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Spades, Hearts, Jass. You've all probably played some sort of a trick taking game. You know how it works. A lead player plays a card, sometimes you have to follow suit, sometimes not, all the other players play a card, and then high card takes the trick, raking in the cards played. You either score for tricks made (spades) or points on the card (heart), or a combination of the two, or there are auctions, or marriages, or contracts...


Even Dr. Seuss was a fan.

My point is that there are a lot of trick taking games. A lot. There are tons of these games. A fair amount are played with 52 card french decks, but a lot are also played with regional variants of that deck, and there are also a ton of designer trick-takers with custom decks. Even though they might not be entirely en vogue, there are still trick-takers being pumped out with astounding regularity- and even more amazing, innovation. In fact, the last few years have given us some incredibly fresh ideas. Whether it's turning the idea of trick division on its head as in Tunnels and Tricks, or multiplying the insanity of mittlere jass' floating trump and adding in drafting as in ebbes, or marrying 18xx stock manipulation to a trick taker, trick-taking as a genre is still churning out interesting iterations.


Please do not stab your cards with a sharp pepper. This was performed by professional stunt peppers on a closed course.


Scharfe Schoten is definitely among those. Now, Scharfe Schoten doesn't really do any one thing incredibly innovative, but all of the things it throws together create a trick taker that is unique, interesting, and buckets of fun from the first hand.

To quote my wife: "Scharfe Schoten takes all of the things I like from spades, intensifies them, and gets rid of the stuff I don't".
Using that quote as a starting point, let me break apart how this game works:

When you play spades, you place a contract for how many tricks you'll capture in a partnership. If you're the first bidder, you only have the information in your hand. As it goes around the table, you can start to suss out your hand worth a bit more, using the information of the other bids as a abductive reasoning tool.


From this picture, you can deduce that even ghosts like Scharfe Schoten.


In Scharfe Schoten, there is no partnership, and bids are made secretly and simultaneously. The abductive jewelry ballpeen of the previous contracts is gone, but replaced by the deductive and inductive sledgehammer of suited backs. Suited backs? That's right. In Scharfe Schoten, the suits of the cards are also on the back of the cards (not the value, just the suit). This allows you suss information before bidding in a new and interesting way. In the first few games, this allows you to guess relative hand strengths, and make an appropriate bid. As you get more experienced, the bids become rife with bluffing and double-think.

Oh, I see he's got a lot of red, and red is strong this round, she he's probably expecting to take red. I think I'll make black my major suit.
That chump sees my red, and probably thinks I'm going to go for red- but I've got high blacks, my reds are low, and my only trump is in the blacks, so, blacks it is!


As well, the bids are incredibly interesting. Unlike spades, bids are independent. You only bid for the suit you'll take the most in, and the suit you'll take the least in. Each one that is correct without a tie gets 5 points (That is, say you have 5 greens and no other colours, and you had bid greens as your major suit, you would get five points for the major bid). Each bid that you make with a tied value gets 3 points (Say you took 5 greens and 5 reds and no other cards- this would net you 3 points). If you make both bids, regardless of whether they're tied or not, you would get the difference in the amount of cards in your major suit and your minor suit (That is, say you have 5 greens and no other colours, and you had bid greens as your major suit, and red as your minor suit, you would get 5 for greens, 3 for red, and a bonus of 5 for a total of 13). This also has an added bonus of creating a weird situation- if one player wins all of the tricks, everyone scores 6 points.


"Don't worry John, the internet won't identify you by your nose."


I enjoy partnerships quite a bit, but some people tend to get stress or tension when someone depends on them- and especially if there is little or no communication between them. Scharfe Schoten manages to give everyone information before the bid, and yet still manages to have individual player destinies.

The simultaneous reveal is particularly interesting too, as there's the reveal, then a pause, then that moment where suddenly everyone is eyeing everyone else, trying to figure out how to play their hand. In 3 player (which is my favourite player count), there's a sublime moment that frequently happens: Upon reveal, 2 players find out that their goals are the same (thereby reducing the chances that either will manage to fulfill them), and the third is left unobstructed. After having played many games, we now know- if a single player has uncontested bids, destroy them. Burn their cards and salt their hands. Your own personal bids are now moot. All you want is to stop that player from running away with a ridiculous score. That sort of on-the-fly quasi-partnership creation is one of the reasons I find Scharfe Schoten such a joy to play.


Also that spice cabinet was bonkers.

In Spades and Hearts, the trumps are the eponymous suits. In M. Jass, my favourite trick-taker, the trump is the first suit broken. In Scharfe Schoten, there's a rather unique ranking system. At the beginning of each round, the four suits are randomly dealt a card from 1 - 12. You might get, for example, 11 red, 8 green, 5 yellow, 2 black. In this way, the trumps and suit strength are determined. That is, there are four super-trumps- the 11 of red, the 8 of green, and so on- they beat all other cards, with the 11 red beating all other cards, the 8 green beating all other cards save the 11 red, and so forth. As well, we now know that all reds (save super-trumps) beat all other cards, and all greens (save super-trumps) beat all other cards, save reds. This odd determination of strength really messes with your head, especially if you've played a lot of other trick-taking (or even climbing) games. The whole suit-first thing really makes you re-evaluate the way you play your hand, as sloughing is no longer as easy- and in Scharfe Schoten, you must follow suit (super-trumps NOT excepted). It's almost certainly like this to make the information available on the card backs more important, but it definitely adds a refreshing change of pace to an oddly codified genre. It's also the reason why first time players often bid completely opposite to what will really happen.

Scharfe Schoten also mollifies the need for card counting. I enjoy card counting, because I can do it after years of misspent high school hours. My wife, however, does not have this skill, and it annoys her that when playing some trick-takers, she is intrinsically handicapped. In games like spades, ebbes, Tunnels and Tricks, and most DEFINITELY Jass, card counting is pretty much a necessity- even if it's minor like, keeping track of high cards.
Here, that requirement is reduced mightily- as Scharfe Schoten has the suits on the back, and it has what I call a burn pile and other games call a stock, talon, kitty, dog, and so forth.

The mighty spice cabinet. That is, an extra hand is dealt to the table, face down. Whoever wins a trick not only grabs the cards in the trick, but one face-down spice cabinet card, which is never, ever revealed. That means that card counting is only a minor boost, as almost 1/4 of the deck is never seen. Hell, we've had trumps hiding in that damn thing. The spice cabinet injects a hefty amount of drama and uncertainty, but it isn't entirely a pit of randomness and hijinks, as the suits, again, are visible.

The main draw of the genre trick-taking is clever hand management, and that thrill you get from trying to shepherd opponents into bad play, while trying to avoid the same yourself. In Scharfe Schoten, this feeling is not only present, it feels fresh and innovative. The pretty fantastic production value also helps. I love the little cardboard bidding chips, and the art on the cards is nothing if not charming. Although it has made me want to attack my sushi.


WASABIIIIII!

So why might you enjoy this game?
Well, before I tell you, I must say: Scharfe Schoten surprised me not only with its hidden depth, but with its staying power and appeal. I have played this with people that usually eschew strategy games (the simple rules are an enticing buy-in), and they enjoyed it, and I have introduced it to hardcore eurogamers who enjoyed the deduction element present in the bidding and card play, and the ability for strategic play. Scharfe Schoten also gets bonus points for being the only game I have absolutely destroyed a newcomer in, and they, with a smile, asked me if we could play again. Enough Anecdotes! Bullet points are where it's at:

- If you enjoy trick-takers at all, you should try Scharfe Schoten.
- If you enjoy trick-takers, but are annoyed by card counters, arcane bidding conventions, and other systemic requirements in older games, you should try Scharfe Schoten.
- If you're looking to pnp a copy of Scan, you should try Scharfe Schoten.
- If you're the sort of person that thinks "There really isn't enough adorable artwork out there featuring my favourite spicy condiments," you should try Scharfe Schoten.
- If you're looking for a card game with few rules but plenty of opportunity for strategic development, you should try Scharfe Schoten.
- If you really enjoy the deductive element in traditional card games, you should try Scharfe Schoten.

- If you're colourblind, you might have trouble with Scharfe Schoten. The backs of the cards do have colourblind friendly indicators, however the trump designators, for whatever reason, do not..
- If you do not like trying to valuate hands, you might not enjoy Scharfe Schoten.
- If you hate trick takers, you've got more problems than Scharfe Schoten, but you shouldn't add to them.
- If you have tiny hands, you might have to get a card holder before you play Scharfe Schoten. This was something my wife had to do, because she has tiny hands, but she also had to be able to fan her cards so that other players could see the suits she held.


My hands ain't tiny, but I am lazy.

Honestly, there are plenty of amazing trick takers you could try, but Scharfe Schoten is definitely among the more unique, and interesting games, and almost every person I've introduced it to has purchased their own copy. After what I can only estimate to be 15+ games, I've just started to get the hang of this wonderfully whimsical trick taker, and I'm still looking forward to the next 15+.


THIS IS THE NEW FACE OF FUN.


As a small non-affiliated plug, If you're a U.S.A.-based gamer, and you're interested in Scharfe Schoten, www.gamesurplus.com has copies in stock.
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Tom Shields
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Just a fantastic review, and you capture the pleasures of trick taking so well. I love them and I'll be looking for the chance to play this now.
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Oliver Richtberg
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Thanks a lot for this review. To be honest: We game publishers always have our thoughts and good reasons to publish a game in this or that style and we hope that people can see and enjoy the game in the same way we do. It is not always the case. But here in this review, I can see, we took the biscuit
What you describe, we had in mind! Thanks! And our card playing office ghosts are smiling their invisible smiles, that at last, somebody recognised them ninja
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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olric wrote:
Thanks a lot for this review. To be honest: We game publishers always have our thoughts and good reasons to publish a game in this or that style and we hope that people can see and enjoy the game in the same way we do. It is not always the case. But here in this review, I can see, we took the biscuit
What you describe, we had in mind! Thanks! And our card playing office ghosts are smiling their invisible smiles, that at last, somebody recognised them ninja
Oliver from ZOCH


Thank you for the game! Absolutely everyone I've introduced it to has had a blast.
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Arve D. Fühler
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Thanks to all! For testing, for publishing, for playing, for reviewing …
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Peter D
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This is a wonderful review and I will certainly get the game now.

You refer to your favourite trick taking game as M.Jass. What is this? I can't find it on BGG.
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EXTRA AVOCADO! Sonderegger
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duckworp wrote:

You refer to your favourite trick taking game as M.Jass. What is this? I can't find it on BGG.


http://www.pagat.com/jass/mittlere.html

Mittlere/Molotow, depending on player count.
 
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Ulrich Roth
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I don't get why the order of strength of the 4 colours is randomized and different every time. Couldn't it just always be the same (e.g., from strongest to weakest: black, green, red, yellow), randomizing only the numbers of the super trumps? What, if anything, am I missing here?
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ludopath wrote:
I don't get why the order of strength of the 4 colours is randomized and different every time. Couldn't it just always be the same (e.g., from strongest to weakest: black, green, red, yellow), randomizing only the numbers of the super trumps? What, if anything, am I missing here?


Probably to avoid shuffling hijinks. Not knowing which is the high suit makes dealing less prone to human error.
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Ulrich Roth
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hanibalicious wrote:
Probably to avoid shuffling hijinks. Not knowing which is the high suit makes dealing less prone to human error.

That's theoretically a valid point, but in a fun game such as this (as opposed to serious gambling) I don't think this small advantage offers anywhere near compensation for having to mentally switch trump colours all the time. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I find that just annoying.
 
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