Home > game night, review, session report > Heimlich & Co.: fun in more ways than one

Heimlich & Co.: fun in more ways than one

I won’t go so far as to say Heimlich & Co. (a.k.a. Top Secret Spies) is a forgotten classic, but it is pretty good. I’ve recently played it with four and with seven, and it worked fairly well both times.

For those who don’t know much about the game, it’s all about trying to maneuver your spies into position so they score as many points as possible any time there’s a scoring round. The trick is you only know which spy is yours — you don’t know which of the other colors belong to the other players and which are “dummy” colors not belonging to anyone.

You roll a single die to see how far you can move, but you can split your move any way you want between the various spies. So if you roll a six, say, you can move one spy six spaces or six spies one space or three spies two spaces.

If that was all, it would probably be a very boring (and very predictable) game — but that’s not all. There’s another layer of abstraction on top of this die-rolling-and-moving business, and that layer goes something like this: anytime a spy gets to the square with the safe on it, each spy scores points according to where he/she is on the board. The squares range in value from -3 to +10, with pretty much every value in between.

In addition to the track the spies move on, in other words, there is an additional scoring track around the outside of the board — and this is how players keep track of the points that matter. So you try to move your spy to a high-scoring square and trigger a scoring round, but you try to do this in a subtle way so that no one knows which spy is yours.

Like I said, it’s a fairly interesting game. Rumor has it that, of all the games he’s designed, it’s Wolfgang Kramer’s personal favorite.

About a week ago we took it over to play it with some friends of ours. They have four daughters: the eldest is almost 10, the next is 6, the next is 4, and the youngest is 10 months. We were pretty sure the eldest would have no trouble with it, and we were right — she caught on quickly and was soon trying to score big points without calling too much attention to herself.

Her younger sister, six, had a harder time with it, but she certainly had the basics figured out by the end of the game. I can’t say it was a huge hit (they’ve enjoyed both Incan Gold and Zombie Dice far more), but I imagine they’d be happy enough to play it again should the opportunity arise.

We also brought the game out at game night and tried it with seven players. That, to me, didn’t work quite as well — since you knew that every color belonged to someone, you really didn’t want to let anyone get too far ahead. (When there are fewer players, you might allow one color to get way out in front if you thought it was one of the “dummy” colors.)

Well, okay: Heimlich & Co. is fun. But how is it fun in more ways than one?

Before answering, I should perhaps say that our friends’ four girls are really enjoying the whoopie cushion they got for Christmas. It’s been so popular they’ve had to repair it several times already (honestly, no chair is safe).

So, when we were putting the game away that first night, the box lid made a very interesting noise as it settled down over the box bottom. A noise not unlike that made by a whoopie cushion. A noise, in fact, very very similar to that made by a whoopie cushion.

The girls erupted, and of course they all had to try their hand at it. It became a contest of sorts, a game-within-a-game, to see who could lower the box lid down in the funniest way (I came in second).

And that’s what I love most about games: their ability to transform even the most mundane action into a sport, a contest, an opportunity for play. I’ve been told that I can make a game out of anything, but these girls put me to shame.

Awesome. :-)

  1. April 10, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Is there any deduction involved? Or backstabbing or something? It doesn’t sound very spy-like.

    • April 10, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      Well, the spy aspect comes in in two ways: first, players are trying to keep the identity of their spy (their color) a secret. Second, in the advanced version of the game, players are awarded points for being able to guess which colors belong to which players. The game goes to roughly forty, and if I recall correctly, you have to turn your guesses in when one color gets to 29.

      You’re right, though, it’s not real strong on theme. There is a little deduction involved, but you really don’t have much to go on. In that one game we played on game night (with 7), most players didn’t guess any colors correctly, a couple players guessed one color correctly, and one player guessed four correctly. He won by just a couple points, though he freely admitted his guesses were pretty much random.

      Part of the reason I didn’t go into all this earlier, though, was that I think it was perhaps a little atypical. I didn’t want to give the impression that the game is won or lost on luck based on just this one play.

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