Jonathan Franklin – Notes from T5 (That Terrific Trick Taking Thing)

T5 Notes

I spent an incredible weekend in Covington, KY playing over 30 different trick-taking games.  Instead of rehashing them all and repeating what James Nathan has covered in his wonderful daily diary, The major elements were the location, a grand house on a grand street with lots of bedrooms and lots of locals. The event had a wonderfully communal feel, partly from the house, partly from the great people, and partly from all the work of the organizer(s) in getting snacks and drinks in advance.

picture of the mansion from the airbnb page

I thought I would talk a bit more about the games I particularly enjoyed for one reason or another.

Games that stood out

Bridge – Bridge stands the test of time, even with foggy memories and outdated bidding conventions older than the players.  We had a good run with a tremendously fun foursome of Joe, James, and Dale. Given the number of players whose names began with J, we really should start calling him Jale.  This game inspired me to try to get back into more regular bridge, even if not duplicate. My secret hope is the DeepMind takes a look at Bridge and re-envisions bidding, so the rest of us mortals can see the game through a fresh take.  Anyway, the emperor of tt definitely has the finest clothes.

[Tery (who is not changing her name to Jery):  I didn’t play Bridge, but I did play Sextet, which was new to me.  It’s Bridge for 6 players (two teams of three) with a six-suited deck of cards and less complicated bidding but similar rules and game play. It was really fun; since I don’t get to play Bridge often enough to remember all the conventions I thought this was a great substitute.]

[Joe: For me, there is a clear best trick-taking game with 3, 4, 5, and 6 players.  (Specifically, Schnäppchen Jagd, Bridge, Mü, and Sextet, respectively.) For me, from a trick-taking perspective, the weekend wouldn’t have felt complete without playing those four games.  They are also among my most played games; my 10th, 1st, 3rd, and 18th most played games since I started keeping track, specifically.]

yeah, it’s a blurry picture. but it’s the only one online. posted by the designer himself.

Transportation Tricks – I have a grail game list.  Not to acquire, but to play. Transportation Tricks was on it and I am so glad to have gotten a chance to play it.  There are 13 copies in existence and over ¼ of the world’s copies were in that house! There are two phases, placing a value on each of the four suits, then playing a trick taking game where you have separate number cards and suit cards.  You must lead/play a number + a suit. Others must then follow suit. BUt some suits could be worth negative points. Or the suit could be worth positive points for each card you take, but the trump you use is worth negative points. Very clever and would be happy to play any time.

[James Nathan (JaNate): I have the same type of grail list, but didn’t even realize Transportation Tricks existed or was on that list until Joe added to our shared spreadsheet that he was bringing it.]

[Tery,: I had never heard of this game before T5, but I managed to play it twice and I really liked it. It’s an innovative design and I would love to own a copy, so I hope it gets an official publishing at some point.]

Holmes & Moriarty – a 2p Kickstarter that is clearly better than most of its KS brethren. It has trump, asymmetry, and a strong theme.  It is not in the same vein as Fox in the Forest, as it is really trick taking to enable you to place tokens on a 4×4 grid. One player is trying to create 3 in a row and the other is trying to stop it from being possible.  To add to the fun, there is drafting, so if you don’t use the cards on the first ‘trick’, they might be used against you on the second one.

Flaschenteufel – I have owned Flaschenteufel for ages.  I have played it maybe five times. I learned something exceptionally important during T5. Don’t judge a game until you have played with an expert.  In playing with Joe, I saw plays I had never imagined and realized how much more clever the game is than what I had assumed. Even simple rules had unintended consequences when being schooled by a master.  Clearly, I need to go to tt school for a few years to study more.

[JaNate: It had been 7 years since my first and only play of Flaschenteufel, and, well, my memories were mostly of being confused.  I didn’t really care to play it again, but I’m glad we did. I concur that playing with Joe helped me understand what was happening much better.  Thanks to Luke for letting us play the 1995 Bambus edition.]

[Joe: Yes, this game really needs to be played with the original edition.  For some reason, each subsequent edition seemed to be less and less nice, though to be fair I haven’t played the very latest edition.  But regardless of which edition one plays (well, other than the one Z-Man edition with horrendous art), it’s a fantastic game; I wish I still had as many fans of the game local as I once did.]

On the Cards – I enjoy meta tt games like On the Cards, Stichmeister, and other games where the rules change each hand.  On the cards has a very nice level of complexity and twistiness. In addition, the winner(s) of the hand get to take the rule card of their choice as a point, so they have some control over which rules remain in play and which don’t.  I could play this for hours because the variety is greater than the possibilities offered by Nyet, for example.

[JaNate: This goes on, well, remains on, my Want To Play list. As far as “fun” laugh-out-loud games at T5, On the Cards and Skull King: Das Wurfelspiel stood out.  I was in the Stich-Meister group while other folks were playing OtC, and one group was having more fun.

UPDATE: I added those comments in January.  I have subsequently had a chance to play, loved it, and acquired a few copies -one for myself, and some for friends.]

Honorable Mentions

Control Nut! – A fine game with bits of other games that come together to make a cohesive auction/tt game with control and an ability to share knowledge with your partner and opponents.  Yet another game I underappreciated until playing with James, the designer.

Olympia 2000 – clearly a trifle, but an awfully fun one. An Olympics where different cards have different skills in the four events plus the quadrathlon.  Do you win a low point chip with your excellent card, or wait and hope there will be another event of that type before the game ends? Entertaining art and pleasant humor without pretensions.

[Tery: I didn’t love this one. It has a bit too much luck for me, and I didn’t feel like I could control anything or improve my lot. It was short., though, and the art and humor were entertaining.]

Quacksalbe – Some games here are hard to find.  This one is virtually impossible to find. It is an absurd game about doctors trying to cure patients. How you do it is by playing one card per player, but there is no following suit.  Each player is a doctor with a suit assigned to them. If a victim is a 14, then if the highest total of cards in one suit is totalled up. If it is higher than 14, the patient dies and the doctor whose suit killed the patient gets the corpse (negative points), even if that doctor did not contribute to the death.  If the highest total is 14 or under, the patient lives and the doctor gets a living patient (positive points). Lots of fun if not taken seriously.

[Tery: I had a lot of fun with this one, too – even though all my patients died. I blame my fellow players, though. ]

[Joe: This is a wonderful game – though Jonathan is spot on in noting that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.  It’s not a serious game – just a great one.]

Bargain Hunter /  Schnäppchen Jagd – This is a classic 3p game. It stands up well as fun social game, but is not as tricksy as some of the others here.  Tery, Robyn, and I were duking it out for good deals on toasters and washing machines.

[Tery: I had forgotten how much I loved this game, since it never seems to hit the table any more. The best trick taking game for 3, IMHO. I’ll definitely be bringing this to game day more frequently. ]

Auf Falscher Fahrte – Renee was hoping this was a game about farts and was sorely disappointed.  The game itself is elegant and clever. Take a basic tt card game where you have to follow suit. Before the start, everyone puts a card from their hand in the kitty.  After tricks 3, 4 & 5 one of the cards in the kitty is turned face up. The drama is that in a 3p game, if the total of the three cards is 14+, you want to take the most tricks in the hand, but if it is under, you want to take the fewest.  Lots of drama and quick pivots, especially since there are cards worth 0, so anything can happen. Such a good twist.

Catty – I enjoyed this Japanese tt in part because it embodies the wonderful world of gamers.  I got a copy from Japan around TGM Autumn 2015 somehow (almost certainly from Simon or Mandy) .  It had no English rules and I had lazily tried to find/get a translation. T5 got me off my keister and I posted a request to the Japan forum on BGG for help.  Within 24 hours, an amazing translator, Reiji, had translated the rules to Catty and I could play it at T5. Good stuff and several fond memories.

[JaNate: And one I need to try!  The designer, Taiki Shinzawa (新澤 大樹, @shzwtk), is also credited with maskmen, luz, dois, and Zimbabwe Trick, and is becoming a designer I keep an eye on.]

Investigate & Prosecute – There was a modest prize table based on completing a bingo on a 5×5 grid of tt criteria, such as “at least six suits of cards”, “suits indicated on the back of the cards”, and “includes supertrump”.  After completing a bingo and having the Olympic theme played semi-spontaneously, I chose a beautifully made prototype called Investigate and Prosecute designed by Dave Chalker and constructed by James Nathan. A fun mix of deduction, worker placement, and trick taking with a Law and Order theme.  Seriously, one of the rules is “After you have placed your [worker], make a CLONG CLONG noise to indicate your turn is finished”!

Familiar’s Trouble – Luke pulled this out of his pile of hundreds of tt he drove down with.  He might have had 400-500 cards with the number 2 on them, given how many tt have numbered cards.  Anyway, I had this co-op at home, but had never cracked the shrink. It was so much fun I forced it on my regular group the night I got home.  3p only and now rereleased by Frosted Games as Trick ‘n Trouble.

[Joe: I discovered Familiar’s Trouble a few years back, and when first sussing the game out we didn’t know, going in, that it was a cooperative game.  For me, that realization was great fun; even if I hadn’t enjoyed the game, I enjoyed learning the game. But I enjoyed the game too; it’s one of only three cooperative games to find a home in my collection.]

Trapezista – James Nathan was an unbelievable coordinator for the event.  It would not have happened without him and he went above and beyond in so many ways it is a separate article.  Perhaps he has a side gig as a bakery reviewer, but everything from pastries to the house to the event were top notch.  I chose this game because it is one of the Japanese games that I got to play because he had coordinated with the Japanese trick-taking event going on at the same time.  The game is quite clever because you are all trapeze artists and play tricks to move around spaces on a circle. If you win a trick, you have to move your piece clockwise.  If you land on another player’s piece (shoulders), you are fine. If you land on the board, you hit the floor, have a concussion and everyone in the stack before you fell does not get a point while everyone not involved in the accident does get one.  It feels like a co-op, but isn’t. Super fun and interestingly, quite thematic.

[JaNate: Thanks, JoNate. (We almost had custom local bakery poptarts [from a different bakery than the PB&J ones] with playing card decorations as the icing!) To elaborate, there are 2 Japanese events I was coordinating with @kumagoro_h: his Trick Taking Party (2017) (the accidental inspiration for our event) and Is This a Trick-Taking Game? (which happened concurrently with ours, though that was also accidental.)  The TTP had 68 submissions and there is a public folder of the English translations of the rules here, which includes Trapezista.  The English rules for the concurrent event are not public yet, but @kumagoro_h has said they are coming.

I think one of the biggest omissions for me was not playing more games that use a standard deck of cards, or at least a subset of one.  There are so many great games without a formally published edition that I personally don’t think I pay enough attention to because of it.  Currently I’m in a phase to play these, like: WYSIWYG, Switch, etc. Here’s a translation for a Japanese design from 1996, “Sheriff” –a three-player only role selection TT that I’ve found interesting.]

Games for the near future – These are some games on my ‘want to play soon’ list that I did not get to during T5, so I can remember them for the future.

Sticheln

Volltreffer

Yokai Septet

Mit Liste und Tuche

Was Sticht!

Let Me Off? (Japanese tt from the competition)

Filipino Fruit Market (both Tindahan & Bastos)

Pisa

Aber Hallo!

[JaNate: Would definitely like to play Volltreffer again; it was a pleasant surprise.  I was also sorry to have missed out on Sticheln, Joraku, Catty, Control Nut, Voodoo Prince, and On the Cards.  Of things I didn’t see played, would like to play Luke’s copy of Willi, Pisa, Scharfe Schoten, Tindahan, Joraku –and several of the TTP rulesets.  OK, that settles it. May need to do this again!]

[Tery: I played Sticheln, which is an old favorite of mine. It does against all the trick taking rules you think you know and can burn your brain a bit in the process, but it is so much fun to play.

I enjoyed Yokai Septet, a team trick-taking game; I do enjoy a good team tt game.

I was happy to play Mit Liste und Tuche, a tt game where you only want to take cards in two colors and you don’t have to follow suit – but only 3 of 4 of the colors can be played. Whoever wins the trick takes 3 cards and the person who played the lowest non-trump gets the other 2. We played this a lot when it first came out back in 1999 or so, but it’s been years. It was fun to play with the Japanese version, which had much better art.

Voltreffer was new to me, even though it is almost 20 years old. It combines drafting, sets and trick taking into one fun package.  

I also enjoyed  Peter’s Two Sheep Dogs, my pick off the aforementioned prize table. It’s a 2 player game; each player has a hand of numbered animals as well as 2 meadow spaces and one fenced-in area.  On your turn you play an animal; the player with the highest animal puts the trick into one of their meadow spaces and the other player distributes the contents of one of their meadow spaces mancala-style in a counter-clockwise direction into both their spaces and their opponent’s spaces; only animals in the fenced-in area will score. It is an interesting take on a trick taking game.

As JoNate has already said, this was a great weekend. JaNate did a great job organizing the housing, the food and the games and the locals were great about doing airport runs and taking the out-of-towners to various restaurants and breweries. We definitely need to do this again; I need my trick-taking fix!

[Joe: One this I realized long ago is that I don’t have a general love of trick-taking games; I have a specific love of trick-taking games.  More than just my Mount Rushmore Four listed above, but – for me, a lot of trick taking games qualify as YATTCG (Yet Another Trick Taking Card Game).  Not bad – it’s not a category of games I dislike, really, just a category of games I don’t feel compelled to play. So I was very happy to play a number of my favorites – if sad I didn’t get in Tezuma Master – but I also enjoyed playing a significant number of non-trick-taking games; fully one third of my plays (and four of the five games that were new to me) had nothing to do with trick taking.]

[JaNate: I would say that the 4 games of Fine Sand I played with Joe and JoNate were some of the most enjoyable, but I wouldn’t want you to infer anything about anyone’s opinions of Fine Sand.]

[JoNate: I got to learn Canasta (not-tt) and Pitch, so there is plenty of room for the fine world of public domain tt – we just did not delve as deeply as we might have . . . this time.]

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Jonathan Franklin – Notes from T5 (That Terrific Trick Taking Thing)

  1. For your next event I would recommend some of the David Parlett stuff from his website (Ducksoup is excellent), Black swan (but only 4players, Potato Man as well as Jeffs Pala for some very inventive things!

    • xitoliv says:

      Thanks, Peer. I’ll take a look at Ducksoup and Black Swan. We did play Potato Man, though at 5; I’ve only recently become aware that there are 2-player rules and that there seems to be a groundswell that it is best at 2.

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