Stick ‘Em (2020 Capstone Version of Sticheln) (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Klaus Palesch
  • Publisher: Capstone Games
  • Players: 3 – 6
  • Ages: 10 and Up
  • Time: 20 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 20

It took nearly three decades, but Sticheln — one of my favorite card games — has finally received an English-language printing!  Capstone Games recently released the game as Stick ‘Em (rules available here), using artwork similar and high-quality cards similar to the NSV game that has been available in Germany in recent years.  

I’ll admit that I’m biased by my love of Sticheln, but I see the game as a great step forward in the design of trick taking games. Sticheln threw out all of the old rules, becoming one of the first entries in a generation of trick taking games that no longer resembled the public-domain games of the past. One trump suit? Nah… every suit not led is trump. Must follow? Nope… play any card at any time. And let’s vary the number of suits — and the number of cards in a suit — for the number of players.

The Gameplay

The deck consists of cards numbered 0-14 in six suits, but you vary the cards in play by the player count. For example, with 4 players, you use 0-11 in five suits.

The rules are simple:

Each player takes a card from their hand at the start of the game to represent their pain suit, and these are all revealed simultaneously. All cards collected of this suit — including the card selected by the player — will be negative points at face value.

Each other card taken (i.e. all cards not in the pain suit) is worth one point.

Zeroes never win unless all cards played in the trick are zero (in which case the first card wins).

Any card can be played at any point.

All suits not led are trump.

The highest trump card played (by number) wins. If no trumps are played, the highest card wins. If there is a tie (i.e. cards of the same number in different trump suits), the first player to have played the high value wins.

That’s it… the rules are incredibly simple.

My Thoughts on the Game: Why Sticheln is one of my favorites…

Despite the incredibly simple rules, the game is actually quite deep, and it is difficult to master. Even to those well-versed in trick-taking games, it is a difficult game to get your head around for at least a couple of plays.

Trick taking is one of my favorite game mechanics, but I’ll admit that the genre is littered with mediocre games. Trick taking games often suffer from one of two major problems: (1) a feeling of obviousness, or (2) a feeling of chaos. Some tricksters enter auto-pilot mode once you see your cards, as the strategy for playing any given hand seems obvious. Other tricksters seem disorderly, resulting in gameplay that feels random. Great games in this genre avoid both pitfalls, and Sticheln is the master of avoiding them.

I fell in love with the game on my first play. And I’ve never turned down a game of Sticheln since.

Is it for everybody? Absolutely not — this can be a devilishly mean game — but I recommend that everybody give it a try. It’s a classic, and it still stands as one of the highest-rated trick taking games on BGG.

As an added benefit, a Sticheln deck is one of the most useful decks of cards out there. As shown in one Geeklist, there are dozens — perhaps even hundreds — of great games that can be played with a Sticheln deck.

Comments from the Opinionated Gamers

Tery: This game blew my mind the first time I played it. It was hard for me to remember that I didn’t have to follow suit, and it just felt wrong somehow. It was a tense game, and my brain hurt afterwards – but over the next week I couldn’t stop thinking about the game. We played it again, and by the end of that second play I loved it. I am a huge trick taking fan, and it has some unique elements that make it stand out. Our copy is beat up, so I will definitely be purchasing this fresh new edition.

Michael W: I’m also a huge fan of Sticheln, and it’s really best at 3 players. It’s great tension between grabbing points when you can and dancing around to make sure you don’t get “stuck” with a big pain card, and of course trying your best to stick the current leader with all the pain cards you can. It’s good with 4 too, but at that point you really should be playing Tichu of course. :)

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Chris Wray, Eric M., Brandon K., Tery, Michael W
  • I like it.  John P
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…
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6 Responses to Stick ‘Em (2020 Capstone Version of Sticheln) (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. gschloesser says:

    Sticheln is a masterpiece … and devilishly evil. As you mention, it does take awhile to get your head wrapped around the non-trick-taking rules, but once you do, you will be hooked.

  2. Jason says:

    Why did they bring the lesser version to the US? The version I have is from AMIGO, and has 120 cards, 0-18 in six suits and can play up to 8 players.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    The two games which were the pioneers in innovative published trick taking games were Sticheln and Karl-Heinz Schmiel’s Was Stich?, both released in 1993. Schmiel’s design may have been the more critically acclaimed game (it was an SdJ nominee), but Sticheln was almost certainly the more popular title, with new editions being released in ’94 and ’95.

    I’ve only played Sticheln a few times and wasn’t impressed. But there’s a good chance this was with 5 or more players. I should try to get this played with 3 or 4, which seems like more optimal conditions.

  4. clydeiii says:

    Jason, seems like editorial discretion is on display here. Yes, your Amigo version can play up to 8…but should it? Any player count over 5 seems far too chaotic for my tastes, and while I have never played at 8, I can’t imagine the experience is anywhere near as rewarding as it is at 4 players.

    • Tom F. says:

      The higher range of the cards in that amigo edition does enable you to play even more other games with the deck though…

      (To be clear, I love Sticheln, but I wish I had that 0-18 edition for play of some other titles too)

      • clydeiii says:

        I own that version and am happy to have the extra cards, but it does have a few downsides.

        A) if you only play Sticheln with 3-5 players and don’t sleeve the cards, they all wear at different rates so you effectively can’t really use the other cards that only work at higher counts.

        B) As Larry has observed, the game is much worse with more players. If I were the designer, I’d want people to play my game at good player counts and not at bad ones. Why give them the option to have a bad experience with my game?

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