Hasenpfeffer is a trick-taking game, based on Euchre, for four players in partnerships. Hasenpfeffer adds a bidding system to determine who gets to choose the trump suit. It also adds a joker as the most powerful trump in the game. However, if you hold the joker, and nobody else bids, you have to, whether you want to or not!
Despite the German name, Hasenpfeffer isn’t from Germany, but instead most likely originates from the Pennsylvania Dutch, much like Euchre itself. While there is a rabbit stew called hasenpfeffer, the name more likely derives from the German idiom “Hase im Pfeffer“, which roughly translates to “in a pickle”. This is particularly appropriate, considering that the player dealt the joker may well find themselves in a pickle because of it!
Object of Hasenpfeffer
The object of Hasenpfeffer is to be the first partnership to score ten or more points. Points are scored by taking tricks and by fulfilling contracts made by bidding.
Hasenpfeffer uses a unique 25-card pack. Fortunately, such a deck is easy to construct from a pack of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Just add one joker and take out all the 2s through the 8s. You’ll be left with a deck with aces through 9s only in each of the four suits, plus the joker, of course.
The players need to be divided into two partnerships, with partners sitting across from one another. The turn of play will alternate between partnerships when going clockwise. You can decide the partnerships by whatever method you agree on—random card draw or just mutual agreement both work.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player. Place the odd, 25th card face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.
As in Euchre, the card ranking in the trump suit is a little different than usual. The trump suit contains two extra cards the other suits do not: the joker, and an extra jack from the suit of the same color as the trump suit. The rank of cards in the trump suit is as follows:
- The joker.
- Right bower. Jack of trumps.
- Left bower. The jack of the suit as the same color as trumps is considered a trump, and is ranked here. (For example, if clubs were trump, the J♣ would be the right bower, and the J♠ would be the left bower.)
- All of the remaining cards, in their usual order, with ace high. (A, K, Q, 10, 9.)
Cards rank in the usual order, ace high, in the non-trump suits (save for the jack serving as the left bower).
The bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. This player may either pass or bid any number of tricks, from one to six, that they think their partnership can take if they get the right to choose the trump suit. The next player to the left, if they wish to bid, must make a higher bid than the preceding player; they may also pass. This continues until all four players have had a chance to bid. The dealer gets the final bid; the bidding does not continue for a second round.
Should all four players pass, the player holding the joker reveals it to the other players. This player is obligated to make a bid of three tricks, which automatically becomes the high bid for the hand. If the joker is the widow card (meaning nobody holds it), the hand is void, and a new hand is dealt by the next dealer.
The side which won the bidding becomes the declarers, and their opponents become the defenders. The high bidder takes the widow card into their hand, declares the trump suit for the hand, then discards one card, face down. The high bid becomes the declarers’ contract for that hand.
Play of the hand
The high bidder leads to the first trick. Each player to the left, in turn, then plays a card. If a player is able to follow suit, they must. Otherwise, they are free to play any card they wish, including a trump. The highest card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a trump is present, in which case the highest trump wins the trick.
When a player wins a trick, they do not add it to the hand. Rather, captured tricks are kept in a shared discard pile in front of one of the partners. Since scoring depends on the number of tricks captured, each trick should be placed onto the pile at right angles, so that the tricks can be easily separated after the hand. Whichever player wins a trick leads to the next one.
After all six tricks have been played, the hand is scored. If the declarers managed to capture a number of tricks equal to or greater than stipulated by their contract, they score one point per trick collected. If they do not, they lose points equal to the contract. For example, a partnership has a contract of four. If they take five tricks, they score five points. If they take three, they score –4.
Regardless of whether the declarers make their contract or not, the defenders always score one point for each trick they take.
Game play continues until one partnership reaches a score of ten or better. That team is the winner. If both partnerships reach a score of ten on the same hand, the declarers for that hand win the game. This makes it impossible to win a game while defending, unless the declarers fail to make their contract.