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Subject: Look over my standard-deck variation rss

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Chris A
United States
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I recently picked up the Z-man version of this excellent game and have enjoyed many rounds of it since then, with both 4 players (pretty good) and 3 players (amazing!) While I think the game is a great buy, it got my gears turning to think that no standard-deck game quite has the same feel. It seemed like something that should be doable, so I set out to do it. I've come up with a set of rules for a game in a similar vein, and while I've not yet playtested it, I'd like to post my rules so that others might comment on them or maybe give them a try. When I get a chance, I'll play it with my friends and post any thoughts I have on the play of it.

This game is in the spirit of the Bottle Imp, but not an exact duplication. Slight changes were made to accommodate the standard 4-suits better. I call it Flee the Fool.

The Story
In the old days, it was common for wandering fools to seek employment under the house of a noble lord. The most entertaining fools were often contested over with escalating offers of money and comforts from various lords. Because the best fools could lighten even the dreariest castles, they were quite useful for improving morale and delighting guests. What few lords realized was that these fools were often at best gluttons consuming all the lord's wine and foods, and at worst thieves in disguise. After prizing every bit of gratuity and comfort they could, these villains would vanish into the night, taking whatever they could grab of their former lord's wealth on the way out. It makes one wonder, who is the greatest fool in the end?

The Deck
You'll need a 37 card deck, which you can make by living in Europe or taking a standard poker/bridge deck and removing all the 2-5, leaving AKQJT9876 in all suits. And you'll need a joker to be the Fool.

Card Ranking
Cards all rank in order from 6 up to A. All black cards (Clubs and Spades) outrank all red cards (Hearts and Diamonds), so a 2 of clubs will beat an Ace of hearts. Between two cards of the same color and rank, the first one played wins.

The Joker, that motley fool, is between Red and Black. At the start of the game, it ranks above any red card, but below any black card. The rank of a card that would be equal to the Fool's rank is called the Fool's Fee.

Card Scoring
Each card is worth a certain amount of points at the end of the game.

6, 7, 8 of Diamonds or Clubs are worth 1 point.
6, 7, 8 of Hearts or Spades are worth 2 points.
9, 10, J of Diamonds or Clubs are 3 points.
9, 10, J of Hearts or Spades are 4 points.
Q, K, A of Diamonds or Clubs are 5 points.
Q, K, A of Hearts or Spades are 6 points.

You can remember this if you divide the ranks into 3 sets (low, medium, high) and the suits into evens and odds. Diamonds and Clubs (the base suits) are worth odd points, Hearts and Spades (the noble suits) are worth evens.

The Joker, that layabout, is worth no points. Worse, he costs you points if you still have him at the end of the game!

The Deal
Set the joker in the middle of the table, deal the rest of the cards out evenly to all players, so 12 each for 3 players and 9 each for 4 players.

After looking at their cards, players pass three cards. Pass one to the player at your left, one to the player at your right, and put one under the Joker as part of the Fool's Hand. Set the Fool's Hand aside once play begins, it won't be needed again until the scoring phase.

The Play
Starting to the dealers left for the first trick, each player lays off a card. The highest card played wins the trick, referring to the order of ranks and colors.

However, any card played which is lower in rank than the Fool's Fee acts as a trump and wins the trick (that's any red card to start with). And if multiple low cards are played, then the highest one still lower than the Joker's rank wins.

Unlike many trick-taking games, a player is not strictly forced to follow suit. The Fool loves matches, and so a player can either follow suit, or play a card with the same rank as any other card currently in the trick. If a player is void of the current suit, they are not obligated to play matching rank, and can play any card they wish.

Remember, black cards beat red cards. Cards lower than the Fool's Fee beat any lower cards and any card higher than the Fool's Fee. The first played of two cards with the same color and rank beats the second played.

The Fool
The Fool lets you capture tricks with low cards, but there's a price to pay for this power. Whenever a card wins a trick by being lower rank than the Fool's Fee, that old jester changes his Fee to the rank of the winning card and moves in with the player who won. The Fool gets cheaper with every trade. If one player uses the Ace of Hearts to take it, then the Ace of Diamonds is now the worst ranked card in the deck: unable to beat black cards and unable to buy back the Fool, who's Fee is now a King.

Leave the winning card with the Fool to indicate the current Fee. The card still belongs to the trick winner, and that player gets it back into their pile of captured cards when someone else pays a new Fool's Fee.

A player who already has the Fool can pay the Fool's Fee again to keep winning tricks, keep lowering the Fee, and keep hold of the Fool a bit longer.

The Scoring

No one likes having the Fool around for too long though, because at the end of the game, whoever is stuck with him doesn't get to score their captured tricks. Instead, they get the Fool's Hand as negative points.

Everyone else scores positive points equal to the point value of all their captured cards.

These rules represent only what I think are the most playable rules, from a set of many possible rules that were considered. Some make interesting variants, so I've listed them below.

Pass the Gravy
There are tons of ways to pass cards, this game just uses the same method as Bottle Imp. Feel free to do 3 to the left, 3 to the right, include a 4th across card in 4 players, or however you prefer to do it. The only vital pass is the one card into the Fool's Hand... Unless...

Fool's Ransom
Instead of each player putting one card under the Fool to set the penalty for failure, everyone just passes left and right and then plays with the full hand. Any time the Fool's Fee is paid, he keeps the card though. At the end of the game (9 tricks for 4 players, 12 tricks for 3 players), the person stuck with the Fool must take the penalty using the 5 highest valued cards.

Suit over Color
Instead of ordering the deck by color then rank, one can try using the suits ranked from Diamonds (lowest), Hearts, Clubs, Spades (highest). This preserves the "reds are low, blacks are high" element, but eliminates the possibility of tied ranks and colors.

Rank over Suit
Yet another deck order variation: instead of all black cards beating all red cards, one can use rank-first ordering instead. The highest value card played to a trick wins it, and amongst ties for rank the highest suit wins (using the order above). In this variation, the Fool's Fee starts at a value between 10 of Hearts and 10 of Clubs. If played with the "matching ranks are in suit" rule from the standard game, this variant probably most closely matches the Bottle Imps card distribution, but the suit-ordering makes determining trick winner a little more complex.

Tie the Fool
Instead of requiring a lower card, the Fool's Fee can be matched. Thus instead of one red Ace becoming very low in value after the other red Aces takes the Fool, it becomes the new most powerful card. This draws out the process of the Fool's Fee dropping a bit, perhaps making for a better end game.

Tie the Trick
Instead of the first played card of the same color and rank winning, it is the second played that wins! This might make the game very unpredictable.

Another evil, unpredictable option: duplicate color/rank cards cancel out entirely. In three player, this lets two players collaborate to stick the third with an unwanted trick. In four player, it allows for some sneaky manipulation of the hand. One could also try playing with a larger deck (perhaps use a 48 card pinochle deck) to really make things chaotic.
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Peter Mumford
United States
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ceci n'est pas une pipe
I'm usually unimpressed by non-playtested variants, but yours sounds good enough for a tip at least. You should playtest it though.
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