Flaschenteufel

Here’s what I wrote about Flaschenteufel on Spielfrieks. It provoked a reply from Joe Huber, the author of the original Games Journal review. He told that the new edition changes aren’t just cosmetic — some cards have changed colour and their scoring values have changed as well. It’s not a huge change, but something you might want to notice.

I noticed Plenary Games is distributing the beautiful new edition of The Bottle Imp in the States. I just played the game yesterday, for the second time and first time with the proper scoring rules and I thought I’d share my opinion of the game with you, since despite being reviewed in Games Journal some time ago, many of you might not know this gem.

My opinion goes something like this: buy it! It’s a trick-taking game with a clever, literary theme that actually works. That’s rare enough to warrant a purchase, but it’s also a very good game.

The game’s based on a short story by R.L. Stevenson (The Bottle Imp in Amazon.co.uk). If you don’t know the story, worry not: a booklet containing it in German and English is included with the game. The cards also tell the story with pictures and texts. Anyway, it’s about a bottle containing an imp. The imp fulfills every wish you make (except one of long age). The catch is that if you hold the bottle when you die, you can kiss goodbye to your immortal soul — it’s time to go to Hell. So you’d basically like to get rid of the bottle before you’re dead… But there’s a problem. You can’t just dump the bottle. You’ll have to sell it and with a lower price than you bought it. Which, of course, causes trouble when you reach the lower end of money.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story. Read the rest yourself — it’s an entertaining little story. What I wrote above is the part you must know to enjoy the game. The game is played with a deck of 36 cards, numbered 1-18 and 20-37. There’s also 19 card, which starts as the price of the bottle (there’s a beautiful small wooden bottle included). The cards are distributed to three suits — reds are the highest, blues are in the middle and yellows are the smallest cards. There’s a player aid included which shows the distribution, so that’s not too complicated. Each card also has a point value from 1-6 (typically larger cards are more valuable).

So, then it’s just basic trick-taking. Suit must be followed, highest card wins dependless of suit. The trumps are the twist. Bottle is the source for the trumps, so every card with a number *below* the current price of the bottle is trumps. In the beginning that means cards 1-18. If trumps are present, highest trump wins. If trumps were used, the player with the highest trump wins the trick and gains the bottle. The winning card goes to show the new price of the bottle, so as in the story, the price of the bottle falls slowly (or not so slowly) down.

In the end of the hand, each player scores the number of points in his or her cards, typically something from few points to fifty points. Using trumps well helps to gain points, obviously. However, the player who got the bottle doesn’t score any points from his or her cards. Instead they score negative points from the Imp’s Trick. Imp’s Trick is formed when each player discards a card in the beginning of the hand (this also helps to hinder card-counters). That’s usually under ten negative points, but that’s quite a lot still when the loss of positive points is taken into account.

If you are dealt the lowest card of the deck, you’re doomed? No. There’s the Imp’s Trick, as I mentioned, but you also get to pass one card to each of your neighbours. Holding a low card like 1 or 2 makes you nervous, I can guarantee that. You’ll be looking for the first possible opportunity to play the card under someone else’s higher trump. Those situations can be hard to come by, especially when you have the 1 card in your hand. I think this part of the game works especially well with the story.

The game is for three or four players and seems to work pretty well with both. There are also two different two-player variants, one with an imaginary player and one with both players playing two hands, one open and one closed. I haven’t tried those, but I suppose there are better two-player games around. With three or four, Flaschenteufel is great fun.

I’ve rated the game as 9 at Geek, with a possible raise to 10 coming it’s way one day. I think it’s the best trick-taking game out there and especially one with the best theme. I recommend you check it out, now the new edition is out and the game is easy to find.

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