The man in black busied himself a long moment. Then he turned again with a goblet in each hand. Very carefully, he put the goblet in his right hand in front of Vizzini and put the goblet in his left hand across the kerchief from the hunchback. He sat down in front of the left-hand goblet, and dropped the empty iocane packet by the cheese.
(The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Chapter 5, pages 135)
In Vino Morte is a game for 3-9 players from Button Shy’s wallet series of games which only use a small number of cards for gameplay (just 16 in this case). The goal of this game is simple: stay alive. Each round players are given a glass of wine (a card) which may or may not be poisoned. Players take turns drinking a single glass of wine each round, hoping to avoid the poisonous ones. The players who successfully avoid their board game deaths will participate in additional rounds until there is only one surviving player.
“Your guess,” he said. “Where is the poison?”
Carpe Vinum (Round Setup)
In Vino Morte plays over a series of rounds with each round beginning in the same way. One player starts as the dealer, giving each player (including themselves) a facedown card. The dealer strategically chooses which cards to deal from the 8 wine and 8 poison cards following a single rule: they must deal at least 1 wine card and 1 poison card that round. The distribution of the other cards is secretly determined by the dealer. This means that in a 6-player game, there could be at most 5 wine cards and 1 poison card or 5 poison cards and 1 wine card divided amongst the players. Players, including the dealer, are never allowed to look at their facedown cards or any of the round’s unused cards.
“Guess?” Vizzini cried. “I don’t guess. I think. I ponder. I deduce. Then I decide. But I never guess.”
Bottoms Up (A Player Turn)
Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player chooses to either Drink or Swap.
“The battle of wits has begun,” said the man in black. “It ends when you decide and we drink the wine and find out who is right and who is dead. We both drink, need I add, and swallow, naturally, at precisely the same time.”
Drink: if a player chooses to drink on their turn, they reveal their facedown card. If it is wine, they have survived this round. If it’s poison, they die and are out of the game.
Swap: if a player chooses to swap on their turn, they trade their facedown card with that of any other player who also has a facedown card (including the dealer). The swapped cards remain facedown until all players except the dealer have taken a turn.
Play continues in clockwise order with each player taking a turn until it reaches the dealer. This signals the end of the round. The dealer never gets a turn to decide whether they want to Drink or Swap; they always must drink whatever is left in front of them. Now each player who has yet to drink their wine (players with a facedown card) flips their card over. Similar to choosing Drink on your turn, if a player drinks poison, they’re out of the game. If they drink a poison-free libation, they survive and move to the next round with all unpoisoned players.
The first surviving player to the left of the dealer becomes the new dealer for the next round. Rounds and turns continue in this way until there is only one surviving player who wins the game— but at what cost?
Ab Uno Disce Omnes (Final Thoughts)
In Vino Morte is stupidly simple— and I just can’t get enough. When I first learned the game at PAX Unplugged, I was doubtful this would be for me. Then I played a game. And another game of it. And a third game. With each play, I grew more fond of this little party game. In Vino Morte has a lot working for it: it’s compact, easy to learn, and quick to play. Yet I still find people are hesitant, like I was, to jump into a game. Could that be because it’s too simple?
Similar to games like The Mind and Concept, In Vino Morte walks the line between being a “real” game and simply being a fun group activity; what matters more than the strategizing and game mechanics is simply the social experience that the game facilitates. While playing In Vino Morte, you can rarely be sure of whether you have a poison card in front of you, but the questions that go through your mind before you decide to Drink or Swap are torturous.
“It’s all so simple,” said the hunchback. “All I have to do is deduce, from what I know of you, the way your mind works. Are you the kind of man who would put the poison into his own glass, or into the glass of his enemy?”
As a player, the fun is in this kind of thinking and questioning as you jump into the mind of the dealer to work out what cards they’ve dealt and to whom. As the dealer, your pleasure comes from trying to mess with the other players and outsmart them, while also trying to remain standing at the end of the round.
This was my go-to party game over the holidays and whenever I brought it to the table, the groups always wanted to play multiple games, especially when we all convinced ourselves that we could outwit each other. While In Vino Morte technically only plays up to 9 players, we played with 12 at a dinner party and it worked just as well, if not even better (and more chaotic).
In Vino Morte won’t be a game for everyone, but if you’re looking for a simple, quick party game, then it’s an easy choice. I think you’ll surprise yourself like I did with just how much fun you’ll have playing this game.