoy. The admittedly paper-thin premise is this: players are rich and eccentric aristocrats, who have a standing bet about who can amass the best collection of antiques. Players all start with four Antique cards. On a turn a player can take one of five actions:

  • Go to the Auctionhouse and try to buy on of the two Antiques on sale there.
  • Send his Thief to the Auctionhouse to try and steal someone else's money.
  • Go to the Castle to show off his collection of Antiques.
  • Send his Thief to the Castle to try and steal someone else's Antiques.
  • Send his Detective to the Castle to try and capture another player's Thief.

Ya get all that? Players first secretly choose where they will go: the Auctionhouse or the Castle. Once the destinations are revealed, first the Auctionhouse players and then the Castle players secretly choose what action they wish to take, and then the actions are reveled and carried out.

In the Auctionhouse, whomever bid the highest amount of money gets to take one of the Antiques, while those who played lesser amounts simply reclaim their bids. Then, if one (and only one) player played a Thief, he steals the winning bid.

In the Castle, all the players who opted to show off their collections do so, and whomever has the best (i.e. the collection with the most Antiques) receives points (as does the person with the second-best collection). Then, those players who played Thieves get to take an Antique from each of the collections on display. And, finally, players who played Detectives send the played Thieves to jail and get points for doing so.

All this makes for a tense game of bluff, think and double-think. The easiest way to earn points is to show off your collection, but every time you do so you risk being robbed. Meanwhile, those who play Thieves in the hopes of robbing you risk having their thugs thrown in the pokey, and so on. How well you fare is dependent not only on your choices, but also the choices of your opponents. If you're skilled at predicting what your opponents will do you will fare well, but if you're equally readable by others you may wind up in the poorhouse. Think "rock-paper-scissors," but, y'know, fun.

I purchased both Barbarossa and Adel Verpflichtet from Funagain.com.

Posted on February 21, 2002 to Games