The Fool & His Nibs

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Trick-Taking Quarterly: July through September 2020

From gallery of seandavidross
For most people who might read this blog, the following content will be a repeat. They will already have read what is about to be posted as one of the items on the Trick-Taking Quarterly geeklist posted by pkufahl. Since I tend to write a fair bit more than the other posters to the list, I try to contain my content by posting subsections as comments, rather than having one enormous geeklist entry that overwhelms the rest of the list. It just seemed like the polite thing to do. But it does break up the flow of the writing, and it makes it more difficult to find the bits about a particular game--as my posts become interspersed between the comments of other trick-taking aficionados. In future, I think I'll make a blog post when the Quarterly geeklist gets posted, and then my entry to the list will be a list of games played, with their ratings, followed by a link to this blog for commentary on the individual games. The commentary will look something like this...

Tricking
 10  Bridge
 10  Doppelkopf
 10  Skat
 10  Tartli NEW!
 10  The Crew (2p)
 10  Tuo La Ji
 10  Vira
 9  American Bookshop
 9  Euchre (2P)
 9  Königrufen NEW!
 9  Voodoo Prince NEW!
 8  Cego
 8  Da Bai Fen NEW!
 8  Euchre (4P)
 8  Hungarian Tarokk NEW!
 8  Pitch
 8  Sjavs NEW!
 8  Slovenian Tarock
 8  Somnia (2p) NEW!
 8  Spades
 8  Texas Showdown NEW!
 8  Time Palatrix
 8  Ugly Christmas Sweaters NEW!
 8  Whist NEW!
 7  Baśka Kaszubska NEW!
 7  French Tarot
 7  Minchiate NEW!
 7  Tarot for Two (Prototype) NEW!
 6  Duck Soup NEW!
 6  Polish Tarock NEW!
 5  Lua Cheia NEW!
 4  Schwarz oder weiß NEW!


Climbing
 10  Gan Deng Yan
 10  Guan Dan
 10  Haggis (6P)
 8  Mermaid Queen (Prototype) NEW!



Tricking


The Tens

Hoo-boy!

Like last quarter's posting, this is gonna be a long 'un... Get everybody and the stuff together.

Okay, three, two, one let's jam...


Rubber Bridge
I've been playing a decent amount of Rubber Bridge of late, using the Trickster Cards app. It's not the best Bridge app I've used--that honour would go to Funbridge--but it's free and I don't have to keep giving them money to buy new deals (which is, unfortunately, the model that Funbridge uses).

The trouble with the Trickster app, for me--beyond just being less attractive than the Funbridge app--is that its bidding system is not nearly as nuanced or well described as the one used by Funbridge. I don't think I'd be able to play Bridge in real-life; I just cannot memorize all of the meanings of the various bidding signals. I would need to have an extensive and thorough player-aid available, and a very patient partner (not to mention patient and lenient opponents). But, when I know that those signals are available, you have to know I want to use them. And I want to use them effectively. Funbridge makes it easier to steer yourself meaningfully through the bidding process and arrive almost always at the contract that is best suited to your hand. Sometimes, I might bid a little more aggressively than it recommends, but at least I know I'm stretching things beyond what might be expected. With the Trickster app, there are these howling gaps in the bidding where I want to find a way to move forward but there are no signals associated with any of the remaining available bids. Far too often I'm left, stood on a cliff-face, looking out into the darkness...

Or worse, I bid to keep us in the hand and the AI leaps ahead to a place where I DID.NOT.WANT.TO.GO. and leaves me no room to course-correct; we're just going to get lumped and we'll have to like it...

That said, it doesn't go astray all of the time, and when it works, it's still gives me the wonderful, rich experience of playing a hand of Bridge and maybe even occasionally playing it well. So, I try to accept it for what it is and let myself enjoy playing a few rubbers here and there. Which is also a different experience from playing on Funbridge...

With Funbridge, you are playing Duplicate Bridge. And, I must say, that as an app experience, I would much rather play Duplicate Bridge than play Rubber Bridge. Not by a startling amount: my 10 rating for Bridge is based off of playing Duplicate on the Funbridge app; my experience of Rubber Bridge, using the trickster app, makes me think I'd rate Rubber Bridge as a 9. But maybe still a 10--I really do need to try this game with people some day...

The biggest difference is that you are more at the mercy of luck in Rubber Bridge. Duplicate is about measuring yourself against the play of others over the same hand--it doesn't matter if your hand is bad, it only matters if you are bad. Rubber Bridge is more social. It's a race to two games-worth of points. This sense of racing, and the connection of the scores from hand to hand, gives the game experience an arc. If you have bad cards, it doesn't matter how good you are, you can still lose. But, unlike Duplicate--where you are trying to fit the perfect bid to your hand--it can sometimes be advantageous to deliberately overbid a hand, knowing that you will lose, so that your opponents' score goes above the line (which does not move the game closer to ending) instead of below the line (which would). You don't want to do it too often, otherwise, even if you're the first to win two games, the total scores will still have you losing the Rubber. Losing will happen and you won't be able to prevent it, entirely. But, then you just shuffle up the cards and have another go. Just like almost every other card game in existence...


Playing against apps and not against people warps the experience of each game quite a bit. For instance, I know--I absolutely know--that I would not enjoy playing tournament Duplicate Bridge in real-life, and that I would enjoy playing Rubber Bridge more. But, with an app, it's the opposite. Why is that?

Well, yesterday, for instance, I was watching some Youtube videos of some hands being played at a Duplicate Bridge tournament. If you're not familiar with this, it is a sobering experience to witness. For fear of illegal signals being passed between partners, there is a freaking wall, with a wee swinging door at the base, through which you slide a bidding tray to communicate your bids via impersonal cards. Your hands are given to you, pre-assembled and tucked into a hard plastic gizmo of some sort, so there's none of the shuffling or cutting or warm ceremony of playing cards with your friends--it's all very cold and clinical and just NOT my bag at all. If I am playing cards with humans, then I want the experience to be warm and rich and about more than just the cards and who wins. Tournament Duplicate is not what I want to play with friends. But I love it as an app. And I would probably enjoy Duplicate if it was played casually, without the walls.

It's a wonderful puzzle to play through a hand and then discover how well you managed to solve the problem in comparison to hundreds of other people who've tried to solve the same problem. Most of the time I might be in the upper-middle portion of the group, and sometimes--more than I like to admit--I'll end up at the very bottom of the curve (which is embarrassing). But every now and then...Nirvana! You bid a hand and play a hand like nobody else had done and manage to get the very best result. And you're just chuffed. It feels really good.

Perhaps it's like golf. You can hit a hundred errant balls that slice into the trees or hook into the sand, but if you ever hit that one long drive that flies straight and true and lands softly on the green. Well. You'll chase that feeling again and again to relive the joy that leaps from the despair of that terrible, terrible game... Bridge is kind of like that for me...



Board Game: Doppelkopf

Credit: @loopoocat

I have a confession. I'm sure I have several but we'll start with just one: I sometimes rate games based on how I would like to play them rather than on how they are actually meant to be played...

Doppelkopf

I wish that Doppelkopf was a fixed-partnership game. Other people seem to enjoy the mystery of hidden partnerships that the game offers. That might even be their favourite part. Not me. I prefer knowing who my partner is. Until you know who your partner is, you can only play sub-optimally by not smearing tricks won by your hidden partner for the simple reason that you don't know they're your partner. Otherwise, you'd have an extra 10 or 11 points that you might really need by the end of the hand...

No. What I like about Doppelkopf is the oh-so-long trump suit; the tactical play of the hand; the relatively loose trick-taking rules for a game with so long a trump suit (compared to Tarock and its like); the option to suit the game to your hand by trimming the trump down to just the Queens, just the Jacks, or even to just no trump whatsoever; the capture of Aces (especially foxes) and Tens, the occasional Doppelkopf (40+ points in one trick) getting thrown into the mix, and the opportunities to increase your reward for the hand by calling Re or Kontra, and more. You know. Everything else but that one part that other people just rave about. That's the part I don't like.

But I love the other part so much that I play it as it is anyway. If I want to play the other way, I suppose I'll just have to make my own game... (Sigh. Not again...).


Anyway. I mostly play Doppelkopf against an app but I did have the opportunity to play the game, with real people, twice this quarter: once with Ray (rayzg), Peter (pwinckles), and Peter's wife; and once with Ray, Peter, and Jim Wickson. Ray's cards, with the trump ranks written-out for all to see, were a great help when introducing the game to new players. While it is certainly good to steep yourself in the culture of card gaming by learning whatever arcane, tortuous twists of the deck were made in this region of the world for their flavour of card games, you also don't want to scald people with an overload of information so that they would rather leap away from the table.

You know. Like boiling a frog.


Skat

Like Doppelkopf, I mostly play Skat on an app. In fact, I've only ever played the game against people once and that was about 15 years ago. It's not something I would relish trying to introduce to new players. I initially found this game quite complicated and had no idea how to bid or play well. But I had a realization, recently. After having playing the game on an app for so long, I find that I now reach for it as a casual alternative to my plays of Bridge or Doppelkopf. Familiarity and comfort combine...

This is not to say that I play well... No! But certainly better than when I began...I hope...

From gallery of seandavidross


Next confession: Sometimes my ratings for games get inflated by infatuation.

Tartli/Felsős

At the moment, The Crew is my favourite 2P trick-taking game. I don't think Tartli will be able to supplant it, but I can at least say that Tartli is currently my favourite trick-and-draw game (or trick-and-meld, as Raymond calls it).

Tartli is a 2P Hungarian/Austrian member of the Jass group. It has a key distinguishing feature from other Jass games in that the Over Knave (Queen) is raised to top trump rather than the Under Knave (Jack). The game is essentially a race to 501 points. You score points by declaring melds and capturing point cards in tricks. The melds include sequences of 3 or more cards in the same suit, 4-of-a-kinds for every rank other than 7 or 8, and a trump marriage (or Bela). You can score a sequence multiple times, if you time it right, by declaring 3 cards, then 4, and so on. You do not need to win a trick to meld, so the melding is frequent and gives your opponent a lot of information about your hand. You have to manage that hand to remain open to collecting more melds, while also fashioning your hand to take at least one trick in the phase that begins once the talon has been exhausted.

Until the talon is exhausted, trick-taking is may-follow (ftr). Once the talon is exhausted, the rules switch to forced-trump (f,t,r). You must be able to win at least one of the final 9 tricks. There are 161 trick-taking points available each hand, including 10 points for winning the last trick. If you fail to take a trick during the final 9, you keep any meld scoring you may have done, but you lose all of your captured point cards: those go to your opponent, who scores the full 161 points for themselves!

If you reach 501 points before your opponent, you score 1 VP. If you get there before your opponent collects 251 points, you score 2 VP. The game is to 5 or 10 VP.

You need to keep track of what cards have been played and what cards have been declared in order to be prepared for those final 9 tricks where the trick-taking ramps up to do-or-die intensity. If you can track all of the information given to you through the first part of the play, you should know exactly which cards your opponent is holding.

And this is where I have my one issue with the game. When covering Tartli, Raymond talked about finding it hard to keep track of this information. I, on the other hand, am able to track the information and--for me--that makes those final 9 tricks a tiny bit of a letdown because I know exactly how it will play out.

And so we come back to my earlier confession with Doppelkopf: that I sometimes rate games on how I would want to play them, rather than strictly on how they were meant to be played.

In this case, my solution is to deal 10 (or 11) cards at the beginning of play, rather than 9, and then have each player discard 1 (or 2) cards into their own capture pile before play begins. This way, when you get to those final 9 tricks, there is at least 1 unknown card (or 2, if you want more mystery). That small change is enough to make the end of the hand a bit more exciting for me.

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

Credit: @henk.rolleman

The Crew
As I've mentioned before, The Crew is currently my favourite 2P trick-taking game. There are a couple of reasons why.

First, the game manages to do something that--I believe--no other 2P trick-taking game had ever done, before the recent spate of co-operative trick-takers (and of those, it does it the best): The Crew lets you have the experience of playing with a partner when there are only 2 of you.

One thing that elevates 4P (and sometimes 6P) trick-taking, for me, above pretty much any other genre (except climbing games!), is the ability to play the game in fixed partnerships. The comradery, being on the same side, working together to pull off amazing victories. It's glorious. Or, it can be.

The Crew, even with two, lets you do this. And that is no small accomplishment.

Second, The Crew introduces a new audience to a trick-taking feature that is usually only seen in the most skilful versions of Tarock games, games like Illustrated Hungarian or Royal Tarokk. The Crew introduces the concept of feats (or stunts).

The only other trick-taking game that I know of that focuses solely on the play of the hand in order to accomplish feats, is Royal Tarokk. It is a tournament-level, partnership tarock game that demands more skill than any other card game I've ever read about. Yes, more than Bridge.

Royal, and The Crew, are games that are all about called shots. You say what you are going to do, and often when you are going to do it, and then you do it (or don't) to reap the reward (or the whirlwind).

For anyone who loves The Crew, the next step is to explore Royal Tarock. It would be like playing the Crew and trying to accomplish your missions while playing against a team of spoilers who are bent on seeing that your missions fail. It sounds so good!

External image


I covered Vira pretty well in my post for last quarter's geeklist, so I'll just say that I've continued to enjoy playing the game this quarter. I do, however, have more to say about Tractor this time...

And we're back to my confession for Doppelkopf...

Tuo La Ji/Tractor

It's easily the most fun and interesting trick-taking game I've played so far. It's dynamic and varied in its card play. It has the feel of a climbing game despite decidedly not being so (and for me, unlike for Raymond, that is a definite plus). The inclusion of multi-card or combo tricks for pairs and sequences of pairs gives you additional tools for digging out higher ranking cards or trump from your opponent's hands. They also make it so that very low ranking cards can suddenly become unbeatable by higher ranking cards (or even trumps) simply because your opponents are unable to respond with a higher combo of the same type. So a pair of 2's in a non-trump suit can defeat even an A-K in the same or in the trump suit (you'd need to play A-A to win the trick). Powerful. Flexible. A favourite.

But.


Having now played Tractor against non-AI opponents (you know... People), I do still love the play of the hand, but the rest of the game (the scoring, trump setting, exchange, top cards play) needs a lot of development. I cannot whole-heartedly recommend this game to anyone--as it is. There are just too many things that argue against it. But the play of the hand, in isolation--if you just play the hand and forget about everything else--is wonderful.

When you play the game as an app, a lot of the other elements just don't matter as much, you just jump from hand to hand and enjoy the card play for what it is. When you play with other players, the scoring matters, the trump setting matters, who gets to exchange matters, the fact that the top card play can be hard to understand and hard to play correctly matters. All of these things get in the way of experiencing the part of the game that I most enjoy.

Essentially, what I'm saying is: I need to develop a version of this game that doesn't have the issues that I see happening in the traditional version--and it is that theoretical version of the game that I truly love.

Or, I could just play the app and be happy with that...


The Nines

I've only reached the 9s.

?!

I don't have much to add over anything I--or everyone else--have already said about American Bookshop. Other than, perhaps, to say I've raised its rating from an 8 to a 9. If you haven't played it yet, there's a playingcards.io implementation waiting for you...

From gallery of seandavidross


Euchre For Two

My comments from last quarter wrote:
If there were a distinct entry for the version of 2p Euchre that I play, I would give that a 9. Linked as it is with 4P Euchre, I feel like I have to keep the rating at an 8 as I'm not as inclined as I once was to play Euchre at that player count.

I didn't use to like this 2P version when it was first taught to me about 35 years ago, but that was mostly due to the scoring which short-circuited the gameplay to end after one player took 8 tricks (1 for maker, 2 for defender). I would have rated that version a 6.

I recently spent some time looking into alternative scoring. I tried a few, even venturing into Bid Euchre territory, but pulled back in the end to something fairly simple that I think works very well and provides a satisfying trick-taking experience for 2P while still feeling somewhat like Euchre. I was hoping that the Bid Euchre system would work out but it didn't feel right bidding at higher trick thresholds when you could only see 10 of your own 15 cards; I felt the system wasn't suited to bidding beyond saying "I think I can take more tricks than you if this is trump". That's what it was before and that's where I left it.
I don't take credit for this version of the game. Somebody else--lost to history--came up with the deck, added the 3 jokers, and came up with the idea of using 5 strawmen. The only thing I did was change the scoring--and my change was based on a system devised by someone else as well. I just steepened the penalty for being Euchred.

But I would like to point out some niceties from this design, and why I like it so much.

Euchre is a 5-card trick-taking game, so I like the repetitions of 5 in this approach: There are 5 cards down, for each player, plus 5 cards up, plus 5 cards in hand, plus 5 cards in the Kitty. So many fives. It just seems right.

I like the lottery/gift/curse of finding out whether you have the card you need in the face-down cards. It's joyous when it goes in your favour and something you can blame when it doesn't ?

If you think about a 4P partnership trick-taking game, in most of those games you will know where 25% (or less if some are undealt) of the cards are (since you will know your own cards). And, while you know 100% of your own cards, you only know 50% of your team's cards (unless you're Declarer in Bridge, then you'll eventually know where 100% of your team's cards are--before the play of the hand). In 4P Euchre, you make a contract knowing where 25% of all of the cards are (your 5 plus the up-card) and 50% of your team's cards.

But even in Bridge, after the Dummy is down (but not taking into account your deductions from the opponent's bidding), you only know where 50% of all of the cards are.

The way this variant works, you start out knowing where 16 of the 35 cards are. That's 46% compared to the typical 25% (but still less than Bridge's 50%). Sure, you can only see 67% of your own hand, but I like to think of it more as I can see 67% of my team's hand because, if this was 4P (and not Bridge), I could only see 50% of my team's hand, which would make this a step up... By not knowing all of the cards in your own hand from the outset, you get a tiny bit of that sense of the uncertainty you have surrounding which cards will be played by your partner. And when the highest trump suddenly turns up from the face-down cards to win the trick you need to avoid getting Euchred, it's like that moment when your partner saves your contract by taking that one uncertain trick you were worried about from the beginning of the hand. In other words, it feels great.

There's still plenty of luck in this variant but, as you can see from the percentages, just because you have some face-down cards that you don't know about, that doesn't mean you don't have a lot of information to work with. It's just a matter of changing how you think about those face-down cards. I think of them as my partner helping me out--I only rely on them taking one trick at most. If they take more its a bonus. If they take none, well, there's always the next hand...



Some points about the scoring system.

In 4P Euchre, the worst-case longest game is about 20 hands (you go back and forth taking 1 point up to 10 or 11 points). This system plays to 61 in at most 9 hands--though typically it will take 5 to 7. If you want to play the longer game to 121, as part of a rubber, it will take 17 hands in the worst case, but usually about 10 to 14 hands. So, a nice way to while away a bit of time. As a bonus, you could use Skunking rules from Cribbage for your rubber (if your opponent takes fewer than 90 points, that game is worth double). Fun!

If you only want to play a very short game, playing to 31 works okay, but you'll have less time to balance out good and bad hands...



You don't need a deck with 3 jokers to play this. The game I was taught used the 2, 3, and 4 of spades. But if you would like to use a deck that has 3 jokers, this one is very nice and it's the one I use:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07NPT66C5/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b...


From gallery of seandavidross


Königrufen

So far, in my recent journey into Tarot/Tarock games, this has been my favourite of the bunch. It helped that Raymond made a very nice implementation of the game for playingcards.io that included a player aid for all of the many bidding options. It seems there are so many games now that I like that I could never use as pick-up games--where you're with some friends, you grab a deck of cards, and you just start playing. A lot of my favourites really need player-aids. Some might even do well to have a board (I'm thinking of Vira and Minchiate, here) or custom decks of cards (anything with wonky ranking and point values). Being able to play the game, where all of the niggling (but sometimes vital) details are still there but they are smoothed out by simply not needing to remember all of them--you can remind yourself by reading the aid or board and then get back into the game--makes a big difference in how it feels to try to play some of these older card games. I highly recommend getting into the practice of providing player aids for traditional card games whenever you think they will help the experience. That would be most of the time...

The other good thing about what Raymond did--he did a lot of work, for which I thank him--is he scoured the rule sets and put together a set of bids that seemed to work well. He's correct that it seems like the game would be better if there were more bids that resulted in team play. I would certainly like that even more. But the main thing these bidding options added, that haven't been as present in the other Tarot games we've played, is the addition of negative contracts (where you try to lose every trick, or only win one, and so on). Those really help you feel like you can take part in the game even when you might not have the strongest hand (especially then!). It's one of the features I love about Vira and I enjoyed seeing it used here.


Voodoo Prince
Board Game: Voodoo Prince

Credit: @davidallves

One play, five players. This immediately entered my Top 25. Doesn't matter if I never play it at a different player count. This fills a niche and fills it superbly.

As did--skipping ahead a bit in my list--Texas Showdown, which entered my Top 50 based on a single play at 6 players.

I have to play some more, but (much as I like them) I don't think either of these games are ones I'd want to play for an extended period of time--back-to-back. They're not whole evening (or whole day) games. Those types of games are closer to my Top 10. But these two are games that fill a role--short, light game at a specific player count--and that is enough for me.

I wonder how many back-to-back games of American Bookshop I'd be willing to play...? Not a whole a day, I think. But an evening? Maybe...


The Eights

This is exhausting. For me. For you too?

Time to gloss over some games.

I don't have much to add to Raymond's thoughts on Cego. This is the first time I'd played the game against humans; I'd only played the bots at https://www.cego-online.de/. It's more fun with humans. Slovenian Tarock? Same.

See? Gloss.

Now we're cooking...

The Trickster app I mentioned earlier, for playing Bridge, also plays several other trick-taking games. Among those, Euchre, Spades, and Pitch have seen the most plays. Playing 4P Euchre on the app has shown me how much my rating of the game is based on nostalgia and the people I played with over the substance of the game itself. It's quite a step down from Bridge. But that's fine, sometimes you need something simpler. But then I also find I'd rather be playing the 2P version which has a bit more depth to it...


Pitch I find adds some needed variety to my trick-taking habits, it exercises some underused muscles--the ones you only know you have because the day after your workout the pain has made you fully aware of them. I should very much like to play the related games of Don or Phat.

Spades, I have no complaints about Spades. It's there when I need it. It's my Goldilocks trick-taker, I suppose. Not too light, not too heavy, but also not as exciting (it has its moments, but they are not the highest highs or lowest lows for me). It's often my taking a breather game. Though Skat has started to step on its toes there...

I almost played Pinochle on the app but I got lost in the variations trying to decide what form was best and then decided not to bother. Someday...

Oh, and I had forgotten. I also played Whist on the app. First time. I found the Uptown and Downtown bidding very interesting. Need to explore this family more...

Was that gloss? It feels like it's still taking far too long...

Da Bai Fen. It's single deck Tuo La Ji. It's fine. It's easier, I suppose. I'd rather ride the Tractor.

There! Back on track.

Hungarian Tarokk is a game that is in serious need of a developer. There is a great game hiding under a bunch of crusty old edge-cases--traditional card game rules sometimes accumulate exceptions like barnacles. People think this gives them character. Really it just makes you not want to touch them...lest ye bleed...

Sjavs was only the very briefest exploration of the 2P game and it left me wanting to explore this branch of the Shafkopf family all the more. The novel bidding system is so simple and makes so much sense when you hear of it, you wonder why you've never seen it used before: The player with the longest trump is the declarer. It gets right to the point and into the game without a lot of fuss. Very much want to play again and at different player counts.

Board Game: Ugly Christmas Sweaters

Credit: @kalchio

Ugly Christmas Sweaters

I think I became aware of this game when I was doing one of my semi-frequent advanced BGG searches for 2P card games. It may have been for trick-taking. It may have been for both. I don't know; the point is I found it. Moving on.

It was a trick-taking game that supposedly worked well for two players. I was hooked; I still consider those to be rare. Certainly, by comparison to 4P trick-taking games, they are. And then there was the charming Christmas theme. That also held my attention; I had to know what it was like to play. So I watched Rahdo's run-through for the game and then I watched two more playthrough videos made by Hunter and his wife, Kymberlie. Sold. Take my money. How do I get you to take my money? I asked in the forums; Hunter was nice enough to take my money. Well, first he asked me to trade him for a copy of Haggis--which was kind--but I didn't have one to spare. So, money.

Now I just had to wait patiently for the game to arrive.

Um. Forget that.

I had already made a few games for playingcard.io at this point, so I contacted Hunter again to ask if he would be interested in having his game ported to that platform? It would allow people to try it; it would get them talking about it; and, it might lead to a few more sales. They were interested, yes. I got access to the files and spent a few hours putting the game together on pc.io. Then I had the two of them play the game to see if it worked well. Shortly thereafter, Hunter posted the game to the geeklist of games for that platform. I felt it would look more official that it was okay to play his game there. Nothing was being used without permission. That sort of thing.

And, so, I got to play his game before I got his game. None of that silly waiting guff. Insta-win.

I arranged a 2P session with Peter (pwinckles) that week and quickly followed that with another 2P session, this time with Raymond (rayzg). I enjoyed it. Both times. I found it charming and fairly relaxing.

In the 2P game, each player plays two cards to the trick, and the cards they play are used to determine a draft order for selecting the parts of the sweaters you are hoping to build from a central pool. And then, the cards you played to this trick goes into the pool; and the next trick is about drafting from those cards. This continues until one player completes their 3rd sweater to trigger the end of the round.

The thing with this game, at 2P, is that it doesn't quite feel like trick-taking when you play it. It is trick-taking; don't get me wrong. But it kind of feels more like an auction. Remember Palazzo, from Reiner Knizia? You bid with money to draft parts of buildings, but there are 3 denominations of money and you can only bid with one denomination at a time? It's not exactly like that, but its the closest analogy I could think of to express what it feels like when you are playing the tricks. It feels like you are spending the cards to win other cards in an auction that limits which cards you can use by a familiar set of rules. Must-follow trick-taking.

I don't know how else to express it. You are definitely following trick-taking rules, albeit with two different suits you can follow. And you are winning or losing the auction for draft order based on trick-taking resolution rules. But you aren't capturing the cards that are played to the trick; you're capturing other cards that you paid for with this trick. And I thought that might be what made it feel not quite like a trick-taking game. You don't actually take the trick. There's a disconnect from what I'm used to, so it felt different. Not bad different--it's actually very clever and enjoyable to play--just different. But later, I played the game 4P on Tabletop Simulator. And that felt like trick-taking. Weird.

Back in the Spring, Dave Peters (rynelf) had been kind enough to help me out with some playtesting of a 4P and 6P version of Haggis. We played those games at pc.io because that was the platform I chose. He offered to implement the game for me on TTS, which he prefers, and then he did. And he also implemented a steadily increasing number of other games for that platform. It's impressive. So, when Hunter later contacted me to see if I might be interested in porting UCS to TTS (yay, acronyms!), I said I knew someone who already knew how to do it and that they might be willing to give it a try. Fast forward a little--gloss!--and we're testing the game for 4P on Dave's TTS implementation. Which, BTW, is very slick.

I didn't think 4P would make that much of a difference. In 4P, you only play one card to each trick; four cards get played to the trick, same as in 2P, but you only get to contribute one of those four. And you also only get to win one of the four cards in the pool. That difference was enough to change how the game felt; it felt more tactical. Which, to me, is how trick-taking games usually feel. The 2P game, on the other hand, feels more strategic. It feels like you can plan more and have more control over your plans working out. I like it both ways but it is a different experience going from 2P to 4P. I still haven't tried 3P, so I can't comment on how that feels. But, my physical copy of the game did arrive in the mail not too long ago. So, perhaps, I'll get to see what 3P is like using the actual cards for a change.

I think Ugly Christmas Sweaters is an excellent game. It appears to scale well, but with a slightly different experience at each player count--which is fine. It uses its theme very well, and it gives me a game that I can bring out during the holidays (but, no, not only then) and enjoy with my family. Definitely recommend trying out.

Sorry for the wait, Hunter. Thanks for letting me play your game. Early.


Board Game: Baśka Kaszubska

Credit: @fogus

The Sevens

Baśka Kaszubska

I agree 100% with Raymond's assessment. My comment for the game:

Quote:
A ridiculous pub game with very little control. It's a wild, silly ride that you can enjoy if you don't take it seriously. I would never, never play this for money.
But I would play it. And I would double. But never if real money was on the line.

French Tarot
I play this occasionally, on an app. I think it's to remind myself that I don't actually like it all that much. I still rate it a 7 but I'm not sure if I should. I seem to not care for Type II tarot games (the fool is used as an excuse and the games assign the usual card values). So far I've played French Tarot, Droggn, and Danish Tarok and haven't loved any of them. Perhaps I need to try the game at a player count other than 4?

The two-player Tarot that I played is one that Raymond discussed in his geeklist post, linked to earlier. It was a trick-and-draw tarot when I played it but I suggested Michael might want to explore a Piquet exchange instead. It sounds like that may have been an improvement? I'll have to try it again to see.

External image

Minchiate

This is a game that gets in its own way. It's another example of a traditional card game that could use some development. Or maybe it just needed further evolution? We'll see when we get to try its descendant, Ottocento.

[Edit: Tried Ottocento. Evolution chose the wrong path. Development is needed]

I'm not sure what this would have been like to play in person with real cards and if we did not have the board we used to track which team had captured which trump. The multiple robbing the pack mechanisms are ridiculous. Seriously. Oh, I know why they did them--to help people discover more of the far-too-many unknown cards in the deck, but it's a whole lot of awkward fumbling that would have been better served by the simple expedient of reducing the size of the pack.

But, once you get past that ugliness, there is a very clever team-based, set collection, trick-taking game to play. It would do quite well as a board game if an appropriate theme were applied (and even without). The best part of the game is about trying to capture certain trumps that form sets or sequences, while also trying to capture certain other trump to block your opponents from doing the same. The blocking part is great fun. And any redevelopment of this game needs to "focus on the fun"[1].


The Rest

Playing Polish Tarock was not a memorable experience. I mean, I can barely remember playing it. It was like the Milquetoast of Tarock. There's a fine mantle to own. Not great.

Board Game: Duck Soup
Duck Soup is several clever ideas mashed together and then pushed out the door. The multiplication-scoring is very clever but also very punishing. In our game, I believe I took something like 7 tricks in the first portion, but--because I do a bit better at recalling which cards have not been played--11 tricks in the latter portion. The final score was very lop-sided in my favour.

For me, it felt like I was playing a gimmick-game. You have a clever idea, a gimmick, you make a game to showcase that gimmick and then people get to experience your gimmick and decide if it really was clever or not. Pat on the head, good job.

But the game experience itself is often hollow and unsatisfying as a result. There's no soul. It's a mesh of clockwork gears that run to get a result. The spark of life isn't there.

Lua Cheia and Schwarz und Weiss are further examples of gimmick games.

Lua Cheia is an experiment by the designer of American Bookshop, Taiki Shinzawa, where he tried to teach the principles of play for a must-follow game but using a may-follow game and a very small deck of cards to do it. And it felt like an experiment. It was cute. It was kind of clever but there wasn't much there to enjoy.

Schwarz oder Weiss (Black or White) was an experiment by another Japanese designer that worked as an experiment but not so much as a game.

In many German trick-taking games there is a bid called Schwarz, which is a bid to take all of the tricks. A Slam, if you will. The designer of this game lamented that this most interesting of bids was so seldom called and so they decided to do something about it. This was the result.

How it works is this: after receiving their first card, two players take turns drawing cards into their hand until one of them bids Schwarz or one of them bids Weiss (a bid to take zero tricks). After the bid is made, the declarer can opt to have more cards dealt or play with what they have. The hand size can vary from two to five cards, at most. The first lead sets the trump suit and from there it is standard must-follow trick-taking.

It's a neat idea, and it works for what it's trying to do, but it's not something I would want to play more than once, nod to say that it worked, and then never try to play it again. It's not a bad game. It's just not a satisfying game.

You know how they give you these small portions of food at gourmet restaurants, and the purpose is for you to experience the isolated flavours of the chef's latest, genius experiment?

Well, I'd rather have the Chili.



The new wave of trick-taking designs coming out of Japan is a marvel to behold. There are games that are refining classics, giving them that extra bit of development I seem to keep harping about, to make them presentable for a modern audience. And then there's this tsunami of trick-takers-with-a-twist. These can be hit-or-miss. When they hit, as they have with American Bookshop and Nokosu Dice, they produce modern classics; when they miss, it's like hoping for fireworks but finding a damp squib. Disappointing.


Climbing


Gan Deng Yan
Or, as I like to call it, "Paddington".

I was introduced to this game by Robert (BankofDracula) who learned it from one of his students. It reminded me that pagat.com, despite being the greatest resource for traditional card game rules on the planet, was sadly incomplete. There are more card games out there than were dreamt of in my philosophy... [Your narrator gazes out into a night sky filled with uncountable stars, clutching the skull of Yorick. Alas.]

Too much? Let's bring this ship back to ground.

The game is like eating potato chips (crisps for my British readers), you keep wanting just one more.

Fascinating and frustrating. The name of the game is descriptive, "to watch helplessly". The other translations are "Glaring Eye" or "Hard Stare". It's the look you give the player that stops you from climbing higher. Like this:
From gallery of seandavidross

Gan Deng Yan is a low-hand-size (5-6 cards) climbing game with very restrictive response rules: you can only play a combo that is a single rank higher (e.g., respond to 4 with 5, respond to 456 with 567), 2s, or a triple/quad bomb. There are 38 unknown cards at the beginning of a 3 player game, so there's quite a bit of luck involved. You need to prepare your mind for being thwarted and you need to keep your hand ready to respond to being thwarted at the right moment.

Despite the luck during the early rounds, you can usually still play well or poorly with what you're given. However, as the hand progresses, fewer and fewer cards are unknown: eventually, if the hand lasts long enough, the draw pile will be empty and you'll have quite a good idea of what cards are where. Then, certainly, skill is very much on display.

I still haven't played this with 2. Rafał W. Orkan (Skeeza) introduced it to his wife who "was just crazy happy playing it one-more-time and one-more-time again and again, even tho she lost most hands." So, it's probably pretty good at 2. I would guess that the scope for skilful play will diminish with more players. You add an extra deck to the game for 5 or 6. so it becomes more likely that someone--definitely not you--O! never you--will be able to respond to what has been led. Surely, somebody can play on this... Anybody? Grrrrrr!

I continue to enjoy this one quite a bit; though I may be adding significantly to my frown lines by playing it...

Guan Dan

In the past, I've suggested that the feel of playing Tichu is like high-wire, movie Kung Fu and that Haggis feels more like a grappling sport--Brazilian Jujitsu comes to mind. Well, keeping with that theme, Guan Dan would be the professional, tag-team wrestling of climbing games.

It's body slams and pile drivers and flying off the top ropes to destroy your opponents. It's flash and glam but mostly slam.

Imagine if WWE was real. It's like that.

It begins with the hand size--27 cards--which is flamboyance itself (and yet is not the largest hand size in climbing games (See Băo huáng (保皇), which can have 43 card hands. Life goals). Because you have so many cards, you have so much to choose from. You've got most of the expected combinations--sets, straights, full houses, even stairs (though they call them plates)--but a few unusual ones like tubes (consecutive triples), 10-of-a-kind bombs, and the almighty 4-joker-bomb. It's a smorgasbord. All you can eat special. It's the candy store near where you grew up. You'll want to use them all.
Board Game: Guan Dan

The game plays out with regular floods of 6 card stairs or tubes, followed by dribbles of smaller combinations punctuated by the occasional full house or straight. But that's just the calm before the storm. Most rounds escalate to a flurry where multiple waves of increasingly powerful bombs are blasted into each other for longer than you might think possible. And then it ends. And the mists clear. And you start building towards the next wave.

It's a wonderful, mad, fun and smart game. Absolutely recommend.


Haggis (6P)

I always knew that Haggis could be extended to support more than 3 players; I just never bothered to do it because I didn't want to be in direct competition with Tichu. I would surely be found wanting in comparison. And who wants that?

Then, about 3 years ago now, a publisher approached me about designing a climbing game for them. I wasn't motivated; I'd already been published so I wasn't driven by the prospect of doing it again. Still, shortly thereafter, I had a notion that did drive my interest. I began to wonder what it would have been like if climbing games had been introduced to Spain in, say, the 1600's. What would a climbing game, played with a Spanish-suited deck of cards, be like? This got me working on a game that I currently call "Rooster".

At first, I tried to steer the game away from being another version of Haggis. But, as the development went on, the best version of the game kept pulling me in that direction; I would have ideas that I put into Rooster and then I would think, "I could do that with Haggis as well". So, I started developing the two games in parallel. They aren't identical--the decks are different, there are different bombs, and Rooster has 6 wild cards (yes, 6)--but they are definitely fraternal.

Eventually, I stopped working on Rooster and began to focus on Haggis. I'll probably return to Rooster at some point, but I will change its combos to be restricted in length to no more than 6 cards. At least, that's what I think I'll do.

Anyway. Haggis. I got the 4P game working very well, I think. It's a different enough experience from Tichu that I feel it merits existence. Some people might like it; I do. More than Tichu. Shhhhhhhh! Don't let Tichu know!

There are some interesting features in the game. If you win a round with a bomb, you can either lead OR you can give the lead to your partner. Your team scores points based on the number of cards your opponents are holding when you go out; if your partner goes out second, even if the opponents have managed to get their hand sizes down, your team scores a Slam--which means that your partner scores whatever you scored when you went out. So. Big Points. Potentially. However, if you go out first, but don't get a Slam, it's entirely possible for the opposing team to score more points for cards in hand points than your team. It's also possible for them to greatly reduce the damage they will take for cards in hand points by getting their hand sizes down quickly; defensive play is meaningful.

While I was at it, I figured I'd take a stab at making the game work for 5 and 6 players as well. I still haven't played the 5P game but I've had several tests of the 6P game. I like it. I think it's really very good. But it takes a long time to play. Like, 90 minutes for 3 hands, long. We're playing online, so the length could be inflated, but I'd still say it would take at least 60 minutes to play it in person. Sure, it's a fully engaging 60 minutes, but yeah, 3 hands. I don't know... Also, the last playtest I had for the game, back in July, ended up in a blowout; this discouraged me enough to quit play-testing for the next 3 months (please don't judge me, I was sad). The scoring wasn't (isn't) where I want it to be. I'm hoping to get back to it sometime in November.

Okay. I think that's enough. I'll stop now.
SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY...




[1] "focus on the fun" is one of Jay Cormier's mantras for game design. Jay and I are both members of the Game Artisans of Canada. Name-drop accomplished.
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