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Matthew Baldwin
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If you spend $18.95 on the new Bruce Faidutti card game "Corruption", you immediately get $31,000 -- heck, it's better than a .com stock! The cash comes in the form of six "bribe" cards, each with a different denomination from $1,000 to $10,000. You also get a Hit Man, a District Attorney, and two Reporters on your payroll. Sounds like a pretty sweet setup, eh? Unfortunately for you, your opponents have exactly the same cache, so you can't outspend them. No, if you want to become the Head Honcho in this town, you will have to just be the most devious and conniving of the lot.

The players all head up Construction firms, and will be competing for lucrative Government Contracts, which can be worth a million dollars and more. Six such Contracts come up for bid each round, each owned by one of three Government Bodies. Players take turns playing Bribe and Person cards -- some face up, most face down -- to the Contracts. Bribes may also be given directly to the Government Bodies' Swiss Bank Accounts. After each person has played six cards, the Contracts are awarded. First, each Hit Man played can "kill" another Person card on the same Contract (which simply means that it and the Hit Man are discarded). Then any Contracts with a District Attorney are nullified; no one gets them, and they are carried over to the next round. Finally, each person who played a Reporter may discard the Bribe card of his choice from the Contract where the Reporter was played. Once all the Person cards are resolved, each Contract is awarded to whomever has the most bribe money on it.

If this sounds a lot like the card game "Banana Republic", rest assured that it's supposed to. In fact, Faidutti describes Corruption as a cross between BR and stud poker. The "poker" aspect stems from the fact that most of the cards in the game are played facedown, so you're never quite sure how much another player has put on a Contract. Two or more people can get into fierce bidding wars as they each plunk more and more cards on a single Contract, without knowing exactly how much they need to win. Other players might opt to make discrete bribes to Swiss Bank Accounts. The SBAs, which are tied to a particular Government Body rather than a particular Contract, halve the value of any bribe played to them, but when Contracts are being awarded the player may move his SBA Bribe to any Contract that the Government Body owns. This tradeoff -- versatility for power -- sometimes pans out, and often doesn't.

There's not a whole lot of depth to Corruption, but it's a mean little filler. Mean enough that you should play it as an opener rather than a closer, because if everyone's tired and cranky the game degenerate into neverending tit-for-tat grudge matches. The light feel of the game first led me to believe that it wouldn't have much replay value, but now I'm finding that, like Liar's Dice, the true pleasure of Corruption comes not from the mechanics themselves, but from the psychology players employ to dupe their rivals and divine their opponent's motives. The game, which spans four rounds, becomes increasingly "open" as you play, so by the fourth round you can pretty much see what everyone is doing and take a shot bringing down the leader.

I remain unimpressed by the Swiss Bank Account rule: it never seems to have much effect in the games we've played. (We found out we had misinterpreted this rule in the first few games, but even when played correctly the SBA Bribes rarely seem to matter.) Perhaps the designer sensed that the game was fairly unsubstantial and tried to beef it up a bit with this rule, but I don't know that he should have bothered. After all, the best thing about Corruption is it's simplicity. You can teach it in moments, and when everyone knows the rules even a seven-player game can fly by. Plus, since everyone starts with exactly the same cards, you can't blame bad luck for your loss. Not winning Corruption just means that you aren't as underhanded as you'd like to be.

It's a bit pricey at $20, and there's a few printing errors on the cards (grr!), but Corruption is still a good investment. Invite some friends over and settle, once and for all, which one of you is really the best at being the worst.
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