A copy of the Old Hellfire Club was provided for preview by the publisher. This was a smaller version of the game with less cards in it but still completely playable. The tokens in the images in this preview are my own and do not come with the game. The game is on Kickstarter now.
Greetings my dear and welcome to the Old Hellfire Club. Grab yourself a drink and join us. Pull up a pew. I was just telling my compatriots here about the time I was involved in foiling a plot to steal the crown jewels. There I was walking past the British Museum. What’s that? Yes you are correct my friend it was the Billington Fish Market. Now as I was saying…..
So it goes in the Old Hellfire Club, a game of debauched Victorian telling tall tales and trying to get away with it. Inspired by a hand of cards featuring lovely art and information from this particular period of history, you will set out to tell stories, true or otherwise, about your great exploits.
The taller your tale, the more potentially rewarding it is as you are showered with coin for your daring deeds. However, the bigger the lie the more likely it is that one of the other brigands round the table will you up on the details. Sending your tale to the bin of lies, someone else then picks up the pieces hoping that they can impress the clientele of the club with their own stories of famous folk and important places.
As you compete you will attract the attention of benefactors, eager to attach themselves to those whose tales meet their interests. When all is said and done the these benefactors will throw in their pennies, the storytellers will tote up their coin from the night and the player with the biggest purse will come out on top, and be buying the next round!
That all sounds like a jolly good time doesn’t it, and I would be a liar if I said that I haven’t had fun when playing the Old Hellfire Club. However, I find myself asking a question whenever I play this type of game: how much of the fun is coming from the players and how much is actually being created by the game?
The core conceit of the Old Hellfire Club is a good one, and has similarities to other games like Once Upon a Time. However with the Old Hellfire Club, I found the storytelling very ‘No actually’ rather than ‘Yes and’ which leaves the tales that emerge feeling very staccato rather than building to improvisational gold.
The game encourages you to interrupt the other players all the time, by playing a lower value card in the same suit. You can, and we found ourselves doing this, not interrupt because you want to listen to someone else’s tale and that is certainly a way to play it. If you play to “win” though, I think you will find yourself with a very disjointed story. There is no real incentive to build on other player’s tales and we found even the way you interrupt a little odd: rather than the interrupter then continuing the story you pass control of events to the person on your left. Whilst this ensures that everyone gets a go, it increases the feeling of a disjointed narrative to the stories which I personally found unsatisfying.
Each time it is your turn to spin a yarn you have to try and play at least two cards, a difficult task as it is with so many cards being in people’s hands. We could see almost no incentive to keep playing cards once we had successfully managed 2, there was just so much risk involved in continuing to play. It was much safer to tell tiny snippets of tale and move the story on to the next person, leading once more to a disjointed feeling to the stories.
The second deck in the game are patron cards, and it consists of a series of gotcha style powers and bonus points if you can play cards of a certain suit. Honestly these feel like an afterthought, and yet another interruption to the main focus of the game: the story happening round the table. We mostly ignored them, not out of a house rule or similar, just out of forgetting they were in our hands.
That’s Time Everyone!
Back to my original question then: is it the game or the players creating the fun? Honestly, I think this game will mostly come down to the group and I realise that is a huge cop out in a review. Whilst the cards give a good jumping off point for story, the game mechanics insist on constant interruption and negation of story, not building a tale. I wanted to listen to the tales round the table, not interrupt them as I was meant to, to build on the tale, not to negate it. The Old Hellfire Club wants you to weave a tale of Victorian daring do but you just end up shouting over each other like the drunks you are meant to be.