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2-6 players, about 30 minutes per round

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Nestling inappropriately amongst the overstocked second hand games stalls at the 1992 Essen Spiel was an almost empty stand, sparingly furnished with a bare trestle table in one corner and a pile of boxes in the other. Each of these boxes was a copy of the game Wucherer. The stand was manned by Friedemann Friese, creator of the game. Friedemann sported a mop of bright green hair, Johnny Rotten style, entirely in keeping with the game's image. Wucherer has been produced to Lamborne Games standards. A plain white box has been pasted up with one of several coloured pieces of paper (I chose purple) each sporting the same black printed artwork. I paid an extra deutschemark for the promise of an English translation, not then available, to follow in the post.

Wucherer loosely translates as Profiteer. The Profiteer in question is a property owning, rent collecting, landlord. The aim of the game is to build houses and install fee paying tenants. The winner is the player who has either obtained the highest total of rent counters after a set number of games or is the first player to reach an agreed total.

The contents are minimal. A deck of 96 cards, some cheap plastic counters and a set of German rules (refer to the Sumo Rules Bank for the English version). The artwork on the cards, like Friedemann's haircut, is of a witty, punkish, style. The alibi card for example includes a clever play on words, with the illustration itself usually prompting less than witty comments from new players, whilst the Mickey Mouse type creature strung up on the `woman with a child' tenant card must surely be hoping that the woman is not Lorena Bobbitt.

Each of the cards is double sided, in that either side may be used in play. The reverse side depicts an illustration of an outer wall of a single storey of a residential building, whilst the illustration on front of the card denotes the cards other use, which loosely falls into one of four categories; building cards, action cards, special cards and tenant cards. It follows that when the outer wall side of the card is played the alternative use for that card is lost. This is clever, and as a result no player therefore knows which cards remain in circulation, most crucially, whether the lunatic is still lurking around unplayed.

At the start of the game each player receives one roof card, five other cards and three money counters. The jail card is placed to one side and the remaining cards are placed in a pile face down. A player may play as many cards as they have available each turn in any order. A building is created by playing a roof card plus additional `outer wall' cards, i.e. the reverse side, each of which represents one floor of the building. Tenants are then installed. To show that a tenant lives in the house, a tenant card is placed face up on one (or sometimes two) of the apartments in the building. Each tenant pays a specified amount of rent per turn, in addition, an empty apartment will pay one unit of rent. Once a house is completed, additional floors cannot be added except that a loft conversion card can be played on top of a roof card to make the roof inhabitable and a basement can be built beneath the ground floor. The number of floors is important as all tenants will only live in a house up to a certain specified maximum size. For example, the tenants known as the snobs will pay six units of rent per round, however they require two apartments, but will only move into a building of one storey. In order to house the snobs a player must therefore either convert the roof of a one storey building using a loft conversion card or install a basement beneath it (as lofts and basements do not count toward the number of floors in the building).

Rent is paid, each time it is that player's turn, in the form of cards and/or rent counters, with one card representing one unit of rent up to a maximum of five cards. The sixth and any subsequent card received must be taken as being equal to two units of rental income. Once rent is taken in counters then the counters cannot subsequently be used to purchase cards.

Interaction with the other players is facilitated through the playing of the action and special cards. These cards include, for example; squatter cards, removal cards, bomb cards and murder cards. The squatter card may be placed into any empty apartment after which no income is received from that house, either from other tenants or from vacant apartments. The removal card allows a tenant or a squatter to be placed into any free apartment. A murder card can be used to assassinate any tenant card whilst a bomb card can be used to blow up an opponent's house.

Other cards include police cards, the dreaded lunatic card, alibi cards and justice cards. The police card enables squatters to be removed, it may also be played out of turn in order to defend a player against the effects of a bomb or murder. When the played in this way the attacking player is sent immediately to jail. The lunatic card can also be played in response to a bomb or murder card, but with the effect that the murder or bomb card is redirected against the player who first played the card. If a police card has been played against an attacking player which would result in the attacking player being sent to jail, then that player may play an alibi or justice card. The effect of the alibi and justice cards is to redirect the police to the player playing to the left of the player playing the alibi or justice card and therefore to send that player to jail instead. When a player is sent to jail the jail card is placed face up in front of that player. As soon as another player is sent to jail then the jail card is passed on to that player and the first player in jail is freed. A jailed player may receive only one rent counter per turn. Payment of five counters is required to secure a player's freedom.

These cards provide for a variety of tactics and combinations. For example, it is permissible to build a loft conversion in an opponent's house and then to play squatters immediately into the new conversion. Even more creative is one method of getting out of jail. If you were to murder one of your own tenants whilst holding a police card, then as the murder was committed in one of your own houses you may also play your police card. As you are already in jail you automatically have an alibi, therefore another player must have committed the murder and must go to jail as a result. As only one player can be in jail at a time you are consequently set free!

The original rules also include special optional rules for `professionals'. These consist principally of additional attributes and restrictions being placed on each of the particular types of tenants. For example, the celebrity couple, whilst only paying two units of rent per turn, will in addition also enhance the reputation of the building and, as a result, all the other tenants in the building will start to pay double their normal rent. If both of the two pairs of celebrities move into the same house then the rent collected from the other tenants (and from empty apartments) is quadrupled.

A year later, at the 1993 Essen Spiel, I spoke with Friedemann again. The English translation had not arrived and my one deutchesmark was returned. Well not exactly. The one deutchesmark was deducted from a second set which I purchased. I had originally intended to purchase a second set anyway, as although I had enjoyed the original game, with six players I felt that the game was too short and required the extra play of two packs combined. The second purchase however became essential once I realised that the 1993 edition included several new cards which Friedemann, against deafening music emanating from a neighbouring stand, kindly attempted to translate into English for me. Unfortunately, as my translation is only in note form I have restricted this review to the contents of the original edition only. This is also consistent with the rules available in the Sumo rulesbank.

I have played this game with three different groups of players. Two groups, myself included, found it hugely entertaining. The third just couldn't finish the game quickly enough. If you are tempted to buy after having read the above then, like Rolf Wichmann in the letters column of Sumo 14/15, I have no hesitation in recommending Wucherer. If the game doesn't sound like your `cup of tea', then it probably isn't.

Richard Breese

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Stuart Dagger