Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Kuhhandel Master

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Kuhhandel Master is an enhanced version of an older game, Kuhhandel a.k.a. You're Bluffing, first published in 1985. I had not played the original game before, but it did sound familiar. The new version can be played using the original rules, but since I learned it with the full new rules, I will now only want to play it that way.

Kuhhandel Master is a card game with lots and lots of auctions. You try to collect full sets of animal cards. There are ten types of animals, with four cards each. Let's start with the end game scoring. You score points for the complete sets you have at game end. Each animal type has a VP value. You add them up. Then depending on how many complete sets you have, you multiply the sum with this number. The animal VP values vary greatly, from 10 to 1000, but because of this multiplication that you need to do, you must not underestimate the value of the lowly 10VP animal.

On your turn you have two options. You can either draw a card from the deck to be auctioned off, or you challenge an opponent who has a same animal type as you do. When you auction a card, everyone else bids until only one bidder remains. You then have a choice of selling the card, or keeping it. In the latter case you pay the last bidder the amount that he has bid. When you challenge an opponent, you put one or two of an animal card onto the centre of the table, and he does the same. You then offer a number of money cards face-down. He has the option of taking the money and letting you get all the animal cards, or accepting the challenge. If he wants to fight for the animals, he gives you one or more money cards face-down. You both take each other's money, and secretly look at how much there is. Whoever has paid more gets the animals. It is through these challenges that animal cards will become grouped together, and once all 10 animal types have formed complete sets, the game ends.

The money in this game is one very interesting aspect. Everyone starts with: 2 x $0 / 3 x $10 / 1 x $20 / 1 x $50. Those $0 money cards may seem unusual, but they are an important part of bluffing. When challenging others, you can add those $0 cards face-down to make your opponent think that you've committed a lot of money. The game has a closed economy. There is no bank like Monopoly. You earn money from or lose money to your fellow players. Also there is no giving change. If you win a bid at $40, but are only able to pay using a $50 money card, you won't get the $10 change. Each time a donkey card is drawn, there is new money injected into the game - everyone gets one more money card, starting with $50 for the first donkey, and then $100, $200, $500 for the remaining ones. What this means is the value of money will deteriorate. If you are richer than your opponents, you want to take advantage of that before everyone gets the next windfall.

Two additional elements compared to the original game are rats and pedigree cards. If you have the rat cards set at the end of the game, it cancels one of your animal sets. This can be very painful because the number of animal sets you have is a multiplier for determining your final score. When a rat is drawn from the deck, the active player immediately passes it to the next player. This next player can accept it, or play a money card on it (face-down) to divert it to his next player. This process goes on until a player cannot resist taking the accumulated money cards, or he runs out of cards that he can add to the pile. When a rat owner challenges another rat owner, whoever offers less money takes all the rats at the centre of the table.

Pedigree cards are special animal cards. For each of the ten types of animals, there is one corresponding pedigree card. At game end, if you own a pedigree card and the matching animal set, you add 250VP to your VP sum before applying the multiplier (number of animal sets). If you own a pedigree card but not the matching animal set, you add 250VP after the multiplier is applied. Pedigree cards are auctioned using the Dutch auction. The active player starts a countdown from ten, ten referring to the number of money cards the buyer must pay to claim the pedigree card. As the countdown proceeds, any bidder can stop it, thus offering a specific number of money cards to buy the pedigree card. The active player may decide not to sell it. If so, he pays the highest bidder the number of money cards he offered.

Because of the rats and the pedigree cards, those $0 money cards become quite useful. These animals are won by the quantity of money cards and not by the value of the money cards.

Scoring example: My three animal sets are worth 500+350+160=1010. I have a dog pedigree card to go with my dog set, so 1010+250=1260. I have three complete sets, so 1260 x 3 = 3780. I have two lone pedigree cards, so 3780+250+250=4280.

The Play

I played with Allen, Heng and Jeff. This is a closed economy game, which means whenever someone becomes richer, someone else has become poorer. The wealth levels of players will go up and down, and it is important to gauge how strong or weak your opponents are. You want to challenge them when they are weak. Even when they are strong, sometimes you want to take the opportunity to challenge them too with the intention to lose but to earn a handsome sum from them. When they are rich they will probably be more willing to spend, especially when you challenge them with an animal card they are desperate for.

You need to watch what animals your opponents are collecting. You need to read your opponents during the challenges. Ideally you want to win by spending just a tiny bit more than them, or you'd want to lose but earn a huge sum from them. There is much bluffing involved. During a challenge, only the two players involved will know the amount that exchanges hands. The others won't know. During such moments the two trading players should try to mislead the other players, or at least try not to reveal any clues. Stay cool when you get a lousy deal, or pretend to be upset when you've just made a killing. It is usually in the interest of your trading partner to play along, because he would want to mislead the others too.

In the early game I probably spent too much money on buying animal cards, which left me weak for quite some time later on, and I had difficulty buying cards for some time. When others were later happily spending their money cards buying animals, I had to patiently collect money cards and rebuild my wealth. At one point I had a very full hand of many $0 and $10 cards. All I needed was for rats and pedigree cards to come up. And eventually they did, of course.

It was still early in the game and I was down to just a few cards.

I think in our game the donkeys came out quite early, so the additional money cards entered the game early. The $500 money card was already in the game at this point, because all four donkeys were out.

The tension ramps up as the game nears the end, because by then you get a clearer and clearer idea of who is leading, what animals each player may be targeting, and and what needs to be done to stop your opponents.

Heng won the game. He had the horses, which are worth 1000 base VP. This was not the only reason he won. He also captured other animal sets. The rest of us probably should have worked together harder to stop him. Overall the number of animal sets and pedigree cards won by the players were quite close.

When I had this many cards, and a pedigree card came up, I would pretentiously complain, "Do we have to start at ten? Why can't we start at fifteen?"

The Thoughts

On the surface this is a game about set collection, but the most important thing about the game is actually the auctions, which means you need to know how to evaluate the worth of a card or a set of cards. There is also an important bluffing and mind-reading element when you challenge others. The game is very interactive because you need to pay attention to what others are doing, how money is changing hands, and what cards have yet to turn up. You need to pay attention to the ebb and flow of the wealth level of the players, making use of your opponents' weak moments, and even their strong moments, when they are more likely to overspend.

The basic mechanisms are straight-forward. The evaluation of a card's worth is not always so.

Adding the rats and the pedigree cards doesn't make the game much more complex. Having learned the game this way, I think I will find it bland without these two elements.

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