You definitely can play it four players without the partnership. You just have to accept the fact that the game will take a long time to finish. It's a great game--one of my favorites--but just playing with three players takes a long time for what the game is. But that can be managed by choosing an appropriate Point Total to end the game! I really like the 4-player partner game because it allows us to play to a higher point total without making the game too long.