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Flaschenteufel - The Quick & Dirty
This review is of the 3 player game only. I have not played the game with 4 because there are so many card games that seat that many. Please keep this focus in mind.
Flaschenteufel is a card game from the trick taking family. It can seat either 3 or 4 players, and the system is "every man for himself" in terms of both play and scoring. The deck is made up of 36 cards in 3 suits. The cards are numbered 1-37 (with the special 19 card not being used during the game) and there is one card of each rank. Each of the three suits consists of 12 cards, but the distribution of ranks within the suit does not follow any straight numerical pattern. Rather, the yellow cards are predominantly low, while the high cards are predominantly red. Blues tend to fall somewhere in the middle. All 3 suits have cards which are quite low, and quite high, but the distribution is slanted in this manner.
During play, the entire deck is dealt out, and then each player buries one card beneath the bottle, and then passes one card to each other player. What is the bottle for? Quite simply, that is the mechanism that controls trumping. There is no set trump suit in Flaschenteufel, rather, that is dictated by the current card underneath the small wooden bottle that is included with the game. The bottle starts the game at 19. When play starts the usual rules for trick taking games apply. Thus, if you lead a red, I must follow as long as I have a red card. The only time one can throw a different suit is, as usual, when one is out of that colour. The trump cards are based on rank and not suit though. If the bottle is still at 19, then any card with a rank lower than 19 would be a trump card, with the card closest to 19 without going over (18 in this case) being the highest ranking trump. This trumping procedure is what makes the game quite unique. When one takes a trick with a trump card, the bottle is then placed on the card that won the trick, and is placed in front of that player.
Scoring is fairly standard fare. Each card has a coin value on it in addition to its rank. At the end of the game, one simply totals up the number of coins that one has taken, and adds that to one's score. Except, of course, for the person who was left with the bottle at the end of the game. That person loses points equal to the coins on the cards that were initially seeded under the bottle at the start of the game. Thus, the bottle is both your friend and your enemy. Much of the excitement in the game comes from players trumping, or attempting to get rid of low valued cards by pitching them into tricks that have higher value trump cards in them. For instance, if I lead an 18 on the first trick (a very bad play) then the other two players, while still having to follow suit, would then have an opportunity to pitch lower valued trump cards that could otherwise leave them stuck with the bottle at the end of the game.
The game continues until the players reach a set score. The manual vaguely suggests 500 points, but I found that that made the game play out too long, so our group generally plays to 250.
Like most card games, this can vary considerably based on how the players hands turn out. On average, a game should last about an hour if one is playing to 250.
Casual Games: Quite high as long as they have other trick taking game experience. Otherwise I would suggest starting with something simpler like Whist.
Medium Weight Game Fans: Quite high. The game has some randomness as it is a card game, but it also has plenty of room for skilled play.
Heavy Game Fans: Moderate. This is largely dependent on their tolerance for random elements.
I have only played it with 3, and I love it with that number. The game is supposed to scale to 4 as well, but I do not know anyone who has played it with that number. My assumption is that the game would be less enjoyable for me because the control that one would have would decrease due to the smaller hand size.
Like most card games there is a built in learning curve that makes the game quite addictive for the initial hands. The trumping procedure is a little different, and it takes a few games before one can start to see some of the tricks that can be pulled with aggressive leads and nasty trumping. Beyond that curve, your replayability is going to vary considerably. The game itself does not change all that much from time to time, so this is going to probably be reflective of your group, and how much they like to replay the same thing, how social they are, and so on.
Aspects to take into account:
Randomness: Flaschenteufel is a card game, and as such, the cards you are dealt are sometimes going to dictate how well a hand goes for you. Because of the card passing procedure, it is actually better to be dealt bad cards to start with, because you can then distribute them to advantageous positions. Having your opponents dealt bad stuff, well, I think you can guess where those cards will end up.
Fun/Raucous: I like card games because they generally lend themselves well to a light, social atmosphere, and Flaschenteufel is no exception to this. The wild plays that the trumping procedure allows for can make for some yells, head shaking, and general excitement at the table.
Evil player interaction: Like many card games, the player interaction in this title is constant, and borders on the sadistic at times. Be prepared for plenty of nasty leads, and surprising trump plays. The initial card passing also often features some rather...malevolent plays.
A bit of a learning curve: Because the trumping procedure is a little different in this game, I suggest being ready to play it a few times in relatively short order to get the hang of it. Occasionally playing a game like this is only going to be an exercise in frustration unless you invest that initial time to learn the system.
Somewhat hard to find/expensive for what it is: This game was printed twice, and both editions are now becoming harder to find (2006). As the game was printed only in Europe on both occasions, it has always been a solid 15$ or so in North America. Now it is becoming harder to find in local shops though, and there is a good chance that you will now have to order it from Germany, which means a higher price, even if only for the additional shipping costs. I might also add that the cards are fairly thin stock, so if you are planning to play it a few times it is highly recommended that you buy card sleeves (ala Magic) to protect your investment.
The bottom line: My regular group all are quite fond of card games, and Flaschenteufel has been a pretty regular sight on our table since I picked a copy of it up. It's not as heavy as a game like Cosmic Eidex, but it's not light either, and the fact that it scales down to 3 so well makes it a very nice option, as very few trick taking games seat that many comfortably. The game is a bit expensive for a card title, but I have never regretted my purchase, as it has provided a wealth of fun for that small initial investment. A definite must buy for groups which enjoy card games, and consistently have 3.
Handsome devil huh?
Nice review Michael, I enjoy The Bottle Imp myself, but find that I'm not one to suggest card games over actual board games very often. I like the theme of this one, and love the fun and interaction factors of it.