What's in a name? The recent Uberplay release, Hoity Toity, has been previously published with a number of different titles; By Hook or Crook, Fair Means or Foul but it's probably best know by its original German nameóAdel Verpflichtet.
Players are aristocrats who have challenged each other to a contest to see who can acquire the greatest selection of collectibles. It's these items that drive the game and players seek to put together the largest exhibit possible, an exhibit being a set of at least three cards with no "gaps" in the lettering (each is labeled from A through F.)
Play is card driven and players will simultaneously (and secretly) choose to go to either the Auction Hall or the Castle. Players at the Auction Hall will then (again, simultaneously) decide to bid Cash on one of the items up for auction or to Thieve the highest bid. Meanwhile, players at the Castle will either Exhibit a collection, Thieve a collectible from those exhibited or hire a Detective to catch any Thieves.
Choosing Cash or a Thief may gain you a card (either someone else's cash or collectible) whereas Exhibiting or Detecting may gain you points along the victory path. This is considered a single round and it repeats until one player has entered the Dining banquet at the end of the board at which point bonuses are awarded for the best two exhibits overall. The winner is the player who has progressed furthest around the board.
The game has been called Advanced Rock, Paper, Scissors and not without justification. Consider the Castle: holding an Exhibit is the surest way of gaining points but you stand to lose valuable items if someone plays a Thief. Thieves are an easy way to gain items but what if no one puts on an exhibit? Detectives can safely gain lots of points but only if another player plays a Thief. Due to this, some might dismiss Hoity Toity as being entirely luck based but this would be wrong. In my experience the same players tend to win time and again. This is because, unlike Rock, Paper, Scissors, the game has differing penalties/rewards for the various actions and this introduces a psychological element that (together with the repetitive nature of the game) makes all the difference. There are some players who are somewhat terrified of being thieved and so are very reluctant to put on an exhibit. If you can detect such patterns in your fellow players then you can use this to your advantage. Of course, you can never be totally sure of their actions but because you play so many rounds, if you can predict what they'll do most of the time, you'll likely do well overall.
Of course, the game remains something of a guessing game so I wouldn't emphasize the strategy or skill aspect too much. Hoity Toity should be a game you play for fun rather than serious competition. If you're agonizing about a move then you're probably over-thinking things. At 60 minutes it's too long to be considered a filler but it has the feel of one, the decisions are not too taxing and it's very accessible for beginners.
The rules are well-written and clear although there was one issue concerning the scoring of detectives. The original Avalon Hill rules seemed to be incorrectly written and so I (and many others I suspect) played that you scored as many points for a successful detective as your current standing. So, if you were in first place you received a single point but if you were in fifth, you received five. However, the example in Hoity Toity was the exact same as the earlier Avalon Hill rules and so I wondered if they were, in fact, correct. I contacted Uberplay and was ultimately answered by Guido Teuber (Klaus' son) and he confirmed that the example is correct. You score points based on the number of occupied positions ahead of you. So if Al is in first place and Bob and Carol are tied for second (with you placing next) then you would score three points for a successful detective. In effect, the fact that Bob and Carol are tied reduces the value of trailing players' detectives. Personally, I find this to be a rather awkward rule but it may be a better way to play. The reason is that with six players (and even five), the detective becomes very powerful, perhaps too much so. When going to the castle there is a risk if you choose to exhibit or thieve. (You can have items stolen or your thief may be sent to jail.) However, there's no downside to playing a detective, you either get the points or you do not. Since six points is more than you could score with even the best show, it skews the game somewhat. Played with the awkward but correct rule means that the value of detectives is somewhat lessened.
For a game that has been released in so many different forms and versions I'm very surprised that this is the first to actually accommodate six players rather than just five. Anyone who had a look through the original cheque (or thief) values could see that there were "missing" numbers that could have easily handled another player. In fact, many people purchased second copies in order to create a sixth set. (I myself created graphics to help people who were so inclined. The files can be found at http://www.pacificcoast.net/~greg.) It's further proof that Uberplay knows what they're doing by expanding the game to include this number, particularly because Hoity Toity works much better with 5 or 6 than it does with 3 or 4. I suspect many people will be upgrading their copies of Adel Verpflichtet to Hoity Toity.
Either way, it's an excellent game and is an ideal introduction to the world of German style games. Light, accessible and plays in about an hour. Despite claims that it is purely random, there is some skill to be employed (if only the ability to read your opponents). I think Hoity Toity is deserving of the title "classic" and belongs in everyone's game collection.
- Greg Aleknevicus