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Subject: Smuggle - so boring it doesn't deserve a funny review title... (a review) rss

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Kevin Outlaw
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As always, this review is also available (with pictures) on my blog AlwaysBoardNeverBoring. Please stop by if you feel the urge.


As a collector of old and out of production board games, I spend a lot of time in charity shops. Normally, I spend a lot of time in charity shops being a bit disappointed, having rummaged through the games shelf to find nothing more than another bloody copy of Carol Vorderman's Sudoku (does anybody do Sudoku puzzles any more?) and, even worse, The Sex and the City Trivia Game. I mean, really? Trivia games weren't bad enough already?

Sometimes, I will find something truly awesome, like when I picked up a mint, sealed copy of Fantasy Flight Games living card game, A Game of Thrones, for £5; but generally speaking, I will leave a charity shop with nothing, or a bit of tat that I think might be interesting but generally isn't (seriously, take a look at my collection and you'll see what I mean).

I picked up Smuggle, which is MB Games' rebranding of the classic bluffing game Contraband, even though I don't really like bluffing games. Why did I do this? Because I hadn't found anything else interesting all day, and it was priced up at £1.75. If it was a clunker, I could sleep easy knowing I had done my bit for charity; if it turned out to be good... that's okay too.

Contraband was originally published by Pepys back in the mid 1900s. Smuggle is what happened when MB Games got their mitts on it in 1981. It is a pure bluffing game, in which one player is a customs officer, trying to determine whether other players are lying about the items in their luggage. Sounds exciting, right?

Right?

Okay, the theme is not exactly gripping, and as I've already said, I'm not a big fan of bluffing games (although the two-player Dracula game from Kosmos is decent); so before I even opened the box, I wasn't feeling particularly happy about my purchase. But when I had enough people together to do the game justice, I got it to the table and gave it a whirl.

I am still not particularly happy about my purchase.

The quality of the game components are about what you would expect from a game made in the 1980s. The box art is the typical MB style, with little panels of images showing an overly enthusiastic family pointing at the cards and cheering. My group were not as enthusiastic when we played. I don't recall a single cheer (except for the one when I put the game away).

One unusual thing about the box design is the prominently displayed age restriction of 7-70 years. What happens once someone hits 70? Do they lose the ability to bluff? Or didn't they expect people to live any longer in the 1980s?

Inside the box there is a game board (which is nothing more than a place to put the stack of item cards, and a place for the discard pile), a deck of 56 cards depicting different types of items, and a wedge of (ugh) paper money. I know it was the 80s, but paper money sucks, no matter what decade a game is from.

The components are fine, except for the rather ugly artwork on the cards; and I was lucky with the copy I found, because everything appeared to be in mint, unplayed condition. Of course, finding an old game in mint condition is usually a danger sign: why hasn't anybody played it?

Here's why... The game is boring. I know it's a classic, and it's been around in different forms for years; but that doesn't change the fact, it's boring.

One person gets to be the customs officer and divides up the money for everyone, and then the person on his left draws four cards. The cards show either a luggage symbol, or an item of contraband such as cigars or jewellery (or even the crown jewels). Each piece of contraband has two values: the value you pay if you decide to declare it to customs, and the value you are fined if you lie and try to sneak through customs without paying.

So, the player looks at his four cards, and declares what he has to the customs officer. If the customs officer believes him, the player pays the required amount and then hands all the cards to the player on his left. That player discards one card, draws a replacement; and then makes a declaration. This goes on until the customs officer doesn't believe someone, at which point the person with the cards reveals what they have. If that person was telling the truth, he gets a bonus payment from the customs officer; but if he was lying, he must pay all the fines for every item of contraband he has. After fines are paid, the next player draws a fresh hand of four cards.

There are a few other rules (a player can accuse someone of lying before accepting the cards being handed to him, and there is a diplomatic bag that allows you to get away with carrying contraband), but that's basically the game. The winner will be the person with the most money at the end (or the person whose brain is still safely ensconced in his noggin).

The biggest issue I have with Smuggle, is the amount of time it takes to play. It should be a light filler game, playable in half an hour; but it takes forever. A round ends when all the cards in the deck have been used, and there are 56 cards in the deck. Considering that no more than four cards are drawn in any given turn (and in many turns it will only be one card), you can see how it will take a long time to get through the deck, even when playing quickly. Worse still, everybody is supposed to have a go at being the customs officer. That means, if you are playing with six players, then you have to go through the 56-card deck six times.

Excruciating.

I wonder if this is why there is an age limit of 70 on the box: there is a genuine concern that anyone over that age may not survive to see the end of the game.

I expect there will be many people who love this game, and will be quick to say that once you are into it you can play the whole thing very quickly; but even if I could get the game down to half an hour, that's still half an hour of doing something repetitive: Draw cards, lie or tell the truth, pay some money, pass cards, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, draw cards, lie or tell the truth, pay some money, pass cards, load gun, pull trigger.

And the theme... good grief. If, when playing, I felt in some way like I really was trying to smuggle something through customs - if there really was excitement and tension - then it might be okay. But this isn't really a thematic game, and there's no real tension. If you get caught, it's no big deal; you just pay a bit more money.

The repetitive nature of the game, the dull theme, and a playing time that runs longer than it should, all add up to make this a game that I cannot see myself playing again. Unfortunately, I have promised myself that I will only keep games in my collection that I will play; so this one has to go.

I am sure there are people out there who won't find this game such a bore, but it fell flat with my group; and it just confirmed for me that I really don't enjoy bluffing games. Time playing this game is time I could be using to play something that involves slaying dragons.
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David "Brother" Eicher
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"I wonder if this is why there is an age limit of 70 on the box: there is a genuine concern that anyone over that age may not survive to see the end of the game."

This line made me laugh and call my wife into the room to share this review with her.
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Kevin Outlaw
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Brothereicher wrote:


"I wonder if this is why there is an age limit of 70 on the box: there is a genuine concern that anyone over that age may not survive to see the end of the game."

This line made me laugh and call my wife into the room to share this review with her.


Aw shucks. Thanks for your kind words; you just made my day. Have something shiny because flattery will get you everywhere...
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Simon Harris
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You may (or may not) be pleased to know your review just featured on Absolute Radio (a national UK station) when the presenters were discussing this game! The usual 'I remember this as a kid' sort of thing!
Simon
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Kevin Outlaw
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harris_family wrote:
You may (or may not) be pleased to know your review just featured on Absolute Radio (a national UK station) when the presenters were discussing this game! The usual 'I remember this as a kid' sort of thing!
Simon


Really? I hope they weren't mean about me.
 
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Eddy Richards
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I spotted a copy of this in a charity shop today, but managed to resist the urge to add to my collection of tat.

Having read your review I feel this was a wise decision!
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Kevin Outlaw
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Good call.
 
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Dex Quest
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Got a mint copy for £1 - 75p better than you, and I actually quite like the game. It smacks of compact Eagle/Griphon games like For Sale with similar style artwork. Also, you can easily cut the game shorter by limiting the amount of turns, as opposed to waiting for the deck to dry which is admittedly too long.

I particularly like the double attack possibilities - where both customs and the next player in line get a chance to 'accuse' you, while the fun in passing on a hand of big stinkers for the next player to lie about or lose a huge stash is wonderful.

Got this with 'super 3' also by MB for £1 and that one is an absolute classic Can't stop-alike.
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Gordon MacNeill
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:


The biggest issue I have with Smuggle, is the amount of time it takes to play. It should be a light filler game, playable in half an hour; but it takes forever. A round ends when all the cards in the deck have been used, and there are 56 cards in the deck. Considering that no more than four cards are drawn in any given turn (and in many turns it will only be one card), you can see how it will take a long time to get through the deck, even when playing quickly. Worse still, everybody is supposed to have a go at being the customs officer. That means, if you are playing with six players, then you have to go through the 56-card deck six times.


You're playing it wrong. You take turns as customs. The player who was customs then has to pass on the stuff they let through. As such, you only go through the deck once.

Or at least, that was how I played it as a kid, and my family enjoyed it.

Fair enough, you have other issues, but no wonder it takes ages of you're sextupling playing time.
 
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Kevin Outlaw
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coolfoolwho wrote:
RedMonkeyBoy wrote:


The biggest issue I have with Smuggle, is the amount of time it takes to play. It should be a light filler game, playable in half an hour; but it takes forever. A round ends when all the cards in the deck have been used, and there are 56 cards in the deck. Considering that no more than four cards are drawn in any given turn (and in many turns it will only be one card), you can see how it will take a long time to get through the deck, even when playing quickly. Worse still, everybody is supposed to have a go at being the customs officer. That means, if you are playing with six players, then you have to go through the 56-card deck six times.


You're playing it wrong. You take turns as customs. The player who was customs then has to pass on the stuff they let through. As such, you only go through the deck once.

Or at least, that was how I played it as a kid, and my family enjoyed it.

Fair enough, you have other issues, but no wonder it takes ages of you're sextupling playing time.


Ha. It took five years, but BGG never lets me down.

We were definitely playing correctly. Going through the deck once is an excruciating chore that killed a house party once.

Thanks for reading.
 
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James Wahl
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RedMonkeyBoy wrote:
coolfoolwho wrote:
RedMonkeyBoy wrote:


The biggest issue I have with Smuggle, is the amount of time it takes to play. It should be a light filler game, playable in half an hour; but it takes forever. A round ends when all the cards in the deck have been used, and there are 56 cards in the deck. Considering that no more than four cards are drawn in any given turn (and in many turns it will only be one card), you can see how it will take a long time to get through the deck, even when playing quickly. Worse still, everybody is supposed to have a go at being the customs officer. That means, if you are playing with six players, then you have to go through the 56-card deck six times.


You're playing it wrong. You take turns as customs. The player who was customs then has to pass on the stuff they let through. As such, you only go through the deck once.

Or at least, that was how I played it as a kid, and my family enjoyed it.

Fair enough, you have other issues, but no wonder it takes ages of you're sextupling playing time.


Ha. It took five years, but BGG never lets me down.

We were definitely playing correctly. Going through the deck once is an excruciating chore that killed a house party once.

Thanks for reading.


How about the customs officer role passing to the right once players successfully pass a set of cards around the table, and the old customs officer drawing another four cards to begin the cycle again. Presto; all your problems solved. Playtime now 20 minutes to 20 years.
 
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