This is a new edition from Igiari and Studiogiochi of a game designed by Leo Colovini and Bruno Faidutti that first appeared in 2001. The title and the graphics on the box are strongly suggestive of a casino game but looks can be deceiving...
Certainly this is a game about placing bets. You set up a ring of 7-12 'casino tables' (mats), depending on the number of players (3-6). Players each take three action cards bearing their identifying symbol and colour (tho' be warned that the red diamond and pink hearts colours can be hard to distinguish in some light). Over four rounds, players place out first 5, then 10, then 20 and finally 50 euro chips (we're assuming the denomination is in euros because the game's paper money notes have a euronote look to them, notwithstanding the fact that the 100,000 note shows the Statue of Liberty). The chips are deemed to be worth 1000 times their numerical value, so the 5 chip pays out 5000. Players also each have tokens that they will move with the aim of claiming the chips on a mat.
Players' three action cards comprise a Raise, Trap and Bluff card. Each round, players play in turn these three cards face down to whatever mats they choose. The Raise card doubles the value of the chips on the mat. If two or more players play Raise cards to the same mat, the effect is cumulative, so two cards will quadruple the stake, three will multiply it eight-fold. The Trap card allows the holder to take the chips from the mat to which it has been played instead of other players who have tokens there. The Bluff card has no effect.
When all the action cards have been played face down, players have the opportunity to move their token up to four places along. Only then are the cards all revealed and winnings paid out. Where more than one player is entitled to the winnings on a mat, the bank pays them all (the chips aren't divided). The game is won by the player with the most money after four rounds.
Vabanque is not so much a gambling game as a game about bluffing and taking push-your-luck decisions. The Bluff card is used quite literally to misdirect, and there's really big bucks to be made if you manage to use your Trap card to steal a Raise-enhanced pot from multiple players. Vabanque is at its best as a party game with a full complement of six players, yet it plays quickly: even with six, you can play it in around 30 minutes. And the round by round escalation of the stakes means that even those who do dismally badly early on in the game are still in with a shout at victory in the high stakes final round - so this is a game that keeps everyone interested and involved.
We don't usually like paper money in games (besides, nowadays even real 'paper' money is increasingly plastic) but the glossy paper money in this game looks good. The chunky wooden tokens are excellent and tho' the chips are thick cardboard rather than solid poker chips, they are very serviceable. It all makes for an attractive package. One to add to your Christmas list. Or should we say: Faites vos jeux, mesdames et messieurs, et procurez-vous ce jeu pour animer votre party de Noël!