SdJ Re-Reviews #12: Adel Verpflichtet (a.k.a. Hoity Toity)

  • Designer:  Klaus Teuber
  • Publisher:  Multiple
  • Players:  2 – 6
  • Ages:  8 and Up
  • Time:  45 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 10 (On Various Editions)

Adel Cover

Adel Verpflichtet: Teuber gets a second win, and the hobby starts to go global…

Klaus Teuber published six games in the two years following Barbarossa’s Spiel des Jahres win: Timberland, Licht und Schatten, Die Älplerstafette, Asterix und die Römer, Einfaltspinsel, and Adel Verpflichtet.  Adel Verpflichtet – which roughly translates to Noblesse Oblige and whose name is a nod to a 1949 film – gave Teuber his second Red Pöppel and marked his continued rise as a German game design star.  The jury praised the game’s seamless interweaving of individual game elements, well-written rules, and lack of downtime.

Adel Verpflichtet is most notable for introducing the U.K. and U.S. to German games.  The German game hobby had been separating from that in the rest of the world since the early-to-mid 1980s, but in 1990 Adel Verpflichtet became one of the early ambassadors of German game design.  Avalon Hill published the game under its German name in 1991, going as far as to use the same art and German wording on the cards.  Notably, the Avalon Hill edition was the first game by a publisher in the United States to carry the Spiel des Jahres logo, and the cover prominently called Adel Verpflichtet Germany’s “Game of the Year.”  That same year Gibsons published their British edition under the title “Fair Means or Foul.”

Larry Levy wrote the best description I’ve read of Adel Verpflichtet’s impact: “The true significance of the game was that it was the first product of the German gaming industry to receive worldwide attention. True, other games had been exported outside of Deutschland before: Scotland Yard had appeared in several different languages and Heimlich & Co. had had a successful English edition (Under Cover). But Adel Verpflichtet was the first export to be acknowledged as originally a German game. Since many of these versions were by ‘hardcore’ publishers (such as Avalon Hill and Gibson), more serious players were exposed to the game. And what they saw—short playing time, high player interaction, clever rules, attractive and functional components—was very influential in the initial opinion of what Germany could produce. To many players throughout the world, Adel Verpflichtet was the first ‘German game’, and it served its industry very well.”  (You can find Larry’s original article in The Games Journal.)

Several other factors combined to raise Adel Verpflichtet’s profile.  Mike Siggins of the United Kingdom discovered German games in 1988, and a year later he founded Sumo, which would become a popular source of news about German games on both sides of the Atlantic.   Siggins reviewed Adel Verpflichtet in Issue 2 (July 1990), noting its popularity but saying his aim “is to blow the whistle on a lacklustre game before it is carried away on a wave of overstated enthusiasm.”  A few of his readers disagreed and wrote in to defend the game.  One such reader was Alan Moon, who in Issue 3 (November 1990) wrote that Siggins had “totally missed the boat.”  Mike Gray of Milton Bradley — the man who had tried unsuccessfully to get the company to publish Wolfgang Kramer’s U.S. version of Auf Achse — also wrote in to say he found the game “very clever and quite innovative.”  (Alan Moon would later write a chapter in the book Family Games: The Best 100 that can only be described as a passionate review of the game.)

In America, Alan Moon hosted the first Gathering of Friends in 1990.  Mike Siggins flew in from England for the convention.  According to one excellent account of the history of the German game invasion, the “clear hit of the convention” was Adel Verpflichtet.

Meanwhile, the internet was in its infancy, and the group rec.games.board was the first dedicated forum for gamers.  There were posts in the group about Adel Verpflichtet as early as May 1991, and numerous posts about the game followed.  In response to one post saying that Adel Verpflichtet had won an award called the Spiel des Jahres, users asked for a list of all of the SdJ winners.  (If you’re interested, the group rec.games.board is still active as a Google Group and an excellent source for tracking the history of the hobby.)

Back in Germany, Adel Verpflichtet was also the inaugural winner of the Deutscher Spiele Preis (DSP).  At the time the DSP was awarded by the magazine Die Pöppel-Revue, which collected votes from several sources, including its readership, journalists, game clubs, and game shops.  The DSP is today considered to be an award for gamers, trending towards heavier games than the SdJ.  Nonetheless, the awards haven’t always had different outcomes: five other winners of the SdJ’s Red Pöppel have gone on to win the DSP’s Golden Pöppel (Die Siedler von Catan, El Grande, Tikal, Carcassonne, and Dominion).  The top ten in DSP voting is revealed each year, and only two SdJ winners haven’t placed in the top 10 of DSP voting (Dixit and Qwirkle).

Hoity Toity would receive several printings, but the most notable are the 2000 Alea “10 Jahre” edition (which is #5 in the Alea Big Box Series); the 2004 Uberplay Edition, which was the first version to call the game “Hoity Toity”; and Spionage!, the 1992 Swedish edition by G&RRR, which is the only edition to use a different theme (spies stealing secrets).  All versions are currently out of print but can be found without much effort or expense.  I wasn’t able to find reliable sales figures, although I’ve seen a couple of mentions that the game sold more than a million copies (which doesn’t seem unreasonable for an SdJ winner of this popularity).

Adel Verpflichtet was far from the first game to use simultaneous action selection, but it was one of the earliest games to do so, and it was certainly one of the most influential.

The Gameplay: Auctions, Thieves, Detectives, and Art Exhibits

This review uses pictures from the FX Schmid German SdJ Edition.  I’m using terminology from the Uberplay Edition rules as I think that edition has the best written rulebook.  I’m assuming at least a three player game; there are special rules for the two player game that I’m not going to go into.

Adel Gameboard

Players in Adel Verpflichtet are members of the “Antique Club.”  Their goals is to show the most valuable collection in several castles — by fair means or foul.

At the start of the game each player picks a color.  Each player receives a deck of cards corresponding to that color, four Collection Cards, and a pawn to place on the start space of the game board.

Adel Verpflichtet is played over several rounds, and each round has four phases (Where, What, Auction House, Castle).  Game end is triggered when somebody reaches the red spaces on the score track.  Whoever is furthest along the score track at the end of the game wins.

Phase I: Where

During the first phase of each round players must choose whether the are going to the Auction House or the Castle.  The Auction House is where Collection Cards are acquired.  The Castle is where sets of Collection Cards are displayed to advance along the game board.  Players simultaneously play either the Auction House card or the Castle card from their hand.  (Both cards are pictured in the top left in the image below.  The back of the cards indicate that they are Phase I actions.)

Adel Blue Player Cards

Phase II: What

During the second phase players must choose an action based on where they went in Phase I.  If at the Auction House, players may play either a Check Card (the four in the bottom right of the picture) or a Thief Card (the two in the top right of the picture).  If at the Castle players may play either a Thief Card, their Detective Card (the leftmost card on the bottom row), or the Exhibit Card (the second card from the left in the bottom row).  The back of all of these cards indicate that they are Phase II actions.  I’ll explain what each of these actions does below.

Phase III: The Auction Hall

There will always be two Collection Cards up for auction at the Auction House.  The player playing the highest Check Card at the Auction House can pick one of these two cards.  That player places the Check Card in the cash register, and the other players take their cards back in their hand.  Each player’s hand has different values of checks at the start of the game, so there will not be a tie.

After that, if there is only one thief, he can steal the check that was played into the cash register.  He may not steal checks from previous rounds.  If there is more than one thief, no check is stolen.

Players who are at the Castle may not play in Phase III.  If Collection Cards run out, nobody can go to the Auction House for the rest of the game.

Phase IV: The Castle

The Castle is how Adel Verpflichtet earned its reputation as having a “rock, paper, scissors” mechanic, even though that analogy has its flaws.

A player playing an Exhibit Card must show at least three sequential Collection Cards.  Collection Cards all have a letter ranging from A to E on them.  Cards in a sequence can have the same letter, but there can’t be alphabetical gaps.  For example, a player could show ABC, BBC, or even DDD.  However, a player could not show ABD.  Whoever plays the most sequential Collection Cards has the best collection and advances as many spaces as the top number shown on the Castle of the furthest player along the game board.  (In the picture above of the game board, the red player is furthest along, and the castle he is on is a 4/2 castle.  Thus the player exhibiting the best collection would advance four spaces.)  Whoever has the second best collection advances the lower number of spaces (two spaces in the 4/2 example above).  In the case of a tie on the number of Collection Cards played, the player with the oldest artifact wins.  All exhibits played remain on the table in front of each player until the end of Phase IV.

Adel Collection Cards

At this point the thieves are played.  Each thief may steal from each exhibit.  Thief cards are numbered, and the highest numbered thief goes first.  If no player exhibited, the thieves leave empty handed.

Lastly, the Detective Cards are played.  All thieves are thrown in jail, with higher numbered thieves going in first.  The jail has as many spots as players in the game, and thieves rotate through the jail.  For example, in a four player game, there are four spots in the jail, and a thief would leave the jail (and return to the player’s hand) as soon as four other thieves were played.  A player earns points for catching a thief depending on their position in the game: the first player would only score one point, the third player would score three points, etc.  Thieves that are caught get to keep their bounty.

This process repeats until end game is triggered, which is when somebody reaches the red spaces on the score track.  At that point the current round is finished and then there is one last exhibition by all players.  The best collection advances eight spaces, and the second best collection advances four spaces.  The player furthest along the track after that wins.  In the event of a tie, the player with the most valuable exhibit (number of cards, then age of oldest card) wins.

An decent online version of the game is available for free at spielbyweb.com if you’re wanting to try it.

Does it stand the test of time?  My thoughts on the game…

I love Adel Verpflichtet, and I think it compares favorably to many of today’s bluffing games.  The game’s fast-paced play and clever use of bluffing have made it one of my favorites of the early SdJ winners.  Gamers seem to enjoy Adel Verpflichtet, yet it is streamlined and approachable enough for less experienced players.

I always tell new players that this is “Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Board Game.”  I think that helps for teaching the game – or at least letting people know that it is simultaneous action selection – even if the analogy is severely flawed.  New players seem to pick the game up with ease.  The rules explanation tends to take less than three minutes, and everybody I’ve taught the game to seems to understand the mechanics after only two to three rounds.

Adel Verpflichtet can be tense, particularly as endgame approaches.  I’ve never found there to be too much of a runaway leader problem: after all, players can gang up on the leader, and the detective scoring acts as a catchup mechanism.  That said, the player who best reads his opponents is likely to win.  There is little randomness in the game, although it does help quite a bit to start the game with a set of Collection Cards eligible for exhibition.

My favorite aspect of the game is that there is little down time.  This isn’t a game that invokes analysis paralysis, and the simultaneous action selection makes the game feel fast paced.  Once the action cards are revealed any decision needing to be made is generally obvious, and the only tough choices come in choosing which Phase II card to play.  Most games I’ve played last less than 45 minutes, and I’ve never had a game feel like it was going on too long.

Adel Verpflichtet seems to have broad appeal, although I have found a couple of players that dislike it.  The most frequently cited reasons are that it is too repetitive (a point that I think is fair) or that it isn’t strategic (a point I also see, although that really depends on one’s definition of strategy).  The game also would have little appeal to those who dislike bluffing games.

My “I love it!” status below is conditioned on playing a 4-6 player game.  The game is best with 5-6 players, though not all editions allow for that sixth player.  The game does not work well with 3 players, and I’m “Neutral” at best with that player count: there will be somebody uncontested at a location too frequently.  I’ve never even tried the game with 2 players: I read the rules and found the prospect unappealing.

Would it win the SdJ today?  I think it’d have a good shot.  Simultaneous action selection and bluffing have been often repeated over the past 25 years, but few games have done it as well as Adel Verpflichtet.  The game’s light-hearted theme, originality, approachability, and clever use of the bluffing mechanic would certainly appeal to today’s jury.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Brennan: I give it a 7 with 6 players (there are gaps in the cheque and thief sequences to make up the missing set) as there’s more fun and more competition. This is one of the ultimate Vizzini games. But Vizzini can only carry a game so far, so this is still just an occasional game for me. It drops a rating notch for each player less than 6. I traded it away after a few years as it got swamped by better games that provided more fun – and less accidental collateral damage to boot.

Mark Jackson: Patrick said it perfectly… in it’s time, it was a revelation (particularly in helping begin the “Euro Invasion”). It doesn’t have the staying power of some of the other “classic” SdJ games. The basic mechanic (“I cannot choose the wine in front of you…”) is enough to carry the game IF players are willing to play quickly – but slow play can make this excruciating.

Nathan Beeler: As previously mentioned, the simultaneous blind selection mechanism makes this for me a “sometimes game”. When it does make an entrance, however, it never fails to steal my heart. Whereas something like Rock, Paper, Scissors is effectively random — any given gesture is good only if it wins — the different actions you can do in Adel Verplichtet carry different weights at different times for different players. Often you know exactly what players want to do, but you just don’t know if they’re going to try to sneak them in right then or wait. Perhaps they’ll go against their best interests because they know that you know what they want to do and don’t want you to capitalize on that information. It’s informed second guessing more than pure chaos, and on occasion it is highly enjoyable.

Joe Huber (2 plays): Adel Verpflichtet was possibly the first German game I tried that didn’t work for me right from the start.  My first play was not promising, but I gave it one more try as friends enjoyed it more than I did.  But my second play did not improve my opinion – it’s just not my kind of game.  And I really dislike the name Hoity Toity – By Hook or By Crook and Fair Means or Foul are both _much_ better English titles for the game.

Larry (about 5 plays):  I’m up on my gaming history, so I’m aware of how important this game was in spreading the word of German gaming across the world.  And I know how big a hit it was; I can still remember seeing the Avalon Hill version all over the place, with “Germany’s Game of the Year” splashed across its box cover.  (My response at the time was, “Germany?  Really?”)

Nevertheless, it would be hard to find another game that combines so many things that I dislike in one package.  Bluffing?  Check.  Blind bidding?  Check.  Psych games?  Check yet again.  All of these mechanisms either bore or enrage me.  That doesn’t mean you can’t make a good game out of them (Adel’s success shows that you obviously can).  It just means it’s a game I want to stay far away from.

I’m actually surprised my group got me to play this as much as they did.  I guess there were fewer choices back then and I was willing to give such a renowned game every chance to prove itself.  But Adel really does nothing for me and it would be an automatic veto today.  Actually, it probably wouldn’t be necessary.  I bet over 95% of all gamers have never heard of it and would be shocked to learn that Klaus Teuber had a worldwide hit before Settlers.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen or heard of it being played.  Not every historically important game can maintain its status over multiple generations and Adel, for all its significance, has faded into obscurity.  But every designer who cashes yet another lucrative Kickstarter check should give thanks to Herr Teuber; not once, but twice.

Fraser: I haven’t played it for a few years, but would be unlikely to turn it down as I have enjoyed it each time I have played it.  That said I think I have only played it with less than five players once and that reminded me that more players is better.

Jeff Allers: I also had more fun with the simultaneous selection/guessing mechanic (famously described as the “Vizzinni/Princess Bride mechanic”) when it was a new thing (or, at least, new to me), but it does wear out its welcome, which is why I’m surprised that so many games still use it today. And while I am no longer looking to play this type of game, I think Adel Verpflichtet still does it best–and with a more interesting theme (and I know plenty of people who enjoy collecting antiques who would play it with me). So if I had to play a game with this mechanic, I’d still choose AV.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris W., Nathan Beeler
  • I like it.  Fraser, Jeff Allers
  • Neutral.  Patrick B., Mark Jackson
  • Not for me… Joe H., Larry
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3 Responses to SdJ Re-Reviews #12: Adel Verpflichtet (a.k.a. Hoity Toity)

  1. I never was a big fan of this game, so you might want to take my commentary with a grain of salt, but I dont think it would have a chance of winning today.
    The reason is, that the mechanism has been done now. Very, very often. And Adel verpflichtet is not the fastest or the most elegant among those, which might be the reason its out of print now. Back then it was innovative, but today no more. Since it was build solely arounf this innovation it hasnt aged well in my opinion.

  2. Pingback: SdJ Re-Reviews #13: Drunter und Drüber (a.k.a. Wacky Wacky West) | The Opinionated Gamers

  3. Dale Yu says:

    This is from Alan R. Moon – who sent me a comment via email instead of the box

    “What a bunch of fuddy-duddies you guys are. This is one of the top 10 games every created! It has inspired so many other games, and probably inspired designers too. For me, it is a perfect game in that there is nothing that can be added to it to make it better. I also find it amazing that, in a relatively short period of time, Klaus Teuber won four SdJ awards for four completely different games: a party game where you make things out of clay, a tile laying game, SETTLERS, and ADEL VERPFLICHTET, two of which have been in my favorite 20 games for over 20 years. Some designers keep designing using the same themes and mechanisms over and over (like me).

    Alan R. Moon”

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