I believe this game goes back to the 1920s and originated in Germany where it was known as
"Schimmel" (white horse). In other countries it is known as "Bell and Hammer", "Merchants'
Hall", etc. The name in Spanish is "Aduana" (Customs House). As far as I know this
game is totally forgotten these days which is a shame because I have great memories of it as a
It was a tradition in my family to visit a great-aunt of mine at Christmas time and play this
game so we only got to play it one or two days per year. It is one of those unforgettable
childhood memories for me. I remember the big dining room table and the lamp hanging over
it. A tablecloth would be put over the table so the dice would not roll too far and each
player would be given a small ashtray to put his coins in. It is fun and very easy to play
as there is no skill involved. I believe it was originally played with wooden chips (as
counting units) which came with the game set but we played with small amounts of money with the
smallest possible coin used as the nominal counting unit. Still, as a child, any money won
was welcome as funds for candy. Of course beans or any other counting units can be used.
I do not think the game is sold any longer but it should not be difficult to make the cards by
printing or photocopying them. The only other thing required are some special dice which
have only one side marked but they should not be difficult to make. The game also came with
a wooden hammer (to be used during the auction) and a leather cup to roll the dice but these are
not strictly necessary.
The five cards, about 18 x 14 cm, are shown below with their names. They are respectively,
the Hammer, the Bell, Both Things (hammer and bell), the Customs (house) and the White Horse.
It seems when I was a toddler I saw the white horse and said "a dog!" and so that card was always
called "the dog" in my family. Since I am a traditionalist I will keep that name here.
The dice each have five blank sides and one side
marked with each one of the following symbols:
numbers 1 through 6, a hammer, a bell.
How to play the customs game
I seem to remember that the ideal number of players is like 5 to 7 but it can be played with fewer
or more. One person is designated as Administrator of the Pot or Bank.
Normally all the players would roll the dice and the one with the highest result would be the
Administrator but in our case, as most of the players were children, the administrator was my
great aunt who was also the host. This person manages the central pot but can, and usually
does, play also as a private player. He then acts in two separate capacities: as private
player and as Administrator of the Pot. The Administrator then divides all the chips equally
among all the players and the first phase of the game begins.
Customs is Open
The Administrator calls "Customs is Open" and each player pays the same agreed amount to the
Bank or Pot. The larger the amount the longer the game will last. I do not remember the
amounts involved but I would try first with each player giving one quarter of their chips to the Pot.
Then the Bank auctions off the five cards, one by one. The players bid and the winner gets the
card and the amount bid goes into the Pot. Some players may own one or more cards and some may
own none. The Customs card is auctioned last. The value of the cards depends on the expected
return during the game and experience is the best advisor but to give a rough idea I would say the
values are in the following proportion: Most valuable is the Dog (say 20), next is the Customs (say 10),
next the Hammer and the Bell, equally valued (say 5) and finally Both Things (say 1). Once the
auction is completed the next phase of the game begins.
Customs is Closed
The Administrator calls "Customs is Closed", the owner of the Customs card places the card facing
down and the game proper starts with the Customs being "closed". The owners of the rest of
the cards place their cards in front of themselves and facing up so the other players can see them.
Each player in turn rolls the dice. The roll of the dice yields a number between 0 and 21 plus
the four possible combinations for the bell and the hammer dice.
To put it another way, the sum of the numbers designate the amount to be paid while the Hammer and the Bell
dice assign the action to the different cards. The chances of rolling a Dog are about 1/3 so buying
the Dog card is usually a good investment.
- If the sum is one or greater then the number is called and the player receives that amount from the Bank.
For instance, a player rolls the dice and gets 9: he calls "nine" and the Bank pays him nine units.
- If the sum is one or greater and the hammer or the bell or both things show then the amount is paid
by the Bank to the owner of the corresponding card. For instance, a player rolls 10 + Hammer:
he calls "Hammer, ten" and the Bank pays ten units to the owner of the Hammer card. A player
rolls 8 + hammer + bell: he calls "Both Things, eight" and the owner of the Both Things card receives
eight from the Bank.
- If the sum is zero then "Dog" is called and the player pays one to the owner of the Dog.
- If the sum is zero and the hammer or the bell or both things show then the owner of the card pays
one unit to the owner of the Dog. For instance, "Hammer, Dog" is called and the Hammer pays one to the Dog.
The game continues in this fashion until there is a moment when there is not enough left in the Bank to pay
out a roll the dice. When this happens the game moves to the next phase. There is a small
chance that the roll of the dice is the exact amount left in the Bank in which case the amount is paid out and
the game ends there and then which is bad for the owner of the Customs card who lost all his investment in
the card. More commonly a player rolls a number greater than what is left in the Bank and then the game
moves to the next and last phase.
Customs is Open
The Administrator calls "Customs is Open" and the game changes to a new phase. The owner of the Customs
card flips it over placing it facing up. In this new phase of the game if the number rolled is smaller
than the amount left in the Bank, then the action is just like during the first part of the game, when Customs
was closed, and the Bank pays out the amount rolled. The Dog action is reversed now and every time a Dog
is rolled the owner of the Dog card pays one unit to the player who rolled it or to the owner of the card rolled
(Bell, Hammer or Both Things). If the number rolled is greater than what is left in the Bank, then the
excess is paid to the owner of the Customs card.
Some examples to illustrate this. Assume there are 10 units left in the Bank.
Player rolls 14: He calls "fourteen" and pays four units to the owner of the Customs.
Player rolls 13 + Hammer: He calls "Hammer, thirteen" and the owner of the Hammer pays three units to the owner of the Customs.
Player rolls 6 + Bell: He calls "Bell, six" and the Pot pays six units to the owner of the Bell.
Player rolls 0: He calls "Dog" and the owner of the Dog pays one unit to him (the reverse from when the Customs is Closed).
Player rolls 0 + Bell: He calls "Bell, Dog" and the owner of the Dog pays one unit to the owner of the Bell (the reverse from when the Customs is Closed).
Customs is Closed
When a player rolls the exact number in the pot, the pot pays out that amount and the Administrator calls
"Customs is closed" thus ending the game. The duration of each part of the game depends much on
chance and may be long in one game and short in another. The longer the Customs is open at the last
phase the better it is for the owner of the Customs card who is receiving and the worse it is for the
owner of the Dog who is now paying out while he had been receiving until now.