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[Review] Trump, Tricks, Game!

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Joined: 03/23/2011

When I first received Trump, Tricks, Game! (TTG) (Phalanx and Mayfair Games, 2005 - Gunter Burkhardt), I must admit that I was surprised. Phalanx isn't known for making trick-taking card games, as they produce many historically-minded board games. And the name of the game sounded a bit wacky, so I wasn't sure what to expect. A cursory reading of the rules didn't allay my fears; TTG sounded like a "lite" version of Control Nut, which I already consider a light game.

But after my first game, I was hooked. The idea of TTG, the mechanic whereby the cards players win are used in their next hand, works REALLY well. The game is fairly light and much of the overall strategy becomes obvious soon on. Yet for some reason, the game is a lot of fun to play. I think much of that is because gameplay isvery simple, yet offers the same satisfaction as other card games in the genre, such as Rook or Hearts. All those I've played the game with have enjoyed the game, especially those who are fans of trick-taking games.

The deck of cards is made up of four suits (green wild boar, red bear, brown mouflon, and blue wolf), each numbered one through twelve. The five through nine cards of each suit have one to three footprints on them. A deck of four trick cards are shuffled and placed upright on the table, to show the trump color of four rounds of the game. The dealer shuffles the deck and deals it out completely to the players. The first round then begins.

Whoever has the brown ten goes first and plays a card. Each player follows standard trick-taking rules, which means they must play a card of the same suit of the "led" card. If a player doesn't have the color of the led card, then they may play any card they wish. After all players have played a card, the highest card in the suit led wins the trick. If a card of the trump suit has been played, then the highest trump card wins the trick. Each player may only win three tricks (4 players) or four (3 players). Once a player has won their three tricks, every card they play does not count in future tricks. They still follow suit, etc., but the card they lead does not have to be followed, and they take no more cards.

Once all the cards have been played, each player examines the cards in the tricks that they've won. They multiply the total number of footprints they've taken by the number of different footprints (suits) to get their total for that round. The next round then begins, but players use the twelve cards they won in the last round. The first three rounds progress the same way, with the only difference being in the color of the trump suit. The fourth round is different. For one thing, players can win as many tricks as possible. Furthermore, footprints do not count for scoring, but rather players receive victory points for each card they take: (Wolf - 1, Mouflon - 2, Wild Boar - 3, and Bear - 4). Points are totaled for the four rounds, and the player with the most points is the winner!

Some comments on the gameā€¦

1.) Components: The cards in the game are of good quality, they've gone through heavy playing and have survived it well (white borders help.) The artwork on the cards is pretty nice, and the colors are very vividly different, so it's easy to tell at a glance which suit is which. The footprints are printed on the sides of the cards, and while unobtrusive, it's easy to see which cards are worth points. The deck fits into a small box with a cardboard insert. The whole package is nice; I just didn't like the corny name.

2.) Rules: The eight paged small rulebook is very nice, easily explaining the game, even if you've never played a trick-taking game before. I was able to teach the game to new players fairly easy, and trick-taking experts understood it as soon as the words were coming out of my mouth. The only odd thing is that in the first few rounds, players can only take three tricks, which is a little offsetting for seasoned Hearts players, etc.

3.) Winning Tricks: I really love the fact that a player must play with the cards they've won. It adds an extra meaning to each trick. Players must think about
- the points in the trick they win
- how many points AREN'T in the trick
- the color of the trump suit next round
- how many tricks they've already taken
- how many colors are in the trick they win
This makes for a very enjoyable game, as the decisions are not set in stone; and players play a small game of "chicken", trying to goad each other into taking tricks.

4.) Points: If one person can hold out and not take any tricks in the beginning of each round, they might acquire heaps of points as they automatically take the last couple of tricks. This is because players tend to hoard their points, not willing to give points out quickly. I notice that this happens almost always in the first round with players, and one person's score quickly jumps. The other players then (belatedly) realize that this isn't the best way to play and dole the point cards out slightly faster, rather than stockpiling them.

5.) Last Round: The last round really changes things, and the game becomes a little more normal at that point, as players seek to get as many tricks as they possibly can, preferably with bear cards. This makes the THIRD round the most important in the game, as players must balance out their point taking with taking high cards - especially that of the trump color of the fourth round. I've seen players concentrate solely on this and win the game - albeit it's not an extremely easy task.

6.) Fun Factor: TTG is a fairly fast game, playing in about half an hour. That's half an hour of good tactical trick-taking, and I really enjoyed the games I've played. Some might have a problem with the luck in the game (there is a decent amount in players' initial hands), but I had a fun time with it. I enjoyed the part as players strove actively NOT to take tricks, but to wait until one with more points came along. But another big factor for my enjoyment was the sheer simplicity of the game - I didn't have to explain anything. The only quibble I had against the game was that the point values in the fourth round are not intuitive - players simply have to remember that the bear cards are worth four points, etc.

If you like trick-taking games, I highly recommend this one. It may not be as deep as others in the genre, but it's a solid, strategic offering. Despite the goofy name, it has provided me with several fun game sessions, and I suspect several more. It's one of the best card games I've played in 2005, and that's an impressive feat. I've played other enjoyable trick-taking games this year, such as Control Nut, but Trump, Tricks, Game! Is the choice for me.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games.

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