The Fool & His Nibs

A very occasional blog on traditional (and traditional-ish) card games.
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Climbing. Part 2: Bombs

From gallery of seandavidross
The fire's a bit snappier after Jeff comes by with some freshly chopped timber; it will quiet down soon enough. In the meantime, the cards have been dealt between us and we're taking our time sorting our hands to suit our preference. I like to sort my cards by rank, increasing from left to right, and then by suit, in alphabetical order. I also stick any potential bombs at the very beginning of my hand; I don't want to forget about them. How you like to sort your cards, I can't see and you never tell me. I suspect you change it, from hand-to-hand, to keep me guessing... Sly...

When most people think of bombs in climbing games--which of course, they are doing all the time--I imagine they think of Tichu. You've got your 4-of-a-kind bombs and your straight flush bombs and the straight flushes can vary in length, from five onward; all pretty standard. There are even variants of President that have 4-of-a-kind bombs. Some variants of Big Two as well--though they sometimes are played with an added card; because 5-card poker hands...right? If the variant has a 4-of-a-kind bomb it usually also has a 5-card straight flush bomb. They don't call them bombs, they call them "Honour Hands", but its the same thing. In Gang of Four they have 4-of-a-kind, 5-of-a-kind, and 6-of-a-kind bombs but they call those "Gangs". Which makes sense. No straight flush bomb though; it's just a poker combo.

Do most climbing games have bombs?

From gallery of seandavidross
I'd say "Yes", but it depends on how you define them. If you think a bomb is only a bomb because that's what it's listed as in the rules, then bombs are still pretty common; though not as common as I think they are. But let's come back to that. There are other bombs, that are called bombs, besides 4-of-a-kinds and straight flushes. You've got your Gangs, which I just mentioned go up to 6-of-a-kinds, but you also have games like Throwing Eggs that go up to 10-of-a-kind bombs.


I know! It's crazy but it's wild and fun--well, fun for the person who plays them anyway... But, to put it into perspective, playing a 10-of-a-kind in Throwing Eggs gets rid of the same percentage of your hand as playing a 5-card straight flush would in Tichu. There's just so many more cards to get rid of in that game. So it's not that crazy, but it can feel that way.

Throwing Eggs actually has nine different kinds of bombs (or 3, depending on how you want to look at it). You've got 4-of-a-kind all the way up to 10-of-a-kind; you've got your straight flushes, but only 5 cards; and then you have a special bomb that beats all of the others--all 4 Jokers played at the same time. Haggis only has six kinds of bombs. So much simpler...

Riiight... How many bombs are there in Rooster?




Ten. Why not just go to 11 while you're at it?!?

I'd like that but then you'd need to add more cards to your hand-size.

I was kidding...

Oh. Right. Where's Jeff? I'm thirsty. Are you thirsty?

No. What kinds of bombs do you have?

Well, they're pretty similar to Haggis'. The bombs in Haggis are based off the bombs in Zheng Fen. That's the game that Tichu came from.

Every now and then I read comments where someone says "Tichu is based on Big Two", or "Fight the Landlord looks a lot like Tichu, I wonder if this is where Tichu came from?", and I get all worked up. Because, no. It's not based on those games. Yes. They're all climbing games. But they are all clearly different from one another...


Are you alright? You're kind of turning purple. Do you need me to call someone?

Board Game: Haggis
Let's come back to that later.

Zheng Fen has point cards: Kings, Tens, and Fives. It's the only traditional climbing card game, I know of, that has those. After Tichu adopted them, there have been a few more commercial games that have them as well: Haggis, of course, which is partly based on Tichu (but also Zheng Fen and Big Two), Chimera (which is mostly based on Fight the Landlord, but it added in several elements from Tichu--and, I think, for the better--one of those elements being point cards), and Clubs (which made an entire suit become point cards; hence the name).

One thing that Tichu did not adopt from Zheng Fen was its bombs. Tichu used its own set of bombs, which are great, but I think it could have used Zheng Fen's as well. I know at least one other person who agrees with me on that, but we're probably a minority. Most people don't even know Zheng Fen exists. Anyway. I used Zheng Fen's bombs in Haggis. Well, the same idea anyway--bombs are made from point cards; I just used different cards.

I'm doing something similar here, in Rooster, but this time there aren't any point cards, per se--all of the cards are worth points. One point each. It's like a plain-trick-taking version of Haggis, which is sort of a point-trick-taking game. But let's not go down that rabbit hole...

What rabbit hole?

Whether or not some climbing games are also trick-taking games.

Are they?


Do you hear crickets? Jeff! Do you hear that? I think you've got crickets.

I don't hear anything. Do you need some more coffee?

The main thing is that the bombs in Haggis and in Rooster are similar: I used alternating pip cards to form surprise bombs that can be played from your hand as well as different combinations of court cards that are played from the table where everyone knows what you have. The combos are a little different but the same idea is there.

Why did you make the bombs that way?

That's a long story. Let's come back to that. I want to get through the different types of bombs first; we can talk about how they affect the games later.

Sure. So, what other kinds of bombs are there? You've covered big sets and big straight flushes; there was the special Joker bomb; and now you've got point card bombs. What's left?
Board Game: Dealt!

Well, circling back to the Throwing Egg's Joker bomb for a second, Fight the Landlord and Chimera have something similar with their Rocket and Chimera Flight bombs. The "Stop" card, in Dealt! performs a similar function--albeit with a single card. The unbeatable bomb.

And, then you have Tien Len's Double Sequences (or Stairs). They're a kind of bomb, but they can only be used in specific instances, namely to bomb Twos. Otherwise, they're just a regular combo. Finally--well, not finally, but we're nearly there--you have Peeper. Like the other games mentioned, it uses set bombs--starting with triples and going to quads--but it adds a wrinkle: you can construct the bombs, in a way, using another players cards. If you play a 3, I can play a pair of 3's alongside that to make a triple bomb; if you have the fourth 3, you can make a quad bomb in the same way. I think that's unique to that game; it's not very well known.

That's pretty neat. I'm surprised it hasn't been used in any other games but, I guess--as you say--not very many people know about it. Hold on though. You said you were not quite finally at the end of the different types of bombs. Was there something else?

That's where I come back to when I said, "It depends on how you want to define bombs". Let's get that coffee Jeff offered and then we'll talk about how bombs are used. Once we've got that covered, I can talk about what I'll call "catalysts". They act in the same way as bombs but people don't really call them bombs. Or "catalysts", for that matter. I just made that up, but I think it fits. Jeff? Coffee?

Way ahead of you...

I think that's it for today. I believe the stage has been set up enough at this point. If there's a type of bomb you think I've missed, please send me a geekmail and I'll see if I can work it in. So, the next entry is going to go into a bit deeper detail on how bombs affect the play experience in climbing games. Sorry for the tease on "catalysts" but I imagine some of you will already know where that might be headed. No hints, please.

Also, no climbing/trick-taking debates, please... Crickets.

Credit to fogus for the Bomb! Bomb! Bomb! Bomb! pic. And crayc30 for the Krass Kariert Stop card image. The other image is from a 4P solo-test of Rooster, with two Tarot decks.

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