My Top 10 Trick Taking Card Games (Chris Wray)

My Top 10 Trick Taking Card Games (Chris Wray)

I love trick taking card games.  And that might be an understatement: I play them, collect them, design them, write about them, etc.  I estimate that I’ve played more than 100 unique trick taking games in recent years.  But I’ve never prepared a top 10 list, so I thought this would be a good first post for me here at What Did You Play This Week.  

To clarify up front, I didn’t count “climbing games” in this list, although if I had, Tichu would have made it.  I also didn’t count games where the trick taking was incidental to play, as in Joraku or Honshu (if those can even be described as trick taking games).

What makes a great trick taking game (at least in my opinion)?  Trick taking is one of my favorite game mechanics, but I’ll admit that the genre is littered with mediocre games.  To me, trick taking games often suffer from one of two major problems: (1) a feeling of obviousness, or (2) a feeling of chaos.  Some tricksters enter auto-pilot mode once you see your cards, as the strategy for playing any given hand seems all-too-clear.  Other tricksters seem disorderly, resulting in gameplay that feels random. Great games in this genre avoid both pitfalls, and I think that’s the situation with all 10 games here.  I also give extra points for originality in design, and I naturally am drawn to games where the goal changes each hand.

The list is in alphabetical order.  Sticheln is easily my favorite trick taking game, but beyond that, it’d be hard to put these in a particular ranked order.

One question that will probably pop into your mind as you read the list: why are so few of these available in the United States?  To be blunt, it is because trick taking designs don’t sell, so most don’t get released here.  They sell well enough for small print run in Germany, and the Japanese designers/publishers seem completely cool with printing a small batch, but US publishers often have trouble getting to critical mass to be worth selling.  So us trick taking fanatics often find ourselves importing games!

 

7 Symbols, and 7 Nations

7Symbols7Nations.jpg

Designed by yio, Muneyuki Yokouchi

United States Publisher: None.  (Playable with “Seven Playing Cards” out of Japan.  But a Kickstarter for 7 Symbols, and 7 Nations is coming next year from Ninja Star Games.)

Previous Review: None.

Partnership trick taking games have always worked exceptionally well --- there’s a reason Spades is so popular --- and “7 Symbols, and 7 Nations” is one of the finest partnership games I’ve ever played.

The deck is tiered around the number 7, with seven suits of seven cards each.  Thus, the first suit goes from 1-7, the second from 2-8, the third from 3-9, and so on and so forth.  The goal is to capture the 7s in each suit.  Your team gets one point for the total number of 7s you and your partner have captured beyond that of the other team.  The first team to 7 points wins.

It’s simple.  It’s tense.  The continuous use of the number seven is artful.  The partnership aspect works exceptionally well.  I love it, and I'd play it anytime.

It’s a hard game to find now, but that will soon change.  Ninja Star Games is working on a version for release next year, with tentative plans to put the game on Kickstarter.

 

Indulgence.jpg

Indulgence

Designed by Jerry D’Arcy, Rob Daviau, Justin Jacobson

United States Publisher: Restoration Games

Previous Review: Opinionated Gamers

Depending on how you view it, Indulgence --- released at Gen Con --- is either the newest or oldest game on this list, since it was originally released as Dragonmaster decades ago.  

The deck is played with 36 “family” cards consisting of 1-9 in four suits.  Each family is represented by a different suit.  Many of the rules are standard trick taking fare: players must follow suit if possible, highest card of suit led wins, and the winner of the trick leads the next trick.  

The game will be played three times around the table, so that each player is the “ruler” (dealer) three times.  Each time you’re the ruler, you get to pick from three face-up “edicts.”   The edicts say things like “Don’t take any 2s or 3s” or “Don’t take the last Borgia” (green card) or “Don’t take any even Medicis or Sforzas” (red or purple cards).  If you violate the edict (by taking a 2 or   3, for example), you have to pay the ruler a set amount per card at the end of the hand.  

The edict only applies, however, if there is not a “sinner.”  After the edict is declared, starting with the player to the ruler’s left, each player gets the chance to declare that they’ll sin.  There can only be one player sinning in a round.  The sin is listed on the back of the edict card, and it usually is the opposite of the edict.  For example, “Don’t take any 2s or 3s” becomes “I will take all of the 2s and 3s.”  If the player succeeds, he typically gets payment from all other players.  If he fails, he pays the ruler at the end of the hand.  The sinner also gets the indulgence ring.  The sinning player may play it on top of one card in that hand, and it becomes the highest card (i.e. of a 10) in the same suit they played.  

The game is clever because the goals shift from hand to hand.  Throw in the top notch production value, and you have one of the best trick taking games of recent years.

 

Familiar’s Trouble

FamiliarsTrouble.png

Designed by Fukutarou

United States Publisher: None.  (But you can import it from Japan.)

Previous Review: None.

This is a cooperative trick taking game.  I didn’t think it could exist --- frankly, I didn’t think it could work --- but it does!  

Each round, a goal card is put out, and you play out cards trying to beat the goal.  For example, you and the team (which is always three players) might need to play cards showing a total value of 7 in the color red.  There are three suits in the game, plus cards that are in multiple suits.  You need to beat the goal card, but don’t play too high, because then you’re wasting cards you’ll need in future rounds.

I tend to give a lot of points for creativity in game design, and this is one of the most creative trick takers out there.  We played it over and over when we got it, and I still pull it off the shelf when I want to show somebody the outer bounds of the trick taking genre.  

 

Null & Nichtig

NullNichtig.jpg

Designed by Reiner Stockhausen

United States Publisher: None.

Previous Review: None.

This has a clever scoring system that I’m surprised hasn’t been used more often.  As players collect tricks, they form a stack for each color.  Only the point value of the topmost card is earned.  So if you’ve got a high value card sitting there, the other players now have an incentive to feed you low-value cards of that suit.  It’s simple --- just about anybody could play this game -- but effective.  

The game has extra “0s” to add to the meanness factor, and if you like “take that” in card games, there is a little bit of it here.  Everybody I’ve ever played with seems to have enjoyed the game.

I’m really eager to try Druids, which is releasing at Essen, since it seems to be a dressed up version of Null & Nichtig (based on the limited description I’ve seen so far).

 

Sticheln

Sticheln.jpg

Designed by Klaus Palesch

United States Publisher: None.  (NSV in Germany.)

Previous Review: On BGG

This is hands down my favorite trick taking game, and it is my second favorite card game (behind Tichu).  

The rules are simple:  Each player takes a card from their hand at the start of the game to represent their pain suit, and these are all revealed simultaneously. All cards collected of this suit — including the card selected by the player — will be negative points at face value.  Each other card taken (i.e. all cards not in the pain suit) is worth one point.

Any card can be played at any point.  Zeroes never win unless all cards played in the trick are zero (in which case the first card wins).  All suits not led are trump.  The highest trump card played (by number) wins. If no trumps are played, the highest card wins. If there is a tie (i.e. cards of the same number in different trump suits), the first player to have played the high value wins.

That’s it… in the entirety… the rules are incredibly simple.

I credit Sticheln for leading to a wave of modern trick taking designs.  It is the game that threw out all of the rules.  One trump suit? Nah… every suit not led is trump. Must follow? Nope… play any card at any time. And let’s vary the number of suits — and the number of cards in a suit — for the number of players.

It’s clever, can be a devilishly mean, and is the right amount of think-y for me.

I don’t think this ever got a United States release, but it is popular enough that copies are floating around, and you can still order it from Amazon Germany for a low cost.  

 

Stich-Meister.jpg

Stich-Meister

Designed by Friedemann Friese

United States Publisher: None

Previous Review: None.

Stich-Meister is one of Friedemann Friese’s many trick taking games, and my favorite of his bunch.  There are two decks in the game --- the 60 cards showing 1-15 in four suits --- plus sixty rule cards.  Each player has three rule cards in hand, and they each play one for each trick, giving variable goals and gameplay.  Some cards alter trump; others alter scoring or basic rules.  

As you’re probably able to tell, I like trick taking games where the goals shift from hand to hand.  It keeps it fresh.  Friedemann has been described as a “mad scientist” kind of game designer, often experimenting on the edges of endless replayability (504 comes to mind), and that shows through in Stich-Meister, which has an obscene number of possible game combinations.

The downside is that this has never been released in English, but you can find translation materials over on BGG.

 

Sticht Oder Nicht

Sticht Oder Nicht.jpeg

Designed by Thomas Nezold

United States Publisher: None.

Previous Review: None.

This game has terrible BGG ratings --- they’re below 6.0 --- but I can’t tell why!  This is probably my family’s favorite trick taking game, and I know it is my sister’s favorite.  

Like with many games on this list, players select the goals of each hand before the start.  You might get points for collecting certain cards, lose points for collecting others, have a trump, etc.   There are four stacks showing the possible rules of a hand --- and the card on top of each stack is random --- but only two rule sets are selected.  Because the choices are limited, the game goes a bit faster.  

Most trick taking games --- like Stich-Meister or Was sticht? --- where you draft your goals can get a bit complex for people who don’t play a lot of trick taking games, but I like Sticht Oder Nicht for its approachability.  The game also plays quickly and is well produced, two nice bonuses.

 

TezumaMaster.jpg

Tezuma Master

Designed by Hinata Origuchi

United States Publisher: None.

Previous Review: None.

At the start of each hand, you draft your scoring card (showing one of many ways to score points), your special power, and your trump card.  Otherwise, this is standard trick taking fare, but drafting different goals and powers for each hand is something I hadn’t seen before.

In most trick taking games, there are common goals, and you’re at the mercy of the cards you’ve drawn.  This alters that, since you pick how you score, plus a special power, plus a trump.  This design gives the players a lot of control.

This is also the most beautiful trick taking game I’ve seen.  And each game is (seemingly) hand made/assembled, which might be why this one has become so hard to find.  

 

Was sticht?

WasSticht.jpg

Designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel

US Publisher: Rio Grande Games (As part of the Mu & Lots More set.)

Previous Review: None.

“Was sticht?” has several twists.  First, there are two trumps: a number and a color.  Second, you draft your goals (such as “take no tricks” or “take no green cards”) at the start of the hand.  But the biggest twist is that you have a sort of drafting of the cards you’ll be playing.  All of the cards are put out, and then the dealer (who knows the trumps) declares which card would win the trick.  Players use this to deduce trump, so this is a trick taking game mixed with a deduction game.  Players draft the cards in each of these cards before the hand is played.

In many ways, this is trick taking for the “no luck” crowd (though there is still luck).  You have a good idea of who has what cards, you draft your goals, and deduction can win the day.  It’s longer than most trick taking games --- I’ve had plays go 90 minutes or more --- but it is a one-of-a-kind design with some cool features.  

Standalone versions of the game exist, though the easiest way to get a copy is in the Mu & Lots More set, which is almost a must-have for any trick taking fan.  

 

Wizard Extreme (a.k.a. Die Sieben Siegel, Sluff Off!, Zing!)

WizardExtreme.jpg

Designed by Stefan Dorra

United States Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon (Amigo in Germany.)

Previous Review: None.

Wizard Extreme goes by various names, but the most notable is probably the Amigo version by that name.  It’s part of the Wizard/Witches/Druids family.  

Wizard itself has never been one of my favorites because I’m suspicious of the merits of an increasing/decreasing number of tricks, but Wizard Extreme fixes that problem while keeping a clever betting mechanic.  Put differently, Wizard Extreme got rid of the part of Wizard I hated, while keeping the best part.  

The game largely follows standard trick-taking fare, and it is an exact bid game.  The novelty is that you have to bet on the color of tricks you’ll take, hence the “extreme” part.  At the start of the hand, you take chips in those colors, returning them to the supply as you take tricks in the appropriate color.  You lose points for taking extra tricks, taking tricks in the wrong color, or not taking the tricks you said you would.  

It’s decently easy to learn, and I think it is simply a better betting system than can be found in games like Oh Hell or Wizard.  Wizard Extreme is probably my favorite “exact bidding” game in the genre.

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Chris Wray is a frequent reviewer of board and card games, writing dozens of reviews each year.  In addition to writing for WDYPTW, he also writes for the Opinionated Gamers, Counter Magazine, and Gamers Alliance.  He also posts reviews on BoardGameGeek, where he's listed as a golden reviewer.

You can find Chris at various conventions, including BGG.CON, Geekway to the West, Gen Con, or Spiel (Essen), and he often blogs while at the conventions.

Chris lives in Jefferson City, MO and works in government.

DownForce from Restoration Games (Brandon Kempf)

DownForce from Restoration Games (Brandon Kempf)

WDYPTW Conversation Thing with Chris Kirkman

WDYPTW Conversation Thing with Chris Kirkman