Sticheln is one of my favorite “nasty” trick-taking card games. I played it quite often with my former Westbank Gamers group, but had not yet introduced my friends in the East Tennessee Gamers to its wicked pleasures. It was well past time to do so!
Here is a description of the game from one of my old Westbank Gamers reports:
Sticheln is a nasty trick-taking game from Klaus Palesch, designer of such games as Fossil and Robin Hood. I'm actually rather fond of many of his games, even though gamers tend to give them a mediocre response.
The deck consists of 90 cards in five colors, numbered 0 - 20 in each color. Depending upon the number of players, some of these cards are removed from play. The remaining cards are dealt evenly to all players. From their hand, each player sets down one card face-up. This card will be their 'misery' card and they will attempt to avoid collecting cards of that color. Why? Well, each card collected in tricks that matches your misery card results in negative points equal to the value of those cards. Further, even your misery card itself is negative points!
Well, isn't this offset by all of the other cards you collect? Not necessarily. You see, every other card collected is only worth 1 point! It takes a whole bunch of cards to overcome a few high valued negative cards!
The mechanics are actually quite simple, yet take awhile getting accustomed to. The start player (the one who captured the previous trick) leads with a card. Players are then free to play ANY card from ANY color. Any other card (other than a '0' card) played which does NOT match the start card color is considered a 'trump' color. After all players have played a card, the player who played the highest valued 'trump' card takes the trick. If two players tie for this honor, the player who played the first 'high' trump card takes it.
If all players play cards of the same color as the start card, then the player who played the highest valued card takes the trick.
This sounds tricky, but it really isn't. However, the vast freedom granted by this system does require players to pause a bit before making a play. It is quite easy to get stuck ... or to stick someone else ... with unwanted cards. It can be quite nasty!
Play continues for a set number of hands or until a certain point level is reached.
We played our first game while waiting for Alison to arrive. In spite of the nasty potential of the game, it was characterized by excessive pleasantness, with everyone afraid to take chances and instead trying to collect positive cards for themselves. I was the only victim of aggressive action. We only played one hand before breaking into other games.
Finals: Dylan 18, Bo 16, Kevin 15, Rhonda 12, Byron 5, Greg –5
The second game was MUCH more nasty, as everyone seized every opportunity to slam their opponents with “misery” cards. Bo got hit hard in the first hand, suffering –45 points. He was outdone by Byron in the second and final round, who scored a horrendous –72 points. I managed to score 11 positive points in the first round, and never collected a single trick in the second round. The only negative point was my –1 point misery card.
Round 1: Greg 11, Alison 8, Dylan 1, Byron –17, Bo –45
Round 2: Bo 15, Greg –1, Dylan –5, Alison –46, Byron –72
Finals: Greg 10, Dylan –4, Bo –30, Alison –38, Byron –89
Ratings: Greg 8, Dylan 7.5, Alison 7, Bo 7, Byron 7