Games Gazette Logo


Designed by Andreas Schmidt for Zoch zum Spielen

POLTERFASS - I tried to translate this using online translators and the nearest I could get to a title,
and this took quite a bit of letter manouvering, is BARREL MAKING. That doesn't make a lot of sense
when you consider the game play, but hey, at least I tried.

So last October in Essen Fran and I sat in the office of Susanne, the lovely PR lady for Zoch (Noris Spiele)
going through the newly released games. One of these was POLTERFASS and to be honest our first impression
wasn't one of "WoW!".  Basically it was/is put some wooden barrel shaped into a cup, shake it, and turn them out
onto a Beer Mat hoping that at least one of them is standing up on end when the cup is removed.

The components comprise of excellent quality pieces, as one would expect from Zoch. There are seven light barrels
which have numbers on each end and two dark barrels that have a "doubler" at one end and a "negator" on the other
end; these Barrels are made of wood. Then there are the Beer Mats, one for each player, which are replicas of actual
pub Beer Mats, Cards, (6 sets of colour ID cards - one set per player) and a score pad.

I have described the game mechanic as it is, Shake the Barrels, turn them out, look for the numbers and specials. That's it!
Doesn't sound like much of a game, does it ? It's for 3-6 players aged 8+ according to the box, but then like so many Zoch
childrens/family games the play-testers haven't looked at the bigger picture. Sure it looks like a simple family game, after
all there are no complicated rules or masses of components or even a myriad confusing options as to what you should do on
your turn. However, it is actually a very clever game of guess, bluff and greed, and the nuances of the possibilities are maybe
too subtle for the thought processes of an 8 year old.



The game is played in a non-set number of turns with each shake and roll being performed by the players in clockwise order. The
idea is to be the first to score or pass 75 points. Points are scored by each player playing one or two cards hoping that the overall
player total is less than the final value of all rolled barrels.

Each player takes their turn at shaking and rolling / turning out the barrels. They take all the barrels, place them in the cup, shake it
and turn them out onto a Beer Mat. On the first roll (of each turn) if none of the barrels are standing on edge you get a mulligan and
can try again. The InnKeeper (the name given to the player with the Barrels) arranges the upturned barrels so that all players can see
their values; this includes the dark barrels. From the numbers the players can see how many barrels of beer the Innkeeper is, at this time,
offering - the "at this time" being very important. For example if there was a result of 3 light and 1 dark barrel on edge with the results
3, 5, 7 and a negator dark barrel, the Innkeeper has the current choice of 3+5 = 8 (losing the 7), 3+7 = 10 (losing the 5) or 5+7 =12. the
negator result means that one of the numbers is discarded.

The players see the result of all standing barrels, but have no idea what the InnKeeper intends to do. This is when the players select one or
two cards from their hand - there is a 0 card for bluffing - and place them face down in front of them. Now the Innkeeper knows how many
barrels are currently available but not how many the players want. The Innkeeper now decides whether to make another roll of the barrels
(not those currently standing). If the Innkeeper does make another roll (or rolls) they must get at least one barrel to stand on edge otherwise
they will not score at all this round. So let's use the above example and say that the Innkeeper does roll again, this time getting a doubler and
a 4. The possibilities of a score have now expanded to the necessity of needing a calculating mathematical brain.

The Innkeeper decides to keep what they have in front of them, a double, a negator, a 3, 4, 5 and 7. they must double the value of one of the
Barrels, discard another barrel, and then add up what remains. For ease of example I shall double the 7 (14) and discard the 3 which leaves a
final total of 23 Barrels (14+5+4). Now the other players flip over their cards and the total value of all cards is added up. If this total is lower
than the Innkeepers number of Barrels then all players score the number they asked for and the Innkeeper scores for any Barrels remaining.
However if the numbers on the player's cards exceeds the num ber of Barrels then the scoring heats up. First off, the Innkeeper scores the total
value of all the barrels he has on offer. Also, the player who asked for the most barrels scores their total as a negative and the player who asked
for the least receives points to the value of the cards played by the player who was greediest.

This game is very clever all round but especially when you are the Innkeeper; everything depends on your choice. If you offer a low number of
barrels then you are either going to score zero or only low. If you push for a high score by continually rolling the Barrels then the chances are you
will end up with nothing by having no Barrels standing (if this happens after your first roll then you score zero). By the same token, if you are one
of the customers ypu have to try to bluff the Innkeeper as to the number(s) on your card(s) - using the 0 as a bluff card can work for or against you
but it is a good tactic to use fairly often to keep the Innkeeper on his/her toes.

There is a current trend toward Greed type games and POLTERFASS falls right into this trend. It is bright and entertaining and makes for a super fun
half-hour or so of gaming. It is the right sort of game for gamers to introduce non-gamers to the delightful world of board (and associated) games.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021