Accusations echoing through time
Since the dawn of time we have (virtually without exception) loved making things up about each other. I reckon that back in the days of the caveman they were in their caves drawing pictures about how “her with the furrowed brow was off with the young caveman while her husband was off hunting”. Nowadays we’re much more civilized. We have soap operas where people get up to sordid things and we’re all shocked and amused by it. Thanks to this civilized era of humanity, it has also brought about games like Top Hats and Treachery.
Top Hats and Treachery is a 2-6 player game where you all play as hoteliers and staff in a Victorian era London hotel. The idea of the game is to promote your hotel by virtue of promoting the people which stay there, while at the same time slandering the name of people which are staying at rival hotels. You do this by playing either positive rumor cards on your own guests, or negative rumor cards on your fellow players’ guests. Coupled with this, if you find that the other players’ guests are getting just a little too big for their spiffing, well crafted boots then you can kill them off with a visit from the Grim Reaper. And who said the hotel business wasn’t cut-throat!
Taking turns at Treachery
Each player starts with 5 rumor cards and 3 patrons with different social status (1 upper class, 1 middle class and 1 lower class), which are worth varied amounts of points. Each card from each class starts off with a base score which you can see on the bottom of the card, and can also be modified with rumors. The higher classes score better than the lower classes and some peasant folk can even start you off with negative points. I’m not one for mercy killings, but I like to keep an open mind… especially if it means a win.
The Designer Andrew Prowse has managed to find some fantastic imagery to use for all of the characters and some are real people, including Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison and a cricketer called W.G Grace. When I drew this character it did make me laugh as I almost could have written the flavour text myself: W.G. Grace, Cricketing Superstar, Fantastic Beard. Comedy Gold! W G Grace is not on it’s own with this colourful flavour text either. I have to tip my top hat to Andrew for that. Some other fantastic examples include: a noble which “thinks the badgers are out to get him” (Wrong Rev. Jessop… it’s the cats) or a criminal who “makes pies out of whomever she can find” Also, I think this is a pretty good indicator if you needed it, that Top Hats and Treachery doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Tops Hats and Treachery has 2 sets of game rules; the Dead Simple rules and Simply Deadly Rules. The dead simple rules are exactly that, dead simple. Draw one card and play one card. However, the simply deadly rules mean that you need to roll a dice at the beginning of each turn to tell you how to proceed, and depending on the result it modifies the game in return. Such as play 1 and steal one from another player or play 2 draw 2. The dice I got with my copy is the best dice I have seen in a long time. It is TINY. I’m sure it’s true when they say that good things come in small packages… It makes not a jot of difference to the gameplay, but I thought it was a really nice touch.
As well as having 2 sets of rules, Top Hats and Treachery also has 2 lengths of game depending on if you’re in a hurry. There is a 10 round short game or a 15 round long game if you feel like hurling wild accusations and rumors around for that little bit longer. Depending on the amount of players it can play from anywhere between 15 minutes and 50 minutes. The winner of Top Hats and Treachery is whoever has the most points on their patrons at the end of either the 10th or 15th round. This person is then awarded the Queen Victoria seal of excellence as recognition for their fantastic service to the hotel industry. Of course for me that just meant bragging rights.
The rumor cards are exceptionally easy to identify with positive rumors being green, negative being red (these include your Grim Reaper cards too) and effect cards being yellow. Effect cards are really well varied and add another really nice facet to a simple but exceptionally fun game. A couple of fantastic examples of these can be that you can remove all rumor cards from a character (making them either bad rumor free, or removing all of the good rumors from a very well to do competitor) or get additional characters to add to your hotel. This can spice up the gameplay no end if your well laid plans are scuppered in short order by someone else.
Spinning a yarn (from my Top Hat)
Whilst it’s not a proper rule or anything I had a great deal of fun making up and telling stories while playing the cards on mine, or the other players patrons. If you can spin a really inventive yarn about how Oscar Wilde actually gained a limp after a backstreet Victorian doctor botched a breast augmentation job or why one of the servants in another hotel was so poor after wrecking an upper class patrons’ marriage and being caught, they ended up stealing the silverware from the hotel and got busted doing so, it adds a completely nonsensical but really funny and almost thematic side to the game.
Is it all Top Hats and Tripe?
So is Top Hats and Treachery worth backing? Heck yes it is! It is so portable and quick and easy to play that I can take it virtually anywhere and there’s no massive learning curve either so you can teach it in 5 minutes, and be understood.
It is a very cut throat game, but is light-hearted and silly enough that you’re not going to lose friends over it, and there’s pleasure to be had in the story telling of others while they’re destroying the reputation of your patrons. I was also suitably impressed with how much game comes in such a small box. There is a literal mound of cards with it, but not so many that you’re overburdened should you try and take it somewhere. There are enough characters, rumors and effects that it is highly improbable (potentially impossible) you’re ever likely to play the same game twice.
For me, the sweet spot of Top Hats and Treachery is to play for 10 rounds with the simply deadly rules. It doesn’t go on too long and adding in the randomness to each hand adds something a little special to each turn when you’re at the whim of the cube of doom. It can also give you something to look forward to if you like getting one over on your competitors… assuming you’re equally as willing to receive the same treatment of course.
Given how the game plays, it is difficult to talk about it without drawing a comparison to Gloom, but I think that Top Hats and Treachery is the anti-gloom. There are negative things being said about you as a hotel owner, and your patrons all of the time, but they are completely made up and you all know it, so you’re almost all in cahoots despite playing against each other. Also, if someone manages to make up a story about Oscar Wilde being a fervent womaniser (true story) or something then you can all have a good laugh about it.
In fact, Death doesn’t even feel the same in Top Hats and Treachery as when you kill someone off then it generally benefits you by decreasing someone else’s score, or improving your score by killing off a patron which is surrounded by negative rumours, as opposed to Death almost being the aim of the game as it would be in a game of Gloom. In Top Hats and Treachery it’s an added bonus if you get a Grim Reaper Calls card and can be used very tactically… or you can use it just to mess about and gang up on other players.
Overall I am very impressed with Top Hats and Treachery. I have had a lot of fun playing it, and I suspect I will continue to do so. I am going to monitor the campaign very closely in case the finished product ends up being nicer than my preview copy. If it does, then I’ll have to get another one!
One last tip of the Top Hat needs to go to Andrew in the name of the game. Whilst I have referred to it throughout the review as Top Hats and Treachery, we all call it at home by it’s acronym… THAT. “Hey honey, fancy a game of THAT tonight?” Actually, having just typed that, it sounds like code for something else. Oh well.
If you are interested in Top Hats and Treachery, it is due to go live on Kickstarter on 22/10/16.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.