Adel Verplichtet / By Fair Means or Foul / By Hook or By Crook

Review 1 originally published at  Doug Adams site
Review 2 originally published at The Game Report Online by Peter Sarrett
Review 3 originally published at  The Game Cabinet by Mike Siggins

Review 1 by Doug Adams

Designer: Klaus Teuber
Publisher: FX Schmidt/Avalon Hill

Adel Verflichtet is an intriguing game. Some claim it to be one of the best boardgames ever invented, others claim it's an overhyped version of rock-paper-scissors. Personally, I think it's a very good game, for family or the fun loving gaming crowd.

When teaching this game to new players, I always struggle. It is one of the easiest games you'll ever play, but try and get that across in terms of play mechanics! I usually just end up playing a couple of example turns with new players and then it's into the action. I mention this simply because if I have trouble explaining it, how shall I go reviewing it? We shall see...

The game has been released under various guises. Adel Verflichtet, By Fair Means or Foul, and By Hook or By Crook. As far as I know, they are all identical in terms of play, although the FX Schmid version has the better components.

The players in this game are cast into the role of crusty, aristocratic art collectors. The aim of the game is to collect the best collection of art, to maintain it and to put it to good use by exhibiting it. The player who achieves this will advance further around the board, and it's the player who advances the furthest who will win the game.

It's easy to play, but not easy to explain HOW to play! The players are after art, to flesh out their collection and to thus advance along a scoring track around the outside of the game board. The interior of the game board is used as storage space for the various cards.

These decision cards are what drives the rock-paper-scissors element in the game. The cards have a number "1" or "2" printed on them. To play a round of the game, every player takes up their "1" cards and selects one of them. This is easy as there are only two of these cards - the Auctionhouse and the Castle. The cards are revealed simultaneously, thus instantly revealing to the other players where you are this turn - at the Auctionhouse or the Castle.

The round now enters a second phase; what do the players do at their location. Players at the Auctionhouse can bid on works of art there, or attempt to steal some cash off another player there. Players at the Castle can attempt to exhibit art, thieve art off another player, or attempt to catch a thief in the act!

The players intentions in the second phase are revealed via secretly selecting a card with a number "2" on them and revealing them simultaneously. Then everything is resolved in rock-paper-scissors fashion.

The Auctionhouse

The players at the Auctionhouse can only play cheque or thief cards. Out of the players who played cheques, the highest cheque wins the auction and may select one of two face up art cards there and add it to their hand of art cards. If only one player played a thief, then that player may take the cheque that won the auction. If two or more players play thieves, they interfered with each other and earned nothing.

The Castle

The players at the castle can only play exhibit, thief or detective cards. Again, these are resolved in a specific order. The players who played exhibits must now compete against each other to present the best exhibit of art cards from their hands. The art cards are divided into six suits, labelled A to F. An exhibit of art must be at least three cards in size, and part of a set in either 'straight', 'of a kind' or a combination of both, to use poker parlance. The largest exhibit allows the player to advance their pawn around the board a number of spaces equal to the label on the leaders space. Second place in the exhibit allows a smaller advance.

Any players that played a thief at the castle may now steal a work of art from each player who exhibited, before their exhibits disappear back into their hands! Naturally, art is taken that increases the strength of their own exhibits. Finally, if any detectives were played, then all played thieves are sent to gaol. There are five spaces in gaol for thieves, which works on a first in, first out basis. Any detectives that catch thieves are allowed to advance their pawns a number of spaces equal to their position in the game.

The game enters a final phase when a player's pawn enters the 'dining room' section of the track. A final exhibit, involving all players, immediately takes place. The winner and runner up advance their pawns 8 and 4 spaces respectively. The player who's pawn that reached the farthest point on the track wins the game.

Adel Verflichtet is a game that is so easy to play, yet hard to put into words. It's an ideal party game for the more cerebral player, and often produces lots of giggles. There are some elements of tactics in the game, but the whole nature of the "1"/"2" card system, revealed simultaneously, promotes self doubts and second guessing of opponents. The better players will win more games, but it's by no means a certainty.

A former Spiel des Jahres winner, fun for family and friends. Recommended.

Review 2 by Peter Sarrett,  Complexity: 4, Skill level: 5

Games have a far more prominent role in family life in Germany than they do in the United States. German families commonly gather to spend quality time with each other through the medium of a board game. Consequently, Germany tends to have a greater market for adult and family-oriented games than the United States, and their Game of the Year award is a highly coveted prize. Adel Verpflichtet (recently released as By Hook or Crook in the United States) was named Germany's Game of the Year in 1990. It's easy to see why.

In Adel Verpflichtet, players assume the roles of art-loving members of the noble class engaged in a friendly competition. Through purchase and theft, players try to amass the largest art collection and thus win the admiration of their fellows (not to mention the game). Each player begins with four randomly dealt works of art, four checks ranging in value from 1,000-25,000 marks, two thieves, and a detective. At the start of each turn, players must decide where they will spend that turn-- a castle or the auctionhouse. They do so by secretly choosing an appropriately marked card and playing their choice face down. Everyone's location is revealed simultaneously and the second phase of the turn begins.

All players at the auctionhouse have the opportunity to participate in a silent auction for a work of art-- either by bidding or attempting to steal. Everyone who wishes to bid must secretly choose a check and play it face-down. To try to steal, a thief is played face-down instead. Everyone's choices are revealed simultaneously, and the person who played the highest check uses it to buy a work of art. If one player sent a thief to the auctionhouse, that thief gets to keep the check used by the player who won the auction. If more than one thief shows up, they interfere with each other and the check is simply discarded out of the game, as it is if no thieves arrive. All other checks are returned to their owners.

Players at the castle may display portions of their art collections for prestige and advancement. But beware-- the shadowy halls of the castle may conceal thieves waiting to steal your art treasures. Players at the castle must decide whether they wish to exhibit art, send a thief to steal from the exhibits, or send their detective to catch the thieves. Choices are revealed simultaneously. All players who decided to exhibit must now choose at least three works of art to display. Each work of art has a date and a letter (from A to F). All art in a player's exhibit must have the same letter or be part of a chain of consecutive letters (ex: ABCD or CDDEE). The player with the largest exhibit wins and gets to advance on the board. The second place finisher also advances, but not as far as the winner. If there are no thieves, players pick up their art and the turn ends.

If there are thieves, exhibitors aren't so lucky. Each thief gets to steal any one work of art from every exhibit. But thievery is a risky business-- if someone played a detective, all thieves are caught and put in jail. However, thieves still manage to deliver the goods to their employers-- exhibitors do not get their stolen art back. When thieves are caught, all players who sent detectives advance according to their relative position in the game (so the 3rd place player moves forward three spaces, and the leading player only moves one space). If a thief is sent to jail but all the cells are occupied, the thief who has been incarcerated the longest gets released back to his owner.

When events at the castle and the auctionhouse are resolved, players start the process again by selecting a new location. The game ends when someone reaches the banquet table at the end of the board, at which time one final exhibition is held. When the dust settles, the player closest to the head of the banquet table wins the game.

Adel Verpflichtet is an elegantly-designed game. No two checks have the same value, and they're distributed fairly. Cards meant to be played in the first part of a turn have a big 1 on the back, and cards meant for the second part have a 2. At the top of each card is a list of the places where it can be played, to further avoid confusion.

Such attention to detail is noteworthy, especially since it frees players to devote their full attention to outguessing each other. Nothing's quite so delightful as being the only player at the auctionhouse and making off with a piece of art for 1,000 marks, or being the only thief at a castle full of exhibitors.

Luck plays only a tiny role since outcomes are determined entirely by players' actions. Unfortunately, this leaves you without a scapegoat when you make a wrong decision. Everyone is always involved, too-- so there's no waiting around for your turn to roll around.

The more players you have for Adel Verpflichtet, the better. In fact, the greatest disappointment with the game is that it is limited to five players. Six would have been a much nicer number and, with a little more equipment, would not seem to pose a problem to gameplay.

Regardless, this is an addictive, fun game, wholeheartedly, recommended for all ages and all players-- from serious gamers to mothers-in-law.

Review 3  by Mike Siggins

The most popular European game of the moment clearly seems to be Adel Verpflichtet (pronounced Noblesse Oblige or, optionally, Rogue's Gallery) which is slated as the potential Game of the Year by many and represents FX Schmid's best hope from their rejuvenated 1990 range. With the exception of yours truly, just about everyone who has played it has liked it intensely and the first print run, (and the second if rumours are to be believed), have sold out. However, supplies are now starting to appear in the UK and should be available real soon now.

Adel is a game about eccentric English lords showing off their collections of objets d'art with the aim of winning a rather unlikely bet. It is played in a sequence of short rounds which involve decisions based on a hand of cards. Your opponents hold similar hands and they are therefore making comparable choices. It is, essentially, a game of bluff and of out-thinking your opponent in which your success is measured by moving around a race track. The first one home wins and is deemed to have the best bluffing and guessing skills.

There are several sub-plots to the game that I will run through before getting back to the central decisions. Essentially, each player is trying to establish himself as the best collector of weird and wonderful items. These include Meerschaum pipes, old masks, porcelain, Charlie Chaplin's boots, Marilyn Monroe's lipstick and so on. They can be obtained from an auction house or can be stolen from other players. Once the collection has been assembled, the idea is to display it and earn 'kudos' by showing off the biggest and oldest range of items at their stately homes and castles.

The collectibles are given identifying letters and collections can be formed from sets of three or more, in runs, or in consecutive mixtures of the two. As the collections grow in size they can develop weak points in the middle which, through an opponent's judicious use of a thief, means they can easily be split into two halves. This makes purchases (or counter-thefts) to strengthen a collection highly desirable. Collections are compared by simply counting the continuous run and the oldest item breaks any ties.

To obtain these valuable collection cards, each player has a range of action cards at his disposal. Each player has a selection of cheques (totalling the same for each player but in different denominations), two thieves (similarly differentiated), a detective who is used to capture any opposing thieves and a card indicating that the player will 'exhibit' at his castle that turn.

These cards are used in two distinct phases. Firstly, players simultaneously reveal if they are going to the auction house or to the castle. Those that opt for the auction house then perform a second round of card play which can involve playing cheques or thieves. If they play a cheque, the highest is put in the till and the player may choose any item on sale. Losing cheques are returned to their owners. If a thief is played, he steals the cheque placed in the till. If two or more thieves are played, they cancel each other out, thus wasting a turn.

If a player chooses 'Schloss' in round one, he has more options in the second phase. He can display his collection thus risking a small loss but likely to gain spaces, he can play a detective to capture any roving thieves (after they have each stolen one item of anything displayed) or he can play a thief in a the hope that a gullible collector will exhibit and thus guarantee a successful steal. Thieves caught at any time in the game are put in jail and are returned to play as the jail fills out with more recent offenders.

That is essentially it. Two rounds of fast card play which are repeated many times, until a player gets round the track. The pawns move around the scoring track in various ways. Squares are advanced for successfully capturing a thief with a detective but the highest move is usually from displaying your collection at the castle. Only the best and second best collections shown get to move in accordance with variable numbers marked on the leader's square. This encourages showing off your collection when the leader is on a high rated square but of course everyone will know this and thieves and detectives will also appear. The big plus for game balance is that this device tends to give the trailing players a chance to catch up.

In practice, the game develops gradually along the above lines with players building a collection, occasionally sneaking in a hopefully unopposed exhibition, and trying the occasional theft or detective ploy for good measure. Players can get left behind at the start, but catching up is reasonably easy and it is possible to gang up on a clear leader, even if this is done subconsciously. Canny players will be trying to spot trends among the opponents' card play and this can result in such unlikely happenings as five thieves turning up at a castle with no exhibits to nick. This is quite good fun, but is really only reproducing the Hols der Geier motif of everyone thinking exactly alike in a given situation.

Undoubtedly best with five players (any fewer is progressively pointless), the main attraction of the game seems to be that the quick, repetitive and simple game system lets you get down to some hard bluffing and psyching-out of your opponents. This is true, but unlike a decent game of poker, there is precious little information and data to draw on. Much is made, by Adel's fans, of the fact that you can play the people and not the game, but then this is possible in rock, paper, scissors. The consensus seems to be that the game's unobtrusive system is rich in strategy and options and, again, I agree to a point. There is a good range of strategies arising from the limited actions and the real knack is to get to the auctioneer or the castle on your own. This gives one a free run and guarantees a cheap objet d'art or a solo exhibition at the castle, thus earning valuable movement around the board. But, at the end of the day, Adel is a game with a limited number of options which can be quickly analysed and acted upon. It is easy to get carried away with the appeal of the human factor, but in no way does this save it as a game.

Adel has all the tell-tale signs of a 'great' German game. It was heralded by much favourable comment, the production is impressive (though I don't care much for the style), the subject matter is unusual, the game system is simple to learn and it costs a mere DM 30.00 (though a lot more here at present). It certainly impresses the socks off the game designers in our midst, most of whom wish they had thought of it. For all that, I don't feel Adel is a great game. A very good game perhaps, but certainly not great - a strong 7 if I may lapse into GI mode for a moment.

My aim here is to blow the whistle on a lacklustre game before it is carried away on a wave of overstated enthusiasm. Adel lacks anything much beyond the occasionally intriguing bluffing game and even though it improves with extended play, I fail to see how this one rates as a classic. In the face of favourable public opinion, I have to say that this game did not impress me but seldom have I come across such an overwhelmingly positive reaction elsewhere. I suspect it is one of those very popular games, like Civilisation, that I am destined to dislike. I therefore admit that it could be another example of my being way out of step with the masses, but I also have a hunch that there is more than a hint of the Emperor's New Clothes here.

There is a growing trend each year to hype games into the top level where they simply don't belong. I feel this reaction, which is not unique to the English, will continue to prevail until some truly excellent games are again released in Europe. At that time, we can get back to deserving Games of the Year rather than for those chosen through excess hype or by virtue of having the 'right' publisher for that year. I don't for a moment presume that I can do anything to stop this one making it to the top (there may ultimately be no other worthy opposition), but I urge you to at least take it on its merits and not on the puff. Overall then, Adel Verpflichtet is an above average game with a clever system and an unusual, fitting theme but I don't think it is likely to turn the gaming world on its head. Perhaps there should be a 'No Award' option for Game of the Year?

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