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Subject: The Eye Reviews Tichu rss

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Chris Rogers
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Summary of Game Play

Tichu is a four-player card game, played in partnerships of two, much like Bridge or Spades (and a number of other popular games). The game is played to 1000 points; the team to reach that score first wins.

Setup
There are 56 cards in the deck, 13 in each of four suits, and 4 "special" cards. Before the game begins these cards are shuffled thoroughly. Partners are seated across from each other. For each hand, the entire deck is dealt, with each player receiving 14 cards.

Play
The game is played over several hands, each of which is worth a variable number of points (mostly based on how well you played). Each hand consists of a number of rounds in which players take turns (counter-clockwise, by the rules) playing combinations of cards from their hand. Each combination played must be ranked higher than the last. Unlike many games, if you cannot play a higher combination, you must pass. You may also choose to pass, saving cards for later plays. Eventually, three players will pass because they are unable to beat the latest combination, or they simply don't want to, and the fourth player takes all of the cards (some of which are worth points). Once three players have played all of their cards (i.e. "gone out"), the hand is scored, and a new hand is dealt.

On each hand, players have an opportunity to make a Tichu or Grand Tichu bid. Basically, this means you think you can get rid of all of your cards first, and dramatically increases the number of points the hand is worth should you be able to do so. On the other hand, a player who announces Tichu bid is opening themselves to be targeted by the other team, because if they do not make it, they lose the points instead. Obviously, you and your partner cannot both go out first, but if you can both go out before the other partnership, even if it is unannounced (as a Tichu), the reward is quite large.

At the end of each round, scores are totaled, and at the end of a round where a team has 1000 or more points, that team wins. If both teams have 1000+ points, then the team with the higher score wins.


Presentation

Rules
The rule booklet describes four games that can be played with the cards, including the above "core" game, a multi-player variant, a three-player variant, and a variant on the traditional card game "President" (or "Asshole").

Each of the games is described fully in three languages (English, French and German). I can't speak to the quality of the other languages, but there are definitely issues with the English rules. The rules themselves are written in a jocular tone, which sometimes made me smile, but overall made things more confusing than they needed to be. This is especially bad with regards to the special cards and the timing of certain plays. It's far from unplayable, but I had to hunt down some answers on the internet before I felt comfortable playing.

Theme
To be honest, there isn't much theme to the game, but then again there doesn't need to be for this type of card game. The game presents itself as an old card game that is played all of the time in China, which is mostly true (being based on the game known as Choh Dai Di, or Big Two in America). The rules have references to researching the game in China, and the cards have "Chinese" suits such as Jade and Pagodas.
One entertaining use of the theme is in the face cards, which are all well-known people; the the King of Swords is Ghengis Khan, for example.

Components and Packaging

The game comes in a small, tightly packaged box with two decks. One of the decks has the special cards, and the other does not. The latter deck is mixed in with the former for playing Asshole. Instead of the special cards, there are four reference cards for the rules, in German. I would have preferred special cards, even if I understood German. As it stands, there is basically an entire deck of cards that I won't get much use out of.
The cards themselves are printed on nice card stock and have an "air-pocket finish" like Bicycle poker cards; that is to say, the cards are plastic-coated and covered in microscopic dimples that make shuffling and handling the cards easier. Maybe it's just me, but I always look for that in a set of cards I expect to be using heavily. It gives the cards a nice feel.


Play

Player-interactivity
Unlike some games, Tichu is not a game where you can hope to win on your own, and every play that the other players makes can affect you. In addition, you are playing in a partnership with the player across from yourself, so you must constantly keep in mind what they may be trying to achieve, and help them where you can. There isn't much in the way of the ability to screw your neighbor, but what little there is keeps the game highly competitive.

Downtime and "Uptime"
In Tichu, you will have to constantly pay attention to every play, and re-organize your strategy for the current hand based on what the other players are doing. There isn't any room to simply take your turn and lean back for a while; the game moves along at a snappy pace. It's not frantic by any stretch of the imagination, but neither will you be waiting for your turn for long periods of time.

Gamble vs. Crunch

Every hand, you are dealt a set of 14 cards, and you can be dealt a crappy hand. However, there are a number of mitigating factors that prevent potential bad luck from overwhelming an otherwise fun game. First, in each hand the players give one card away to each of the other players. This allows you to toss garbage to your opponents and hope for good cards from your partner. Second, because of the combinations of cards it is possible to play, almost every hand has a few really great cards. Third, and this kind of ties back into the first point, you are playing with a partner, and they will be trying to help you out. Overall, it's possible to be screwed by the cards, but it's not common, and it's impact is lessened by good strategic play.


What makes me want to play?

I am a big fan of climbing games (the subset of card games in which you have to play higher than the previous player, or pass your turn). I've been playing Gang of Four and The Great Dalmuti for a while, and when I first discovered Tichu, I expected to like it. I was not disappointed. The potential for strategic play is quite a bit higher, and the charge you get from calling a Tichu and then making it is cool.

I love the special cards, especially the Mah Jong, which not only gives you the opening play of the hand, but allows you to force the next player to play a particular card (that you get to select) if they have it. Played right, it can destroy the target player's hand... The special cards, and the strategies available due to them, are part of what takes this game to a level beyond something like Gang of Four, for me.


What reservations do I have?

Not many, really. The only thing that stands out to me as particularly bad was the rule text, which could have been written much better. Before we played, I was concerned that there were a few too many rules to remember easily, and I wasn't entirely wrong. We managed to forget things here and there for the first few hands, but with the help of the reference sheet (from BGG!), we mastered the rules very quickly.
 
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Arthur
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The Eye wrote:
Each combination played must be ranked higher than the last. Unlike many games, if you cannot play a higher combination, you must pass. Eventually, three players will pass because they are unable to beat the latest combination, and the fourth player takes all of the cards (some of which are worth points).


Note that one can choose to pass even if they can beat the latest combination - unless one of the cards in it is wished out by the mah-jong.
 
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Chris Rogers
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OldestManOnMySpace wrote:

Note that one can choose to pass even if they can beat the latest combination - unless one of the cards in it is wished out by the mah-jong.


Thanks for pointing that out. I've gone back and added that in; I don't want to go too in depth with how the game is played (there are plenty of other reviews or play reports that do exactly that), but I don't want to misrepresent the game either.
 
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Tuomas Korppi
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Umm.... I think that the game actually has a theme: Intentionally mock oriental. It clearly parodies importing oriental things to the west, one example of those being the mah jong craze of the 20s. Mixing that red star suit with suits having an "ancient chinese" flavour is a brilliant example of the parody.
 
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Chris Rogers
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Punainen Nörtti wrote:
Umm.... I think that the game actually has a theme: Intentionally mock oriental. It clearly parodies importing oriental things to the west, one example of those being the mah jong craze of the 20s. Mixing that red star suit with suits having an "ancient chinese" flavour is a brilliant example of the parody.


I definitely agree. I guess that didn't come across as much as I had wanted it to in my review, but the "theme" of the game is that it's a CHINESE card game. It's not really (being German in origin, and based on a number of similar games that exist all over the world), but the suits, the artwork, the stories in the rule booklet, and the non-Western feel of the mechanics (especially counter-clockwise play) all contribute to said theme.
 
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