How to Lose Friends and Influence People

Review of Intrige by Pevans

The artwork on the box immediately sets the tone for this game. It depicts three gentlemen in (Italian?) Renaissance clothing offering each other devious backhanders. The object of the game is to bribe your way into jobs which bring in a large income. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

Each player starts with a board - his/her city. The illustration depicts five buildings of varying heights, which represent the five positions available in each city, and a park. Each building/ position is labelled with an amount of money (from 10,000 to 100,000). The players also get 10 counters - two each of the five types of advisor - and 320,000 in cash (ducats, to enhance the period feel) to start with.


Obviously players are seeking to get their advisors into highly paid positions. However, these jobs must be in other players' cities. So how do you get someone else to give you a good job? You pay them. In each turn players put two of their advisors into someone else's park(s). In the recipient's turn, s/he decides who gets what job - after each of the players in contention has paid a bribe (min. 10,000 ducats).

However, the player who owns the city is under no obligation to give the job to whoever pays the highest bribe. S/he counts the money and decides. There are a lot of other considerations to be weighed up. Cooperation and alliances play a big part on this: scratching backs in the granting of positions can be much cheaper than bribery (but relies on trust). Then there's the question of who you think is winning or is a threat to your position - based on what you think they've earned so far and what their current income is. Decisions, decisions.

The Competition

Once an advisor has been given a job, that job (in that city) can only be challenged for by advisors of the same symbol (and advisors of that symbol can't have any other job in that city). In this case, the incumbent, as well as the applicants, have to bribe the city's owner. A useful bargaining counter is if one of the city owner's pieces is under threat in your own city...

Once placed in a job, each advisor earns the player the value of the job at the start of his/her turn. If refused a job, or ejected from a position, an unlucky advisor is exiled to the island (another board, like the cities, placed in the middle of the table) and plays no further part in the game.

Limited Duration

With ten advisors for each player, the game is self-limiting to 6 turns (the sixth one resolves any remaining disputes after advisors were placed in the previous turn). There is in fact a seventh turn in which players just draw income - this balances the first turn when it isn't possible to draw income. This does mean, though, that advisors placed in jobs in the fifth/sixth turn can be guaranteed two turns' income.

Also as the game draws to a close, the smaller number of advisors left to play allows players a bit of planning for which jobs to go for. If you've got the only military advisor left, for example, you know no-one else can compete for those jobs (though you'll still have to shift the incumbent). This sort of thing suggests that the last player should have an advantage, certainly in end-play, but I've not seen any evidence that this is significant. Mind you, the number of games I've played isn't statistically significant yet.


The game will be different each time you play it: even with the same people, strategies and tactics will be different. One thing I've found varies widely is the level of the bribes - though the initial level is usually set by the first round of bribing. One tactic is just to offer the minimum and rely on other factors to get you the job. At the opposite extreme is the calculation that the job is worth x amount over so many turns and I'll pay you part of that (50% of a 100,000 ducat job for six turns is a hefty bribe!).

This is a cracking game. With absolutely no luck element, it's just down to the interaction between the players - just remember that it's only a game. As all the best (?) mafiosi say: "nothing personal, this is strictly business". However, this is a game where alliances are short-lived: it's all down to the current position. In some ways this is a deeply cynical game, proposing bribery as commonplace, but irrelevant, with decisions being made purely for personal gain.

The rules are pretty simple, though they look complex at first sight. It is certainly worth working through them carefully to make sure of the finer points - such as which order disputes are settled in. And the whole thing is over in a reasonable length of time. If you do find things are dragging because of prolonged negotiations, put a stopwatch on the bargaining for each position. If you want an even more fiendish game, try making bribery simultaneous, or just not revealing the amount of each bribe.

The production is excellent, the boards and counters are made of good, thick cardboard and the boards are colourful and superbly illustrated. The bank notes are thin paper and, again, finely drawn.

Intrige was designed by Stefan Dorra and published (in Germany) by FX Schmid (now incorporated in Ravensburger). It is for 3-5 players and takes 1-1˝ hours to play. Pevans rates it 9/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 84, September 1994.

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