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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