Posted by: gschloesser | July 30, 2011

Corruption

Design by:  Bruno Faidutti
Published by:  Atlas Games

3 – 7 Players, 30 – 45 minutes
Revview by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in MOVES Magazine #103

I’m still continually amazed at the seemingly endless variety of themes designers utilize for their games.  Corruption is no exception.  In Corruption, players play the part of unscrupulous businessmen attempting to secure government contracts to construct huge projects, including bridges, schools, transit systems, etc.  In order to win the contracts, fair play and established governmental rules are scorned.  Instead, players must offer the greatest value in bribes to the government officials.  Of course, opponents can be hindered by tipping off reporters to their dishonest tactics, bringing in the District Attorney to outright cancel a contract, or, if all else fails, employing the services of a hit-man to eliminate an opponent’s underlings.

This description sounds like it would be wild, ‘take that’ sort of fun.  Sadly, it really isn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, the game isn’t bad, but it really doesn’t evoke the rich flavor it is designed to portray.  Rather, it is much more of a processional, mechanical type card game much along the lines of games such as Dolce Vita or Banana Republic.  I certainly don’t mean to knock the game or its designer, Bruno Faidutti, as it is a far better game than I could ever hope to design, but it just falls flat in terms of evoking the flavor it should. 

Three government institutions – City Hall, the County Seat and the Capitol – are offering up two lucrative contracts each turn.  Ultimately, there are twenty-four contracts which will be placed up for bid, including  a subway system, streetcar line, airport, stadium, elementary school, interstate expressway, hydro-electric dam (humorously misspelled ‘Hydro-Electric Damn’ on the card!) and more.  Two of these contract cards, each carrying a value from $100,000 – $1,200,000, are placed face up underneath each institution card.   It is these contracts for which the players compete.

Each player has six bribe cards valued from $1000 – $10,000 and four ‘people’ cards, including two reporters, a hit man and a District Attorney. Players alternate playing cards underneath the six available contracts  in a round-the-table format until all players have played six cards. The player with the greatest value of bids on each contract will win that particular contract.

Now here are the ‘twists’.  Normally, cards are played face down by each player.  However, each round every player must play a certain number of cards face-up, depending upon which round is in progress. During the first round, the first card played by each player must be played face up.  During the second round, the first two cards played by each player must be played face up, and so on until four rounds are completed.   Thus, in the early rounds, the game is little more than a craps-shoot as most cards are face down and all players can do is guess as to which cards their opponents may have played.  However, as the rounds progress, players do get a better idea of which cards their opponents have played and onto which contracts as more and more of the cards are being played face-up. 

Further, a player may place bribe cards above the government institutions (termed the ‘bank’) face down. These cards will be allocated to one of the contracts that institution is offering AFTER the round is completed and all cards played to that institution are revealed.  However, the value of this bribe card will then be halved.   The effect of this type of strategy is to give a player a small degree of control in influencing the outcome of the awarding of a contract.

Once all players have played six cards, all cards are then revealed.  Players who placed bribes in the ‘bank’ above each government institution then distribute these cards to one of the contracts being offered by that institution.  After this is done, the effects of any ‘people’ cards played are then resolved.

So just what do these ‘people’ cards accomplish?

HIT MEN.  Hit men are resolved first and in the order in which they were played on each contract.  If someone played a hit man, they may eliminate from the game one other ‘people’ card which was played on that contract.  The hit man is then removed from the game.  Being the first to play a hit man on a contract can be valuable as you can remove a hit man, D.A. or reporter which was subsequently played by an opponent to that contract, thereby hopefully preserving the contract in your favor. 

Still, each player only possesses one hit man and, once played, it is removed from the game.  So, one must choose very carefully as to when to use this dastardly villain.  Unfortunately, since most cards are played face-down during much of the game, more often than not the play of a hit man is wasted when the remaining cards are divulged, only to reveal that no other ‘people’ cards were played to that contract.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY.   Next to be resolved is the District Attorney. If one or more D.A.s were played on a contract, all cards are removed from that contract and it goes unresolved until the next round.  Multiple District Attorneys played to the same contract have no additional effect.

REPORTERS.  Finally, anyone who played a reporter may remove one bribe card of their choice from that contract.  Again, these are resolved in the order played, so multiple reporters played to a contract will result in an equal number of bribes being removed.  Of course, if a hit men were played to the contract, some of these reporters may ultimately be unavailable to report on the underhanded deals being made!

After all of these character cards are resolved, the player having the greatest value of bribes on each contract takes that contract.  Bribe cards played are then returned to the players and any people cards played are discarded from the game.

Following each round, two new contracts are dealt to each agency.  These are added to any contracts which went unresolved in the previous round, so it is quite possible that there will be more than six total contracts available for competition in a round. 
Four rounds are played in such a fashion and the player with the greatest value of contracts won is victorious … and voted “Most Sleazy“.

With so many cards being played hidden, it is truly a guessing game, trying to out-guess and perhaps bluff your opponents. With SO much hidden information, however, one really doesn’t have a great degree of control.  All you can really do is guess which cards your opponents have played.  As the game develops, it is easier to remember which ‘people’ cards opponents may have remaining, but since all bribe cards return to players following each round, there is simply no way to know or reasonably guess which bribe cards they may be playing. 

The game does include several variants which can be used to alter the play:

DOWN THE RIVER.  This variant alters which cards are played face-up during a round.  For example, during the second round, the third and fourth cards are played face-up, while during the third round, the second, third and fourth cards are played face-up.

FREE STUD.  At the beginning of each round, the start player (the player currently in the lead) determines how many cards and which ones will be played face-up.

CLOSED.  All cards are played face down and the game is played without the character cards.  Yuck.

LITTLE BLACK BOOK.  Each player gets two ‘little black book’ cards at the beginning of the game.  These cards can be surrendered in order to look at any one face-down card which has been played on a contract.  This will give a player a bit more information … but not much.

The only variant which gives the players any more real control is the Little Black Book, but even then this added degree of control is very minimal. 

I am NOT a fan of Banana Republic, a game by the small German game company Doris & Frank.  This game is far too close to that one in mechanics to rate very highly with me, either.  Both games utilize ‘hidden’ or concealed information, requiring players to plan their strategies and play the game without knowing much information as to what their opponents have done.  I simply do not enjoy this type of mechanic or methodology in games.

Such games do have their fans, however.  Aladdin’s Dragons has proven fairly popular and was recently named as the ‘Best Game’ by Games Magazine in their annual survey of the Top 100 games.  That game also uses extensive hidden placement of tokens and bluff mechanisms, and players must react and plan their game based on very little concrete information. 

On the other hand, Dolce Vita, a similar game designed by Reiner Stockhausen and released by Hans im Glück, is much more enjoyable for me as all cards are played face-up and players have complete information on what has been played and what remains in each player’s hands. Thus, there is much more control over one’s fate than in Corruption.  To me, this makes a game much more strategic and immensely more satisfying.

 

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