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Sondereggian Poker - "the figure of a gigantic cat"

Here's what I wrote about Chonkers back in March:
trawlerman wrote:
Hanibal sent me rules to a fun little card game that I think is even better than he possibly realized. It feels like a mash-up of Knizia's Black Sheep or even Schotten Totten (in the sense that you are playing cards to win material for an endgame condition) and a Poker version of Officer's Skat (in the sense that it is a great 2 player game that teaches poker ranking while being fun, involving some skill but also a heaping portion of luck) and something else I'm not quite pegging, maybe even Movable Type, but others as well. I'm thinking of the fact that the "resources" you are fighting over (cards) are used to shape your hand for a final showdown. I only played it 2-player (and think that's how I prefer it, not really wanting to even try 3-4). This rating might even go up. I had a blast playing it with one of my daughters. It's light, quick fun, perfect for playing with kids. (And I've also now played it with an adult friend and taught it to his girlfriend and watched them play a match. It's light and it's quick. I think it holds up as a form of "Officer's Poker"). If Hanibal approves, I'll post the rules.
Hanibal responded in the comments:
From gallery of trawlerman

Since that time, I have not posted the rules. I have instead continued to play and enjoy the game all to myself, making comments here and there on BGG about how much I like it.
trawlerman wrote:
I've played this more than ten times now. I was right that it's not very good (to my tastes) at 3 or 4, but it is exactly right at 2. I like it better than any of Knizia's Blazing Aces poker games that I've played so far. That's right. I just compared Hanibal to Reiner and Hanibal came out on top. This is just lovely to play when you want a quick 2p game with a deck of cards. Somewhere here on the 'geek, Hanibal said that I could post the rules (and that he'd already forgotten what the rules were that he sent me). I should do that sometime.
Revised rating after 10+ plays: 7 (going on 8)
I think somewhere I said that I was hoping to keep teaching the game to everyone I met, hoping that someday in the far future, Hanibal will be in a luxury card game club for old folks where someone will approach him and say something like, "Hey young man, you want to learn how to play this traditional game I know called Chonkers?" Eh, that was the wish.

It's fun to see Hanibal mention Sean's Jass work in that old comment. This afternoon, I finally played Strohmann Jass (French Hair Salon Edition; WHAT DO I DO???). With a real Jass deck. With turns alternating around the table counter-clockwise (how else do you play a 2p card game, right?). Authentic Jass.

This is my 11yo daughter looking super-serious as she goes about brutally beating her father.
From gallery of trawlerman

This is a picture of me disguised as the UnderFlower, secretly saying "DOWN WITH FLOWERS!" "AND ALSO DESTROY ALL ACORNS!" "AND NO MORE SHIELDS!" "AND NEVER ANOTHER BELL!!!"
From gallery of trawlerman

Because the secret of French Haircuts disguised as Swiss Card Games is that they are incredibly painful. Try to remember that trip to the barber when you were young, when he kept cutting off bits of your ear and the clippings from your bangs kept scratching your eyeballs (um, you didn't go to "The Greek" for your haircuts when you were young?).

So, yeah, I loved it. Even if I did have Phil Och's version of "The Bells" in my head for most of the game. Did I say down with Bells? Down with Bells. Except I do kinda love how catchy this version is (and this live version is the first I heard 20+ years ago and still my favorite).

Yeah, yeah, you're all saying that you've had enough Bells too, and you just want to see some Chonkers.

Well, Hanibal would enjoy Jass talk and Poe talk, so why should I hurry?

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!

For your edification, here is an excerpt from Hanibal's Chonkers Design Diary. If you've heard the rumors, they're all true. Eric Martin did have the chance to publish these and passed on it. The scoop is here instead of on the BGG News blog.

At this point, Hanibal was still referring to the game as "the cat".
E.A. Sonderegger wrote:
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.

When reason returned with the morning—when I had slept off the fumes of the night’s debauch—I experienced a sentiment half of horror, half of remorse, for the crime of which I had been guilty; but it was, at best, a feeble and equivocal feeling, and the soul remained untouched. I again plunged into excess, and soon drowned in wine all memory of the deed.
It gets better (worse?) from there. Chonkers' origins are perhaps shameful. This is why there is only one copy of the game in existence. Only one. And it is precious. And you all expect me to share it freely. How could you expect such a thing? Who just gives away the gem entrusted to his care? Shall I?
E.A. Sonderegger wrote:
I am above the weakness of seeking to establish a sequence of cause and effect, between the disaster and the atrocity. But I am detailing a chain of facts—and wish not to leave even a possible link imperfect. On the day succeeding the fire, I visited the ruins. The walls, with one exception, had fallen in. This exception was found in a compartment wall, not very thick, which stood about the middle of the house, and against which had rested the head of my bed. The plastering had here, in great measure, resisted the action of the fire—a fact which I attributed to its having been recently spread. About this wall a dense crowd were collected, and many persons seemed to be examining a particular portion of it with very minute and eager attention. The words “strange!” “singular!” and other similar expressions, excited my curiosity. I approached and saw, as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvellous. There was a rope about the animal’s neck.
That sounds frightening.

You'd really rather hear more about Strohmann Jass?


In the most recent Trick-taking Quarterly, I tried to outline why I think Dickory is so great as a "just one more" quick game (and Dickory is so far my game of the year; as much as I do enjoy and recommend Chonkers, it doesn't even come close).

This element that I love about Dickory is even more true about Chonkers. Chonkers is quick. If you don't immediately hate it, if you are in fact charmed by it, you will want to play it multiple times in a row.

Not Strohmann Jass. Strohmann Jass (French Hair Salon Edition, don't forget) is a LONG game. 14 hands total, with the possibility of a sudden ending sooner. But even with the sudden ending, it's still pretty long (I suppose the shortest it could get is 6 hands). Chonkers is a refreshing snack. Strohmann Jass is Old Country Buffet.

Every hand is 17 total tricks. And the game plays pretty snappy. But... there are Analysis Paralysis pauses at times, especially in the picking of the contracts.

There are 7 different types of Contracts.
Acorn Trump
Bell Trump
Flower Trump
Shield Trump
No Trump Top Down
No Trump Bottom Up (card rank is reversed)

(I decided that I didn't care enough to keep the language authentic when I read on Pagat that "Undenufe is pronounced with the d and the f silent." Who are these monsters that use rough consonants so silently?)

There are weird Jassian wrinkles like the Unders (Jacks) and 9s getting super powered in the Trump suit and the 8s finally discovering their own self-worth when Trump isn't around. Let's pause to celebrate my ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED moment. I played this game with its weird rankings and weird point changes and with its foreign suits and I WAS NOT CONFUSED AT ALL. Wow.

Anyhow, some weird Jass bits. Otherwise, it's pretty straightforward trick-taking variations. Must follow. Always may trump. Highest in lead suit wins the trick unless a trump is played, in which case highest trump wins the trick. Those previous sentences would have been gibberish to me in the not-so-distant past. What have I become?

Like I said above, what makes all of this especially painful is what happens in the French Hair Salon. In the French Hair Salon, no one EVER does the same thing twice unless they're just joking around, in which case they can do EXACTLY ONE thing that they've already done. So, each time that it is your turn to pick the contract, your options contract. [Neat wordplay, huh? I like to think that Hanibal is continuing to approve as I focus on Jass when I've baited you all with Chonkers.]

The thing about Strohmann Jass is that it needs to be a long game to be a good game. The (exquisite) tension of the game is in the diminishing choices, figuring out when to go "all in" with a decision and when to be flexible, when to possibly take a round you know that you'll lose in an attempt to get a better hand to use your Joker round on next time.

I almost want to schedule a weekly Strohmann Jass game with my daughter. It's the sort of game that will only get better with more plays. It's the sort of game that seems perfect in the middle of Autumn when one is anticipating a long Winter inside. Then I think, no, I need to teach another child how to play so that we can all then move on to "true" Coiffeur-Jass with STICKS AND POTATOES! "Each player has to play each of a number of different contracts in the course of the session, which consists of thirty hands." Doesn't that just make you yearn for a snow day, trapped indoors with nothing to do but play cards?

But really I'm just dreaming. Getting longer games, any sort of longer games, played at home is usually tough to do. Everything aligned just right this afternoon to make it happen. It isn't often so.

So I'll dream about playing longer Jass games while I continue to experience quick, enjoyable plays of Chonkers, a truly great little game... which I'll provide more information about.... next time. What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!

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