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Another small Adlung game that packs more game into a little box than you’d expect. I’ve had some hit or miss experiences with these Adlung games, but I still generally try them as they’re only 3 or 4 bucks thrown into a bigger game order. Pisa is another one of these games that I tried because of the cost – and I have to admit – it’s not a bad little game!

At the most basic level, it’s a trick taking game. However, it’s much more confusing than that. The playing cards are 4 colors ranging from 0 to 13. (I think Adlung uses this concept often so that you don’t feel like you’re buying just a re-themed deck of cards). However, there are additional bidding cards – and these are what add the flavor to this little game. There are three sets of cards and when one of each is put together, they combine to form a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The first bidding card is the base of the tower, and it determines trump for the hand. There are both primary trump and secondary trump. Primary trump works just like trump in any other card game you’ve ever played. Secondary trump is basically trump that beats any non-trump suit, but doesn’t beat primary trump. The second bidding card is the middle portion of the tower, and you use this to decide the main goal of the hand: either to collect the most tricks or the fewest tricks. The final bidding card is the top of the tower and is used to determine the order of cards in the hand – either the 0 is highest (so 0, 1, 2, 3… to 13) or the 13 is highest.

So how do you bid on these bidding cards? Well, the deck is dealt out to all players and everyone has a chance to see what they got from the deal. Then, you bid in turn for each of the three options to be bid upon. First you bid for trump. To bid, each player in turn order places one to three cards face down in front of one of the possibilities. Once each player has had a chance to lay cards down, they are all exposed and the sums of the numbers on the cards are totalled up. Whichever card had the highest sum wins and that card will determine trump for the hand. Each player then retrieves the cards that they bid and place them face up in front of themselves. The bidding process is repeated from number of tricks and card order. Each time, each player must play between one and three cards to bid. Once all three auctions have taken place, the tower of Pisa has been built and you have determined the parameters for this particular hand in the game.

But, before you get to play out the hand, you have the initial scoring. As I mentioned earlier, each player had to set aside the cards that he used to bid. Each player totals up the sum from all of the cards that he used to bid. Then, you are awarded points based on how many points you played (thus, how much influence you exerted over the bidding). The player who used the fewest points gets the most victory points. This player will score a number of victory points equal to the number of players in the game. 2nd place will score N-1, and so on until the last place player, who will score only one point.

Then, each player gets to discard three cards from those that he used to bid. This is an interesting mechanism because it sometimes forces you to play cards that you wouldn’t want to play during the bidding in case you want or need to discard them. Once each player discards three cards, the remaining cards used to bid are returned to their hands and play starts. Card play is just like most other trick taking games – someone leads a card, and other players follow suit if possible. If following suit is not possible, then they can play trump or they can slough off. The winner of the trick collects the trick and then leads the next trick. Continue until all cards have been played and then each player tallies up the number of tricks they took.

Second scoring is based on the number of tricks taken and the goal for the hand as voted for in the initial stage (either most tricks taken or least tricks taken). Whomever has best completed the goal for the hand (either most tricks or least tricks) scores 1 point for each player in the game, 2nd gets N-1, and down to last place who gets one point. If there is ever a tie for scoring (in either scoring), you add the points together or the tied places and split them evenly (Rounding down). You then shuffle the cards and repeat until each player gets a chance to deal. After this, total up the points and determine the winner.

This game seems simple on the surface, but it is definitely more complex than that! There are so many levels on which you have to concentrate to do well in this game. The biggest thing is trying to figure out how to get the parameters of the hand to work in your favor without spending too many points in the process. Because if you spend a lot of points to get the hand to go just as you want, you may win the maximum points in the card play segment, but you’ll also likely score the least in the bidding scoring phase.

You also have to keep a close eye on the parameters as they are decided because this will determine which cards you’ll want to try to discard. And as you’re doing this, you have to make an effort to use cards you think you’ll want to discard during the bidding because you can only discard cards that you’ve used to bid!

This is a cute little game that will fit in well as a filler or a lunch time game. Don’t be thrown off by the rules – because they are confusing, especially in the Adlung-english of the rulebook. But the game makes good sense after going through one hand – once everyone sees how the bidding works and how it affects gameplay. I highly recommend this one for trick-taking fans everywhere.

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