Nebraska is published by Dal Negro, the Italian equivalent of The United States Playing Card Company (who publish Bicycle brand playing cards). Dal Negro publishes traditional Italian playing cards and other card and board games. Their games can be found in tabacchi (cigarette/convenience stores) all over Italy as well as most department and toy stores. However, it's hard to find their products outside Italy. I purchased my copy of Nebraska at a game store in Firenze for 10 Euro. Because Dal Negro focuses on mass marketing their games in Italy only, the rules are only in Italian. Thanks to a friend, she quickly translated the rules and we managed to play two rounds. The following review is an outline of the rules.
According to the introduction, university students from Nebraska have created a poker variant that does not involve any gambling; hence, the game is named Nebraska. However, I'm not sure about the veracity of this story; the designer of this game is Leo Colovini; it might be a pasted-on theme.
The game consists of two traditional North American decks of cards, except that one deck consists of four new suits: circles, trees, stars, and mountains. It also comes with six player aids that indicate the rank of all eight suits, although the back of each card indicates this order too. The game comes with a plastic tray that holds the two decks of cards. Rather than colouring each suit a different colour, the background of each card is different for each suit. This makes each card very easy to differentiate from each other. The card stock is average; it doesn't have the linen finish of Bicycle brand playing cards.
Summary of Play
The game is for 2-7 players. The rules include three variants: Nebraska Family, Nebraska Expert, and Nebraska Poker. They differ only by how each round is scored. Players decide which variation to play before starting.
Each player starts with ten cards. At the end of each round, each player will have five cards in his hand, and there will be five cards face-up on the table. Each player scores points if cards in their hand match in suit and/or value with the five face-up cards on the table; in the Nebraska Poker variation, players form flushes, straights, and sets with cards from their hand and those on the table. Players who score the most points in each round are awarded game points. Whichever player scores a predetermined number of game points wins.
The dealer shuffles all 104 cards and deals ten cards to each player. He places the rest of the deck face-down as the stock. The dealer draws the first card of the stock and places it face-up on the table. This is the candidate card. Players will bid to determine whether this card will be one of the five face-up cards, or promoted cards, at the end of the round.
Each player chooses a card from his hand and places it face down. This is a player's bid card. Once each player has chosen a bid card, all bid cards are revealed simultaneously. Players determine who has chosen the highest bid card (Aces high, twos low). Among cards of the same value, the card of the highest suit is the highest. The suits are ranked as follows, from highest to lowest:
The player who has played the highest bid card decides from one of two options:
1. Promote the candidate cards as a promoted card: The candidate card is placed among the other promoted cards. If there are still less than five promoted cards, the dealer reveals another candidate card and players bid again on this card.
2. Discard the candidate card: The candidate card is placed in a discard pile next to the stock. The dealer deals one replacement card to each player, which each player adds to his hand. The dealer reveals another candidate card and players bid again on this card.
* In the rare case that there are not enough cards in the stock so that each player can receive one replacement card, then no replacement cards are dealt, and the round ends immediately.
* Bid cards are not placed in the discard pile. They remain face-up in front of a player for all players to see, for information. These bid cards are never scored at the end of the round; only cards left in a player's hand are scored.
If there are five promoted cards on the table, the round ends, and each player scores the five cards that are left in his hand.
A player's cards are scored differently depending on the variation you are playing.
If a card in a player's hand matches one or more promoted cards in value or in suit, it scores one point. Whoever scores the most points wins one game point. If there is a tie, then among the tied players, whoever holds the highest card that matched one of the promoted cards is awarded the game point. Do not consider the suit when breaking ties. If there is a tie among the highest cards, compare the second-highest card, and so on. (I am not sure what happens if all cards are equal among tied players.)
Anna: 5 points
Bruno 5 points
Carlo: 4 points
Anna and Bruno are tied; Anna's highest scoring card is a Jack, while Bruno's is a 10; Anna is awarded one game point.
A player earns a point every time one of his cards matches a card, either in value or suit. Ties are broken as in Nebraska Family.
Considering the previous example, the players score the following:
Anna: 5 points
Bruno: 8 points (Bruno's 3 Hearts matches, the 3 Mountains, 3 Spades, and 6 Hearts; this card would score him three points.)
Carlo: 6 points
Bruno is awarded one game point.
Players attempt to form the best combination in one of three categories: Set, Flush, and Straight. For each category, each player must use at least one card from his hand and at least one promoted card. A card used for one category may be used for another category.
Whoever forms the best combination in each category is awarded 3 game points; second place, 1 game point. If there is a tie for best combination, tied players receive 2 game points each; second place receive no game points. If there is a tie for second best combination (but no tie for best combination), all tied players are awarded 1 game point. (I am not sure if a player who is unable to form a combination is allowed to score for second place, or even tie for first place.)
Set: A set consists of two or more cards of the same value. The best set contains the most cards. Among sets of equal length, the highest set is the one with the highest value.
Flush: A flush consists of two or more cards of the same suit. The best flush contains the most cards. Among flushes of equal length, the highest flush is the one that contains the card of the highest value.
Straight: A straight consists of two or more cards in sequential order, irrespective of suit. (I believe 3-2-A is not valid, nor is 3-2-A-K.) The best straight contains the most cards. Among straights of equal length, the highest straight is the one that contains the card of the highest value.
Anna: 7 points (1 point for 2nd best set + 3 points for best flush + 3 points for best straight)
Bruno: 5 points (3 points for best set + 1 point for 2nd best flush + 1 point for 2nd best straight)
Carlo: 1 point for 2nd best straight
End of Game
Play multiple rounds until one player has won a predetermined number of game points. For Nebraska Family and Nebraska Expert, the following are recommended:
2-3 players: 6 game points
4-5 players: 4 game points
6-7 players: 3 game points
For Nebraska Poker, the following are recommended:
2-3 players: 31 game points
4-5 players: 21 game points
6-7 players: 16 game points
This game gives the same impression as Coloretto: It gives you the illusion that you have a lot of control and decisions you make are meaningful. However, the luck factor and chaos factor is so huge that no matter how you carefully manage your cards, you can easily lose, or win, a round. Still, the decisions you make are still nerve-racking: Most of the cards you'll be able to play are dealt from you right from the start, so you have to plan which cards you want to keep and which ones you are willing to throw away as bids, and it's so painful to have to get rid of a high scoring card because you want to keep -- or throw away -- the candidate card. The biggest advantage that this has over Coloretto is that the player range is bigger, from 2-7. Although I have only played it with two, I assume this game scales well.
Honestly, this should be mass marketed to a much wider, non-gaming audience simply because of the cards themselves: an eight-suited deck of cards. It's the reason why I purchased this game without knowing anything about the rules.