Tell silly, surreal and side-splitting stories to earn a drop of gin in The Old Hellfire Club

15 April 2019
old-hellfire-club-55618.jpg The Old Hellfire Club (Jamie Frew)
'So, we were in a room with Queen Victorian, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx...'

Ever wanted to tell big fat porkies to impress your friends? Upcoming card game The Old Hellfire Club gives you the perfect excuse.

Jamie Frew’s storytelling party game is currently up on Kickstarter, but we’ve had the chance to check out an in-progress prototype version of the game. (A free print-and-play can currently be downloaded via the game’s Kickstarter page.)

Named after the secret society, The Old Hellfire Club is a game of extravagant one-upmanship, as players' destitute drunks take it in turns to tell the most impressive story they can using the ‘boast’ cards in their hand, whether it’s how they escaped the Tower of London or earned a knighthood from Queen Vic herself. The story can be about whatever you like, although a simple prompt generator using two dice is included for those lacking inspiration – or knowledge of Victorian derring-do.

The cards include Victorian places, people, weapons, crimes, motives and more, nearly all of which are illustrated with paintings from the era – and often come accompanied with wry and biting commentary on the racist, sexist or just plain ridiculous beliefs of the time. (The fact that a so-called ‘Amazonian blowpipe’ is actually from Borneo, for instance – or that Victorian rubber ducks couldn’t float.)

Each player gets their chance to continue the joint tale of hijinks, playing down cards of increasing value depending on how impressive the boast is – so an umbrella might be a mere ‘1’ as a weapon, while Britain’s first battleship HMS Warrior is a formidable 10 – and weaving each detail into the ongoing story.

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Brag too much by playing down a high value card at the wrong time, though, and your fellow storytellers can interrupt by calling you on your bluff, playing down a lower-value card to steal the wind from your sails – and your chance to cash in played cards for points. Get away with blatant boasts and you’ll earn precious pennies for a (figurative) drop of gin – which will no doubt help you tell even more ridiculous stories. 

Playing down high-scoring cards also has the benefit of earning the ear of benefactors in each suit of cards, which grants bonus pennies once the deck of boasts runs out. Meanwhile, ‘patron’ cards introduce other abilities you can use to bump up your own story or take away from the boasts of others.

Telling ever more absurd stories in the Victorian age and stealing the thunder from your braggart opponents has definite echoes of uproarious storytelling party game The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which, we’re obliged to mention, was designed by regular Tabletop Gaming contributor James Wallis), but The Old Hellfire Club’s introduction of push-your-luck cardplay into the mix gives it a notably different feel – although the fun is definitely in the OTT storytelling, you can just play it as a light card game if you’re not as comfortable in the spotlight. (An accessible version is in the works for those with impaired vision.)

Like Munchausen, we’ve found The Old Hellfire Club to be an absolute riot with the right group of people willing to follow its collaborative stories straight off the rails. It’s silly, smart and very, very funny – without having to touch a drop.

The Old Hellfire Club’s Kickstarter runs until May 7th; if it’s successfully funded, the game will be released this December.


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