The Bottle Imp
A diabolic trick-taking card game for two to four players aged
10 years or up.
Design: Günter Cornett Graphics: Carsten Fuhrmann
(translation by Rick Heli)
- 36 playing cards
(12 each of blue, red and yellow)
They are consecutively numbered 1 to 37 with the exception of 19. The coins between the numerals indicate the point value of the card for scoring at the end of the
- 1 start value card (= 19)
- 3 overview cards
- 1 bottle
("tempered in the flames of hell")
- these instructions
- 1 booklet including Robert Louis Stevenson's short story about the Bottle Imp
In addition paper and pencil are needed to record points.
Note:The rules for three and four players
are described first; rules for two players can be found at the end.
Before we continue, just a few words on the Ownership of the
| "Of glass it is but the glass of it was tempered in the
flames of hell. An imp lives in it, and that is the shadow we
behold there moving: or so I suppose. If any man buy this
bottle the imp is at his command; all that he desires - love,
fame, money, houses like this house ... - all are his at the
word uttered ...
There is one thing the imp cannot do - he cannot prolong life;
and, it would not be fair to conceal from you, there is a
drawback to the bottle; for if a man die before he sells it, he
must burn in hell forever ...
it cannot be sold at all, unless sold at a loss. If you sell it for
as much as you paid for it, back it comes to you again like a
homing pigeon ...
Only remember it must be coined money that you sell it for ..."
(booklet pages 47- 48)
About the game
As with many other trick-taking card games, the idea of The
Bottle Imp is to acquire the most points. The Bottle Imp makes
trumps out of the lowest cards.
The player with the highest card less than the price of the
Bottle earns the trick and also the bottle with the imp. Then
the price of the Bottle falls to that of the winning card.
In this way the owner of the Bottle Imp changes until its value
can no longer be undercut. Whoever has the Bottle Imp at the
end of the hand earns negative points instead of positive
The start value card (no. 19) is placed face up on the table
and the Bottle Imp is placed on this card.
The three overview cards are placed so that each player can
see one of them. They show the distribution of the colors and
numbers on the cards.
The 36 playing cards are evenly distributed to the players.
In receiving the cards it is recommended that the players sort
them by number, rather than colour.
Course of the game
Beginning the game
Each player discards a card. The discarded card is placed
face down as the Imp's Trick under the start value card. No
one may look at these cards.
Each player exchanges a card face down with both of his
First he passes a card from his hand to his left
hand neighbor, then one to his right hand neighbor. Finally he
takes the two cards which are lying before him (from his
neighbors) into his hand.
Play proceeds clockwise. The player to the left of the dealer
begins by playing a card. Whatever colour has been played,
the other players must follow suit.
If a player cannot follow suit he may play any card.
If all of the played cards are numbered higher than the current
value of the Bottle Imp, the player who played the highest
numbered card, regardless of whether he followed suit, wins
The Bottle Imp
The Bottle Imp can always be re-sold as long as the price is
lower than the last price:
If someone plays a card whose number is lower than the
current price of the Bottle Imp, then the Bottle Imp
automatically transfers to its new owner at the end of the trick.
If only one player plays a card lower than the Bottle Imp price,
then this player gets the trick and the Bottle Imp.
If more than one player play cards with numbers lower than
the current price of the Bottle Imp, then the player who played
the highest such card (placed next to the card which has
shown the price until now) receives the trick and the Bottle
The card which won the player both the trick and the Bottle
Imp and is placed face up under the Bottle Imp.
This card indicates the new price of the Bottle Imp.
The card which denoted the previous price of the Bottle Imp goes to the
Bottle's former owner. He turns it over and adds it to any other
cards he has won. It is possible that the new and former
owners of the Bottle Imp are identical..
At the start of the game no one owns the Bottle Imp. Its
starting price is 19.
The value of the Bottle Imp is 19.
The following cards are played:
Adam: 24, Betty: 15, Christian: 17, Doris: 32.
Adam and Doris played cards above 19 while Betty and
Christian played lower than 19. Of the latter two, Christian's
17 is higher than 15 - and closer to 19. So Christian gets the
trick and also the Bottle.
The new price of the Bottle Imp is 17. The 17 card is placed
before Christian with the Bottle on it.
The next trick is always led by the player who took the last
trick (in the example above, Christian).
"Is there anything wrong about the price?"
"It has dropped a great deal in value since your time, Mr.
Keawe,", said the young man stammering.
"Well, well, I shall have the less to pay for it,",
says Keawe."How much did it cost you?"
The young man was as white as a sheet. "Two cents", said
"What?", cried Keawe, "two cents? Why, then, you can
only sell it for one. And he who buys it -" The words died upon Keawe's tongue; he who bought it could
never sell it again, the bottle and the bottle imp must abide
with him until he died, and when he died must carry him to the
red end of hell.
The young man of Beritania Street fell upon his knees.
God's sake buy it!"
(booklet pages 63-64)
End of the hand
When all the cards have been played each player receives
the point value of his tricks.
Exception: the player who owns the Bottle Imp at the end of
the hand, instead of scoring positive points, receives the total
of the Imp's Trick as penalty (negative) points.
After a pre-arranged number of hands or reaching an agreed
point total (e.g. 500 points), the player with the highest point
|"All you have to do is to use the power of the imp in
moderation, and then sell it to someone else, as I do to you,
and finish your life in comfort."
(booklet page 47)
Discarding and Passing
In general it is a good idea to pass the lowest cards to one's
Vital game information is also passed with every
exchanged card. For example, if one gives his neighbor
and receives in return the 1, the game is lost if the neighbor
succeeds in taking the Bottle Imp with the 2 unless the one
manages to play the 1 in the same trick or earlier.
It is also a good idea to void oneself of one suit because
one has more options in play. Therefore one should plan
one's neighbors frequently passing low yellow cards.
In any case one should carefully note which cards were
passed and discarded, and to/from which opponents.
One should promptly play the cards whose values are slightly
under the starting price, in order to win cards with high value.
Once the price of the Bottle has been lowered, this is no longer
In order not to receive and keep the Bottle Imp at the end of
the game, try to play the very lowest numbers as favorably as
possible. That can be done most safely when cards of higher
number that are below the Bottle Imp price have already been
played in the trick.
It is enticing, but also risky, to play a high point card into an
(apparently) "normal" trick. For example if one takes the 31
with the 37, the next player could take the trick (together with
the Bottle Imp) by playing a very low card.
It is important to note which cards have already been played.