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Dirty Deals

Bruno Faidutti

July, 2000

Among the many card games that have appeared in the last year, two seem particularly to go together:

Corruption and Dolce Vita. A no-brainer, you'll probably say. After all, in order to live that dolce vita—with expensive sports cars, Caribbean vacations and all the creature comforts—you need to be a little corrupt... or lucky.

We have here two games based on the same basic principle: each player uses "bid" cards of different values in an effort to acquire "jackpot" cards that will earn him points. Players take turns placing a bid card under a jackpot card, with the option of putting more than one bid card under the same jackpot card to raise the bids.

In Dolce Vita, the jackpots are the usual trappings of wealth: fancy cars, racehorses, dream houses. At the beginning of the game, all the jackpot cards are laid out in seven columns of nine cards each to create a "game board." During each hand, every player places five of his six bid cards (worth from one to six points) face-up, one at a time, under one of the seven columns. When all the players have put down their five cards, the values of the bids under each column are added up. The player with the highest total gets the card at the base of that column, the player with the next-highest total gets the next card, etc.

The catch is that, when you get a jackpot card of the same type (car, jewelry, house) as one already in your possession, you lose the one you had and it's put back into play on the board, even if it was worth more than the new one. The only exception is in the case of "cash" cards, which are accumulated rather than replaced; but their value is minimal. So, at the same time that you're trying to get hold of the most desirable status symbols, you're also trying to arrange things so your opponents are stuck with items that will lower their scores. The game is therefore not merely tactical, it's also somewhat nasty: you're playing against your rivals as much as you are for yourself.

In Corruption, each player heads a group in charge of major public works projects and the jackpots are contracts for the construction of bridges, highways, and public buildings. The "bids" are envelopes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, which are passed under the table during negotiations. Each player also has at his disposal several special cards: the Journalist cancels a bribe, the Judge nullifies a contract, the Hit Man gets rid of a Judge or a Journalist. It's also possible to deposit the contents of an envelope into a Swiss bank account. This allows you to wait until the end of the hand before deciding which contract to apply the money to, but it reduces the envelope's value by 50 percent. Any resemblance to real life is strictly coincidental—the judges in this game aren't even corruptible.

Dolce Vita, where the cards are visible, is a game of strategy. Banana Republic, where the cards are hidden, is a game of memory. Corruption, where there are both hidden and exposed cards, as in stud poker, is a game of bluffing and intimidation. No doubt it's for this reason that Corruption is one of the rare card games that manages, in the absence of any actual hard cash, to recreate the ambiance and tension of the most dead-serious, real-life poker game.

The bidding strategy at the heart of these two games is not new but is a part of several games that have been around for awhile.

The theme of Banana Republic, which helped inspire Corruption, is elections—not quite on the up-and-up, needless to say—in a Central American nation. All the bid cards, and they're quite numerous, are played face down, with each player having at his disposal a certain number of points to spend to get a look at some of his opponents' cards. While bluffing isn't entirely absent, the main element of the game is memory.

Manitou, in which each player assumes the identity of an Indian tribe trying to capture herds of bison, is the most complex of the games in this family. There are basically two types of cards: hunters, which each player collects at the end of his turn as in the other games; and the more important characters, the chief, medicine men, and rainmakers, which are captured and then used in subsequent hands. The game's complexity makes it exciting but more difficult to master. Günter Burkhardt doesn't have a great reputation in the game industry and many people are hesitant to purchase games that he's created—which is understandable if they've played Edison—but Manitou is really an excellent game, undoubtedly Burkhardt's best.

That leaves The Seven Hills of Rome, but don't bother looking in your favorite game store for a box with that title on it. This is only one of the many little games by Reiner Knizia that Piatnik compiled and issued in one big box called New Games in Ancient Rome. Compared to the previously mentioned games, this very simplistic one seems like a work-in-progress. Lovers of numbers favor this game, but I don't.

I've also heard about Razzia, a game by Stefan Dora, published several years ago by Ravensburger, that calls to mind these same elements, but since I haven't seen the game, I can't comment on it.


# of Players

Quality of the Game

Component Quality


Dolce Vita Strategy, interaction 3-5 9 8 Reiner Stockhausen

Hans im Gluck

Corruption Bluff 3-7 9* 6 Bruno Faidutti

Atlas /Jeux Descartes

Banana Republic Memory 2-5 5 4** Doris & Frank

Doris & Frank

Manitou Complexity 2-4 7 9 Gunter Burkhardt


Seven Hills of Rome Strategy & simplicity 2 4 2 Reiner Knizia


*Assessment obviously subjective and unreliable.

**Doris and Frank has since made tremendous progress.

- Bruno Faidutti

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