REVIEW: The Old Hellfire Club

Designer: Jamie Frew, 2019
Publisher: Old Hellfire Games
2-8 players, 30-45mins
Price: £15-20 (approx)

Disclaimer: The Old Hellfire Club will be available to back on Kickstarter from April 9th, I believe – this is a demo-only copy kindly received by the publisher. I will include a link to the relevant Kickstarter page here as soon as I can: The Old Hellfire Club Kickstarter page.

If I told you the setting for this game was a back alley gin shop, and that your role is that of a washed-up has-been trying to concoct thrilling tales of your daring exploits as a former member of an elite secret society originally sworn to protect crown and country —for a jigger of gin no less— you may be forgiven for suspecting I’ve had a few too many gin-related concoctions of my own… but sure enough, that’s the setting for this hilarious game of claim and counter-claim in the grand tradition of story-telling games like Braggart, Bragging Rights, etc.

Yup, this game is all about the bulls**t… but it’s a lot of fun, too!

The core idea is that players try and weave a tale about their wild adventures in a former life by playing the appropriate Boast cards at opportune moments, in the hope that other players don’t ruin the story with Boast cards of their own. Boast cards come in different varieties incl. Crimes, Objects, Perils, Motives, Places, People, Weapons, etc.  and are numbered from 1 to 10, with the lower values effectively ‘trumping’ the higher values, so a typical round might go something like this…

How the assassination of Queen Victoria was averted!

Player 1 — “Well, my dear friends, I was Out At Night With A Blackened Face (Crimes_2) and came upon a few Seditious Writings (Objects_5)…”

Player 2 — “Ahhh, but on that night you was with Charles Darwin (People_9) discussing your Act of Treason (Crimes_10)…”

Player 4 >interrupting< — “Nope, sorry, you got that wrong, I’m sure you told me you were discussing Vagrancy (Crimes_3) at the time…”

Player 3 — “Yup, and you told me you had A Cut-Throat Razor (Weapon_3) to the neck of Karl Marx (People_5) and wasn’t with Darwin at all…”

Player 1 >interrupting< — “Errr…. nope. Sorry, that’s a lie, because she told me she was walking alongside Isabella Beeton (People_2), and holding An Amazonian Blowpipe (Weapon_5) at the time…”

Player 3 >after drawing back up to 5 cards< — “Well, actually, she was at the British Museum (Places_8), and was cooking something up For the Good of the Poor (Motive_3) in a fit of Whimsy (Motive_1), and even squeezed A Shining Sixpence (Objects_2) into her Overly-tight Corsetry (Perils_3)!”

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Hopefully you get the general idea from that little snippet, but basically you have to try and successfully play at least two Boast cards without being challenged or trumped by other players. A successful interrupt means the player who got interrupted loses any possible points for the Boast cards they’ve played, while the player who successfully interrupted may choose to stop with that one card and ‘bank it’, or continue the tale if they feel bold and confident enough that another player won’t be able to interrupt them. The round resumes with the player who was supposed to go next (after the player before them who just got rudely interrupted).

Successfully playing cards with values between 7 and 10 is quite hard because these can often be trumped by other players, but if you’ve been following which cards have been played it’s perfectly possible to get away with it, especially since player hands are not replenished until the start of their next turn, so repeated interrupts (successful or otherwise) will soon land those players with much fewer cards to play.

In practice, it works seamlessly, but of course not everyone can spin a yarn off-the-cuff quite so easily, which is why included herein you’ll find Countess Lovelace’s rather unique Dual Integer Combinatory Engine (I’m sure you can work that out for yourselves), designed to serve as inspiration for those who might otherwise struggle with this sort of storytelling game…

TOHC_1

Successfully playing Boast cards with values of 7 or 8 during your turn (without getting trumped or interrupted) will get you a bonus penny, whereas playing a 9 or 10 will earn you two bonus pennies. Extra pennies are also awarded at the end of the game for those players who have successfully played the most of each type/colour of Boast card. In addition, players who have successfully played the highest value Boast cards in each category can also earn bonus pennies if the relevant Benefactor standees are in front of them at the end of the game… The winner of course, is the player with the most pennies at game end, and that occurs when there are not enough Boast cards for a player to replenish their supply at the start of their turn.

Included in the game are special Patron cards that offer some form of bonus and/or influence for the players holding them, and these can be played to earn extra bonus pennies, too.

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All told, this is a rather fun romp, and as players start enthusiastically trumping each other, the original story gets increasingly wild and far-fetched, leading to uproarious laughter and ever more ridiculousness. The designer freely encourages players to start the tale all over again if it’s become so outlandish as to be nigh-on incomprehensible, with the classic phrase: “Let me tell you what really happened…”

In summary, this is a game that will positively ooze with appeal for many, while others may struggle with the initial concept of telling rather tall tales of outlandish fibbery. Rest assured, with the right crowd this’ll serve as an excellent opener (or closer) for your gaming evening, and if it’s not the sort of thing you’d normally go for, may I respectfully suggest you give it a try?  You never know, you may surprise yourself, and those who thought they knew you better…

The Old Hellfire Club on Kickstarter

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