Trick-Taking it to the Next Level – my fascination with trick-taking games (Topic Discussion)


As you probably know by now, I absolutely love trick-taking games. I have long wanted to share this love with other people, but found it can be hard to teach trick-taking to people who have never come across it. Luckily, in recent months, I have found one or two games that are great for introducing people to trick-taking. They have allowed me to share my passion for this genre of card games. They are great stepping stones. I can start to draw on this giant collection of games that are often great for all the family and key to many of my social interactions as a teenager – but let me explain.

Tricky Trick-Taking

Even if you don’t know trick-taking games, you have probably heard of the terms “trick”, “trump”, “suit” or “following suit”. These concepts can be quite hard to understand and even harder to teach. Saying that a suit is basically a colour doesn’t quite capture it. Explaining that a game has a trump suit, decided by the player who has won a bidding round confuses things further. Sure, it probably makes sense that you have to follow suit, meaning you play cards of the same colour. Yet, why trump cards of a different suit can still be played and win a trick seems to make no sense.

So when a game simplifies everything and introduces just some of the basic concepts that are quick to teach and easy to learn, my heart (excuse the pun) skips a beat. It means that I can introduce other people to the club (yes, another pun) of trick-taking games.

When teaching Enemy Anemone, for example, all I have to say is that cards have different colours. You can play any card you like, as long as it’s not the same colour as one of the already played cards. Without using those terms, I’ve introduced people to “suits” and the concept of “must-not-follow”, which is the opposite of most traditional games where you have to follow. That the card with the highest number wins is pretty obvious and doesn’t usually need explaining. However, once everyone has played their single card, whoever wins gets all the cards. In one fell swoop, people now know what a “trick” is.

So it’s no surprise that Enemy Anemone is now my favourite game to teach people trick-taking.

With those basic concepts established, it’s just a matter of practice and slowly introducing other ideas.

The Journey Ahead

I’ve yet got a journey ahead of me, but I’m already on the lookout for trick-taking games that build on the basic structure that Enemy Anemone has prepared. I think FORK is going to be the next step for me. It calls suits “terrain” or “colour”, but in principle, it’s the same thing. Rather than someone just playing a card and thereby leading the suit, the first player in a round announces the terrain or colour and sets the suit that way. Yes, that little mechanism is another step towards more classic trick-taking games. I’ve not played FORK yet, but hopefully, I will be able to soon. It’s certainly ready for when the time is right.

What comes after that, I don’t know yet. Maybe there will be some Skull King, where players have to bet on how many tricks they will win each round. That’s not easy and requires some understanding of trick-taking mechanisms. However, if you go in and just bet on a random number of tricks, you’ll soon learn quite a bit and will get better from round to round.

My hope is that eventually, we can look at traditional trick-taking games. Depending on player count, these might be Skat, Doppelkopf or Vivaldi, which are for three, four or five players respectively. These games have the full set of trick-taking mechanisms, from bidding to playing in teams, trumps, suits and more.

(Photo courtesy of Marcello Bertocchi)

The Language of Trick-Taking

Once we’re at this stage, the next step will be to teach the subtle language of trick-taking games. When you’ve played these games for a long time, you can pretty much talk to your teammate through the cards you play. After all, you’re not allowed to say what cards you have or what card you want your partner to play. However, playing certain cards indicates to the other player what your plan is. You might be emptying your hand of a certain suit to allow you to add a large amount of points to the tricks they’re going to win. Or you keep taking tricks and then play a specific card that lets your partner lead you both to victory.

There are so many things happening when you play a trick-taking game with people who know the genre well that go unspoken. I mean, it’s not just that you don’t have to explain everything in detail. You can just say if this is a “must-no-follow” or “must-follow” game, for example. Yet, even when you play, what people say can be about completely ordinary day-to-day things, while the cards send a very different message. You can easily have a whole argument through the cards you play.

It’s this that I love about trick-taking games. It’s this place that I want to get to with the people I play games with. When I sit there one day and play Doppelkopf with my wife, our daughter and a fourth person, I will be very happy. Actually, more than that. I will feel bliss. I really can’t wait.

How About You?

Well, as you know, now is the time for you to share your thoughts and experiences. Have you ever played trick-taking games? Do you like them? Which one is your favourite? Did you ever have to teach a trick-taking game to someone who knew nothing about the genre? If so, how did that go? What game was it? Please use the comments below to let me know how you got on.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music I use: Bensound.com
License code: WX9PGVYHKT8J1XE0

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article:

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