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Bottle Imp
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Store:  Family Games
Genre:  Trick-Taking
Format:  Card Games

Bottle Imp

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Ages Play Time Players
10+ 30 minutes 2-4

Designer(s): Günter Cornett

Publisher(s): Stronghold Games,

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Product Description

In this trick-taking game based on the short story by Robert Louis Stevenson of the same name, the goal is to gain the most points over a series of hands (usually the goal is set to 200 pts). Cards are numbered 1-37 and are found in three colors, red (comprising largely the highest numbers), blue (mostly in the middle) and yellow (mostly the lowest numbers) with colors being analogous to the suit in a standard deck. There is one neutral card, the 19, that sets the "price of the bottle."

The entire deck is dealt to the three or four players in the game and then, similarly to hearts, cards are exchanged and a card is played to the bottle. As per the usual elements of a trick taking game, players must follow suit if possible with high card taking the trick (regardless of suit). The unique feature about this game however is how trump is determined. Any card of value lower than the current price of the bottle (starting with 19) is considered "trump" and will win the trick. If multiple cards are less than the current bottle price, the card valued closest to the current price (so highest card below the bottle) takes the trick AND THE BOTTLE, the bottle price is adjusted by the player taking the card that represents the current bottle price and replacing it with the card they used to win the trick. Thus the price of the bottle will decrease with each trump card played, and the bottle is increasingly harder to win/purchase. Ownership of the bottle will pass from player to player and the number of possible trump cards will decrease both as a factor of cards being played and cards being skipped as the bottle price descends. One player will be stuck with the bottle at the end of a hand (when players have played all the cards in their hands).

Cards have point values from 1-6 (not directly based on numerical value), at the end of the hand players will score points for the cards of tricks they've won, except the player who holds the bottle who will score NEGATIVE points for all the cards played to the bottle at the beginning, scoring nothing for the cards they won during the hand. Play continues until the point goal is reached.

Product Information

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 4.5 in 4 reviews

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Great, tense, trick-taking game.
September 11, 2004

Two years ago, if you had asked me to play a trick-taking game, I probably would have refused, knowing only Hearts and Rook - games that I didnt particularly dislike, but games that had been analyzed to death by all my friends who played them. This usually turned me off, and therefore trick-taking games had a negative rap with me. However, once I started playing many of the excellent trick taking games from Germany, my opinion started to change. The Bottle Imp, or Flaschenteufel (Plenary Games, 2003 - Gunter Cornett) has solidified my view of these games - I love em.

The Bottle Imp has always been one of my favorite short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, and I was pleased to play a game with this theme that not only was enjoyable and strategic, but also one that matched the theme tremendously well. There wasnt much included in the box, but the amount of game included was tremendous. The Bottle Imp plays exceptionally well with two, three, or four players, but I found that three players was probably the best, and its always nice to have a good three player card game around.

The theme of the story was basically that of a bottle in which lived a demon who would grant your wishes at the cost of your soul, if you had the bottle in your possession when you died. One could get rid of the bottle, but only by selling it for a lower price than they bought it. The game is composed simply of thirty-seven cards and a small wooden bottle token. The cards are numbered one through thirty-seven and are either yellow, blue, or red. Each card is also worth a certain amount of points, from one to six, indicated by the number of coins shown on the card. One card, the nineteen, is placed in the middle of the table and is the current price of the bottle. The remainder of the cards is dealt out equally to all the players. Each player discards one card, placing it face down under the 19. Each player then passes two cards: one to their right, and one to their left. The player to the left of the dealer begins the first round.

In each trick, the start player may play any card from their hand, with each player following suit (color) if possible, otherwise playing any card they wish. One of two things then happens:

- The player who plays the highest number takes the trick, putting all the cards from the trick in a scoring pile in front of them. (Example: If the blue 34, red 31, red 26, and red 37 are played, the player with the red 37 wins the trick.)

- However, if one or more players play a card with a value lower than the current price of the bottle, the player who plays the highest numbered card that is lower than the price wins the trick. They must place the card they won the trick with in the middle of the table (the new price of the bottle) and take the wooden bottle, placing it in front of themselves. Previous prices of the bottle are returned to the player who played them. (Example: The price of the bottle is currently 19. The blue 4, blue 13, red 35, and blue 20 are played. The player who played the blue 13 wins the trick and the bottle, and the new price of the bottle is now 13.)

Either way, the round continues, with the player who won the trick playing the first card in the next trick. Play continues until all the cards are played, at which point players total their points. Each player receives the sum of all the points shown on the cards theyve won, UNLESS they have the bottle in their possession. The player with the bottle gains no points, but instead loses the total amount of points on the discarded cards in the middle of the table. Play continues to the next round, until one player reaches a prearranged number of points - the book recommends 500. That player is then declared the winner!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: Other companies need to take note of Plenary Games packaging here. There are only forty cards included with the game (including three help cards) and a small, nicely done wooden bottle; but the box is good sized, holds the cards well, and has a lid. Ill gladly carry a game like this around, where I know that the cards wont fall out, or Ill lose the instructions. Yes, its a little bigger, but its sturdier and easier to handle. The cards are of high quality, and have pictures of the story or text on them. These illustrations are nicely done, and even though they and the text have no effect on game play, combined with the wooden bottle - the game actually plays just like the story.

2.) Rules: The rule booklet is composed of ten pages of rules in two languages. Everything is explained in great detail, which is pretty impressive, considering how simplistic the rules are. I found the game easy to teach and learn, although learning when to take the bottle, and knowing which cards to discard, etc., can be a little tricky.

3.) Strategy: The little help cards are very useful, showing what numbered cards are what color. Yellow cards are mostly low, red cards are mostly high, and blue cards are scattered across the spectrum. Knowing what cards everybody has helps a player play better tactically. In the beginning of each round, its easy for players to take the bottle, especially with a high card such as the 18 or 17. But as the round progresses, taking the bottle is a risky business, and players must do so only if they are sure they can get rid of it. At the same time, players are seeking to rid themselves of low cards. If you get the 1, and take the bottle with it, youll automatically lose the round. Therefore, its essential to get it on the table as quickly as possible, when another, higher price is played. Players must keep a keen watch on their own cards, because it really stinks when you are forced (by following suit) to play an extremely low card, taking the bottle.

4.) Tension and Fun Factor: The bottle and the negative points it brings are an excellent mechanic, and one that players are constantly wrestling with. Questions such as, When is the best moment to take the bottle? and When should you get rid of your high point valued cards? arise in every round, and there are many different strategies. One thing I enjoyed was the lack of automatic play. In many trick-taking games, with several hands, a player has one optimal strategy and should play cards in a specific order. The bottle and its dreaded consequences take this certainty out of the game, and players must weigh their options with each card played. There is gambling occasionally, where a player hopes that another player doesnt have a specific card, and this makes the game a lot of fun.

5.) Story: The complete story of the Bottle Imp, by Stevenson, is included in a little booklet that comes with the game. This really helps the theme, and is a must-read for those who have never read the story before. Its a nice component to include.

The Bottle Imp is currently my favorite trick-taking game. Each game plays differently, and the two-player variant works surprisingly well, making it a good game to share with my wife. Hard-core gamers, as well as people whove never played a German game before, all loved the game when I introduced it; and I havent met anyone who has disliked it yet. Its simple, quick, and fun; but with a great deal of strategy. Gunter Cornett is an underrated designer, and with games such as this and Kahuna under his belt, he has great reason to be proud. If you like trick-taking games, this is one of the best; I highly recommend it.

Tom Vasel

Real men play board games.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Excellent card game full of twists and turns
March 01, 2004

I just want to add my voice to the positive reviews below. For me, the theme is irrelevant, but what we have here is a card game of surprising depth. Every time I play it I see a new strategy that I can try next time. There is a pleasing mixture of strategy and luck, but the game is deep enough to keep me satisfied. The game is highly innovative and I recommend everyone to try it. But play it a few times before making your mind up, since the variety of strategies is not obvious at first.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
A card game with theme!
November 10, 2003

This is one of the best trick-taking card games I have played. It oozes with theme which happens rarely with card games. The theme is based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story about an imp in a bottle who will grant your wishes, the catch is you will be eternally cursed if you die with the bottle in your possession and you can only sell the bottle for less than you paid for it. In the game, having possession of the bottle can bring you lots of points but if you have it at the end of the game you receive negative points. The cards consist of 3 suits 1-37 with the 19 being the initial cost of the bottle imp. Like most trick taking games you must follow suit if you can and high card wins the trick and the points unless...someone plays a card lower then the cost of the bottle imp. That player then wins the trick and takes possession of the imp! A really great game for those fond of trick-taking games and plays just as well with 3 or 4.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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