MEMBERS ONLY - Reviewed by Mike

Category/Format: Fun/Board Game

Another Knizia game that is simple in concept but clever in its design and the nuances of the scoring system. Nice card stock, wooden pieces and a pleasant board make for an attractive game that caters for 3-5 players and plays in 45-60 minutes. It was published by Blatz in 1996.

The game is themed around a Gentlemen's Club in London where the members discuss 5 vital topics of the day which are represented on the cards and the board by the 'Typically English' symbols of Umbrellas, Newspapers, Cups of Tea, Big Ben and Ladies Hats at Ascot.

THE CARDS There are 65 cards in total, 13 cards for each symbol, 2 of which contain the word "No !", which negate any 1 previous card laid for that symbol, At the start of a round all the cards are shuffled and a hand dealt to each player depending upon the number of players, this being 11,9, or 7 for 3, 4, and 5 players, therefore only about half the cards are in play for each round, making predictions a bit more difficult(well, what did you expect, this is a Knizia game !!)

THE OBJECTIVE The objective is for players to place bets upon the the final number of each category that will be present at the end of a series of heats which make up a round. In each heat the players will lay 2 cards from their hand for these various symbols which makes more information available to all and that player can then place a bet. This continues until they each only have 1 card left and then the total played for each category is determined and those getting their prediction right will be rewarded with a variable number of points(see scoring below) and their marker will be advanced accordingly along a scoring track. Just in case you might find that too simple the good doctor has provided a further twist in the method of determining the game end, thereby providing the players with something else to think about.

THE BOARD This consists of two sections, each consisting of 5 columns headed by the symbols described above. The larger section contains entries down the side for a prediction of the number of each type, these ranging from "1 or less" down to "4 or less" and "5 or more" to "8 or more". Each level of prediction has an associated number of scoring points, these being 1,2,3 or 5. The second section is the scoring track which is numbered 1-10 in the 5 columns. Each player places a marker in each column at the start and it is advanced down each column for all points that are scored in a round.

THE PIECES Each player receives 5 small tokens for scoring purposes; 3 Single betting tokens; 1 Double betting token and a White marker for a Risk bet, which is only used in the first betting heat.

PLAYING A ROUND Each player studies their cards and determines which of the likely outcomes they will bet on. Only one player's token can be placed on each square of the betting section so it pays to get your 'best bet' in early before someone else grabs it. In the first heat only players can bet their White Risk token, which will double any score made by that bet this round. The use of the Double bet obviously doubles the score for that particular bet and if used with the white token can effectively quadruple your score, but this is a bit risky on the first heat as so little information of the card distribution is known.

As the following heats unfold players will need to adjust their thinking in reaction to the cards being displayed. So if you were already thinking that perhaps you would bet on "5 or more" Umbrellas and there are 5 displayed already and you still have 2 Umbrellas in your hand you might decide to bet on "6 or More" or even "7 or more". However you must exercise a bit of caution as the tokens for all LOSING bets are not returned, only those on winning bets, so you will have less to bet with on the next round, unless you are completely wiped out, in which case ALL your tokens are returned in full. One final point, when each player is down to their last 3 cards they will have to discard one of them and play the other 2 and there is NO BETTING in this last heat. This is where the play of the "NO !" cards can foil your plans, as an opponent plays them to bring those 7 Umbrellas back to 5 and scupper your bet !

SCORING The number of cards in each category is determined and all losing bets are temporarily removed from play. The score for winning bets is determined by multiplying the scoring points of the associated square by the size of the betting token placed upon it, remembering to double any bets with a white token on it. The points gained are recorded on the scoring track for that category by advancing the tokens for the successful players. Once a token reaches 10 on the scoring track it can progress no further.

GAME END When scoring for a round has been completed the positions of the players tokens on the scoring track is examined. The game ends when at least one token from any player has reached the position of 5 in all 5 categories. If this is not the case a further round is played. If it is achieved then there is a final reckoning of all the tokens that have reached 5 or beyond(the others do not count) and the player with the highest aggregate total is the winner. By the use of this clever twist it means that a player with say 4 tokens on the 7 mark will beat someone with 2 on the maximum of 10 and 1 on the 6 mark. It's important to have a spread of scoring counters and it's also frustrating to have 2 tokens on the 4 mark count for nothing(he says, speaking from experience).

The essence of this game is determining in which sequence to play your cards without giving too much information away. If someone else has bet on the category that you were interested in do you declare your interest early by playing your cards of that category or wait and see if any negative cards come out ? What about your own negative cards ? you keep them until late in the round and then produce them to thwart some other bets ?. Which card do you discard ? which would help a large bet for an opponent but which means that your own bet is lost ?. This is all good stuff which requires a certain amount of careful thought.

This is lighter than other Knizia games and would be suitable for families with older children, as well as seasoned gamers, who would probably find it a good closing game of a session.

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