Lawmakers are cracking down on soda, and tight regulation has made way for lucrative smuggling. One bottle per person is the new law — thus bribes, suitcase inspections, and arrests are on the agenda. Only one will emerge the Soda Kingpin.
Reiner Knizia’s Soda Smugglers is a light three to eight player party game based on Knizia’s own ‘Heisse Ware: Krimi-Kartenspiel fur clevere Schmuggler‘, an absolute mouthful of a game loosely translating to ‘Hot Merchandise: Criminal Card Game for Clever Smugglers‘. Like it’s contemporary, ‘Sheriff of Nottingham‘, it draws a loose evolutionary lineage from a 1950s era game ‘Contraband‘, but Soda Smugglers remains far more focused on light and accessible gameplay, making it stand out as a party game.
Upon unfastening the magnetic clasp on a Soda Smugglers box, one of the first things to catch the eye is the quality of the insert and overall design. Bitewing Games has gone out of their way to create a usable insert; the neat little separated wells for the cards have plenty of space for sleeves, while the tokens are prepunched and bagged, allowing for blazingly fast setup and ease of storage.
A turn in Soda Smugglers is absolutely simple. Each round, a player sequentially takes the job of a border guard, tasked with watching a border to prevent travelers (everyone else) from carrying bottles of ‘Soda’ beyond their legal limit – typically one bottle.
At the start of each round, each Traveler draws a hand of five card which display between zero to three bottles. Two of these cards are placed face down representing a traveler’s luggage. The third card is placed face down, representing the bribe offered to the border guard to wave a player through without inspecting their luggage or detaining them. When all players are done, the bribe card is revealed simultaneously.
After all bribes are offered, the border guard may accept a certain number of bribes, receiving payouts in the indicated number of victory point bottle caps from a player as per the offered bribe card, inspect a certain number of suitcases, forcing players to flip over one suitcase card of their choice and outright arresting players. Arrested players over their legal limit have their bottles confiscated, earning the border guard points. Falsely detained players within their legal limit instead receive payout from the border guard themself as restitution for inconvenience.
The maximum number of Bribes, Inspection and Arrest tokens available are dictated by the number of players playing the game at the time.
Ultimately, the game itself ends when everyone has had the opportunity to play the border guard once (or twice, in small groups of 3 and 4 players) with players scoring based on the number of bottles they had snuck past the guards.
As a light party game, which is what it sets out to be, Soda Smugglers shines. Considering it’s relatively light gameplay and overall snarky tone, the game benefits from social dynamics at the table as players lie, harangue and browbeat each other in an attempt to get out ahead. After all, it’s always funny to goad the Border Guard player into errors of judgement, whether it be letting an absolutely loaded player through or arresting an innocent.
For a rowdy group looking for a nice little 30 minute card game focused on keeping a straight face and lying to your friends, Soda Smugglers neatly fits the bill. Personally I can’t wait to see what drinking game someone manages to rig out of this game’s core mechanic.