A Trick-Taking Card Game in Search of a Theme

Women Playing Cards on New Year's Eve
Tagging on yesterday's game mechanic, I had another idea for a hand management game, but this time using trick-taking mechanics instead of area control. This one is really nascent, but I think a good strong theme would give it some direction to deal with any problematic bugs.

2-4 players
A deck of playing cards.
4 Players: Deal 13 cards to each player.
3 Players: Deal 17 cards to each player and put the remaining card in the center of the table.
2 Players: Deal 26 cards to each player.

On your turn, play a card from your hand onto the table. The next player does the same, and so on, forming a pile of cards.

When a player plays a card that brings the sum of the pile over 10, she decides which suit will be scored at that time. Cards without a number (A, J, Q, K) do not raise the sum, but they have other value as you'll see below.

Then all players have a choice of discarding as many cards as they wish as long as those cards have a matching suit. Your score is the number of that suit in the pile plus the number of cards you discarded.

For example: You just pushed the pile over 10 and decided to score hearts. There are three hearts in the pile. You discard two from your hand. You score 5 points. Bob discards one heart, so he scores 4 points. Sarah discards six hearts, so she scores 9 points.

After scoring, the pile is discarded and a new round begins. Play continues until the first player loses all her cards. The player with the most points wins.

Here are some themes I'm considering:
  • Poseidon: Each player raises the sea level by playing cards into the pile. The player to raise the tide over 10 decides which city-state will be favored.
  • Potion Making: The idea being that you're trying to decide the "active ingredient." This one comes from Grant Rodiek. Thanks, Grant!
  • Lobbying: Each player is a lobbyist pushing an official to support their cause, but the official has a short memory and only favors the last lobbyist who made a donation.

Happy to take any other suggestions, though!


  1. 2 questions about mechanics:
    Wondering a lot about the ten. It seems like 10 is more interesting as a card that can put most piles over the top than as an instant set the suit card. Maybe the swinginess is good?

    If there was a reason to discard non-scoring suit cards it might be interesting. Maybe match the point total in the pile to score those points? Like discarding a 3 Spades in the example. Speaking of which, why doesn't Bob score 4 points?

    Theme idea: market manipulation. Drive up the price on something and then cash in. Could add bonuses for being the only one to discard in suit (monopoly).

  2. I do like the swinginess. It gives players some flexibility to call the round early.

    A reason to discard face cards: Perhaps you play a face card *face down*. Each face card has a different effect on the scoring for that pile, only revealed when scoring.

    Market Manipulation is a nice idea. Hm!

  3. Oh! And I corrected Bob's example.

  4. I'm an old Sheepshead player, which is very strongly codified by tradition. As such, I have some definite procedural questions about your game.

    First, how do we determine who has the first turn? Often this is based on some card in hand, or relative position to the dealer (first to the left, often). Bidding is another way to determine who gets to go first.

    After a trick is taken and scored, who plays first on the next trick? The player who decided suit on the previous trick? The player to the left of that player (harsh in this case)?

    With 3 player, is that card in the center of the table face up, or face down? Does it belong to the first pile, or is it just not used? If it belongs to that pile, are it's points counted towards the first ten? I assume that, if it's counted in the pile that it's potentially part of the score?

    If you have no cards of the declared suit to discard, or for some reason decide not to discard any, do you get the value of the cards in the pile? For instance, if in the example, Bob had zero hearts to discard, would he score 3, or zero for that trick?

    Is the "other value" that the face cards have the fact that they potentially belong to a scoring suit? Or did you omit some other value? Often in such games they have a higher value when captured. Maybe 2 each? Or 2 for Jacks, 3 for Queens, and 4 for Kings? That adds a bit of texture. Perhaps these only score for the player declaring suit?

    Generally your game has very little strategy, especially at first, where you are unaware of your opponent's hand composition, other than that they do not have the same cards you have.

    On the other hand, this means that in the two player game, you know exactly what the other player has, and I'm betting the game has a "Nim" problem:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nim

    Meaning that it'll probably have a knowable strategy that will allow the first or second player to always win if they know the strategy. You might want to limit it to three or more players.

    A good way around this is to only deal out a portion of the cards in the deck, leaving some unplayed. Perhaps players can draw these each turn, to reveal them over time.

    Or you can play a "dummy" hand, where the cards for a third player are dealt to a "hand" for a dummy player that's just a pile, and you play the top card off of that pile each time it's the dummy player's turn. Only problem with this is that the it'll be an advantage being on one side of the dummy or the other, so in this case the position of the dummy should rotate between the players each turn.

    Generally having some bidding up front to secure some sort of power is also a good way to have players potentially tip the contents of their hands (or bluff them).

    Just some preliminary notes. Maybe if you work on these a theme will become clearer. Or would you prefer to decide on the theme first, and then come up with the details of these things to match the theme?

  5. These are all excellent considerations! Thanks very much for sharing them. My experience with trick-taking games is still very limited, so it's nice to get some veteran input.

    Hidden information seems a most reasonable method of resolving a nim problem, either with smaller hands as you've described and/or with hidden information in the pile. One suggestion that has intrigued me:

    Non-numbered cards can be played into the pile face down. Each has a special effect on the pile when it is scored, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

    A fellow on G+ had a clever idea for a theme that suits this well: There is a monster in a cave. At 10, the monster comes out. You don't know what the monster looks like until it comes out of the cave.

    The face down cards could be features of the monster (Claws! Scales! Tentacles!) which have certain adverse effects on the player who finally lures out the monster.

  6. Before I got to the bottom of the post, my thought was witches concocting a brew. So that or potion-making is where my head is at. I could see some fun design in that vein, e.g., suits as categories (animal, vegetable, mineral, magical), e.g., eye of newt, sprig of wolfsbane, etc.

  7. The common portion of the scoring is irrelevant. In the example above, choosing hearts only affects what cards players can discard; it doesn't matter whether there were 0 hearts or 4 (the maximum) because each player scores those points.

    Maybe you only score if you can discard at least one card. Or maybe the number in the pile is the number of cards each player can discard to score. Or maybe there's some relationship between the ranks of the cards in one group to the quantity of cards in the other.

    I will also suggest that a 26 card hand is as mentally cumbersome as it is physically.

    What if instead of the last player choosing the suit, it's set by whichever suit has the highest total rank in the pile? And what if there are multiple piles you can choose to play into? The heart of the gameplay seems to be in what card to add to the pile and the more that card impacts the course of the game, the more interesting the choice is.

    These themes all seem fine. I will add that if any game can succeed without a theme, it's a trick-taking card game. Here's an additional, perhaps overly-meta theme:

    You're hosting a game party and want as many players playing games that they like as possible. Each card is a player and each pile is a game. A game will begin when the gathered players have a total interest value of 10+ and will play the type of game that has the most interest.

  8. Yup, that has a lot of juice. I worry Reiner Knizia has explored this space with Poison, though.

  9. Aw dang. You're right, the common portion really doesn't matter unless there's some kind of multiplicity as in yesterday's tile game idea.

  10. The idea of multiple piles has a lot of merit, but Reiner Knizia explored that space quite a bit in Poison. Excellent game, but I'd want to do something a bit different. In fact, there could be multiple data sources here.

    Lowest ranked suit in the pile
    Highest ranked suit in the pile
    First card in the pile
    Last card in the pile


  11. One option would be to score when the sum is a multiple of 10 instead of exactly 10. This would give a bit of a "press your luck" feel to the system.

    Perhaps instead of a common pool, your cards are played in front of each player, though still considered part of the shared, played pool for getting to a multiple of 10?

    Perhaps the card's suit that is played to hit 10 sets the suit?

    A "mathy" option might be to have the number of each suit that is has been played determines the multiplier for that suit (so, 3 spades out would give a multiple of 3, etc.)

    What happened to your face cards?

    Random twist - instead of playing one card into the pool, you pass one card and play one card... and the non selected suits score negatively.

    ... and your hand is scored by the same logic - the values are scored "mod 10".

    Theme idea: (Change 10 to 12, score everything by classic values k=13)... and call the game "Dozens" for insulting/challenging the other players?


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