Gamer Challenge for the week of January 9th

The gamer calendar.  This is where the weekly challenge comes from.  If you are interested in the calendar check out:

The gamer calendar. This is where the weekly challenge comes from. If you are interested in the calendar check out:

This weeks challenge was both harder and easier all at the same time.  My challenge for the week of January 9th was simply to play a card game.  While for the average gamer this might only include a dozen or less potential options, for me this category broadly encompassed a couple hundred games that are in our library.  I certainly couldn’t play all of them in one week, so what should I choose?

As I pondered this conundrum, I tried to narrow down my selection to a game that nearly all gamers have access to.  Everyone has Munchkin, right?  Or what about Dominion?  Don’t you own a copy of Thunderstone?  As I logically ruled out games, something dawned on me:  everyone owns a deck of cards.

I don’t think I have ever met a person who didn’t have a standard deck of 52 playing cards in their home.  They are a staple item, like sugar and flour.  Our home has not only one deck of cards, but many.  I would estimate that we have a dozen decks of playing cards all total.  I swear they breed at night while you are not looking, because I don’t remember where several of those decks came from.  And I certainly wouldn’t buy more decks of cards, right?

Ok, so cards.  We are going to take this weeks theme incredibly literal and simply play a nice, old fashioned, game of cards.  But which one?  I pulled out a copy of “According to Hoyle” that I had on my bookshelf and began thumbing through.  What sounded appealing?

Now, to me, most card games can be broken down into one of a handful of different possible categories:  Trick taking games, Set making games, Best-hand/Bidding/Bluffing games, and Hi-Lo games.  There are a myriad of games that fall in to each of these categories, and I was on a mission to put them to the test.

Monday night is my usual night of gaming with friends.  So I pulled out a few decks of cards, card holders (yes, I am an old lady and enjoy using a card holder, so sue me), and bellied up to our little card table.  I explained that tonight, while others could play other games if they liked, I was going to be playing cards.  Who wants to join me?


Come on guys, it’s for my blog.  I think I’m going to start with a nice game of Five Hundred.

*More crickets*

One of my friends broke away from a rousing game of “Go Hunt” which had broken out at one table, and side stepped a game of “Pack and Stack” that was being set up at another table, and joined me at my little table.  Now I only needed one more.  With a little bit of begging, pleading, and whining one of my other guy pals agreed to join me for a game of cards as soon as his current game of “Go Hunt” was over.  So me and victim number 1 had a few minutes to kill.

He suggested we play “War” while waiting.  It’s a simple two person card game, and is a prime example of a Hi-Lo style game.  In war, each player takes half of the deck.  Then you each flip over one card.  If your card is higher, you take the pair, otherwise your opponent does.  When you go through your entire deck, you pick up the spoils of your battle and keep going.  First person to win all of the cards is the winner.

Yes, it’s just as dull as it sounds, because there is no skill required.  Simply follow the rules in the very methodical way.  A computer could be programmed to play this game by an entry level programmer at a community college… in their first semester.  It’s that simple of a concept.  I couldn’t help but muse that “this is why gamers hate to simply ‘play cards'”.  Finally victim #2 arrived and saved us from the torment that is a game of War, and I began explaining the rules to Five Hundred.

Five Hundred can be played with a standard deck of cards, or Bicycle publishes a special deck that they market just for the purpose.

Five Hundred can be played with a standard deck of cards, or Bicycle publishes a special deck that they market just for the purpose.

Five Hundred is a trick taking game, much like Hearts, Spades, or Euchre.  Nearly all trick taking games have two things in common:  there is bidding, and something is ‘trump’.  In the game ‘Five Hundred’, the trump changes from round to round.  I find this confusing and often have to be reminded what the trump is, but it’s an interesting mechanic.

The bid is in some ways simpler in Five Hundred, and in some ways more complicated.  After the cards are dealt, each person has a chance to bid on how many tricks they will take.  (Taking a trick means winning one small round of cards.) Each person must bid higher than the last, or you can pass.  The person with the highest bid becomes “under contract” to get that many.  If they do not, they lose points.  But if they make it, there are a lot of points to be earned.  The other two players, who are not under contract, then team up against their now common enemy.  It is their goal to ‘set’ them by ensuring that they do not get all of the tricks that they are under contract to take.  You keep playing rounds like this until someone wins by reaching 500 points.

Trick taking games have a lot of lingo.  Have you noticed?  Trick, trump, make, set, contract, null, blind, and window are all terms used in trick taking games.   For an outsider it can sound like you are speaking in another language.   As someone who has played several different trick taking games, this consistency in lingo is very helpful in communicating clearly the small changes from game to game.

So we finished our game 500, victim #1 was the winner.  We all decided to take a small break from playing cards and amused ourselves with a couple rounds of Telestrations, but then it was back to work, playing card games for this weeks ‘Gamer Challenge’.

“How about a game of Bull Shit!?”

We played a round of bull shit using two decks.  At the end of the game, this was my hand.  Apparently I stink at this game.

We played a round of bull shit using two decks. At the end of the game, this was my hand. Apparently I stink at this game.

This got people a little more enthusiastic about playing cards.  You see, BS is a bluffing game.  One with a rather amusing title, and allows you to call your friends out as being dirty rotten liars.

To start a game of BS out, you deal out the entire deck equally, so all cards are in play.  Then you start going around the table, each player being forced to play in order the next highest card.  If you have more than one of a card, you can play multiples down.  So for example:?

“I have 3 number 3’s,” says victim #1, and then places three cards face down on the pile.  At which point I eye victim #1.  I have a single three in my own hand.  What is the likelihood that they had all the other threes.  Could it be possible that they are lying and have padded that number with some other cards?

“You are full of BS!,” I declare.  I flip over the top three cards that they had just played and sure enough, it is not three 3’s, instead its a 5, 8, and King.  That player who lied then picks up the entire stack of cards that have been played.  The goal is to be the first one to get rid of all of your cards.

Our gaming for the night wrapped up, I didn’t win the game of BS either.  So I had successfully played a bluffing game, a Hi-Lo game, and a trick taking game.  I still needed to get a set making game under my belt, but it was only Monday.  I have a few more days to go.

The next game on our agenda was a game that Shawna grew up with:  Hand and Foot.  It is a set making game, and thus fit our ticket quite nicely.

Hand and Foot is a game in which your are trying to create sets/books of cards and “go out”.  The mechanic in which this is done is quite simple.  On each turn you draw two cards off the top of the deck, “meld down” any cards that can be used to make a book, and then discard one card.  Easy-peasy.  Of course, the devil lies in the details.

First of all, you don’t play with one deck of cards.  How could you, when you need seven cards of the same type to create a book?  We played with six decks.  I stress that we played with because we found rules for this game that varied from four decks all the way up to eight decks.  Quite the discrepancy.  But then everyone has their own regional differences.  Shawna played with six decks when she was growing up, so we continued with that.   She played with four decks when she played partners.

A look at players set who has Gone out.  You are required to make two clean books, two dirty books, and one wild book.   Hey, dont look at me like that!  I didnt come up with the terminology!

A look at players set who has "Gone out". You are required to make two clean books, two dirty books, and one wild book. Hey, don't look at me like that! I didn't come up with the terminology!

Going out is a process by which you have run out of cards in your hand and have created a given number of books.  The number of books required also seemed to be riddled with regional differences, but we once again played the way that Shawna remembered:  Two clean books, one dirty book, and one wild book.   If you are anything like me, the one thing that is racing through your head right now is “what in the world determines if a book is clean or dirty?”.  The answer is easy:  wild cards.   If your book contains any wild cards, it’s a dirty book.  If your book does not contain wild cards, it is clean.  And obviously, if your book is composed of nothing but wild cards, it is a wild book.  After a good deal of giggling about “dirty books” we were off and running.

The game moved along faster than I thought it would, at least from turn to turn, but being able to “go out” took some time.  One of the primary reasons it took so long was because of the “foot”.  Each player is dealt two piles of cards, a hand and a foot, thus giving the game it’s namesake.  You can’t pick up and play the cards from your foot until you have played out every card in your hand, and you haven’t “gone out” and ended the round until you are completely out of cards in your foot.  This can take a while.

Once we succeeded it was time to deal with scoring… which was complicated.  Each of the books are worth a given number of points, based upon if they are dirty, clean, or wild.  Then you count all the points for each individual card in your books, and uncompleted books (each card is designated a point value, I could try to relay it, but I just suggest you look it up).  Then you subtract points for cards you were not able to play.  After all that math, you’re done, and likely have a score totaling in the thousands.  It was enough to make my head spin.  You finish out the game by playing four rounds, just as I described, and the person with the highest score wins.

Our follower, @AndrewFdrspl, answering our call for card game suggestions.

So there you have it,  a trick taking game, a set making game, a bluffing game, and a hi-lo game.  But wait… does it feel like we are missing something?  Yes, we are, and one of our twitter followers, @AndrewFdrspl, caused us to realize what it was: a speed game.  We had posted out to our followers, “So we are currently playing card games, the kind that require a standard deck of cards. Do you have a favorite we should try? Let us know!”.   Andrew responded back with “Egyptian Rat Screw!”.   I had no idea what this was, but luckily wikipedia did.

Egyptian Rat Screw, is a strange hybrid of “war”, “slapjack”, and “cribbage”.  Like the game “War”, players flip over one card off the top of their deck.  Depending on the flip, things occur.   If you flip a face card, then the opponent on your right has a given number of chances in order to flip a face card.  Otherwise you get the discard pile, which goes on the bottom of your deck.  You want to get cards, because the goal is to acquire the entire deck.

ERS is also has elements of slapjack and cribbage.  Like in cribbage, adding up cards is important, and so are pairs and runs.  If you see a pair, run, or cards adding up to ’10’ get flipped onto the top of the discard pile, the first person to slap the pile wins it.  I really liked this element, because it kept everyone engaged the entire time.  This was certainly a step up from the more traditional game of War that I started this challenge off with.

So next time you are stuck with a plain old deck of cards, I hope you will keep some of these games in mind.  A deck of cards can be found nearly anywhere, and it is incredibly versatile.  While my gamer friends were hesitant to play regular old card games with me at first, they all seemed to have a good time, once they settled into the game.  To me, these games still have relevancy.

So, challenge completed! How did you do?  Next week our challenge takes advantage of the technology age:  Play a game via email.  This should be interesting!

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Friday, January 13th, 2012 at 8:06 am and is filed under Events and Tournaments, Gamer Challenge's . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


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