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
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
- Collecting antiques, and
- Advancing on the victory track.
You can collect an antique at either Location, but again, there are
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:
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.
- who needs one of the antiques showing,
already has a good set so is likely to Exhibit - or are they more
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,
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:
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.
- bluffing, and
- blind bidding.
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
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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