John OwenUnited States
Short version: I'm still relatively new to traditional trick-taking card games. I've spent most of this year exploring the genre. Vivaldi is one of the best I've found.
Trick-taking games are more prevalent than most ever realize. At least more than I realized. David Parlett's The Penguin Book of Card Games is full of them, and for each new game, you'll see at least half a dozen variant ways to play.
Vivaldi is very much a traditional game. It is self-consciously and purposefully an adaptation and updating of the classic Italian trick-taking game Briscola Chiamata.
Let's take a look at Brisocla Chiamata. Fortunately, I don't have to spend much time doing so. Go ahead and watch the SU&SD boys tell you how good it is:
I haven't played Briscola Chiamata, but if you do, I strongly recommend that you follow the SU&SD recommendation of A-10-K instead of the traditional Italian A-3-K. There is no reason for the 3 to be there except that the traditional Italian deck has no 10. If you're playing with a French deck and have a 10, use the 10 (play with a shortened deck of 5-A; remove the 2,3,4,--or 7,8,9--instead of the 8,9,10 as Pagat recommends). Not only does this make more sense, but it will have carry-over to other Ace-Ten games that you can (and should?) learn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ace-Ten_games. These standard card values apply: Ace=11, 10=10, K=4, Q=3, J=2, everything else is worthless.
As you may have noticed, this already involves a lot of messing around with the deck, learning the ace-ten ranking, and learning the ace-ten card values. Surely this process could be simplified?
Once you have learned those things, you're ready to play Briscola Chiamata, which begins with an auction to determine which player will choose the trump suit, also determining which other player at the table will become their hidden partner, working together against the other three players at the table.
So much for Briscola Chiamata.
What does Vivaldi do differently than this?
The deck is still 40 cards, but instead of the weird ranking that the uninitiated have trouble with, the 4 suits of 10 cards each are simplified to an easy-to-understand 1-10. No court cards; just numbers 1 through 10. What are the values of these cards? The number on the card is the value of the card. Rank=Value. This is a significant departure from Briscola Chiamata.
The Briscola Chiamata rules have each suit worth 30 points (see above for relative card values). This new system of card rank equaling value results in a much higher total suit value, with each suit now worth 10+9+8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1= 55 points. In order to win the round, your team will have to score more than half of those points. The other twist with Vivaldi is that each suit now has an opposite "pain suit" determined at the same time that the trump suit is declared. These cards in this suit are now worth negative points. Effectively, 165 positive points to be had in the three positive suits, minus the 55 negative points, which brings us back to 110 points, which is close to the 120 total points of the traditional game, only now calculated in an extremely simple and intuitive way for anyone, even those new to card games altogether. Just add up the values of all of the cards from the tricks you've won, subtracting the values of those cards from the pain suit. That's it. Add the cards of the teammates together. Team with the highest total value wins the round.
Those cards up top determine the trump and negative suits.
What this means in terms of gameplay is that now those small cards are not worthless. Winning a lot of small tricks can be better than winning a few high tricks, or high tricks with negative points mixed in. Avoiding negative tricks seems all-important, but it can actually be a distraction. Sometimes it's better to just suck it up and take the negative points, netting 1 or 2 points on a turn, which is still overall a positive increase.
What I haven't mentioned yet is that players never have to follow suit. Any card can be played in response to any other card. Other normal trick-taking rules still apply. Highest card in the lead suit wins the trick unless a trump is played, in which case highest card in the trump suit always wins the trick. This ability to play any card allows for some of the pleasant "take-that" that I enjoy in these sorts of games. Someone on the other team looks like they're in a strong position to win the trick? Why not offload your 10 in the pain suit as a gift to them?
Alright, but what about that initial bidding phase, or, why might hanibalicious like this game when he doesn't like bidding in other games?
In my experience, there are two kinds of bidding in trick-taking games. The first is bidding on how many tricks you'll take. That is not what this is. The second is bidding on the right to a certain position in the game. That is what this is. In this game, you are bidding to be the Caller, the One versus the ugly Many. The heroic Caller gets to determine the trump suit and gets to choose a secret sidekick, but then becomes the hated target of the other three villains at the table.
What I love about the bidding here is how simple it is. In something like Skat, you bid an assigned number that represents a suit and then multiply that by the number of trump cards you already hold, add in other multipliers. It's all really stupid. In Vivaldi, there is nothing abstract about it. What you are bidding is a number between 10 to 1 that concretely represents a numbered card held by the hidden partner in the trump suit that you wish to name. Higher numbers are obviously better, so the subsequent bids must be for lower numbers. If the bidding gets down to 1, then the bidding starts to increase by number of points difference you think you will crush your opponents by.
This leads me to the only part of the game that I was a little confused by.
Are these extra points awarded no matter what the increment was that was called? For example, if the Caller wins the bid with 1+15, does he still score 4x if the Caller's team scores 75 more points than the other team? That's how I'm reading it, that as long as any points difference is named, then these bonuses become "unlocked".
Scoring is always zero sum. If the Caller's team gets the most card points, the Caller wins 2 game points, the helper gets 1 game point, and the others at the table each lose 1 game point. It's the reverse if the Caller's team loses--Caller loses 2 points, helper loses 1 point, everyone else gains 1 point.
I've only played once, so this review is not from any place of expertise or experience. I'm just smitten by the game right now and want to keep playing it.
We all know that I'll continue to get distracted by getting through the piles of unplayed games, but if I continue to be disciplined, then that pile will disappear by late 2021. After that, I'll be left with only the games that I love in my collection, that will be begging for repeat plays. Right now, Vivaldi has a permanent spot in my collection. If I'm sitting down with 5 players for a trick-taking game, it is the game that I will reach for first and every time (I'll note that Texas Showdown is in the pile of unplayed games; I have high hopes for it being a great 5p trick-taking game).
If you're in Europe, there's no reason not to order Vivaldi. Do it now. If you're in the States or elsewhere, it's a little more difficult to find in domestic shops. I ordered the last copy from Noble Knight. I like it enough to recommend importing it from Europe, but the astute reader will have probably already realized that this game can be played with a traditional deck or with a Rage deck. If you just want to try the game, it's easy enough to do with materials you already have.
Chartae has been a hit for me. Vivaldi is now another one. XVgames is now high on my radar as a small company to keep watching. It looks like their love for small abstracts is tailor-made for me. I only wish their games were easier to get here in the States.
But now I will tell the lineage and the names of the heroes, and of the long sea-paths and the deeds
Just another bgg blog about playing games.
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John OwenUnited States
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