A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.
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Discovering one of Kramer's lesser works and finding it fun

Lowell Kempf
United States
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As I have mentioned before, as I grow older and my life grows more complicated and my social life contains fewer hardcore gamers and more casual gamers, the games that I look for have changed. I can no longer expect to be able to stay up late and play intricate and lengthy games. If that makes me a wuss and a traitor to the gamer cause, so be it. It’s what I am. Now, my ideal has become games that take around an hour or so to play but offer meaningful decisions and different paths to victory.

This is not about one of those games. It is about a game that I just picked up that will probably see some decent play, though.

Mayfair has almost always had a rack of deep discount games at conventions. At this point, I’ve already seen most of their offerings but this year I noticed Who’s The Ass for $5. If I hadn’t known that it was designed by Wolfgang Kramer, I probably would have passed it by. However, Kramer is a great designer so I picked it up.

Later on, six of us were stuck waiting in a hallway so I pulled it out, cracked it open, read the rules and we were playing in five minutes.

And we had a lot of fun.

Who’s the Ass is not a brilliant, deep game. It’s definitely not a hidden gem by Kramer. It is, however, a decent little game that straddles light card game and party game. All of us enjoyed the game and there was just enough strategy in the game to more than an exercise in dealing out cards.

Who’s the Ass is a variant of that old standby Presidents (also known by a wide variety of other names, some more rude than others) and it’s not the first game to build off of Presidents. The Great Dalmuti and the Dilbert Corporate Shuffle are two that immediately come to mind.

It’s a very simple climbing game, belonging to the same family as Tichu or Haggis. It’s a lot lower on the food chain, though, and a vastly simpler game. No one’s going to make a life style out of playing Who’s the Ass.

The basics are simple and you probably already know them, even if you’ve never heard of the game before. Someone leads, playing one or more cards of matching rank. People follow by playing the same number of cards as the leader but of high rank. If they can’t or choose not to, they pass. The hand ends when someone runs out of cards and people get penalty points based on their hands. Play as many rounds as you feel like, keeping score.

Yup. Nothing new here. I remember this game with a regular deck of cards back in high school.

There are some basic structure changes, though, that I think change up the game a bit. It has 108 cards so it’s thicker than a regular deck but some cards get discarded so card counting doesn’t work. You only go once around per turn so you don’t get that nasty spiral of a couple players bleeding their hands out in one turn while everyone else is stuck with all their cards.

However, what is the real twist of the game is the Ass card. It is the highest value card for scoring so the worst to get stuck with. It’s also double-sided so there’s no hiding it if you have it. You can only lead with it, never follow, and when you play it, that turn gets special rules.

First off, for purposes of winning the turn, the Ass is zero so it can never win. Second, players don’t have to raise at all. They can play whatever card they feel like. Third, whoever wins get the ass and every other card that was played on that turn.

And that third part if where the game goes beyond being a mindless party game and gets some teeth. Winning the Ass is a way to get more cards into your hand and a way to take the lead when you haven’t been able to. Sure, more cards can be a bad thing but they can also add a lot more options to your play. We regularly saw people getting being able to lead with three or four ones after getting the Ass since it’s a dangerous hot potato.

But you’re not allowed to immediately lead with the Ass after getting it so, you’d better be able to do something with that lead. However, after we got used to the game, the Ass got passed around a lot during each hand and people thought long and hard about what they were giving the player who won that turn.

Who’s the Ass doesn’t make my personal list of Kramer’s best games. I did think that it did a good job tweaking an old card game just enough to make it different and interesting. And everyone did have fun so I know I will be pulling it out again. For the investment of a piece of paper with Lincoln on it, that’s not bad.
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