Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Andreas Schmidt


No. of Players:
3 - 6



Gamebox author Doug Adams writes about the game:

Polterfass is a curious game, where three to six players visit "The Wild Boar" tavern and enjoy an evening of non-alcoholic drinks. The objective of the game is to be the first player to score 75 points. A typical game lasts about 15 to 20 minutes.

ZOCH ZUM SPIELEN usually does a terrific job in presenting a game, and Polterfass is no exception. A sturdy small box features an amusing illustration of barrels of drink perched on a cart, bouncing up to The Wild Boar Inn. The components are simple, but very well done. There is a drinks coaster and a deck of eight cards for each player, a dice cup, and nine dice. Well, they are not actually dice, they are barrels ... and for the remainder of this review if I mention "dice" I mean "barrels", and vice-versa. A scorepad, and instructions in several languages (including English) completes the package.


Polterfass is a barrel rolling game. There are nine very nicely crafted wooden barrels in the game. Seven of these barrels are ivory, have a number at either end that totals 11 (e.g. 9/2, 8/3, etc). The remaining two dice are brown, and have a symbol at each end - double a barrel, or cancel a barrel.

Game play is quite straightforward. Each turn, one player is the Innkeeper, and will attempt to serve (non-alcoholic) drinks to the remaining players, the customers. At the end of the turn, the role of the Innkeeper passes to the left around the table, and the former Innkeeper is now a customer. The Innkeeper will roll the barrels in the cup, and invert the cup onto their coaster. Any barrels that are standing are set aside - numbers being frozen (they cannot be re-rolled).

At this point, the customers look at the result of Innkeeper's roll, and place one or two cards face down on the table. This is their drinks order. The cards have a value on them between zero and eight, so if a "1" and "6" are played, that customer is requesting seven drinks.


The barman now decides whether to keep rolling the barrels, or to stop rolling and serve the drinks. If they decide to keep rolling, they may return any standing brown barrels to the cup before the roll. If on a re-roll, the Innkeeper rolls no standing barrels, they have failed in their serving, and will score zero. Each other player will score the sum on their cards played face down.

If the Innkeeper announces they are serving, the standing barrels are totalled. Any standing brown barrels have to be applied, with the cancel result removing an ivory barrel, and the double result doubling an ivory barrel's value. After a serving is announced, the customers reveal their cards and the entire drinks order is totalled. There are two possible outcomes:

  1. The drinks order total the customer's request is equal or lower than the Innkeeper's serving total. Every customer receives their order in points, and the Innkeeper scores the balance remaining.

  2. The drinks order total the customer's request is greater than the Innkeeper's serving total. The customers have been too greedy! The Innkeeper scores their entire serving themselves. The greediest customer (who played the highest drinks order) subtracts their request off their score, and the least greedy player scores this amount. Every other customer scores zero.

Let's look at some examples of how this works, and the thought process involved...

Doug is the Innkeeper and rolls the barrels. His standing barrels are 9, 4, double, cancel. The other players study this roll, and select their cards. Sime knows Doug likes to roll again, so plays his 5 and 7 card face down - he would like 12 drinks. Murray is leading the game, and simply wants to bank some solid points, but doesn't want the customers to be too greedy, so he plays a single 5 card face down. Lincoln reads the other players very well - he knows Sime tends on the greedy side, and knows that Doug knows this as well. He predicts Doug will not roll again. Lincoln will try and score Sime's points by being the least greedy, if Doug serves a low total, and thus bluffs and plays a 0 and 1 card on the table.

Doug the Innkeeper sees five cards face down on the table, but doesn't know what they are. He knows Sime tends on the greedy side, but has no idea what Lincoln and Murray have played. He predicts there is about 18 points on the table and declines to roll again (and risk failing his serving by rolling no standing barrels).

Doug announces he is serving. He uses the brown cancel die on the 9 barrel, tossing both back in the cup. The brown double die is applied to the 4, for a total of 8 drinks in the serving. The customers reveal their cards for a total of 18 drinks - they have been too greedy! Doug scores 8 points (his serving). Sime loses 12 points (for being too greedy), paying them to Lincoln (who read the situation correctly). Murray, being middle of the road, scores zero.

But let's assume that Doug didn't serve 8 drinks and played as Sime expected. Doug tosses the two brown dice in the cup and rolls again. His standing barrels are now 9, 4, 8, 7, double, double. Doug announces a serving, doubling the 9 and 8 barrels, for a total of 45 drinks. Doug would score 27 points (45 drinks - 18 requested), Sime 12 points, Murray 5 points, and Lincoln would score 1 point.


Polterfass is an incredibly fun game with one important caveat - you have to have the right group of gamers to appreciate it. I have played this approximately ten times. Two of those games were with two separate, more traditional, "Eurogamer" groups, who tolerated it but it was promptly dismissed into the "don't need to see that again" pile. With a third group, however, it's been a huge success. This group thrives on interactive, low complexity, fast playing games such as Love Letter, Coup, The Resistance, and so on. Polterfass has seen regular table time with this group, and it has been wonderful watching the playing styles evolve as the tactics, tells, reads, bluffs and so have developed.

I have enjoyed my journey so far with Polterfass - it's nice to see some solid prisoner's dilemma game theory integrated into a simple die rolling game. Adding in a touch of bluff and reading the other players to the push your luck die rolling element, and you have a winner.

Polterfass is an excellent filler, with the right group to appreciate it's strengths.

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany