Triple Draw Lowball

Triple Draw Lowball (often called just Triple Draw) is a form of lowball poker for two to six players. It’s a fairly simple game, especially if you’re familiar with Five-Card Draw or other Draw Poker variants. However, having four chances to bet instead of one makes Triple Draw an exciting, competitive game with large pots and lots of betting action. Triple Draw has become popular in Las Vegas casinos, being included in many high-limit mixed game rotations.

Object of Triple Draw Lowball

The object of Triple Draw Lowball is to form the lowest-ranking poker hand after drawing new cards up to three times.

Setup

Triple Draw uses the same standard 52-card deck as most other poker games. We suggest that you give Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards a try if you haven’t yet. You’ll also need something to bet with, probably poker chips. The game is typically played with fixed limits (see “Betting in poker“), so all players should agree to what the limits will be.

The two players to the left of the dealer post their blinds (see “Blinds and antes“). Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The dealer retains the deck stub for later use.

Game play

Upon receiving their cards, players evaluate the strength of their hand. Triple Draw is most frequently played with deuce-to-seven lowball rules. In this version of lowball, straights and flushes are taken into consideration when ranking hands, and aces count high. That means the lowest possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7 (because 2-3-4-5-6 forms a straight). The first betting round then begins, with the player to the left of the big blind (the player under the gun) starting the betting. Betting follows the typical rules of betting in poker.

After the first round of betting is resolved, the first draw occurs, starting with the player to the left of the dealer (the small blind). This player discards any number of cards, from zero to five, face down in front of them. The dealer then deals them the appropriate number of replacement cards from the stub. This continues, clockwise, until all active players have had a chance to swap cards. The dealer then collects the discards and sets them aside.

When the first draw finishes, the second betting round begins, starting this time with the small blind player. This is followed by a second draw (conducted the same way as the first), then the third betting round, then the third draw, then the fourth and final betting round. Betting limits are typically doubled on the third and fourth betting rounds. If there are at least two active players left at the end of the fourth betting round, they reveal their hands. Whoever has the lowest-ranked poker hand wins the pot.

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Khanhoo

Khanhoo is a rummy game for two to four players. It was originally from China, though it experienced a period of popularity in England at the end of the nineteenth century. Khanhoo may be one of the earliest rummy games ever to be played. It seems likely that it at least influenced Conquian, considered to be the ancestor of most rummy games.

Object of Khanhoo

The object of Khanhoo is to be the first player to form their entire hand into combinations called melds.

Setup

A special 61-card deck is needed to play Khanhoo. To make one, take two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all of the 10s. Then, take out the face cards in hearts, spades, and diamonds, and all of the remaining number cards from the clubs. Shuffle these two decks together, and add one joker, and you’ll have your Khanhoo deck. It will contain the joker, two each of the J-Q-K♣, and two each of aces through 9s in the other three suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with.

Shuffle and deal fifteen cards to each player. Then deal a sixteenth card to the player to the dealer’s left. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. (In a four-player game, the entire deck will be dealt out, so there will be no stock.)

Game play

Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left choosing one card to discard. This starts a discard pile, usually placed to one side of the stock. The turn then passes to the left. This player draws one card, either from the stock or the discard pile, and then discards one card. Turns continue in this manner, with a draw and a discard by each player in turn.

If the stock runs out, its top card is set aside, the discards are flipped over, and then shuffled to form a new stock. The old top card then forms the new discard pile.

As the entire deck is used in the four-player game, there is no stock. Instead, each player simply draws the card that was discarded by the player to their left.

Melding

The players’ goal is to form their hands into melds. The valid melds, and their point values, are as follows:

  • Sequence (1 point): Three or more cards of the same suit in consecutive order, e.g. 6-7-8♥. Note that sequences will never include face cards or clubs, as the only “sequence” that can be formed using them is actually the more valuable royal assembly (see below). Aces are considered low in sequences (just below the 2). Note that the point value does not increase if more cards are added.
  • Aces (1 point): Three aces of any suit (duplicates are allowed).
  • Triplet (2 points): Three number cards of the same rank and of three different suits (no duplicates allowed).
  • Royal assembly (3 points): J-Q-K♣.
  • Court melds (4 points each): K♣-9♥-9♥, Q♣-8♠-8♠, or J♣-7♦-7♦.
  • Khanhoo (5 points): A♥-2♠-3♦.
  • Double aces (10 points): Six aces of any suit.
  • Double triplet (10 points): Two triplet melds of the same rank. That is, six number cards of the same rank, with each suit appearing exactly twice.
  • Double royal (10 points): J-J-Q-Q-K-K♣.
  • Double khanhoo (15 points): A-A♥-2-2♠-3-3♦.

As players form melds, they keep them in their hand (that is, they do not lay them out on the table). Thus, the players can rearrange and expand or split melds at will. The joker is wild, substituting for any other card in a meld without restriction.

Bumping

In a three- or four-player game, after a player discards, another player may intervene by claiming the discard before the next player can draw it. They may only do this, however, if they can immediately use the card in a meld other than a sequence. Taking the discard out of turn in this way is called bumping. When a player bumps, they must place the meld that the discard is part of face-up in front of them. They may then no longer alter the meld in any way (e.g. by making it from a khanhoo to a double khanhoo). They then discard as normal and play passes to the left, with the intervening players skipped.

If the player who would have normally had the right to the bumped discard (i.e. the player to the left of the player who discarded it) also wants the card, they may challenge the bump. Both players must then declare the type of meld they wish to use the discard for. If the player that wishes to bump can form a higher meld, they get the right to the discard. If the other player can make a meld of equal or higher value to the bumping player, then no bump happens, and play proceeds as normal.

Ending the hand

When a player has formed their entire hand into melds, they make one final discard and announce that they are out. Each player then reveals their hand, placing it on the table with each meld broken out. Each player then scores the value of their melds, with the player that went out also getting a five-point bonus.

The deal passes to the left, and a new hand is dealt. Game play begins until one or more players reaches a score of 50 points or more. Whichever player has the highest score at that point is the winner.

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Game design, mechanics, and game balance: What makes a good game?

With so many games out there to choose from, a prospective gamer might start thinking about what makes a game cross the line from just a way to pass the time to a truly great experience. What elements does a good game have? Or does that question have a different answer depending on who you ask? To find out, Scott Nazelrod of Denexa Games sat down with two gaming experts.

Jack Claxton and DC Bueller are two of the five founders of Loot & XP, a board game café established in 2015 here in Norman, Oklahoma. Loot & XP is home to a massive library of games, about 750 titles at last count, and always growing. Part of the staff’s responsibility at the café is to teach games to their customers and answer any questions that they may have, from what kind of game they might want to try, all the way to answering queries about some of the games’ more obscure and arcane rules. To arm themselves with that knowledge, they’ve played a lot of games. If there’s anyone to ask about games, it’s these guys.

Read on for some insight into the world of games—card games, board games, even video games—and all of the ingredients that go into an enjoyable gaming session.

SCOTT
So, I guess what we should start off with is, since you guys focus mostly on board games, and we focus more on card games at Denexa—what do you think they have in common? Does a good card game and a good board game have a lot of things in common? Or do you think there’s a little bit of a difference between those?
JACK
Obviously, I think there’s a difference in style. But I think, kind of as an answer to both of those questions, as to what makes a good game for either of them, and to what they have in common…is interesting decisions. If there are decisions that matter, and that can be taken in a number of different ways, and are entertaining—you know, it is fulfilling to have some sort of options in front of you, and have it really matter what you go with. So, if you like more strategic games, and I think most card games fall into that, that’s very much something they share in common. You’ll also find, that DC and I have very different tastes in games—
DC
[laughter]
JACK
—and I think that will be very helpful, since we’re coming from almost both sides of the spectrum here.
DC
I like randomness. And I think cards help that, because you always have to shuffle and make random things happen. I also feel like, as long as a game is enjoyable and can create a memorable experience—I think that’s the most important part. Just like, thinking back to when we played XYZ game, like—for example, today on Facebook, [fellow Loot & XP founder] Rachelle shared a memory from two years ago of a Codenames game we played. I was absolutely awful. We totally lost. And everything was just horrible. She did not like me giving the clues. But, the thing is, everyone remembers that game. Everyone remembers that session of Codenames, because it was just so…entertainingly horrible.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
So I think that’s the main thing. Yeah, you can have options, but I think, the mix of people, and the mix of ideas and personalities, can also help make a game that would normally be kind of like “ehh, you know, I could do this or this” into “oh my gosh, what are you doing?”
SCOTT
So what you’re saying is, you can have fun with an absolutely horrible game, if you have the right people involved!
DC
You can! I still think it would be more of a one-off experience, instead of, like, coming back to the game again and again.
SCOTT
“We don’t want to play that horrible thing again! Although it was fun the one time.”
DC
For example, CrossTalk. Some people have more fun with it than others—
JACK
I still think it’s good…
DC
I liked it! Some people think it’s the worst thing ever.
SCOTT
And I know you guys have opinions on Monopoly that aren’t necessarily shared by a lot of the populace…
JACK
I would hope they’re shared by a lot of the populace! But apparently not. I don’t know, I think a lot of people dislike Monopoly, but I would almost say for the wrong reasons. But I want to touch real fast on game versus people you’re playing with. I would agree, if I had to choose between a good game, and a good group of people, I would choose a good group of people. You really can have a lot of fun with bad games. Now, it works together if you have a good game and good people. But it’s very much true, at least in most of the games we’re used to playing, but I think in a lot of card games too. If you’re very serious about playing poker or playing for money and everything, it’s a very individual experience, and it’s very strategy-based. But I think for most people playing almost any type of game, it’s to enjoy it and have fun, and people are pretty integral to that.
SCOTT
And definitely, with poker in particular, it’s a very different game when you’re playing with people who are very good at it, versus people who are just there to enjoy the experience, and maybe not care so much about how well they do.
JACK
Yeah. That’s a funny point, too, because a lot of poker players get their reads on people, and they assume that the other players also have certain assumptions. And they’re strategizing in certain ways. But if someone doesn’t care they can really mess up a skilled poker player, because they expect them to act in certain ways!
SCOTT
Right, you can’t expect them to act rationally! And if you’re assuming your opponent is going to be acting rationally and they’re not, that can really throw a wrench in your strategies.
JACK
Definitely.
SCOTT
So, do you think—keeping in mind, everyone has different preferences on games—is there anything you can universally point to and say, “That makes a good game”? Or is it just kind of hopelessly attached to your personal preferences?
JACK
I think there’s a few things I could say, but I do think it’s attached to personal preference. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have such a variety of games that are enjoyed by people. Like I said before, I do enjoy things that have interesting decisions. But that’s not all I like. I like games with good social dynamics, or interesting and novel mechanics you don’t find in other games. I’m sure there are things that more people like than don’t, but I don’t think you can just pin it down.
DC
I think 100% personal preference, because the #1 game on BoardGameGeek, Pandemic Legacy—I hate that kind of game.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
I hate it with a passion, and I was actually talking with our distributor, and they’re saying, “Yeah, we want to make this game—we want to make the new Season 2 topple Season 1!” And I’m like, “That’s great! That’s wonderful!… That’s…cool…” And he was like, “What did you think when you played it?” And I was like, “Yeah! Good!”
JACK
“It caused me physical pain!”
SCOTT
Why do you hate it so much?
DC
Because I believe, in essence, that a game should be able to be played over and over and over. Just as many times as you want.
SCOTT
Replay value.
DC
Yeah. And whenever you play a Legacy game, the replay value is going to end at the end of your campaign. Whereas, with say, roleplaying games and things like that, I mean, yeah, there’s going to be an end; there’s going to be a physical and permanent end—
SCOTT
But once you buy a Dungeons & Dragons book, you can just reuse it for however many campaigns.
DC
Yeah. Exactly. With a Legacy game, you’re manipulating it and shaping it into a specific way where—and I think maybe the appeal is making those permanent changes, and then it becomes your own personal copy, that no one else is going to have. It’s a game that you and your group made together. And that’s kind of a bonding experience that those kind of people like, and I am not those kind of people.
JACK
I do like Legacy games. But that said, I wouldn’t like every game to be like that. Mostly, I’m on the same page as DC. I think it should be replayable, and that’s one of the strengths of tabletop games, no matter what the type, is each playthrough is going to be different, because of all of the variables. Having a game you can only go through once is bizarre and strange.
SCOTT
[laughter]
JACK
So I like it for the novelty, but I’m glad that it’s a minority kind of niche in the hobby.
SCOTT
And, of course, for replay value, nothing really beats a deck of cards, because you can play any number of games with the same deck.
JACK
Absolutely.
SCOTT
Of course, the downside to that is that a deck of cards doesn’t really have a theme to it, whereas a lot of board games do. Do you think that, for most people, a good theme on a game can save what would be an otherwise bad game? Or, turning it around, do you think that a really good game can save a horribly ugly theme?
JACK
I think a lot of people play games for themes. Myself included. And yeah, they can very much help an otherwise-weaker game. There’s a number of games that I like because of the presentation, and the general narrative, even if it doesn’t factor in a whole lot. But I think if the game is strong enough, and you can get people to sit down and play it, and it’s really fun, the theme does not matter. If playing the game itself is very fun, then that can stand up by itself.
DC
I think a lot of Euro games are like that, where they have some mechanics, and the game play is very solid, but the theme is, like, “Oh, we should make a theme for this mechanic we just did.” I do feel like I have played many games where the game play was like, uggggh, but the theme made me want to play it again and again and again.
JACK
Like, Terrene Odyssey was a game that we both were a little excited about, because it touched on things we liked. And some of it was theme-wise, and some of it was mechanics-wise. But it kind of looks to things that we’re a fan of. And I think DC tried it a bit more than I did, and it just didn’t stand up as much. Now, that’s an example where we gave it more of an opportunity, but we still kind of gave up on it a little bit. You know, it’s like any other media. You’ll watch trash TV shows or movies that you enjoy, for whatever reason, even if you kind of know deep down it’s not very good.
DC
Yeah, like Star Trek.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
I JK! But I’ll say this. Scott Pilgrim. That is a really awesome theme. And I will still play it, but I think the mechanics are wonky.
JACK
They are a little. That’s the thing, that particular game—it’s not a bad game, I think. It’s a little strange, but it’s not a great game either. So, at the very least, the theme helps, a lot, an otherwise weak game. And you’re right, with standard card games, unless you are very much trying to put a theme in there, it’s a little difficult to do that with a standard deck.
SCOTT
So a standard-deck card game tends to rely a lot more heavily on the mechanics than, like, a proprietary card game or a board game would. Going into mechanics a little bit more—you hear the term “game balance” a lot. What exactly do you feel like game balance is?
JACK
At its core, it’s when everyone has the same opportunities in a given game. Now, if everyone has the same opportunity to get, you know, the best hand, and that’s a one in one thousand shot, and there’s not that much else but just the luck of the draw, then that’s probably not an appealing game for most people, because, while it’s fair, it’s also extremely random. Now, you heard DC say earlier he really likes random games, but I think part of game balance too is giving people the same agency. So, they have access to the same resources and powers, and they also have the same abilities and decisions that they can make. So if something doesn’t go your way, a lot of times it is your fault. You might have not foreseen something, or you took a risk and it didn’t pan out the way you thought. But I feel like most people like a balance between purely strategy games—something along the lines of chess—and purely random games—something like roulette.
DC
[laughter]
SCOTT
And obviously roulette makes a ton of money every year.
JACK
Indeed. So obviously people do enjoy that. But I think it may be different types. Or at least, scratching a different itch. But so long as there’s a little bit of luck, and a little bit of strategy, that seems to be a happy medium for most. And I think game balance is intrinsically tied into that concept.
DC
I would say two games I feel deal with that fairly well: Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Lords of Waterdeep. Because, with Valeria: Card Kingdoms, you have the dice that get rolled so people are going to get different resources. You don’t get as resource-screwed as you would be in Catan because you take the numbers on each of the dice and the sum. And in Lords of Waterdeep, it’s much more strategic based, but it’s also a little bit of luck with what quests might get drawn, or what lord you get in the beginning, or the Intrigue cards you might get, or things like that. To me, though, I will play a game that’s unbalanced—more heavily toward luck than strategy, because with luck, anyone can win. With strategy, only Jack wins.
JACK
[laughter] Dirty lies! Well, here’s an important part of that too—I do like being competitive, or forming strategies. But if I play almost a completely luck-based game, and that’s just kind of obvious right there—it takes that load off. And sometimes I want something different, and I want to just, like, “Let’s just see what happens”. And I can lose, and it’s no fault of my own, and that’s a lot nicer—
SCOTT
It’s very freeing!
JACK
Yeah, instead of like, “three turns ago, if I would have done that, I would have absolutely won, but now I’m in last place”—that hurts a little bit more! So I think there’s absolutely room for both, both random and not, as well as balanced and not. Though I definitely, for the most part, when I do play traditional card games, I think I do prefer a little more balance and strategy in that style. Because it is, once again, more mechanics-heavy.
SCOTT
One last thing: what sort of advice would you have to offer for someone who is trying to make a new game, whether it be a board game or a card game?
JACK
That is a difficult question. Because ten or fifteen years ago, the market was incredibly smaller than it is now. Don’t go in expecting to get rich, because you could make an absolutely wonderful game, but sadly, a huge part of it is making yourself visible, and marketing yourself, and that’s just honestly what it is. There’s too many games in the market. Now, that said, make a game that you enjoy. You know, everyone has their own personal tastes. And if you do that, and it’s honestly good, and everyone around you likes it, you’d have a much higher chance, I’d argue, of breaking through and maybe making a livelihood out of it, or at least distributing it.
DC
Basically, there’s not that many games that have that long-term shelf visibility. Like, basically, it’s out for a season, it’s the hotness of the month or two, and unless you’re like a Catan or a Lords of Waterdeep, or at the very, very least a Lanterns, you’re just forgotten. And Lanterns is kind of a “ehhh” sort of thing. You just forget it, because there is just a huge flood of games. But there is something to be said about making a game that you like. But if you want to make a game that you want to have sell, that you want to have make you money, then look at things like Scythe or look at things like Exploding Kittens. Part of it is, yeah, the mechanics—say, for Scythe, the mechanics are very solid, and it had a lot of replayability, because of the different mats and strategies that each faction would have based on the play method they got. But also, say, for Exploding Kittens, that’s all about marketing. So you can either market your game to heck, and just make it off the marketing strategy, or come up with something that is really, really solid. But, of course, [Scythe author Jamey] Stegmaier, he’s had a long list of games before that that were very successful, but I think that Scythe was the break out, a little bit.
SCOTT
And I think that kind of underscores, maybe, one of the differences between a traditional card game and a board game, because with board games you obviously have to get a lot more into the business side of things, and worry about things like marketing and that sort of thing, whereas with a traditional card game, it’s all memetic. You just have to make something that’s good enough that other people want to start playing it.
JACK
Yeah. And if you were to make a new card game—and this is run into a whole lot with non-traditional card games and board games as well—it’s a lot easier to sell something that’s a lot lighter. Like a party game, and something that’s very social. And so, if it’s the sort of game that everyone can approach, and you can bring it out at a party, just, by that nature, it will spread a lot easier. Now, that doesn’t make it a better game, but it’s a harder sell, regardless of the game type, if it’s a little bit heavier. If you’ve got to explain the rules for 20 or 30 minutes, then it could be the best game, but it’s hard to put legs on it.
SCOTT
Which, with traditional card games, you do run into that. There’s games like Skat, which are considered to the best games ever created, but the rules for them fill up six pages. And you can spend your whole lifetime mastering that one game.
JACK
Yeah, it’s kind of a shame, but that’s something you have to be aware of if you’re making any type of game, I feel.
SCOTT
Well, thank you guys for sharing your opinions!
DC
You’re very welcome!
JACK
Thank you!
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Solo

Solo is a trick-taking game for four players.  Rather than higher bids simply increasing the number of tricks to be taken, as is common in trick-taking games, in Solo, the bids also affect whether or not a player will have a partner for that hand.

Solo is an offshoot of the French game Manille. It is sometimes referred to as Spanish Solo due to its former popularity in Spain and Latin America. This also helps distinguish it from the similarly-named Solo Whist and Six-Bid Solo, the latter of which is more similar to Skat.

Object of Solo

The object of Solo is to accurately judge the strength of your hand, and use this information to secure a contract which you can then fulfill.

Setup

Solo is played with a 32-card deck. To create such a thing, set aside all the 2s through 6s from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll be left with 7s through aces in each of the four suits. You’ll also want something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.

Prior to the first hand, everyone should mutually agree on one suit that serves as the color. This suit is usually clubs, but it is essentially arbitrary, and it makes no real difference which suit is color. Bids made committing to make this suit trump will be ranked higher than an equivalent bid in one of the other suits.

Shuffle and deal out the entire pack. Each player will receive eight cards.

Card ranking

Solo uses a somewhat idiosyncratic card ranking for the trump suit. First, the two black queens are always trumps, regardless of what the actual trump suit is. The Q♣ is the highest trump, and the Q♠ the third-highest trump. Wedged between the two queens is the 7 of trumps. The rest of the cards rank in their usual order, with the ace just below the Q♠. Therefore, the full ranking of a red trump suit is (high) Q♣, 7, Q♠, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 (low). A black trump suit ranks exactly the same, although since its queen is elevated above its usual position, there is no queen that ranks between the king and jack.

Non-trump suits rank in their usual order, including the 7 in its typical position as the lowest-ranking card of the suit. For a red non-trump suit, the full ranking is (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). In a black non-trump suit, the queen is missing (having been moved instead to the trump suit), and thus ranks as (high) A, K, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

Types of games

Before a hand can be played, the players must decide which type of game to play. This is done through a bidding process, with the winner becoming the declarer and selecting which type of game is to be played. The types of games that are available, ranked from lowest to highest, are:

  1. Simple game in suit (2 points): The declarer names one of the three suits that are not in color as the trump suit. They then name any one of the four aces. Whoever holds that ace becomes the declarer’s partner for that hand. (Note that the partner does not immediately reveal themselves; they do so by simply playing the ace at an appropriate time during the hand.) The partners commit to capturing at least five tricks between the two of them.
  2. Simple game in color (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except the trump suit is the suit that is in color.
  3. Solo in suit (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except there is no partner. The declarer must collect five or more tricks all by themselves.
  4. Solo in color (8 points): The same as a solo in suit, but with the suit in color as trump.
  5. Tout in suit (16 points): The declarer names as trump one of the three suits not in color. They must collect all eight tricks without the assistance of a partner.
  6. Tout in color (32 points): The same as a tout in suit, but the suit in color is trump.

Bidding

Solo uses a similar one-on-one bidding style to that of Skat. Bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. If they do not wish to bid, they may pass. If they have a bid they want to make, they say “I ask.” The player to their left can then “bid” against them by inquiring as to the first player’s bid. As the lowest bid is a simple game in suit, the player is assumed to have bid at least this high, so the second player asks “Is it in color?” If the first player responds that it is, the second may then ask “Is it a solo?” If the first player responds in the affirmative, they continue with “Is it a solo in color?” and so on.

When the first player does not want to keep bidding higher, or should it become evident that they are willing to bid higher than the second player is comfortable with going, either player may pass. If the second player passed, then the third player may continue the questioning where the second left off. If the first player passes, the second player is committed to making a bid of at least the same rank that the first player passed on, and they are questioned about it by the third player. Bidding concludes with the surviving player bidding against the dealer. Whichever player emerges from this bid victorious becomes the declarer. They may name any game and trump they like, so long as it ranked at least as high as their winning bid (i.e. they may name a higher game than they bid).

Additional rules on bidding

If all four players pass, the player holding the Q♣ must reveal it, and immediately becomes the declarer in a simple game. They must then choose a trump suit (with the suit they choose of course deciding whether the game is in color or not).

A player holding both black queens can never pass. Instead, they must always make a bid of at least solo in suit.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, contributes one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; if they cannot, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever plays the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. That player then leads to the next trick.

It should be noted that the black queens are part of the trump suit and not part of the suit printed on the card. That means that if diamonds are trump, someone leads clubs, and you have the Q♣ in addition to some other clubs, you cannot play the queen! Instead, you have to play one of your other clubs. Playing the Q♣ would be playing a trump card, the same as playing a diamond. That can only be done if you hold no other cards of the suit led.

Once all eight tricks are played, the hand is scored. If the declarer successfully won the required number of tricks required, they score the point value of the game. If they did not, the point value of the game is deducted from their score. In a simple game, the declarer’s partner scores the same amount that the declarer does.

Game play continues until a previously-agreed-to number of hands is played, or one or more players exceeds a certain point threshold. Whoever has the highest score at that point is the winner.

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Schafkopf

Schafkopf is a trick-taking game for three players. Sometimes called the national game of Bavaria, it has been played throughout southern Germany for at least 200 years. Schafkopf is one of the ancestors of Skat, and the two share quite a lot in common.

There are two theories for why the game is named Schafkopf, which translates to “sheep’s head”. One is that originally the score was kept by making tally marks on a sheet of paper in such a way that, when the game was finished, the marks made the outline of a sheep’s head. Another is that the name is really a corruption of Schaffkopf, meaning the top of a barrel. A barrel often made a convenient card table in the early days of the game.

Because Schafkopf has been in play for such a long time, dozens of variations of it have been developed over time. Many of these rival Skat in complexity and capacity for skillful play. We’ve chosen one of the simpler variants to describe here.

Object of Schafkopf

The object of Schafkopf for the declarer is to collect at least 61 points in tricks. For the defenders, the object is to stop the declarer from doing so.

Setup

Schafkopf uses the 32-card deck common to German card games. To make an equivalent deck from the international standard 52-card deck, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all of the 2s through 6s. What will remain is a deck with aces through 7s in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with, like the venerable pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal out the whole pack according to the following order: a set of three cards to each player, two face down to the center of the table, a set of four cards to each player, then a set of three cards to each player. Each player will have ten cards, with the two-face down cards forming a widow. (This is the same dealing procedure used in Skat, by the way.)

Card ranking

Schafkopf uses a highly unorthodox card ranking. First off, 10s are ranked above the king, just below the ace. Secondly, all queens and jacks are not considered to be part of their own suit, but are considered trumps! Queens and jacks rank in the following order: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low). Lastly, all of the diamonds are considered trumps, too, ranking in order just below the J♦.

Taken altogether, that means that the rank of cards in spades, hearts, and clubs is (high) A, 10, K, 9, 8, 7 (low). The full rank of the trump suit is (high) Q♣, Q♠, Q♥, Q♦, J♣, J♠, J♥, J♦, A♦, 10♦, K♦, 9♦, 8♦, 7♦ (low). Got all that?

Game play

Picking up the widow

The first order of business is determining who will take the widow. The player to the dealer’s left has the first opportunity to do so, or they may pass. If the first player passes, the next player to the left can choose to pick it up. If they, too, refuse, the dealer gets the last chance at picking up the widow. Should the dealer decline to take the widow, the hand is played “least“, as described in “Playing least” below.

If a player does decide to take the widow, they become the declarer, and their two opponents become the defenders. The declarer adds the two cards from the widow to their hand, then discards two cards, face down. This restores their hand to ten cards.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick, until all three have played. Players follow suit if they are able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. Whichever player played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. They collect the cards from the trick, placing them in a won-tricks pile in front of them. They then lead to the next trick.

It is important to remember that the queens and jacks are trumps and not part of the suit printed on the card. For example, if a spade is led, playing the Q♠ is not following suit, it is trumping!

Scoring

After all ten tricks have been played, the declarer totals up the value of the cards they took in tricks, as follows:

  • Aces: eleven points each
  • 10s: ten points each
  • Kings: four points each
  • Queens: three points each
  • Jacks: two points each

None of the other cards have any value.

If the declarer successfully captured at least 61 points in tricks, they win the hand, and score two victory points. Should the declarer have collected 91 or more points, this is called a schneider, and they score four victory points. If they successfully captured all 120 points available, i.e. they captured every trick, it is called a schwarz, and they score six victory points.

Likewise, if the declarer collects 60 points or less, they lose two victory points. If they are schneidered (capture 30 points or less), they lose four victory points, and if they are schwarzed (capture 0 points), they lose six victory points.

Playing least

If all three players pass on taking the widow, the hand is played least. All three players play alone, with a goal of taking the fewest points possible. Whichever player takes the fewest points scores two victory points. If they captured 0 points, they score four victory points.

If two players tie, whichever one less recently took a trick wins and gets the two points. In a three-way tie, the dealer wins. In the event that one player takes all 120 points (meaning the other two tie at 0), that player loses four victory points and the other players do not score.

Ending the game

The game ends when a pre-specified number of deals take place. (For the sake of fairness, every player should have dealt an equal number of times.) Whoever has the highest score at this point is the winner.

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