Designer: Reiner Knizia
Artist: Franz Vohwinkel
Publisher: Hans im Gluck
Auf Heller und Pfennig is popularly known as Kingdoms, a retheme of the original Knizia design from Germany. Though it is less of a mouthful for a non-German speaker, I actually like the translated title better: Down to the Last Farthing. Doesn’t that sound a bit mysterious and tantalizing? In actuality, AHuP is probably one of Knizia’s more straightforward and mathematical designs. It is also one of the meanest game from his portfolio with a take-that element designed to inflict direct damage to your opponents….. which may make it not all that suitable for some kids and newbies.
Pick a tile, place a tile
Like most Knizia games, AHuP turns are rapid with the complexity coming exclusively from observing the board state. Each turn, players must draw a tile and play a tile or place a player marker on a shared board. The board features a simple 6 x 5 square grid for tile placement. Each tile has a numerical value – either positive or negative – or a special power printed on it. On the simplest level, you want to play a tile with positive values, while avoiding the negative values, on the same row or column as your player marker is located. Similarly, when choosing to place a player marker, you aim to place it in rows and columns with positive values because at the end of the round, the sum total values of all tiles are added together on each row and column on the board and multiplied by the markers for a score. Because player markers have a rank from 1-3, both positive or negative scores are correspondingly multiplied. As such, you need to be careful with placing high ranking markers as the negative values will be equally amplified as much as the positive one.
There are a handful of special tiles. First you have a couple of money bag tiles that doubles your point totals for each row and column. When placed tactically with higher ranking markers, it will boost scoring and can be a game breaker. Be forewarned, negative values are also doubled, making the timing equally as important as the location of tile placement. To inflict more pain, we also have a few take-that tiles including the “fireball” tile where all score are nullified and “evil eye” tile where only negative numbers are considered in the rows and columns where tiles are placed.
Aggressive play and direct conflict is the norm
It should be plainly (painfully?) obvious by now that aggressive play is baked into AHuP. You can’t escape drawing negative tiles at some point and they must be placed on locations that will neutralize your opponent’s scores. All the while, you are also maneuvering to avoid the same traps laid by your neighbors and laying positive value tiles at intersections with a majority of your markers. You basically want to hurt your opponents while avoiding the same fate. While tile placement tends to be loose at the start of each round, as the grid fills up, opportunities for strategic placement become more limited and hotly contested. The game can sometimes feel like a giant game of chicken where you hold out on placing your markers and tiles until the last possible moment to maximize points and minimize being suckered into a location that will get hammered by your opponents. Some of the special tiles will throw a curve ball to your strategy. For example, a well-placed evil eye tile will take out even your most potent scoring line up. This luck-of-the-draw will definitely turn some players off.
Overall, players go through three rounds of tile and marker placement with the central board being completely reset between rounds. There is one final twist to the game: only the single ranked markers are returned to all players for unlimited use. The rank 2 and 3 markers are one-type use only and will be discarded after scoring. This means players have to think twice before using their 2x and 3x multiplier tiles as a non-productive score can significantly ding your chances of winning.
Rarely do I see a Knizia design where direct aggression features so prominently as a mechanism. Clash of the Gladiators comes to mind. But otherwise, AHuP feel like an outlier amongst Knizia’s creations. This title though simple, can be nasty and cutthroat. Throw in some gloating and trash talking and it could make for an uncomfortable experience for a sensitive gamer. For kids, or conflict-averse adults perhaps there are other more suitable titles from Knizia that you can choose from. Thematically, I think AHuP is bland and doesn’t make much sense. The merchants and characters I get, but what of the evil eye and fireball tiles? How do those fit in the narrative? Perhaps since I can’t read the German rulebook, something is lost in translation. In this regard, I think Kingdoms and possibly Beowulf do a better job at conveying theme, though I admit this is still an abstract game that will struggle to find a good thematic fit with any version of the game. It also occurred to me that AHuP could be implemented for team play. I can see how two teams of two can duke it out over a common board and this may potentially add additional co-op strategies absent in a regular competitive game. As it stands, I think I like AHuP, but not exactly enamored with it. As always, the saving grace is that the game is relatively short. I also find that the counting of points to be somewhat tedious between rounds. Usually for family gaming, our table counts points together, but it would certainly be more expeditious if everybody does their own mental arithmetic.