Games Gazette Logo

In the early to mid 18th Century around the Western World their sprang up a number of hoity-toity Gentlemen's Clubs where members of old and established families, from upper-class Tradesmen through to Royalty, met to partake of alcoholic beverage whilst they recounted both news and stories to each other. The OLD HELLFIRE CLUB card game from Jamie Frew has been designed to recreate the story-telling side of the Hellfire Club, though there is nothing in the Rules to say that the odd tipple or two isn't acceptable (with the exception of any under-age players being given anything stronger than an Irn Bru or a Pepsi Max).
There are three types of cards, BOAST cards x 100  PATRON cards x 30  and  BENEFACTOR cards  x 10 plus there are three sides (2 cards) pertaining to the Dual Integer Combinatory Engine via which the random theme for stories is determined.If you haven't already figured it out the wonderful 'Dual Integer Combinatory Engine' is actually the acronym D.I.C.E. - yes, you actually have to roll 2D6 and check read the result of the two faces showing, lowest first. Thus a 6 and a 2 would be read as '26' which when read on the D.I.C.E. chart would give you the tale starting by one of the old fogeys (ie the players) "Why we ended up in a fist fight with Charles Darwin". If you have already played that theme you can roll the dice for another, select one specifically or put the D.I.C.E. charts to one side and simply make one up.
THE OLD HELLFIRE CLUB is basically another 'Storytelling' game in the manner of DIXIT, STORY CUBES, ONCE UPON A TIME, STORYLINE FAIRY TALES etc. etc. etc. The players have a hand of 'Boast' cards for inspiration, Benefactor cards that give score bonuses at the end of the game and Patron cards which are either played immediately ('Y' cards) or played out of turn ('O' cards) and generally prevent a card or card type being played or add bonuses for certain card styles played successfully in a turn.
There are 10 different types of Boast cards all of which have three specifics: Their Colour, their Type and their Value (1-10). They also have a title pertaining to their Type and some flavour text that can assist the players with their story should they need it. When telling the story - the same story expands as each player takes the helm - players lay cards down one at a time. If another player wants to jump in they must interrupt the current prevaricator by playing a card from their hand that is either an 'O' Patron card that allows such an interruption, though in the case of a Patron interfering that player usually only dislodges and discards the last played card and the storyteller continues with their tale, or they can play a Boast card from their hand that matches the type (identified by category and colour) and has a lower value than the card being interrupted. If the latter is the case then the current player stops their anecdote and the interruptor takes over.
If the storyteller is not interrupted they may stop speaking at any time and gain the cards they have played - cards from 7 to 10 also gain bonus pennies if played safely - certain Patrons and Benefactors may add pennies to a safe score also. Playing your low cards will gain you the lead - you become the Storyteller, but you are likely to find that fellow players will happily let you play the low cards out as at the end of the game the cards that you have saved safely are worth their face value in pennies. Cards played to interrupt do not gain their player bonus pennies, thus playing a 9 to prevent a 10 being saved has both cards discarded, as well as any cards played prior to the 10 by the same player in the same round - cards previously collected are safe. The player who has played the highest value card in each of the 10 sets gains the Benefactor card of the type played.
Once a player cannot draw Boast cards to make their hand up to the required number (there are slight differences depending on the number of players) then the game comes to an abrupt halt and points are added up. Cards are worth face value plus any bonuses and the player with the most pennies wins. As we played the Demo version for the review we used real pennies for points, sadly they weren't ours and their owner wanted them back at the end of the game, otherwise in the last game we played I would have been 27 pennies richer (and yes 27 was the lowest score of our last game, and yes it was me that scored just 27 points, losing by a good 10 points).
This is a game for fun not for winning. During our games we have had the Queen of England travelling down the Mall in a carriage being pulled by a large Rubber Duck and David Livingstone caught 'scrumping' in a Royal Orchard. Emmeline Pankhurst turned up as a waitress in a Lyons Tea Shop serving a Lady of the Night who was enjoying the company of Karl Marx who had ordered Hot Crumpets with plenty of Butter. Also Arthur Wellesley (in his famous boots) having a quiet Cucumber Sandwich with a Scullery Maid before he was arrested for Vagrancy. The taller and most amusing the tale is the more fun the players have. We haven't played a single game where anyone bothered about who won, but we have had violent fits of giggles at some of the preposterous parables.
The Rules say the game is for 14 years and upwards but unless you have a 14 year old who has actually heard, and has some knowledge of, the characters on the cards then it is not as much fun for them. We would say you need a group of like-minded idiots aged from about 40 years old and upwards - or knowledgeable younger players who don't have their noses deep into their iPhones. Alcohol can relax players into creating some truly remarkabley stupid stories, but then so can some sober players with crazy senses of humour 'daft as a brush' is something I have been called many times.
Remembering that I only have the printed plain paper set and a plastic zip-sac not a box of any kind with a Rules Booklet, the Rules are very well written from an understanding quickly view point. The artwork on the cards is superlative though I would hazard a guess that much (if not all) of it is reproductions of famous and perhaps not-so-famous paintings from the 18th Century. 
The cards are of good quality - I would be surprised if the quality of the final game was any better than these in the Demo Copy which are flexible and shuffle/deal easily, just how a card deck should be. The only complaint we have about the cards is that they are, in our opinions, somewhat poorly designed for playing with. The illustration/picture is centre-top as expected, the flavour text in a centre-bottom box all good. The card title is set just above the flavour text box, that too is okay, but the card Value - top right and card Type along the left side are poorly constructed. The colour of the card gives the type away as long as you remember what colour equates to which type (easily done after about half a game) and the 'Value' number is large enough but in the top right corner makes it a left-handed deck when it comes to holding the cards fanned out in one single hand. Holding like this you can see the Colour and the Value but you cannot see the type by name. If the Value had been positioned on the left top, just above the Type, it would have made a right-hand deck and so much easier to hold and read.
The Ten Boast card Types are as follows:
Crime (light blue); Insult (grey); Motive (reddy brown); Object (light brown/yellowy-orange); Peril (light green); Place (dark green); Servant (light fawn); Teatime (yellow) and Weapon (pink).
The Ten Benefactors:
are all exceptionally Regal and follow the same Colour code (the border round the text box) and the same Boasts.
All Card Decks:
have different backs for easy sorting each game.
Not to be played too often otherwise stories may become too similar, but definitely one of the better Story Telling / Creating games. Lots of fun in just 140 cards.


© Chris Baylis 2011-2015