Adel Verpflichtet

A game for 3-5 players by Klaus Teuber; published many times, most recently by Alea.
AKA By Hook or Crook and Fair Means or Foul
These comments copyright 2002 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 28, 2002

You're Calling it What?

All right, so it's originally a German game, published by a German game company. But when Avalon Hill published it in 1992 in English in the USA, they decided to keep the German name. Adel Verpflichtet does not roll off the average American tounge as well as Gesundheit does, alas, and this decision must surely be one of the more remarkable marketing decisions made in the gaming industry. They later published it as By Hook or Crook, but it may have been too late - the game never really caught on over here. Which is too bad - it's a great game.

The title means ... well, we don't have a phrase for it in English. In French they say noblesse oblige meaning when you've got privilege, you have responsibilities to those less privileged than you. In America, we've got ENRON, so I guess that's why we don't have the phrase - we don't even have the concept.

[I suppose the closest thing in the USA is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI, with its extensive exhibit of antiques collected by Ford. But the characters in the game seem closer to the British upper-class twits found in Monty Python or Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters than to the ungentle Henry Ford, Sr.]

So what is it?

It's an excellent game of British nobility collecting antiques and showing them off at various events. You're trying to amass the best collection, of course, by fair means or foul. This means both winning auctions for certain pieces and hiring thieves to steal pieces (and checks) from your rivals. Oh, and hiring detectives to arrest the thieves that others so crudely hire. Although it sounds a bit silly, the inherent conflict is certainly a great setting for a game - competition at various levels is always stimulating.

The whole game revolves around bluffing, which is not to everyone's taste. If you don't like games of bluff, read no further - it's mostly bluffing.

The game comes with an attractive board with various castles the antiques are to be shown at, as well as an auction house and a prison. There is a deck of 45 cards, each with a pictured antique, the year the item was made, and a letter from A to F. The years are all unique - the older the antique, the more valuable, of course. In addition, each player has a set of ten smaller, color-coded cards. These include two Location cards, four Checks totalling £50,000, two Thieves, one Detective, and one Exhibit card. Each player has a pawn, and the game has a short and clear rules set.

The game works best with a full five players - it lacks a little below that. The game starts with each player placing their pawn in the start space (the Club) and being dealt four antique cards. Each player takes his color-coded small ten cards.

The Basic Game

Each turn, two antiques are revealed for auction in the center of the board. Once players have seen these, they then choose one of their two Location small cards: Auction or Castle. These are placed face down on the table and only revealed when all have chosen one.

Once everyone knows who's going where this turn, each player chooses an Action card appropriate for their Location, and places it face down in front of them. I'll discuss them one at a time:

All those who chose the Auction go first. The actions they can choose between are one of their Check cards or a Thief card. Once all Action cards are chosen, those at the Auction are revealed. Highest value Check wins their choice of one of the two antiques for auction. The winning Check is placed in the cash register in the center of the board. Other Checks are returned to their owner.

If one player played a Thief, the Thief now steals the winning Check. This doesn't cancel the results of the auction, it just means the winning Check is turned over to the player who played the Thief card (which is also returned to him). If two or more Thieves were played, however, no one steals the Check - the Thieves return empty-handed.

Now those who went to the Castle reveal their Action cards. There are three choices at the Castle:

  • Exhibit means to show off your antiques, thus hoping to move along the victory track. More on that in a bit.
  • A Thief at a castle steals an antique from each player who has exhibited. Multiple Thieves do steal in the Castle - they don't interfere with each other. Highest value Thief (all are uniquely numbered) gets first choice.
  • A Detective arrests all Thieves at the Castle, but only after the Thieves deliver the goods to their appropriate Lord. Arresting Detectives earn their Lords a move on the victory track; those appearing without Thieves to arrest do not.
To Exhibit at the Castle you need to have a set of antiques. Remember that each antique is lettered from A to F? A set is defined as at least three cards which must contain letters either identical to or adjacent to other letters in the set. For example, AAB is a set while AAC is not - "C" is not adjacent to either of the other two cards, both "A" in this case. ABCDEF is a set - and any other card you collect can be added to that set as it will automatically match an existing card in the set.

Longer sets are more valuable: quantity is more impressive in this world, and quality only comes into play as a tie breaker. Since each antique is uniquely dated, if two sets are of equal length, the set with the oldest antique wins.

Winning an Exhibit means you advance on the victory track. Under the pictures of the 12 Castles runs a smaller track (the victory track) usually with two spaces per Castle. Each Castle has two numbers printed by it, such as 3/2 or 2/1 or 5/3. Whichever Castle the lead pawn is under is where the Exhibit takes place. The owner of the best set of antiques exhibited there moves his pawn a number of spaces equal to the first number. The second-best set moves spaces equal to the second number. (A successful Detective allows you to move a number of spaces equal to your position on the victory track at the time of the arrest: 1-5.)

Once someone reaches the banquet hall part of the victory track, all players reveal their sets. The best set moves its owner 8 spaces, and the second-best, 4 spaces. Farthest ahead at that point wins, ties broken by best collection (set).


First off, there are two separate games going on:

  • Collecting antiques, and
  • Advancing on the victory track.
You can only advance on the victory track if you go to a Castle, and it isn't guaranteed you will even if you choose that Location.

You can collect an antique at either Location, but again, there are no certainties.

The only two ways to advance on the victory track are to Exhibit or to catch a Thief. If you Exhibit, you have to have one of the best two sets in order to advance. You risk your collection being looted, possibly even broken. (E.g., if you have a nice set of AAABCCD and I steal your one B card, you now have two small sets: AAA and CCD, neither of which is likely to win in the future unless you're the only one exhibiting ... but, hey! You won this one, even if I stole something, so move your pawn now!)

How much a Detective is worth depends on your position on the victory track. If you're in last place, it's great: move five spaces if you catch a Thief! If you're in first place, you'll only move one space, though - not much of a gain. And it only works if an opponent is obliging enough to play a Thief ...

The only ways to increase your collection are to win the Auction or steal at an Exhibit. You only have four Checks (two small values and two large values) so you can't win too many auctions. Unless you steal others' Checks, of course ...

You only have two Thieves. They're worthless at the Auction if someone else has the same idea. They're worthless at an Exhibit if no one Exhibits. And they may go to prison if caught at an Exhibit. The prison holds five Thieves: the first Thief caught is put in cell #1, and moves to cell #2 when another Thief is caught and put into cell #1. It's first in, first out, so when the sixth Thief is caught, you'll get yours back.

So there are the choices: do I try to increase my collection or move around the track or steal a Check from someone to increase my collection with at some future turn? Every turn you have to weigh what's going on:

  • who needs one of the antiques showing,
  • who already has a good set so is likely to Exhibit - or are they more likely to play a Detective, knowing they have a good set,
  • do they have something that would help my set and so is worth stealing,
  • who else looks shifty enough to try to steal,
  • if I do exhibit, what pieces do I show off (putting out your best risks losing it; putting out less risks not winning the Exhibition and thus not advancing),
  • who's far back on the victory track and so may try an arrest to leap ahead,
  • etc.
If everyone is playing with these considerations in mind, the game becomes one of "I know that he knows that I know ..." but in a very lovely sense.

And therein lies the heart of the game. Poker players should love it. But others will, too - I don't like poker at all but enjoy this game very much.

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

It has two elements unpopular with some gamers:

  • bluffing, and
  • blind bidding.
That is, every turn you have to guess where someone will go, then what they will do there, and they know you're trying to guess so may be playing the opposite - but they know you know that, too... In addition, if you're at the auction, you have to bid without knowing how much the other party is bidding. You can easily grossly overpay, or sometimes miss out by a tiny bit when, had you known, you would have raised your bid. Some gamers hate one or both of these things, so be warned.

And, in my opinion, you always need the full five players or you get a lot of solo appearances at one Location or the other, which make for a boring game. For some gaming groups, five is an awkward number.

Summing Up

If you have no objection to bluffing or blind-bidding games, it's one of the best of its type. It's definitely withstood the test of time, been published successfully by four different publishers, and I'm glad it's still in print. You don't need an English edition - a German one is fine. There is no important text on the cards, and the English rules can be found at the boardgame geek. So if this sound appealing to you, pick up a copy and give it a whirl.

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