Archive for John Owen

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In a good game, even the losers win. -RK

From the preface to New Tactical Games with Dice and Cards, which you should buy now if you don't already own a copy.
Reiner Knizia wrote:
In a good game, even the losers win. It is the process of playing which is important, and the chance to interact and compete with other people. The appeal of the game is the time we spend together.

While we are playing, it feels like we are visiting new worlds and being subjected to different rules that measure our strengths. Each time, new skills and strategies are required. Everyday life is soon forgotten, previously unknown goals and exciting challenges are calling us. While playing, we become free to do things and take on roles that everyday life cannot offer us. We put aside our fears and embrace a new identity.

For this, we neither need endless rules nor lavish setups and equipment. It is what you do during the game and the choices that you make that provide the excitement. The rules set the boundaries, but within them we control our own world. We know our options and fight for success against our competitors.

Playing games, more than anything else, is make-believe. It is we, the players, who put life into the game and find elements in the form of new strategies. But we have to start with a situation that is defined by good and interesting rules. Then everyone wins, no matter who is victorious at the end.
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Sat Dec 12, 2020 1:32 pm
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I bought another deck of playing cards on kickstarter...

From gallery of trawlerman


Check it out: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fallisdesign/broken-cro...
I couldn't resist that Queen of Spades. I did restrain myself and only got one copy of the deck instead of multiple copies.
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Thu Dec 10, 2020 3:04 am
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3 Photos

1. I found the Celles: The Ardennes, December 23-27, 1944 counters in the Chartae box. Of course, right?

From gallery of trawlerman


2. I bought a few more cheap decks today at Walmart in anticipation of either marking them up or letting the little kids practice shuffling or maybe getting in some 6p Haggis (I know, I know, that I just need those Fournier decks, but not yet, not yet). This deck of playing cards and this candy bar both cost 88 cents. 88 cents. There's an argument to be made that both are inferior products compared to better quality chocolates and better quality cards, but... 88 cents. Even our "junk" products would have been the envy of kings a short while ago. We are surrounded by marvels and take them for granted.

From gallery of trawlerman


3. Abigail sent me this photo this morning with the following caption:"Future Klask Tourney Champ, practicing against herself because no one else provides the level of skill she needs in order to improve." Yes, the entire family was watching the 2018 Klask World Tournament the other night after I read Rob mention it in a comment.

From gallery of trawlerman
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Thu Dec 10, 2020 1:34 am
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The Lentils

It's that time of year when everyone, including me, starts reflecting on the past year while making plans for the next one.

I've always thought that most gaming awards were pretty stupid. One guy, Tom, liked a game. Now the publisher can slap a "seal of excellence" on the box. Another couple of guys decided a game was the best game of the year. Another publisher now uses an elephant in their advertising.

I could find faults with most major and minor awards in our hobby.

Which is why I'm starting my own award! Welcome to the 2020 Lentils. These are the Top 10 new-to-me games that I loved in 2020. Like the humble lentil, each one of these games is affordable, satisfying, and good for you. I thought about naming different sub-awards after various lentil dishes, then writing about how the game shared characteristics with the lentils, but then I regained my sanity.

1. Traditional Card Games
2p - Haggis (1 play)
3p - Boon (Sheepshead) (1 play)
4p - Hearts (3 plays)
5p - Vivaldi (1 play)

I'm a little bit embarrassed that my play count on these is so low. In my defense, I was playing a lot of new-to-me games which prevented me from the repeat plays that I would have liked. Well, and also, I was playing Babylonia when I could (see below).

I only played Haggis for the first time yesterday. I already knew that I was inclined to like it. A lot of people that I like here on BGG like Haggis. I had played Tichu near the end of last year and liked Tichu. So, a 2p version of Tichu that I could get played at home? Sounds good to me. And it lived up to its reputation. I especially loved the way that bombs worked, that you are sometimes sacrificing many points to your opponent in order to stay lead player to control the pace and type of cards that get played. I played it with my 14yo. After we were finished, she said, "That's a really good game," which she doesn't just say about any game. She then played it again immediately with her 10yo sister while I went about making a late supper.

(Full disclaimer: I've interacted a lot here on BGG with the designer of Haggis in the past year. I have warm fuzzy friendly feelings towards him, liking and respecting him both as a person and as a designer. How is that for a simple admission of bias? Good enough? That said, I do think that I'm still objective enough to be honest in my assessment and be able to state publicly that I didn't like his game or was disappointed or whatever. But I did like his game and I am being honest in saying that it was one of the ten best games that I played this year.) The only 2p card game I liked more than it is on this list below.

Boon (Sheepshead with an upgraded card design) also only saw one play, but it was one of my favorite sessions of the year, a rare 3p game with me, Abigail, and our oldest daughter. There was lots of trash talk and I remember losing spectacularly, but checking the scores now, my daughter did even worse than I did. At 3p, there's a lot of skill involved. Part of me wants to try it 5p and part of me is satisfied with the 5p options I already have, with Boon being the best 3p trick-taking option that I've found (sorry, Skat). We played with basic zero-sum scoring rules. I do need to at least figure out how to double a bump and crack stuff. I should also probably try to become comfortable playing this and teaching it with a standard deck. I think I'm ready for that, but do I really teach my kids to play a game that no one else will ever play with them unless they move to Wisconsin?

If I were ranking this list more traditionally as a #1-#10 list, Hearts would probably be #1, not only of the traditional card games, but of any game I've played all year. Only 3 plays, but they were among my favorite sessions of the year. Sending hearts (and the queen of spades) to someone who has to take them is pretty delicious, and the possibility of doubling down on winning 'bad' cards, then 'shooting the moon' is one of the best things ever.

At 5p, it's Vivaldi. What a great game. The simplified scoring and addition of the pain suit are just brilliant, as well as the emerging partnerships that really elevates the game.

2. Knizias
Babylonia (21 plays)
High Society (10 plays)
Schotten Totten (11 plays; 2 plays previously in '16)

Babylonia was easily my "Board Game of the Year" if I were to exclude all card games. Nothing else came close. It was a weak year for me in terms of new-to-me board games (as opposed to card games). Not getting to go to public game nights meant that I tried a lot less Euros and a lot less train games. It's probably a good thing that I was stuck home with my family because they all also like Babylonia. I'm not sure how Babylonia would have gone over at game night. I did get to introduce it to Jake on the one rare occasion that we saw each other at the end of the summer, but that was 2p. I think that Kevin would have liked it alright, but not loved it. I can never guess what Madden will think. I could see him going either way, either loving the meanness and openness of it or feeling 'meh' about it because it's too abstract. Anyhow, Babylonia was a hit at home. Only 79 more plays to my century.

The best thing about High Society is the "bid the most without going over" element that shapes the entire game. You want to spend to get stuff, but if you spend more than everyone else, you're so embarrassed that you're automatically disqualified from the prestige of the win. This, with the player-driven values, makes for an always tense game with simple yet important decisions every turn. Like Babylonia, High Society plays great at its entire player count range, which is a rare thing to achieve, especially in a card game like this.

Schotten Totten is a bit of a cheat. I played it twice in 2016, but those plays were with the tactics cards and I screwed up the tactics card rules. It's maybe unfair, but I hate those extra cards. Fast forward to this year, when I played the basic version for the first time. It is a better game without the tactics cards. I think it's a different enough game without them to be a new-to-me game this year. The tactics cards added in too much wildness and uncertainty, something that I sometimes like, but didn't like here. Without them, the game becomes about card counting (keeping an eye on what your opponent is playing and may play), risk management (when and where to play certain cards), and an element of bluffing (playing in such a way that your opponent thinks that you may be holding on to an important card that you really don't have). Schotten Totten is my favorite 2p card game of 2020.

3. Buttons
Adder (18 plays)
Fliptricks (30 plays)

I canceled my Button Shy subscription because I'm trying to limit all incoming games, because I wasn't playing Personal Space, because I was behind on playing a few of the games from the last shipment, etc. I don't regret canceling it, but I will miss getting surprise little games like these. You could play either one of these at home right now with some extra playing cards from your 88c deck, marked up with a permanent marker. Fliptricks is on pnparcade. I'm not sure why Adder isn't, but I did just see that BS is releasing a wallet-sized new version soon that plays up to 4 players.

Anyhow, these are both ridiculously stupid (in the best way) dexterity card games. In Adder, you are using cards to "snake" your way across the table to attack your opponent. In Fliptricks, your single card is your skateboard that you do awesome (well, they're supposed to be awesome when you don't break your board!) tricks with. Highly recommended, especially if you have kids to play with.

4. Word Games
Movable Type (3 plays)

Movable Type is probably the best argument for me to stop buying games and just let games come to me however they will. I tried to stop spending money on games this year. I still spent a lot of money on games this year. I did not spend any money on Movable Type. Sam sent me a copy after I made a casual statement somewhere about how I was not at all familiar with any recent word games. Thanks again, Sam. What I love about Movable Type is that there is no real scoring. I mean, there is, but each round's scoring just gets you cards that you tuck away to build a final word. The game is won or lost on that final word. So, each round is fun, but there is also a sense of progression, building towards a satisfying climax, usually coupled with plenty of laughter, because words are wonderful.


------

That's 10 games. I might make a separate post naming some honorable mentions, but these are the 10 that get the Lentil.

Congratulations to everyone who has won a 2020 Lentil Award. Thank you to all of the designers and publishers who worked hard on these games, especially Uncredited's work on Hearts. I don't know how you do it century after century, Uncredited.

Seriously, my year was better for having played all of these games. Thank you.


-----

Please forgive my flatulent indulging of my own tastes and priorities. But, hey, if any of you want to stick a Lentil on the next reprint of your game, let's talk.

-----

Fernando Notario wrote:
lentils were perhaps the most significant foodstuffs in the performance of the Cynic life.
Montaigne wrote:
In the midst of a discussion, and in the presence of his followers, Metrocles let off a fart. To hide his embarrassment he stayed at home until, eventually, Crates came to pay him a visit; to his consolations and arguments Crates added the example of his own licence: he began a farting match with him, thereby removing his scruples and, into the bargain, converting him to the freer stoic school from the more socially oriented Peripatetics whom he had formerly followed.
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Wed Dec 9, 2020 11:41 am
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2020 Geeklists

I made a lot of geeklists in 2020.
-My Top Ten Games: 1999BC to 1999AD
-This Game Ends NOW. -- Variable Timing Game End Conditions - Which games have them?
-The Compleat Gamester - trawlerman's Top 100 Games, May 18th-19th, 2020 Edition, to be completely revised on the morrow, weather permitting, and if he gets out of bed.
-How many of BGG's Top Ten Games have you played?
-Great and Terrible Games Give Away of 2020
-Reiner Knizia's Worst Games (according to BGG)
-The Babylonia Century
-Reiner Knizia Interviews/Appearances 2020
-30 Years of Reiner Knizia - BGG's 100 Favorite Knizia Games in Chronological Order
-Babylonia Reviewed by Board Game Community Celebrities
-Noirvember 2: How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?
-In the Wake Of Swimzania; Following Bootleby's Script: Redux - A Second Following Into Personal Top 50 Play Placements With At Least 10 Plays Instead of 5
-Trawlerman's Mindfully Not Spending Money On Games Challenge - 2021
-FATFROG IV
-Keep playing new games without buying any new games - play the games you already own that you didn't know you already own...
-24h 'Blitz Gaming' Challenge - December 2020 Edition
-2020 Acquisitions - Reflections on the act of exchanging time for money for games
-David Parlett's Original Card Games
-Top 20 Trick-Taking Games According To BGG
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Fri Dec 4, 2020 9:54 pm
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Missing in Action

I've written a lot about having too many games, unplayed games, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But here is the proof that my condition is bad.

About a month ago, I pulled out Celles: The Ardennes, December 23-27, 1944. I put it on a folding table in our library (yes, we have a room in our house called the library, don't you?), set up the map, and read the rules.

Then, a day later, I had to move it for some reason or another. I moved the game with some other games to another area.

About a week later, I put the games away, putting Celles back in its ziplock bag. Then, a week ago, I thought, hey, those rules seemed good, I'm itching for a nice wargame. I pulled the game out and the bag of unit counters was missing. Missing. Gone. I have looked everywhere I could think of. They are not scattered around. The entire bag just disappeared.

I still have the map, the rules, and another baggie with the status markers. But I can't play the game.

What do I do now? If I get rid of the useless bits that I have now, I will find the bag of counters the next day. If I hold on to the bag of useless bits, then I will never find that bag of counters. What do I do?
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Thu Dec 3, 2020 12:57 am
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"Most Important Games" By Year: Interacting with a geeklist that has disabled comments

There's a geeklist on the frontpage right now: Nac's most important games by year since 1995

The geeklist does not define what it means by important. It does not go into any details on any of the games. And comments are disabled. Sigh.

Nevertheless, the geeklist inspired me to waste a little bit of time looking through the past 25 years, asking the question: What do I think is the most important game from each year? Not the game I like the best. The most important. I decided that this should mean "most important to the wider world of gaming" and not "most important to me".

Here goes:

1995 - Settlers of Catan
The game that launched the German Invasion.
1996 - Pokemon Trading Card Game
Responsible for capturing the imagination of many children worldwide.
1997 - Tigris & Euphrates
The German Invasion reaches its peak right here near the beginning.
1998 - n/a
I couldn't find any one game that seemed more "important" than any other.
1999 - Apples to Apples
I hate Apples to Apples, but it launched many party game clones.
2000 - Carcassonne
The other German gateway game that is not Catan.
2001 - Munchkin
The game that gave RPG groups something to do when they weren't role-playing.
2002 - Age of Steam
There were train games before this one, but AoS seemed to be the one that crossed the divide and brought 18xx/Winsome style games to a popular audience, eventually leading to further simplifications of AoS itself.
2003 - YINSH
The game that really sold the entire GIPF project to a broader audience. For a while, the GIPF series was hot stuff, and a lot of that attention was due to YINSH.
2004 - Memoir ‘44
Ticket to Ride is admittedly more popular, but I think that Memoir '44 was more important in both introducing the Commands & Colors system to a wide audience and for just introducing wargames to a wide audience. Yes, Memoir '44 is a wargame.
2005 - Twilight Struggle
TS was more of a slow burn than Memoir, taking a while to reach the masses, but it also introduced 2p historical conflict games to an audience that otherwise did not care.
2006 - Bananagrams
It had been a while since I had seen a new word game catch on. For a while, it seemed like it was easy to find Bananagrams anywhere. I think that it was important in getting word games away from any sort of board idea.
2007 - Agricola
Not the first worker placement game, but it felt like it was the one responsible for the endless wave of worker placement games that came after it.
2008 - Pandemic
'08 is tough because it could just as easily be Dominion, but Pandemic was the game that blasted open the gates of cooperative gaming popularity, which I think has overall been more important as a trend in the hobby than deck-building.
2009 - The Resistance
The rise of social deduction games could not be resisted.
2010 - 7 Wonders
I'm always amazed by how popular this game is.
2011 - Risk: Legacy
Because we wouldn't have My City without it.
2012 - Star Wars: X-wing
X-wing took the brilliant Wings of War system and made a cash cow out of it.
2013 - Sushi Go
Simplified and popularized drafting games even further
2014 - Marvel Dice Masters
It would be D&D 5e if RPGs were included, but I'm not including them, so, it goes to Dice Masters, which, like X-Wing, took a solid idea from an older game, then made a ton of money for game stores with it. Games like X-wing and Dice Masters are also important in that they were visible and playable by young players who might not have otherwise entered the hobby.
2015 - Kingdom Death: Monster
Important in showing that niche, weird games could find a large, wealthy audience using Kickstarter.
2016 - Captain Sonar
I fell like the great popular real-time game is yet to come, but Captain Sonar was there showing the way.
2017 - Gloomhaven
Gloomhaven is a juggernaut.
2018 - Keyforge
Most important in that it made money for game stores, but also showed one weird future that could be possible, in which algorithms design our games and their names.
2019 - Wingspan
Wingspan was a huge hit and got lots of media attention.

Alright. Your turn. Tell me why I'm right or wrong about any given year.
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Sat Nov 28, 2020 3:59 pm
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Challenge Fever - 2021 Edition

Because it's never too early to start thinking about how to do it better next year.

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/279362/trawlermans-mindfu...

https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/279360/100-play-challenge...

I don't think I'm even going to attempt any other 10x10 or 5x5 or whatever. I never seem to be able to stick to them.

I'm still getting rid of games at a decent clip. I'm definitely on target for sticking to my previously blogged about Crates Challenge, which rules still apply to next year's spending and continued culling. The most important rule that I'm so glad that I've adopted is the commitment to play anything new within 2 weeks of obtaining it. This should have been my personal policy for the past 15 years.

I'm going to buy a few games and books in the next week, then plan on no spending at all in December, followed by adopting the above budget approach starting 1/1/21.
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Thu Nov 26, 2020 7:41 pm
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Vivaldi: A Great 5p Card Game For Any Season

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.

From gallery of trawlerman


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?

From gallery of trawlerman


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.

From gallery of trawlerman

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.
From gallery of trawlerman


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.
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Sat Nov 21, 2020 2:29 pm
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HOT NEW CARD GAMES

Boon is the new Sheepshead
Tuckbox Front
From gallery of trawlerman

Tuckbox Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman

Permanent Trump Suit
From gallery of trawlerman


The Blue Rings is the new Skat
Tuckbox Front
From gallery of trawlerman

Tuckbox Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman

Trump Suit (Jacks/rings are always trump; rest of suit shifts each round)
From gallery of trawlerman


Formosa Flowers is the new Hanafuda
Box Front
From gallery of trawlerman

Box Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman


Vivaldi is the new Briscola Chiamata
Tuckbox Front
From gallery of trawlerman

Tuckbox Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman

Trump Suit (always an entire suit, shifts each round)
From gallery of trawlerman


Doublehead Kids is the new Doppelkopf
Plastic Case
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Back
From gallery of trawlerman

Card Fronts
From gallery of trawlerman

Permanent Trump Suit
From gallery of trawlerman
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Fri Nov 20, 2020 4:45 pm
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