Erben v. Hoax


Publisher: Spielzeit Verlag, Am alten Pastorat 42, 51465 Berg.-Gladbach (under license of EON)

Author: V. Hesselmann, rework of the original rules by EON (J. Kittredge, P. Olotka, W. Eberle, E. Horn)

Game tested: German Edition, 1999

Tester: Moritz Eggert

Scenario: Who will inherit the "Legacy of Hoax" (translation of the German title)? Will it be the fat baron with his ability do declare practically everything as illegal? The wily judge who turns these accusations into lawsuits mostly profitable for himself? The preposterous Monk who can pardon the poor punished git...for a price? The sneaky thief who can steal even the hidden treasures? The shrewd trader who exchanges goods with you - even against your will? The mysterious magician who can steal riches with his magic - and basically annoys the hell out of everybody by being immune to most actions? Or the peaceful farmer, who is the only character in the game who seems to be happy just harvesting his grain while leaving everybody else in peace?

To find out you will have to assume all this roles - whenever and however you want. But be aware that you only have one true identity...which makes you an imposter most of the time, because if anybody finds out who you truly're out of the game!

The game: Even today the name EON is almost legendary. This group of dedicated and imaginative gamers invented more all-time classic games than you can shake a stick at. One most only mention games like "Cosmic Encounter" (their most famous game, re-published only recently by Avalon Hill/Hasbro, also in German), "Dune", "Runes", "Borderlands", "Quirks" to bring a gleam into the eyes of collectors and gaming buffs. There was always a common trait of all their games: they were wilder, whackier and more interactive than most other games. You will never sit quietly waiting for your turn in an EON game - all-round chaos and player communication are always part of any EON-design. But EON seemed to be a phenomenon of the 70's/80's, slightly out of joint with the current fads of gaming. I was very intrigued when I found out, that the original EON team was still alive and kicking, working on an Internet-version of Cosmic Encounter (see link below). And even more when I was introduced to a German reissue of their classic game "Hoax". And "Die Erben von Hoax" is more than a new edition - it is an improvement on an already genial game done in collaboration with the original authors, adding a point-scoring system, many clarifications and even a new character, the trader.

Describing the game does not do it justice, but I will try nevertheless...Each player (up to 8, minimum 4 to be fun) is dealt a secret identity from the ones described above. To win you must survive (which means nobody discovers your true identity) and also guess successfully what the other players are (kicking them out of the game and earning points). When it's your turn, you can act as any of the characters (apart of one you choose before the round starts and which is "blackened out" on your game card), mostly to get some kind of resource (there are three in the game: grain, gold and wine). You try to get "trio's" of resources (one of each kind) which you can exchange into a "question" about another player, which he has to answer truthfully by secretly passing you a card with an identity he is NOT playing (therefore increasing your knowledge about the identity he IS possibly playing). All other players can always react to any statement of identity: for example if a player takes 2 grain as the farmer, a baron might declare this illegal, another player might punish it as the judge, and yet another player might pardon you as the monk, but taking one of your grain as a price. In fact this combination of events will happen all the time, and you will find it EXTREMELY difficult to gain a trio. Once you have one, you might be safe, as a trio can not be torn apart...except by the thief. Bummer!

But of course nobody forces you to believe any identity declared by a player. You can always "hoax" him, which means raising your finger and stating "I don't believe you are the...". If 50% or more of the other players join in, the so accused has to say the truth: Either he "blackens out" the false identity for the rest of the round, unable to use it anymore, or he indeed IS the identity he stated - meaning he is out of the round, but with 3 safe victory points more than you. There is also the real "accusation" "I believe you ARE the..." which is dealt with secretly by passing accusation cards, and which is extremely dangerous as either the accusing player (if he was wrong) or the accused player (if the suspicion was correct) gets kicked out. The surviving player of this duel gets 1 VP, which isn't half-bad as well. If you make it to be one of the 2 last players in a round you get at least 1 VP extra, if you are THE last, you get 3 VP.

Several rounds (usually 3) are played to determine the winner - you win the moment you have 10 VP's.

Playing time: The first rounds will be very confusing for new time players - This is not a complicated game, but you have to know all 7 roles well to act convincingly. A game, once in flow, will last about an hour, not more, take 10-15 minutes for explaining the rules thoroughly. The rules (in German) are very complete and might seem overly detailed at first glance, but in fact are very intelligently done and unambiguous.

Similar games: "Sein oder Nichtsein" (first German edition, closer to the original hoax - as a curious side note: This game used caricatures of the then German game-of-the-year jurors as pictures for the various identities), "Hoax" (the original game published by EON)

Westpark Gamer's Opinion: This is a highly enjoyable game with lots of laughs. It is mostly a game of psychology - each player slowly develops his own strategy of deception and bluff. One of the most obvious ones will be to use your true identity to do something extremely annoying to as many players as possible (like the baron raising a tax), therefore provoking the "finger" "I don't believe you are...". If you indeed are, you will have 3 points, and be normally well off. But to be successful you'll also have to understand the strategies of the other players, though, and that will be much more difficult. This makes just watching the game and the other players as important and fun as being active in it. The best strategy will have everybody insecure about your identity all the time, therefore preventing the "finger" and the unwanted blackening out of identities (which reduces your action possibilities). The Victory-point element is a brilliant improvement on the original game, as it now also induces tactical thinking - sometimes it's better to doubt a player even if you're not sure, if it makes you one of the last 2 players with the potential to garner even more points. This prevents the stand-still-situations sometimes apparent in the old game, when everybody was scared to doubt as it was an automatic win for the wrongly doubted player. Now "tactical out-doubting" is crucial to the game.

"Die Erben..." might wear off slightly if you constantly play it with the same people, but even one single new player changes the whole complicated equilibrium of doubt and certainty. In short: a wonderful classic which everybody should know and play again and again. And a truly innovative game design unlike no other game.

Moritz' Rating: 10 (ok, you guessed it)

Westpark Gamers' Rating: 8 (19.9.2001)

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