I’ve written a review in Finnish of Tiukka tilanne rajalla. Here’s the same in English — this’ll be my 99th review on Geek, one more to go before the magical Golden Reviewer badge!
Hart an der Grenze is a game of bluffing, lying, haggling and negotiating. Players are crossing a border and taking turns acting as a sheriff. The other players stuff their bags full of goodies — legal and illegal — and then declare their contents. The sheriff can choose one player for an inspection.
If sheriff finds undeclared goods in the bag, the player who’s caught must pay fines: more for illegal exports, less for legal yet undeclared goods. The undeclared goods are tossed out. Everybody then gets to sell the goods they exported and whoever has most money in the end, wins.
Well, it’s not quite that simple. The player chosen for inspection doesn’t need to open their bag, if they can bribe the sheriff. That’s pretty simple: after all, if the sheriff catches something nasty, the fines go to the goverment. If sheriff extracts a bribe, that goes directly to the sheriff’s pocket. So, bribing is the best way to go for both parties. It’s just the exact amount that’s the problem…
If players calculate cold-heartedly, this might get quite boring, but fortunately most players rather pay the fines than pay lots of money to the sheriff — even if paying to the sheriff would be a better move. A good sheriff will be able to extract bigger bribes, while a slick haggler will fly cross the border with just few bucks left to line the sheriff’s pocket.
Few more twists
There’s an interesting alternative scoring. After a full round of everybody being a sheriff, players sell their cards — but they can keep up to three cards. Those wait for the end of the game, which happens after few rounds. In the end, the goods set aside are sold for double price — but only a limited amount can be sold, so it’s a bit of a gamble.
There are few more twists, but that’s basically it. The game works pretty well, but with more players, it can break down a bit. If all players decide that the risk of getting caught is small enough — and the bribes do work well — they can choose to all put five cards — the maximum — in their bags. That sucks the enjoyment out of the game and will lead to cards running out before the game is over.
Then again, if that happens, the group is probably playing a wrong game and will enjoy something else better. Hart an der Grenze is a light game and best played with a light attitude. If the players can’t help but calculate and think about efficiency, the game doesn’t work too well.
The game looks gorgeous: it’s a small card game in big box, but the bags players get are beautiful tin suitcases. The components work well and look great. In a game like this, presentation is important, so I give this one a full marks on that.
Hart an der Grenze is a good game in a genre I don’t love or need that much, thus my lower rating. If you’re looking for a light, fun game that works with a group of five or six and features haggling and bluffing, you can’t go wrong with Hart an der Grenze.