When I played Old Maid as a child, I felt immediate hatred for the
game. Not necessarily the game play, which was merely blasé, but
because of that accursed woman. Once you got the Old Maid, and
everybody knew it, then you were pretty much stuck with the witch for
the remainder of the game. When I first pulled out Mister Bill
(daVinci Games, 2004 - Tommaso & Filippo Percivale), my initial
thoughts were that it was an interesting food game; but upon first
playings, I immediately was reminded of Old Maid.
Now this might be considered the "German" version of Old Maid, and it
certainly has some interesting and unique mechanics, especially with
the scoring system. At the same time, I'm not sure that re-working a
boring game is always a good idea. Mister Bill has a lot of
mechanics, but I'm not sure that they add up to anything spectacular.
When I introduced the game to youth, they enjoyed it; but I felt that
the game would age quickly. However, if you LIKE Old Maid and were
sitting around wishing that someone would add some more complex
mechanics to the game, then you have gotten your wish!
There are eight "team" cards, numbered from 1 to 8, in different
colors: (1 & 2 are red, 3 & 4 are blue, etc.) Cards with numbers 1
through the number of people that are playing are shuffled and
randomly dealt to each player, who turn them up and place them in
front of themselves. This shows the team the players are on; if there
are an odd number of people playing, one person will be on their own
team. Six blue scoring cards are placed in the middle of the table,
with the highest number on the top (4). A deck of 47 cards is
shuffled and completely dealt out to all players. The deck is made up
of twelve different kinds of cards: six food dishes - four of each;
six different waiters - four of each; and Mister Bill - three cards.
As soon as players receive their cards, they check to see if they have
any pairs, which they immediately discard. The player with the team
card #1 then starts the game, with each player following in a
On a turn, the player must draw one card randomly from the player on
their right, adding it to their hand. This might give them another
pair, which they must discard. The player then has the option of
playing and discarding a waiter card, which has one of five effects:
- The player can trade a card of their choice with another player of
- The player can trade their entire hand with another player of their choice.
- The player chooses another player; this player receives one card
given to them from every other player.
- Each player passes one card to the player on their right or left -
to be chosen by the player playing the card.
- All players who have a Mister Bill card must show it to the other players.
Players may talk openly with their partners at any time but can't
trade with them. If any player runs out of cards, at any time, they
are immediately out of the round. They give their team card to their
teammate; if they already have both team cards, both teammates each
receive one of the top two scoring cards on the pile. Blue scoring
cards (round 1) are valued 4, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1; green scoring cards
(round 2) are valued 4, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1; and red scoring cards (round 3)
are valued 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. If the player on a team of one goes
out, they receive the top card and discard the card underneath it.
When the second-last team goes out, the round ends. The team who
still has cards receives no points or cards, and the next round
begins. The deck is shuffled and redealt to all players, with new
teams forming, and the player with the lowest score goes first. The
second round plays identical to the first, as does the third; except
that in the third round there are no teams with each player playing
for themselves. At the end of the third round, scores are totaled,
and the player with the highest score is the winner! (Ties are broken
by scores in the third round.)
Some comments on the game...
1.) Components: daVinci card games are always packed well in a
plastic card holder that slides into a small box. The cards
themselves are of extremely good quality and shuffle well. My cards
even were stolen off my desk by my eleven-month- old daughter and
still look almost new. The cards are very easy to distinguish from
another for three good reasons: they all have different colors; they
have different pictures; and they each have a different letter in the
corners of the card. This makes them quite easy to tell apart even
for those who are color-blind. The waiters each do a different
action; and while there's no text on the card, there is an
illustration of what the card does; and it's very simple to figure
out. This game comes in a nice package and helps the slim theme of
paying a bill in the restaurant.
2.) Rules: The rules are printed in four different languages:
Italian, English, German, and French, and are fairly short and simple.
There are some illustrations and an example of game play; and
overall, everything is easy and quite clear. The game is simple to
teach and learn, and some folk might find it too simple.
3.) Strategy and Chaos: There is a bit of strategy in the game; but
for the life of me, I don't see how anyone could win the game
consistently. There are some obvious moves like always playing a
waiter card if you have one, and trying to remember who took what card
from you, etc.; but there is simply too much chaos in the game to
really have a clear shot at winning. For kids, this mindless
randomness can be entertaining (those I taught it to certainly did)
but I can't imagine most other people doing so. Try to remember who
has the third Mr. Bill - that's the point of playing.
4.) Fun Factor: As I said, the young people I played the game with
found it enjoyable, but everyone else basically said, "Bleach". The
theme about food is entertaining, the artwork is superb, and there's a
certain fun to playing the waiter cards; but overall, the game leaves
one with an empty feeling - it's just all fluff, and no strategy. Now
this often works with a lot of "fluffy" games, because while they may
not be full of strategy, they give the player at least the façade of
meaningful choices; but this one doesn't.
If you have young kids who enjoy Old Maid and are looking for
something just a bit more complex, then this may be a good choice.
But when you add some complexity, the fun factor should increase at
the same rate, as well as some kind of decision-making process. It
just doesn't happen in this game. While I may bring this out when I
have eight young people together and need a quick filler, I don't
imagine that it will see too much play. It's a nice idea but just a
bit too chaotic for me.
"Real men play board games."