Oh Hell!

Oh Hell! is, essentially, an amped-up, non-partnership version of Spades for three to seven players. Unlike in most trick-taking games (with the exception of Spades), collecting extra tricks beyond that which you’ve bid is a bad thing. Oh Hell! goes one step further and requires one to bid exactly right to avoid losing points. Presumably “Oh Hell!” is the exclamation one makes when collecting an overtrick.

Object of Oh Hell!

The object of Oh Hell! is to score points by exactly predicting the number of tricks you will take.

Setup

Oh Hell! requires one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. You could use something other than Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, but why would you?

The starting hand size varies by number of players:

  • For three to five players—ten cards
  • For six players—eight cards
  • For seven players—seven cards

The deck stub is placed in the center of the table, and the top card is turned up. The suit of this card becomes the trump suit for the hand. The remainder of the stub takes no part in game play.

Game play

Prior to the play of the hand, bidding takes place. Players examine their hand and, starting with the player to the left of the dealer and going clockwise, declare the number of tricks they will be attempting to take. A bid of zero is acceptable. The dealer, who bids last, is compelled to bid sufficiently high enough that the total value of all the bids in that hand exceeds the starting hand size for that hand (e.g. with an eight-card hand, the total of all bids, including the dealer’s, must equal at least nine). This is to ensure that at least one person will not be able to fulfill their bid.

The player to the left of the dealer plays first, leading any card. Players must follow suit if possible; if they cannot, they may play any card, including a trump. Tricks are won by the player who played the highest card of the suit led, or if the trick contains a trump, the highest trump. Collected tricks are not added to the player’s hand, but are placed face-down in a won-tricks pile in front of the player, with succeeding tricks placed at right angles to one another to allow them to be counted later.

At the end of the hand, the score is tallied. Any player who successfully collected exactly the number of tricks that they bid scores ten points for each trick bid (or ten points for a winning bid of zero). All other players lose ten points for the number of tricks they are short or long (for example, if a player bid five tricks and collected three, they would score –20).

On each succeeding hand, the number of cards dealt is reduced by one, until a one-card hand is dealt. Thereafter, the starting hand size increases by one on each hand, until the number of cards dealt equals the number dealt on the first hand. The player with the highest score—even if it’s negative!—after this hand is the winner. In case of a tie, play another one-card hand as a tiebreaker.

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