Heimlich and Co. (aka Top Secret Spies or Under Cover)

Wolfgang Kramer

Artist: Unknown

Publisher: Ravensburger

Funny, I thought the first spy was holding a horn. My version is so old that Kramer’s game isn’t even on the cover of the box.

I read somewhere that this is the first game that utilized a victory point track. Not sure if that is true because I couldn’t find any evidence to corroborate or fact checked extensively. It is however true, that this game is one of Kramer’s older designs that remains in the market and is a classic evergreen title…..for a good reason.

Heimlich and Co. is laughably simple. There are a series of spies moving around a circular track on the board. Each spot on the track is a location worth points ranging from 1-10. There are two unique locations: a church worth zero points and an abandoned house worth -3 points. So a total of 12 locations.

Each player is randomly assigned a spy of a particular color that is kept hidden from other players and movement is really done with a single d6 die roll. Movement of spies is collective in that you can split the movement amongst any or all spies so long as it does not exceed the number on the die. For example a “6” can be distributed so that each spy moves once or single spy moving 6 spaces.

If a spy, or spies, land on a space with a safe, scoring occurs for all spies based on the location they occupy. The safe is a movable piece and as soon as scoring is completed, the player which triggered the scoring gets to move the safe to a different location.

The goal is for your spy to get the most points at the end of the game which in this case is 42 points on the track. Right. 42 points. Why that is, you’d have to ask Kramer. As soon as a spy crosses the threshold, the game ends and the winner is revealed. The key is to get your spy in front without really revealing which spy you really control. If that info is known, you will likely have to contend with collective abuse from all players if you are in the lead. So you should be distributing your spy movement to diffuse the suspicion. Because most spies score positive points and there are neutral or negative locations, deciding which spy to score negative points and how far to move ahead your own spy without incurring suspicion is part of the decision space. Still, the decision should not take long and the game moves along at a rapid pace, and probably lasts for 15-20 minutes.

I think the game really only shines with >5 players and I particularly like a variant. The variant allows additional scoring at the end by making players guess the identities of the spies. When a spy crosses 29 points, players pause the game to write down their guesses on a piece of paper. Guesses are optional and the identities will be revealed end of the game. Players earn 5 points apiece for correctly pairing the player and their spy. We often also assess a small penalty for incorrect guesses. Otherwise, players would just make random guesses and get lucky to win the game. This variant forces players to be doubly careful with concealing their spies for at least for 2/3 of the game. It makes people act a bit more conservative. Even then, I am amazed at how well some players can hide their identities.

Heimlich and Co. is a simple game that is suitable both for kids and adults while remaining equally competitive and having a good time. Most kids should have no issues with movement but the subtlety is what you hope they can catch and learn. Learning how to be subtle and is not an easy skill for kids to pick up. I intend to try it with my 6 year old soon. No doubt this is a light game that can slot into the filler category. My Ravensburger edition is so old that Wolfgang Kramer’s name is no where to be seen. His name is printed at the side of the box in an extremely small font. I could not find any credits for the illustrator. Later reprints of the game, Undercover or Secret Spies from Rio Grande Games also include additional action cards which I feel detract from the game. The cards introduce more chaos and I actually find the rules not intuitive. Stick to the original.

Excluding his card games like Abluxxen, I haven’t seen a board game from Kramer this light. Even Verflixx feels heavier than Heimlich and Co. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this a Knizia design. This is not a knock against Kramer but more an endorsement for him to design games from this spectrum of complexity.

Initial impression: Good

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