Nine-Bob Notes

Review of board game Falsche FuFFziger by Pevans

It has taken me a long time to get round to reviewing Falsche Fuffziger, but I am increasingly convinced that it was the best game on show at last year's Spiel - shame I didn't find out about it until after I had returned. It is also the only game I've come across where you deliberately destroy game components as part of the game!

The theme of the game is counterfeiting: players buy presses to produce fake banknotes, sell these for real money and bid for the silver coins they need to win the game.

First you have to get your hands dirty and produce your money. Opening the box reveals lots of brightly coloured sheets of banknotes to cut up: this is expressly designed to involve you in the subject matter of the game! Apart from the fake notes, there are 'real' coins, a bag of plastic tokens (the silver coins), pieces for the printing presses (in the five denominations) and two small decks of cards.

What happens in a turn sounds quite complicated, but you get the hang of it after a turn or two. To begin with, each player in turn decides what do to with his/her presses: you can produce notes on them, upgrade them (if they haven't already been upgraded) or sell them. Each press can be upgraded once (by turning over the card), which may change what it does. If you're unlucky, the press will go "kaput" and you lose it - though this is unlikely. More likely is that it will now produce two notes of its original denomination, one note of the next higher denomination or possibly two notes of the next denomination. There is no cost to upgrading a press except that it is not productive for a turn.

There is now an auction for 'real' money. The top card of the Geldwäscher (money laundering) deck is turned over to show a specific deal. Players bid at least the minimum in counterfeit money shown on the card to gain the given amount of real money. This is where you get to destroy part of the game: to bid you hide notes in your fist and hold out your concealed bid. This crumples the notes and they become more battered the more you play the game (mine have stood up to this treatment quite well, really, with only a few now being illegible). Thoughtfully, a set of masters is provided with the game so that you can copy more notes when required. Alternatively, you can use envelopes to conceal the bids without crumpling the notes, but I wouldn't stoop to such a thing!

Highest bid wins the amount of real money shown on the card and another card is turned over and auctioned. The auction stops if no-one wants to buy or if one player has bought two cards. This leads to an important tactic in the game: buy the first card and then over-bid to get the second. You will be the only player with real money, which is crucial for the next stage. Using your real money (for some reason the manufacturers are able to spot the fakes) you buy more printing presses. Each produces a specific denomination of note: the higher the denomination, the greater the cost of the machine.

The other thing that may happen in a turn is that some silver coins are auctioned. If an auction is taking place, the first player throws an average die (the first time I've seen one of these in a game for a long time) and draws that number of coins for auction as a single lot. S/he also makes the first bid: either a number of notes of the same denomination or an amount of coinage. Other players match the bid or drop out. The next player left in then makes a second, cumulative bid. This continues until there's only one player left and s/he pays over the total bid for the coins. The twist is that you must match each bid exactly. If I bid six fake fifties, you must bid six fifties - three hundreds doesn't count. Hence another tactic in the game is having more (or the only) presses of a specific denomination. It is also useful to get the first bid in an auction as you may be able to shut everybody else out.

What I've left out is the role of the second deck of cards (the GeldPrüfer,or money inspector, deck). These ten cards control the game by triggering coin auctions and by taking presses (and notes) out of the game, one denomination at a time - the game ends when the 150s are removed. This mechanism has been very carefully designed to provide overall predictability with a measure of chance. The cards are shuffled for each game, but not during the game, so players know the sequence of the cards after the first time they've been through the deck (when no presses are removed). However, the number of cards turned over in a turn can vary: two is standard, but each upgraded press that goes kaput causes another card to be revealed (apart from possibly removing a denomination of press and notes from the game, this may also increase the number of coin auctions held that turn).

The deck is organised so that players will go through, on average, half the deck between each denomination being removed. With nothing taken out in the first run through the deck, this means that players will go through the deck exactly 3˝ times, with the game taking between 11 and 18 turns (usually 13 or 14).

This is an excellent game which has been cleverly designed. The subtle checks and balances in the game's mechanics work very well. Playing the game requires some thought, lots of decision-making (both tactical and strategic), plenty of player interaction and loads of fun. The wonderfully subversive theme of the game adds to its appeal. Friedemann Friese is to be congratulated on a fine game. If you get the opportunity, play it. Better yet, buy your own copy before the limited edition (only 1600 were produced) disappears.

Falsche Fuffziger was designed by Friedemann Friese and published (in Germany) by 2F-Spiele. It is for 3-6 players and takes 1˝-2 hours to play. Pevans rates it 9/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 94, September 1995.

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