I recently took my yearly pilgrimage to my friend’s farm north of Kingston for games, hikes and male bonding. The first thing my friend wanted to show me was a commercial he and his wife had done for a game that they had fallen in love with. That was my introduction to Kuhhandel or as it’s known in North America, You’re Bluffing.
This is a classic animal bidding, bluffing and trading game by Rüdiger Kultze. It was originally published back in 1985 when the Goonies were still busy looking for One-Eyed Willy’s gold. It has a really interesting economy to it and some tense showdowns really spice up the game.
Everyone starts with a hand of $90 comprised of four $10’s, one $50 and two $0. Why would anyone want $0 cards? For bluffing of course, but we’ll get to that.
On a turn players have two options. They can either hold an Auction or they can Kuhhandel (Cow Trade). There are ten different types of animals that make up the animal deck, ranging from the lowly, ten point rooster all the way up to the valuable, 1000 point horse. Each animal comes in a set of four cards. Once you’ve collected a set they’re yours forever, but until then they might be stolen away from you.
By holding an auction the active player will flip over the top card of the animal deck and start receiving bids. There’s no order to the bidding, so it can get a bit chaotic. The auctioneer can start closing the bidding when they like, but must give players a ‘going once, twice, sold!’ head’s up. Once the bidding is closed it’s up to the auctioneer to either take the money from the highest bidder or pay the money of the bid to the highest bidder. It can be a fine line finding the right amount to offer. Too high and you may be giving the active player a mitt full of cash, too low and they may decide to grab the animal themselves at a steal. The most fun thing to do is drive up the price on someone who really wants to walk away with that pig. Be careful with the bids you make too. There’s no change given in the game, so if you don’t bid wisely you may be forced to overpay.
If you find yourself a little light in the wallet, not to fear. Money changes hands pretty quickly and you won’t be low for too long. Just to make sure, every time a donkey is turned up from the animal deck each player gets a bit more cash; $50, then $100, $200 and finally $500 when the fourth donkey appears.
Oh and don’t get too tied to the value on the cards. Sure, a set of horses is worth 1000, but each set has good value to it. At the end of the game you get the full value of each set you have multiplied by the number of sets you have. So if all I have is the the horse set worth 1000 points multiplied by one, I end the game with just that, 1000. You might have the pigs worth 650 and the geese worth 40 and win because 690 x 2 comes out to…wait for math…1380! Sometimes going after some of those smaller, less sexy sets can really be worth it.
That brings us to the Cow Trading that gives this game its name. The second option on a turn is to choose an animal that you and another player have and make a hidden offer of money for it. This is where the bluffing comes into play. You can put down a hand of all $0 value cards or actually make a high offer. The other player has the option to accept the offer outright or make a counter offer. In the case of the counter offer the two bids swap hands and whoever has put in the higher amount takes the animal. If multiple animals can be traded equally (i.e. you both have two of the same animal) then you have to risk them both. It’s a very interesting mechanic, because ideally you want to win the trade by spending just a little bit more than your opponent. Even if you lose though, you’re going to take the winning bid into your hand and be able to use that in future showdowns.
The game continues with those two options until the animal deck is exhausted. Then it’s nothing but Cow Trading until all the animals have been collected into their groups of four. Money is worth nothing at the end so no point hanging on to that. Final scores are just the point values of your animals multiplied by the number of sets you have.
If I could predict a complaint about this game it’s that it runs a bit long for its light nature, but as with any auction game that something that will get better with time. Players will more instinctively know the value of the cards and be able to read the table situation.
Now, this isn’t going to be an easy game to track down. The system was reimplemented in 2009 with Kuhhandel Master, which had a few variants, but is essentially the same game. If you can track down Kuhhandel or You’re Bluffing I can guarantee a really fun time bluffing, bidding and cow trading.
I’ve included my friend’s commercial which my first introduction to this game. A note, both he and his wife do not speak German, but wrote the script out and translated it. If the accents have a bit of a Swedish air to them don’t be too harsh.