Monday, May 5, 2008

Hoity Toity

New game number 17 for 2008 was enjoyed at HoGS last Friday night. It goes by the name Hoity Toity, though we played the original German version Adel Verpflichtet.

My knowledge of German being not what it was exactly what it has always been (ie. non-existent), a quick consultation of Wikipedia informs me that "adel verpflichtet" is equivalent to the French "noblesse oblige" which translates into literal English as "nobility obligates"; that is, the obligation of a noble to conduct him or herself nobly.

So "Hoity Toity" isn't quite a literal translation from the German, but it's in the ball park. And it's catchier.

The game is designed by well known German designer Klaus Teuber, best known for his ├╝ber-selling masterpiece Settlers of Catan and its myriad of spin-offs.

In Hoity Toity, players race to move around the board by displaying works of art. Everyone starts with 3 works of art dealt at random, and on their turn choose either to display their art in an attempt to move a certain number of spaces, or purchase art to expand their collection and achieve bigger displays on later turns.

It's an interesting concept and it's done quite well, though it seems to have a potential runaway leader problem which I'll get to later.

All players start in the starting area (shown at top right on the pic above) and race anti-clockwise (those wacky Germans) around the board to the dining table.

Each turn, all players decide secretly and simultaneously on what action they want to take. They have two options: go to the Auction House or go to the Castle.

Players choose either their Auction card or the Castle card and play it face down on the table. All cards are then revealed.

Players who decide to take the Auction House action this turn then move on to phase 2 where they have another two choices to make. At the Auction House, players can either bid for a piece of art to complement their current set, or try to steal someone else's winning cheque.

Once again, this selection is made secretly, and each player's selection is revealed at the same time. The player who played the winning cheque gets to take the top piece of artwork from either of the two stacks art stacks on the board. The winning cheque is then discarded on to the board, with any unsuccessful bids returned to their owners. As all the cheques have different values there will never be a tie.

Instead of opting to buy artwork, a player can instead choose to play a thief. A thief will steal the winning cheque, and is a good way to accumulate money for future auctions. If, however, more than one thief is played during an auction, they get in each other's way and no one gets to take the cheque.

Buying artwork or stealing goods is all well and good but it ain't gonna get you around the board. If you want to advance at all, you'll need to play the Castle card during phase 1.

All players who play the Castle undertake their phase 2 actions once the auction (if played) is finished.

You have 3 options during the auction: exhibit your collection, try to steal items from other players, or try to catch a thief. As for the auction, you choose your action in secret and reveal it at the same time as the other players.

If you played the Exhibit card you must choose at least 3 item cards in your hand and display them to the other players. Each card has a letter from A to F printed on it, and all displayed items must be continuous alphabetically. So for example, a set of A,B,B,C is OK, but a set of A,B,D,E is not.

The object of the game is to get the largest possible set of art, as whoever displays the longest set during an exhibition moves ahead the most spaces. The oldest piece of art wins the exhibition in the case of a tie.

The number of spaces you move ahead for winning an exhibition is determined by the current space on the board the leader is on, with each location having different values for first and second. So if you want to move ahead quickly, you're generally best to choose to exhibit if the leader's location contains a high number.

Of course it's not that simple. As I mentioned, thieves come into play during exhibitions as well. If someone chooses to exhibit, then whoever plays a thief gets to steal one of the displayer's item cards. If there are multiple exhibits, the thief gets to take one piece from every exhibit. If multiple thieves are played, they all get to steal one item from every exhibit.

Therefore if 3 people exhibit, and you play a thief, you get to steal 3 items to bolster your own collection. Sweet!

In order to dissuade thieves, a player can choose to play a detective. A detective only takes effect if another player or players select a thief during an exhibition. in this scenario, the thieves still get to snatch the art, but they are then thrown in prison.

A successful detective also gives his owner a boost by advancing that player around the board by the number of spaces equal to the player's current position. That is, if you're 5th you advance 5 spaces etc.

There are only five cells in which thieves languish once caught, and as it's a first in - first out scenario, once a sixth thief is caught, the first one comes back out, and so on.

The game continues like this, with players second guessing and bluffing their way around the board. If you're lucky enough to be the only player to choose a particular action (Auction House or Exhibit) then you can buy or display without worrying about thieves.

If, however, multiple players choose the same action as you, that's when you need to out think them in a way not dissimilar from rock-paper-scissors.

Once one player reaches the final section at the Dining Table, the game ends with everyone exhibiting their largest collection. The winner of this advances 8 spaces, and the runner-up moves along 4 spaces. Whoever is furthest around the board after this wins.

The fun in this game comes from the joy from outmanoeuvring your opponents or being hornswoggled by them.

Players who manage to get ahead have the advantage of being able to take a little time to increase their collection rather than worrying about catching up. In the game we played, Bernd and The Giggling One were substantially ahead, and as they neared the dining room they stopped exhibiting and either bought pieces at auction or simply stole artwork from Ian or myself as we desperately exhibited in an effort to catch up.

Being our first game, perhaps we weren't playing in the most strategically effective way, but it struck me that having a nice lead is a very good thing.

Don't let that dissuade you from playing Hoity Toity. It's a pretty quick game and the interaction makes it a lot of fun. It contributed to another enjoyable games evening.

Oh, and The Giggling One will make my life hell if I don't mention she won!

Images from BoardGameGeek

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