23rd Jul2018

‘Pot de Vin’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

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Trick taking Games come in a wide variety of forms, but relatively few manage to create a feeling of thematic relevance in the same way as Pot de Vin does. Set during the aftermath of a political coup, each player takes the role of a powerful figure vying for control of the most influential guilds in their state. Each of the guilds is influenced by four shady characters, who are collected in sets based on a fairly traditional trump and follow mechanism.

Pot de Vin comes in a tiny box and supports between three and six players, which makes it the perfect game for a casual Friday night or as a more interesting alternative to traditional card games when traveling. Since I often travel during the week, I love to surprise my colleagues with a game that we can play in a hotel lobby or bar; Pot de Vin is one of the most successful games that I’ve shared in this way.

I’ll explain a bit more about how it is structured later, but what makes Pot de Vin so easy for players to pick up and play is that it is equal parts familiar and new. Each of the four characters act just like the standard suits in a normal deck of cards and each of these character suits has thirteen cards, for a total of fifty two. The key difference between the cards in Pot de Vin and those in a traditional card deck are the symbols on the bottom of each card which show the guild that each card aligns to, if any.

As each round is played, it’s these guild symbols that the players are vying for (or attempting to avoid.) Some higher value cards will bestow two guild symbols, whilst other cards are neutral and simply offer either bonus or negative points. The way cards influence guilds is important in Pot de Vin because of the scoring system, which is very non traditional and yet still simple to come to terms with. Broadly speaking, players will each want to gather a small number of symbols for some guilds and a high number for others – having a middling amount of symbols among the tricks you’ve taken will result in negative points.

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The idea, thematically, appears to be that you can’t be seen to invest too heavily in one guild because it will be noticed by the others, whilst once you are fully committed to that guild, you’ll have absolute power. There are other factors in scoring; for example if you collect the Pot de Vin (Ace) cards, then you’ll suffer negative points unless you have all four, which gives a massive bonus. The neutral cards offer bonuses or negative effects at face value, whilst any trick taken with fate gems (used by players to pass a turn) also add bonus points.

In terms of how the game is played, all fifty two cards will be dealt among the players and onto a central board. The number of cards dealt in the middle and the player hand size is dependent on player count, but the game lasts between eight and twelve tricks. The first card in the centre is turned face up, representing the trump card for that round. Players must then follow suit if they can (or play their fate gem to pass) and once everyone has done so, the player with the highest value card in the trump suit will take the trick. This process is repeated for each card in the central pile until all cards have been taken.

A neat feature in Pot de Vin is that once cards are claimed, they are turned upside down (to show the guild symbols) and sorted into piles. As such, it’s not the actual trick taking that matters, but more what is in the trick – given how scoring works, it can be worth investing into a trick that can really help you, or even opting out of one entirely by using the fate gem. The actual Pot de Vin cards are worth s huge number of points, but going after them all is a very risky strategy that is almost always destined to fail.

Ultimately, anyone who can play and enjoy a traditional card game can learn Pot de Vin in short order. Not only that, but the unique scoring mechanism and decent stab at integrating a theme spice things up in a way that games like whist can’t compete with. The components in Pot de Vin aren’t the most inspiring (the card art looks samey to me) but that hardly detracts from what is a quick, enjoyable and often exciting card game. Pot de Vin is a class act and a worthy addition to any game shelf or travel bag.

***½  3.5/5

You can buy Pot de Vin online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.

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