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.

See also

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East–West

East-West card game layoutEast–West is a poker game for two players. Much like Pai Gow Poker or Chinese Poker, the challenge in the game is placing cards you receive into one of three hands. East–West has two major differences with those games, though. First, there is one community card that you share with your opponent. Second, there is no gambling in this game at all!

East–West was created by German author Reiner Knizia. It was first published in German, in his 1995 Wild West-themed compendium of family-oriented poker games, Kartenspiele im Wilden Westen. The book was translated to English and published in 2007 as Blazing Aces! A Fistful of Family Card Games.

Object of East–West

The object of East–West is to strategically place cards drawn from the stock into one of three poker hands. The ultimate goal is to win two out of the three hands.

Setup

East–West was created to be played with a German deck of cards. To make an equivalent pack from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck containing aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all.

Both players should sit on the same side of the table. One player will play the left or “West” side of the board, while the other will play the right or “East” side.

Shuffle and deal three cards, face up, in a vertical line. These three cards are the board cards. Place the deck stub above the uppermost board card, forming the stock.

Game play

The nondealer goes first. They draw a card from the stock and place it next to any one of the three board cards, on their designated side. The dealer goes next, doing the same thing, placing their card on the opposite side. Players continue alternating in this way, drawing cards and placing them.

Each player thus builds three poker hands. Each hand consists of one of the board cards and the other cards on that row on their side. A player may only place cards on their side, not on their opponent’s. Once a player has placed four cards on a row, the hand is complete (making a five-card hand, including the board card) and no more cards may be added to it.

After both players have completed all three hands, players compare each hand with their opponent’s on the same row. Whichever player wins two out of the three hands wins the game.

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Fünfzehnern (Fifteens)

Fünfzehnern, also known in English as Fifteens, is a trick-taking game for three or four players. Unlike most other trick-taking games, Fünfzehnern doesn’t allow you to lead just any old card. Instead, you have to keep leading cards of the suit you first won the lead with, as long as you have them!

Fünfzehnern is an old German game. Descriptions of it date back to at least the late 1800s.

Object of Fünfzehnern

The object of Fünfzehnern is to take in tricks as many cards ranked 10 and above as possible. The ultimate goal of this is to achieve a hand score of fifteen points or better.

Setup

Fünfzehnern is played with the same pack used to play Piquet. To make such a pack from a set of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck of cards with aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all. If playing with three players, remove one of the four suits entirely, giving you a 24-card deck. You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works fine, but Fünfzehnern is traditionally managed with a “hard-score” method (chips or counters are paid into and taken from a central pool).

Shuffle and deal eight cards to each player, using the entire deck.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. All other players must play a card of the same suit, if possible. Otherwise, they may play any card. Once everyone’s played, the person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That person takes the cards that made up the trick and stacks them into a face-down won-tricks pile. That player then leads to the second trick.

When a player takes the right to lead from another player, they must continue to lead with cards of the suit they won the lead in. Only when they run out of cards of that suit can they change to a different suit. The only exception is if they have a card of a different suit which they know is unbeatable (i.e. because it is an ace, or because all the cards of that suit that would outrank it have been played).

For example, Riley leads hearts, and Marty wins the trick. Marty may now only play hearts as long as he has them. He holds the A♠, though, so he can also lead this, as he knows it is unbeatable. As soon as he runs out of hearts, he can lead to whatever suit he pleases. At this point, if Riley manages to beat Marty on a trick that he led diamonds to, Riley must continue to lead diamonds until he runs out of them.

Forcing (zwang)

Holding both a king and queen of the same suit is called a force, or zwang. If the ace of that suit has yet to be played, the player may lead the queen and declare “zwang“. The player holding the ace of that suit is then compelled to play it on that trick. This, of course, wins the trick, but the forcing player now knows the king they hold is the highest unplayed card of that suit.

Scoring

When all eight tricks have been played, each player totals up the values of the cards in their won-tricks pile:

  • Aces: five points each.
  • Kings: four points each.
  • Queens: three points each.
  • Jacks: two points each.
  • Tens: one point each.

9s, 8s, and 7s have no point value.

After each player arrives at a point value, they subtract fifteen from it. The resulting number is their score for the hand. (If using the hard-score method, take one chip from the pot for each point taken above fifteen, and pay into the pot one chip for each point taken below fifteen.)

Game play continues until a predetermined time or number of hands.

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Schwimmen

A swimmerSchwimmen, also known as Thirty-One (no relation to the other game called Thirty-One that we’ve covered), is a member of the Commerce family of card games. It can be played with two to eight players. As with other games in that group, the game revolves around exchanging cards from your hand with cards on the table. Though known worldwide, it is most popular in Germany and western Austria.

Object of Schwimmen

The object of Schwimmen is to form the hand with the highest point value by exchanging cards from the table with those from your hand.

Setup

Schwimmen uses the 32-card deck common to many German games. Starting from a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 2s through 6s, leaving 7s through aces in each of the four suits. Score is kept using tokens, such as chips. Give each player an equal number—three works well.

Shuffle and deal each player three cards. Then deal three cards, face down, to the center of the table. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

Aces are worth eleven points, face cards are worth ten, and all others their face value. Suits rank (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low), the same order as in Skat.

Prior to the start of actual play, the dealer looks at their hand and decides whether they want to keep it. If they do, the cards on the table are simply flipped face-up. If not, the dealer discards their original hand, takes the three face-down table cards as their hand, then turns their old hand face up on the table.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. On their turn, a player may exchange one card from their hand with one on the table. If a player greatly dislikes their hand, they may elect to exchange all three cards. It is not allowed to keep one card and exchange the other two, however; it’s one or all. A player may also pass if they do not like any of the cards on the board.

The turn then passes to the left. This continues until one player is satisfied with the value of their hand. They then close the hand (equivalent to knocking in many other card games). Each of the closer’s opponents gets one last turn, and the hand ends when the turn to play again reaches the closer.

If an entire orbit around the table is made with every player passing, the dealer discards the three board cards. They then deal three new board cards from the stock.

Special combinations

There are two special combinations in Schwimmen:

  • Feuer: Three aces. Such a hand is worth 32 points. (Feuer is German for fire.)
  • Schnauz: A hand, all in the same suit, with a value of exactly 31 points. This can only be achieved by holding an ace and two of the ten-point cards (the face cards and the 10).

When a player finds themselves with a special combination, whether because it was dealt to them or because they exchanged to get it, they must reveal it immediately. The hand ends at that point. (Because the hand was not closed, the other players do not get another turn.)

Scoring

After a hand ends, each player calculates their score. The hand score, in most cases, is the value of all of the cards of its highest-scoring suit. For example, a hand of A♠-K♦-7♥ would score eleven. This is because the player holds three one-card suits, and the spade is the highest-scoring. However, a hand composed of A♠-K♦-7♦ would score seventeen, because the diamonds combine to outscore the lone spade.

There are a few exceptions to this scoring method. Two of these are the special combinations described above. A third is that three-of-a-kind always scores 30½, no matter what rank it is.

If a player wins with a Feuer, then each of their opponents loses one chip. Otherwise, just the player holding the lowest point total loses one chip. If there is a tie for lowest, it is broken by the suit of the player’s scoring cards. Ranks of three-of-a-kinds are broken by the rank of the three-of-a-kind. If there is still an unresolved tie, then both players lose a chip.

Ending the game

The deal passes to the left, and another hand is played. Players will continue losing chips as further hands are played. When a player loses all of their chips, they are said to be schwimmen (German for swimming). A schwimmen player can continue playing, but if they lose again, they are eliminated.

Game play continues until all of the players but one are eliminated. The sole remaining player is the winner. (If the last two players are tied on a hand while they are both schwimmen, play another hand as a tiebreaker.)

See also

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Skat

Skat is a three-handed trick-taking game, derived from another German game, Schafskopf. Skat originated in Altenberg, Germany around the year 1810. Skat then spread throughout the country, and is now described as the national card game of Germany.

Skat is universally acclaimed as one of the best card games for three players. Unusual among card games, it was specifically created to be played by three, rather than being an adaptation of a game created for two or four. Nevertheless, Skat can be played by four, though only three play at any given time; in the four-player game, each player sits out on their turn to deal.

Object of Skat

The object of Skat is to accurately judge the possibilities of one’s hand, select a game type that plays to its strengths, and then fulfill the resulting contract in order to score points. Depending on the game chosen, fulfilling the contract may mean taking 61 card points, taking the least number of tricks, or taking no tricks at all.

Setup

Skat is played with a 32-card pack common to many German games. Starting from a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 2s through 6s, leaving 7s through aces in each of the four suits. You will also need pencil and paper to keep score with.

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 called the skat.

Card ranking

Skat uses a somewhat complex card ranking when there is a trump suit. The 10 ranks above the king and below the ace. Complicating matters, all four jacks are part of the trump suit, ranking above the ace, and they always rank in the same order regardless of which suit is trump. The complete ranking of the trump suit is (high) J♣, J♠, J♥, J♦, A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low). In the non-trump suits, the ranking is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low). It is important to note that jacks are not considered part of their native suits. For example, if diamonds are led, playing the J♦ would not be following suit unless diamonds are the trump suit.

In hands where there is no trump suit (those played as a null game, as described below), cards rank in their usual order, with ace high: (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left is the most senior player in the game and is called forehand. The player to forehand’s left is called middlehand, and the player to the middlehand’s left (who is the dealer in a three-player game and sitting to the right of the dealer in a four-player game) is called rearhand or endhand.

Bidding

Skat uses an unusual bidding system where only two plays bid against each other at once. Bidding is opened by middlehand, who, rather than stating a trump suit or type of game that they wish to play, states a point value of at least eighteen. If they win the bidding, they must choose a game type that puts at least that point value at stake. The forehand then has the option to agree to play to these stakes by saying “yes” or pass. If forehand says “yes”, the middlehand must name a higher point value (traditionally the bid is raised by two each time). This continues until either the forehand or middlehand passes. The player that did not pass then completes the same procedure with rearhand, who must name a value higher than the last bid (if any) placed by middlehand or pass.

The player who successfully won the bidding becomes the declarer and must now select a game to play. The other two players become the defenders. If all players pass but the forehand, they may become the declarer with a bid of eighteen. If not, they may pass as well, and a Ramsch game is declared (see below).

Selecting a game

After a declarer has been determined, they must decide on which game to play. This is where the main opportunity for strategic play is to be found in Skat; an experienced player can mix and match a game type and multipliers to maximize the amount their hand can score.

There are two basic types of games: hand games and skat games. A hand game is played with just the cards in the declarer’s hand. In a skat game, the declarer picks up the two cards in the skat, then discards two cards from the hand. In both cases, the two cards in the skat count toward the declarer at the end of the hand, as if they had been captured in tricks.

The declarer must choose a game with a value that meets the amount that was bid. In most cases, this is fairly straightforward. Note, however, that the value of a game can change after it is declared, as described below. If the game’s value ends up falling below the bid made, then it is counted as a loss for the declarer, even if they manage to fulfill the contract.

Matadors

In suit and grand games, the value of the game depends on how many matadors the declarer is with or against. A matador is each card in an unbroken sequence of the highest trumps. If the declarer holds the J♣, they are with one matador; if they hold J♣-J♠, they are with two matadors, and so on. Each card is counted until one of the trumps is missing (because it is found in one of the opponents’ hands).

If the declarer does not hold the J♣, they are against at least one matador. In this case, the number of missing trumps between the J♣ and the declarer’s highest trump is counted. For example, if the highest trump the declarer held was the J♥, they would be against two matadors (the J♣ and J♠).

Because the number of matadors a player has affects the value of the game, finding matadors in the skat (which will remain unknown until the end of a hand in a hand game) can radically change the value of a game. The number of matadors a player holds may also be affected by which suit is chosen as trump, of course.

Suit games

In a suit game, the declarer chooses which suit they wish to become trumps. To make the contract, the declarer must take at least 61 card points in tricks.

The value of the game is determined by multiplying the base rate with the game level or multiplier. The base rate of the game depends on which suit is chosen as trump:

  • Diamonds: nine points.
  • Hearts: ten points.
  • Spades: eleven points.
  • Clubs: twelve points.

The multiplier is determined by taking the number of matadors into consideration, as well as any special circumstances or declarations that the player chooses to make. Note that the points are cumulative and will add all of the points above it as well; declaring schwarz also adds the points for undeclared schwarz, declared schneider, and so on. This is the possible multiplier list for a hand suit game:

  1. Matadors: +1 for each matador the declarer is with or against.
  2. Game: +1 for being the declarer.
  3. Hand: +1 for not using the skat. (Every hand game reaches at least this point in the list.)
  4. Schneider: +1 for either the declarers or the defenders scoring 30 or more points in tricks. (Note that if the defenders schneider the declarer, this multiplier will increase the amount of points the declarer loses.)
  5. Schneider announced: +1 for the declarer announcing before play begins that they will schneider the defenders.
  6. Schwarz: +1 for either the declarers or the defenders taking every trick. (As with schneider, if the defenders pull this off, they will increase the amount of points the defender loses.)
  7. Schwarz announced: +1 for the declarer announcing before play begins that they will schwarz the defenders.
  8. Open: The declarer plays with their hand exposed and must schwarz the defenders.

When the game is declared, the theoretical value of the game is typically announced at the time. For example, if the declarer is with three matadors, wishes to play a hand game of spades, and intends to schneider the defenders, it would be stated like this: “With three, game four, hand five, schneider six, schenider announced seven, times spades [eleven points] is 77”.

Again, since the player does not know the composition of the skat, the actual value of the game may change if there are further matadors in the skat. It may also be increased if the declarer schneiders or schwarzes the defenders without declaring it ahead of time.

For a skat suit game, fewer multipliers are possible:

  1. matadors (+1 for each)
  2. game
  3. schneider
  4. schwarz

Grand games

In a grand game, the only trumps are the four jacks. Other than this, the game is played exactly the same as a suit game. The game value is calculated the same way, but with a base rate of 24.

Null games

In a null game, there are no trumps at all, and the declarer must lose every trick. If the declarer takes a trick at any point in the hand, play is stopped and it is scored as a loss for the declarer. A null skat game is always worth 23 points and a null hand game is worth 35 points.

There is also the option to play null ouvert. This is the same as a null game, but the declarer plays with their hand exposed. A null ouvert skat game is worth 46 points, and a null ouvert hand game is worth 59 points.

The point values for null games seem kind of weird, but they were specifically chosen to avoid duplicating the point values for other bids. The declarer does not have the option to choose a null game if the game would not meet the amount bid.

Ramsch

A declarer cannot choose Ramsch; it is only played when all players pass in bidding. In Ramsch, all players play alone, simply trying to collect the least number of points possible. The four jacks are the only trumps.

Play of the hand

Forehand leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, plays a card of the same suit, if possible, or any other card if they don’t hold a card of the suit led. The player who contributed the highest trump to the trick, or if nobody played any trumps, the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. Remember: In suit and grand games, jacks belong to the trump suit, not the suit printed on the card! Playing the J♣ to a club trick is not following suit unless clubs are trumps! (In grand and Ramsch games, the four jacks form a suit unto themselves.)

Players do not add won tricks to their hand, but instead to a won-tricks pile in front of each player. (In suit and grand games, the defenders may share a common won-trick pile if desired.) The individual player who won the last trick leads to the next one.

Scoring

After all ten tricks have been played, or the declarer takes a trick in a null game, the hand ends and is scored.

Scoring suit and grand games

The skat is turned up, noting any matadors included in it. The actual value of the game is then calculated, incorporating the revised number of matadors and any undeclared schneiders or schwarzes that occurred during the play of the hand. If the actual value of the game was less than what the declarer bid, it is determined what the lowest value of that game possible that would have exceeded the bid. The declarer loses twice that amount of points.

If the game exceeds the bid, the card points the declarer took in, plus the two cards in the skat, are totaled, using the following values:

  • Jacks: two card points
  • Aces: eleven card points
  • 10s: ten card points
  • Kings: four card points
  • Queens: three card points
  • 9s, 8s, 7s: no value

These card points are only used to determine whether the declarer made their contract or not. They do not affect the score in any way.

The declarer broke their contract if any of the following conditions are met:

  • The actual value of the game was less than the bid
  • They failed to collect 61 card points during the hand
  • They did not schneider an opponent when schneider was announced
  • They did not schwarz an opponent when schwarz was announced

If a player fulfills their contract, they score (to the game score) the value of the game they just played. If they broke contract, they lose twice the value of the game played.

Scoring null games

Scoring null games is fairly simple. If the declarer took no tricks, they score the value of the game. If they took a trick, they lose twice the value of the game.

Scoring Ramsch

Each player calculates the value of card points in their hand according to the values used when scoring suit and grand games. The player who collected the fewest card points scores ten game points. If they took no tricks during the hand, not even cards worth zero, they score 20 points.

If two players tie for least points collected, whichever one least recently took a trick wins the hand and scores the ten points. If all three players tie, forehand wins the hand. If one player takes all the tricks, that player scores –30 and the other two players score nothing.

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.

See also

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Mate

Mate is an obscure two-player game that was originally created in Germany. Like Gops, it is a game with a heavy emphasis on strategy. Unlike Gops, however, which eliminates luck by removing all but a small element of randomness from the game play, Mate mitigates the naturally-occurring randomness from the deal of the hands by requiring players to play each deal twice, swapping hands with their opponent after the first playthrough.

Mate appears to have first been published in a German-language pamphlet called “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (in English, “Two New War Games!”) published in Hanover in 1915 by one G. Capellen, apparently the inventor of the game. It remained relatively unknown until Sid Sackson, an avid game collector and author best known for creating the board game Acquire, purchased a copy of “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!”, despite knowing little German at the time. Sackson was quite taken by the game, and later spread it to a wider audience by including it in his 1969 book A Gamut of Games. Sackson theorized that “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (and therefore, Mate) never took off because of the concept of war games simply didn’t appeal to the populace of a country engaged in World War I when the booklet was published.

Object of Mate

The object of Mate is to force an opponent to be unable to play a card matching the card led in suit or rank, but allowing as many turns to pass as possible before then.

Setup

Mate is played with a stripped pack of only 20 cards. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the jacks, 9s, 8s, and 6s through 2s, leaving a deck composed of A, K, Q, 10, 7 in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to score with, such as pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal the whole pack to both players, five at a time. Each player will have a hand of ten cards.

Card ranking

Mate more or less follows the standard card ranking, except for 10s, which rank between aces and kings. Aces are high. Therefore, the full rank of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 7 (low). The suits also rank relative to one another: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low).

Game play

Unlike most two-player games, the dealer gets the first move. They begin by deciding whether not they wish to foreplace (i.e. discard) a card. If so, they place it face-down in front of them. The non-dealer then has the option to foreplace a card. Foreplacing a card increases the score if the player wins the hand (see below).

The dealer then leads the first card. The non-dealer must then respond by playing a card of the same suit, if possible. If they cannot, they must play a card of the same rank as the card led. These two cards constitute one move. The higher-ranked card wins the move; if both cards were of the same rank, the card of the higher suit wins. Whoever played the higher card then leads to the second move.

Game play continues in this fashion, with each player placing their cards to separate face-up piles in front of them, being careful not to mix the cards between the hands. If a player is at any time unable to follow the lead in suit or rank, the leader of that move is said to have given mate to their opponent. The player giving mate scores the value of the card they played to give mate, multiplied by one for each move played (e.g. a mate on the fifth move would score the value of the mating card times five). If a player foreplaced a card, this foreplacement is counted as move one for that player, so the number of moves is effectively increased by one.

The values of the cards for scoring is:

  • Ace: eleven.
  • Ten: ten.
  • King: four.
  • Queen: three.
  • Seven: seven.

So for example, if a player gave mate with a queen in the fifth move, they would score 3 × 5 = 15 points. If they foreplaced a card, this would be counted as the sixth move, so they would score 3 × 6 = 18 points.

In the case where one player foreplaced and the other did not, the player who foreplaced is considered to play the same card to both the ninth and tenth moves. If this card gives mate to the opponent, it is called an overmate and scores double. An overmate with an ace is the highest possible score for one game: 11 (for the ace) × 11 (for the tenth move, plus one through foreplacement) × 2 (for the overmate) = 242.

If both players manage to play out the entirety of their hands without either player being mated, it is considered a draw. Neither player scores in this situation.

After the game, the two piles of cards are swapped. The same hands are then played again, but with each player playing the hand that previously belonged to their opponent. The original non-dealer leads off. This pair of games played with the same hands is called a round.

After completing the first round, the original non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals fresh hands to each player. These hands are used to play a second round. Two rounds make up one match; the winner of the match is the player with the higher score after its conclusion.

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Fipsen

Fipsen is a four-player card game with a lot of similarities to Nap. Fipsen is played most in the area around Prisdorf, a small town in the north of Germany, where it is often played as a side game during Skat tournaments. Dating back to at least the 1920s, the game appears to have declined in popularity over time; it is now mostly played by older players.

Object of Fipsen

The object of Fipsen is to accurately judge the number of tricks you will take in order to make a bid. If you win the bidding, you want to capture at least as many tricks as you bid, and if not, you want to prevent the player who did from doing so.

Setup

Fipsen is played with a special 25-card deck. Starting with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s, as well as all of the diamonds except the 7♦. You’ll be left with 7s through aces in three suits, plus the 7♦.

You’ll also need pencil and paper to keep score with. Traditionally, Fipsen scoresheets are ruled in five columns. The first four columns show the running score for each player. The fifth column is used to record the value of each hand.

Shuffle and deal a batch of three cards to each player, then two face down to the center of the table, then two more to each player. The two face-down cards in the center of the table form the skat. The remaining three cards are set aside and, in most cases, take no part in further game play.

Game play

Bidding

Each hand of Fipsen begins with a round of bidding to determine the trump suit. The lowest bid in Fipsen is Two, which signifies the player’s intention to capture two tricks if allowed to fix the trump suit. A player may also bid Three, which is a bid to win three tricks, and so on up to Five, the highest basic bid. Combined with these, the player may also declare one or more of the following modifiers, each of which double the value of the bid:

  • Hand: To play without using the skat.
  • Ruten: To play with diamonds as trump. Since the only diamond in the deck is the 7♦, this considerably increases the difficulty of the game. The player does not necessarily have to hold the 7♦ to make a bid of Ruten (they may, for example instead hold a lot of high cards in the other suits), but this is a risky play.
  • Durch: To declare that the player will win all five tricks. Note that this does not necessarily imply a bid of Five (one can bid, e.g. Three Durch), but all bids of Five are automatically considered to be bids of Five Durch.

The value of a bid is calculated by the number of tricks (the numerical part of the bid), multiplied by two for each modifier added to it. For example, a bid of Three has a value of three, a bid of Three Hand is valued at six, while a bid of Three Hand Durch would have a value of twelve.

Unlike in most other games, the players do not all participate in the bidding at once. Instead, the first bid goes to the player to the dealer’s left. This player may make any bid, or pass. If they bid, the player to their left (the second player) may make a bid of higher value or pass. The first bidder may then hold, which is making a bid of equal value to the second player’s, or they may bid higher or pass. If the first player does not pass, the second bidder may again raise the bid or pass. This continues, back and forth, until one of the two players pass.

The next player to the left (the third player to the left of the dealer) then has the opportunity to bid higher than the high bidder between the first two players, and those two players continue bidding back and forth until one of them passes. Finally, the dealer bids against the remaining high bidder, and the high bidder between those two players becomes the declarer, with the high bid becoming the contract for the hand. The remaining players become the defenders.

If all four players pass, the hands are discarded and fresh hands are dealt by the same dealer.

After the bidding

After the bidding concludes, if the declarer made any bid other than a Hand bid, they pick up the two cards of the skat and discard two cards face down back to it. The bidder then selects the trump suit. If the player made a Ruten bid, this must be diamonds. Otherwise, it may be any one of the four suits. If the declarer did not make a Ruten bid, but decides at this point to make diamonds trump anyway (usually because the 7♦ was in the skat), the value of the contract is doubled anyway, the same as if they had bid Ruten all along.

Bidding Kieker

There is additional bid named Kieker that can be made under certain circumstances. A player may (but by no means is required to) bid Kieker when they hold no face cards. To verify this, upon making the bid, they reveal their hand to the player to their left. For the purposes of bidding, a Kieker bid has a value of 4½, but for all other purposes it is a bid of Five Durch.

If a player wins the bidding with a Kieker bid, they draw both the skat and the three undealt cards into their hand, then discard five cards. If this failed to materially improve their hand, they may surrender before game play starts. They are charged a penalty of five points, and the next hand is dealt.

Play of the hand

Once a trump suit has been named, the player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, plays a card of the same suit, if possible, or any other card if they don’t hold a card of the suit led. The trick is won by the player who contributed the highest trump to the trick, or if there were no trumps played, the highest card of the suit led.

Won tricks are not added to the hand, but instead discarded. The contents of the tricks won, or the number of tricks won by any of the defenders, are irrelevant.

If the declarer successfully makes their contact, they have the option to call an immediate end to game play and score the hand. They may also decide to play on, but if they do so, this converts the contract to a Durch contract, doubling the stakes and obliging them to take all of the remaining tricks!

If a player under a Durch or Kieker contract loses a trick at any point, game play is halted immediately, as the outcome of the contract is known at that point.

After the hand concludes, the declarer scores the value of their contract if they made it, but they lose twice that many points if they failed to make the contract. For example, a fulfilled contract of Three Ruten would score +6 for the declarer, while it would score –12 if it was broken. A Kieker contract is scored as if it were a Five Durch contract, scoring +10 if fulfilled and –20 if broken.

Game play continues for a previously-determined number of deals, such as eight. Whichever player has the highest score at that point is the winner.

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