A Derk appears from the mists...
Elizabeth, Aldie, Ken, and Derk (twice). Then John, Aldie, George, and Derk. And then George, Ken and Derk.
I’d heard this odd little card game described as a trick-taking game, but I don’t know that I agree. In fact, that little tidbit really hurt us as Aldie tried to explain the rules from a single reading of the rules. Here’s what’s going on. Each player is given an equal deck of cards, which have seventeen cards. There are numbered cards one through fifteen, in five different suits. However the number distribution isn’t the same for each suit. For each round, a trump (the only reason this game is likened to a trick-taking game) is selected, as well as a non-trump. The trump cards are better than all the rest, and the non-trump cards are worse than all the rest.
During their turn, players take any one of their cards and play it in front of them, with each person’s subsequent cards forming individual piles. Each of the fifteen numbered cards has one of two different characteristics: comets or cards. If the card played has the cards distinction, then the pictured number of cards (one, two or three) is drawn from his individual card pile and added to his hand. If the card played is a comet, then that player is trying to end the round. If the comet isn’t answered by either the same valued comet card or a higher valued comet card, then the player’s next card will be the last card played in the round (assuming also that the player doesn’t over-comet his original comet). If this occurs, the top card on everyone’s pile is compared and the highest value, based on the trump, or if no-trump is played, then the numbered value of the card is compared (minus non-trumps, which are lower than all other cards, regardless of number).
The highest card played is given first choice of rewards, which is a colored dinosaur egg. Each dinosaur egg is worth a single point, but each successive egg in the same color makes the whole same-colored lot worth increasing squares (so two are worth four, three are worth nine, etc.). Now for the special cards. Perhaps the best card in each player’s deck is the Comet Storm card, which is the best comet card available (with the caveat that someone can always better any card by playing their own version later in the same round), however, it has a value of zero so it won’t win any hands with it. The other special card is the Chameleon, which predictably takes on the characteristics of another card. In this case, the Chameleon mimics the card you played last in suit (thus trump, if applicable) and value, but not the characteristic, such as comet or drawing cards.
That’s about it. But that’s quite a lot, considering what little there is. The strategies for this game become more and more clear as you play the game, which is to be expected from any game that’s significantly different from anything else. The first thing that screwed me up was thinking that this game was a trick-taking game. But other than ‘borrowing’ (I didn’t really want to say using) that part of your brain to track played cards and value the winner of each round, this game isn’t really a trick-taking game. The first two games were really random, as Elizabeth, Ken, Aldie, and I struggled to get our brains around the strategies. The second game was particularly odd because the other three got into serious card deficits early, while I had virtually all my cards in my hand.
Elizabeth: 24, Ken: 18, Aldie: 10, Derk: 8
Derk: 27, Ken: 12, Elizabeth: 7, Aldie: 4
When I played the game again, I took pains to warn people of the ‘Spiral of Death.’ That is when your hand consists entirely of comets, and you have no way of drawing fresh cards. Basically, you continue playing from your hand until you run out of cards, and then when its your turn, you simply turn over the top card on your draw pile as your card for that turn. Lemme tell you, that’s a bad position to be in, especially when you’re looking across the table to see George holding his entire deck in his hand. What really hosed me for this game was my unwillingness to discard my last played card, and instead discarding my top draw cards blindly, which ended up being a draw three, and three draw two’s. Without those drawing cards in my library of cards, I was screwed for the rest of the hand. Predictably, George took this game handily, with Aldie a decent second. Meanwhile, John and I were languishing at the bottom of the pile (considering the way things played out, I was surprised that John got _any_ points)…
George: 22, Aldie: 15, Derk: 7, John: 2
Now after the last session, I made my strategy a little mantra: I _will not_ run out of cards! One of the big things to remember in this game is to forget about winning the initial couple of hands. Instead you should just float along and try to discard the cards you won’t need early on, with an emphasis on getting nearly all your cards into your hand. After that, you need to consider whether or not the egg that you’re trying to win is worth the effort of the card you played. As we continued this three-player game, I detected a slight sucking sound coming from the other side of the table. Low and behold, it was just George sucking the life out of yet another game. It turns out that George memorizes his cards, so he can be heard to occasionally mutter, “Ok, I don’t want to play this drawing card, because I want to discard that crappy yellow one on my draw pile…” Sigh. I know that if a game has perfect information that way, it’s not cheating to know exactly what’s on your stack. But it seems like going against the spirit of the game if all players can’t track that kind of information easily…
Derk: 22, Ken: 21, George: 20
Amazingly, I won the game. Of course, one of the main reasons for that was that Ken got out to a pretty lead, which meant it was George and I banding together (and I benefited a bit more than he). I didn’t have any drawing issues until right at the end of the game, but my ‘Death Spiral’ didn’t hurt me as the blind card I drew to end the game was exactly the card I needed to play. I really enjoyed this game with three, and it’s always good to find a nice three-player game. The only thing I’d mention regarding the three-player game is that players had better have their wits about them because there’s a lot more ‘dumping’ of players (forcing someone else play a card because if they don’t the next player will get an egg with little effort).
A couple last revelations about this game. You can out-comet yourself, which isn’t terribly relevant in more than three-player games, but quite significant for three. Next, when judging the best comet, trump suit does count, which we didn’t catch. And lastly another little three-player oddity, the Chameleon is very useful generally, but not with only three players. I think we all saved our Chameleons in our hands for the entire game until we realized at the end there just wasn’t a good reason to value it.