10 Great Trick Taking Games (Article by Chris Wray)

Trick taking is a favorite mechanic of ours here at The Opinionated Gamers.  Though we never finished our Tricks and Trumps series, we do cover a lot of the games on this site.  

And over on BGG, I run the Trick Taking Guild, which recently inducted its inaugural “Hall of Fame” for trick taking games released before 2010.  

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc.  In this case, I picked a mechanic.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  

The Methodology

For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 trick taking games.  That is an intentionally vague description, allowing players to judge for themselves how much of a game had to contain this mechanic.  I did specify that climbing games — like Tichu, or The Great Dalmuti — were ineligible, even though I personally consider them a subset of trick taking games.  

Anybody could add to the list assuming they were going to vote for it.  Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games, and they could give one game 15 points, one game 14 points, all the way down to giving one 6 points.  We all put our votes into a spreadsheet.  We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.  

We had 20 OG-ers vote, and 52 different games received votes.  

To get on the list took a minimum of six writers rating the game decently well.  That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.

Below you’ll see designations for gold, silver, and bronze.  Those represent the number of voters that put a given game in the #1, #2, and #3 spot, respectively.  

Without further ado, here are 10 Great Trick Taking Games.

Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List): 

14 (Tie).  Mit List und Tucke (1 Gold) (Tie)

14 (Tie).  Four Dragons (a.k.a. Dia de Los Muertos)

13.  Potato Man (2 Silver)

12.  Euchre (1 Gold)

11.  The Fox in the Forest

#10 – Wizard

63 Points

Designed by Ken Fisher

#9  – Spades

69 Points (1 Silver, 2 Bronze)

No Credited Designer

#8 – Was sticht?

95 Points (2 Gold, 1 Bronze)

Designed by Karl-Heinz Schmiel

#6 (Tie)  – Sluff Off! (a.k.a. Wizard Extreme, a.k.a. Die Steven Seagal)

104 Points (2 Silver, 1 Bronze)

Designed by Stefan Dorra

#6 – Bridge

104 Points (5 Gold, 1 Bronze)

Designed by Harold Vanderbilt 

#5 – Mü

106 Points (3 Silver, 1 Bronze)

Designed by Doris Matthäus and Frank Nestel

#4 – The Bottle Imp (a.k.a. Flaschenteufel)

109 Points (1 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze)

Designed by Günter Cornett

#3 – Stick ‘Em (a.k.a. Sticheln)

119 Points (2 Gold, 1 Silver, 3 Bronze)

Designed by Klaus Palesch

#2 – Bargain Hunter (a.k.a. Schnäppchen Jagd)

158 Points (1 Gold, 4 Silver)

Designed by Uwe Rosenberg

#1 – The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

158 Points (3 Gold, 1 Bronze)

Designed by Thomas Sing

—-

Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:

Chris Wray:  What a great list of games!

I am shocked to see this group dedicating so many votes to such a recent game: The Crew came out last year, and the OG tends to veer towards older games.  That said, the Crew is very much worthwhile.  I voted for it.  And it recently won the Golden Trickster.

I was surprised to see so many public domain games make the list.  

For what it is worth, the Trick Taking Guild had a very similar list, even though the Guild didn’t vote for public domain games, and only considered titles released before 2010.  The ones they voted for that are missing here are: David and Goliath, Ninety-Nine, and Nyet.

The missing game that I think most deserves to make the list is Texas Showdown, which is a delightful game that works at higher player counts, unlike many in this genre.  

Joe Huber:  So, the thought that went through my head as the votes were coming in was simple – what in the world is Die Crew doing at the top of this list?  Not because I have any personal animosity toward it – though I will admit that a discussion among the Opinionated Gamers did convince me that it’s a game I should generally steer clear of, due to different perceptions around what signaling might be considered inappropriate, and my natural tendency to apply lessons from Bridge to other trick taking games.  But – what outstanding features does Die Crew bring to the table?  As a cooperative trick taking game, it was preceded by many Japanese games, most notably Familiar’s Trouble which became widely available in 2018 as Trick ‘n’ Trouble.  In many ways, it felt like a pleasant extension of existing ideas, in much the same way as Die Steven Seagal.

Much as I would have liked to see Bridge as the top pick, there are plenty of other designs which I felt offered more than Die Crew.  In fact, any of the other games in the top ten save for Die Steven Seagal and Wizard, both of which feel more like refinements than innovations, would seem to me a better pick.  But – I’m far more surprised when my choices do well than when they don’t.

FWLIW, my favorite trick-taking games with various counts: 3 players – Schäppchen Jagd.  4 players – Bridge.  5 players – Mü.  6 players – Sextet.  (Sextet is a variation on Bridge for six players, which unfortunately is not well known or easy to find at this late date – having been published in the 1960s.  It’s actually easier to pick up than Bridge, because most of the Bridge conventions don’t work, and no one plays the game seriously enough to have come up with Sextet conventions.)  The other games, besides Sextet, which I was disappointed (if not surprised) to see not garner more support were Quacksalbe (the trick-taking game from the 1990s), Länder toppen!, and Tezuma Master.

Larry:  I’m also surprised to see The Crew do so well, but not shocked.  Even though, as a group, the OGers like trick-takers, not all of us have been playing them for decades.  So when a trick-taking game comes out that’s the new hotness and a major award winner, I guess it could be expected to do well.  This is particularly true because climbing games were excluded and many of the more interesting recent card games fit that description.  Although several folks picked The Crew as their favorite trick-taker, where it really scored was with the breadth of its support–15 voters put it in their top 10, four more than any other game.

Bridge was at the other extreme, as its high ranking was due mostly to those who picked it as their favorite (5 voters did so and The Crew–with 3–was the only other game to get more than 2 first place votes).  I was pleasantly surprised to see it do so well; Bridge is an amazing game, but so difficult to learn.  I’m honestly not sure how much it will be played 20 years from now, but it’s good to see it’s still loved in some circles.

Because of the wide gap between eighth and ninth place, we essentially had a top 8, with 7 games trailing behind.  The tastes of the group turned out to be pretty strongly aligned with mine, as my top 5 picks were Bridge, Bargain Hunter, Bottle Imp, The Crew, and Was Sticht, all of which made the Great 8.  I’ve never cared for Sluff Off and my games of Stick ‘Em haven’t gone well, although I need to play the latter with a lower player count to give it a fair shot.  I’ve had only minimal exposure to Mu and liked what I’ve seen, but it really requires 5 players and takes a lot of experience to wrap your head around its concepts, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to give that game the chance it deserves.

Talia: My all-time favorite trick-taking games are easily Was Sticht and Njet, so while I’m happy to see one of them make the list, I’m bummed to see the other fail to do so.  It looks like only one other OG person gave any points to Stefan Dorra’s Njet, so it came in a lowly 23rd; then again, there were 74 different trick-taking games being rated, so my silver lining is that Njet was in the top half.  I love the reverse trick-taking and hand building aspect of Was Sticht, and I love the shifting partnerships and variable round setup of Njet.  But the other newer game that I ranked as my third favorite trick-taking game, but which missed the cut for this article, is Fox in the Forest Duet.  While I greatly enjoy the original Fox in the Forest, given the possibility for many hands to be played cleverly as “Victorious” or as “Humble,” the sequel is a cooperative masterpiece.  Fox in the Forest Duet is a perfect little 30-minute two-player game when looking for a weekday evening game.  The rest of this list is fine (albeit Die Crew has not of course had nearly enough time in existence to really warrant a #1 spot compared to other decades-old tried-and-true games), but the absence of Njet and Fox in the Forest Duet may cause some to overlook these gems, which would be a shame.

James Nathan: What a list!  This is one of the first of our “10 Great…” lists where I could’ve voted for many more.  There are times when, well, I don’t use all my votes because for my personal take on an instance of a “10 Great” list, I don’t have 10 titles I’d like to include; it may only be “6 Great” for me (and for a little inside baseball, when I do that, I also may leave some ranking positions blank if I feel that there’s a sufficient gulf between the games above that position and below.)  But anyway, I could’ve voted for days here. I could not have played any of the 10 I voted for and still have had 10 others that I’d feel strongly about listing as “10 Great”!  This is my category.

Look at that: Mit List und Tücke right at the top!  OK, not number 1, but it’s the first game we mentioned up there.  There was a recent reprint out of Japan, but this is a 1998 Berliner Spielkarten release that I find delightful and, in a statement I usually steer clear of making, that I think other folks should try.  (If you’re in the market for reading reviews of 20 year old unavailable-ish trick-takers, I may get to this one soon!) The rules can, well, be a bit daunting because there’s multiplication, division, and concerns about dividing by 0, but the scoring boils down to ‘collect a lot of cards in 2 suits and as little as possible in the other 2’.  You don’t draft single cards from what’s played to a trick (a mechanic I dislike), but split the cards between two players.  It has some of the largest hand sizes and angsty play around. It also has a following-suit quirk: you can play any suit you want, but only three suits can be played per trick.  

When I saw that Mit List und Tücke was….well, not going to make it into Chris’ Hall of Fame he referenced above, I briefly considered spamming the voters with copies like it was screener codes for the Academy Awards, but thought better of it.  It’s ok for people to like different games.  Play what you dig and all that, as my friend Edward says. (I’m also trying to practice more forgiveness, so letting it pass that so many people voted for David & Goliath, a game that I feel fills the same niche, though not as well, over this!)

Anyway, where was I? Right, Chris’ Hall of Fame is a good juxtaposition with why I was comfortable voting for Die Crew as my favorite here.  I don’t treat the “10 Great” lists as a hall of fame so much as the BGG ranking system of “what would I love to be playing most right now”.  (That’s not to say that I don’t have plenty of kind things to say about the territory of game play it covers throughout the 50+ scenarios, but just that my top spots don’t necessarily equate to what I think are seminal works.)

What else did I vote for? 7 Symbols and 7 Nations (aka Seven, aka Yokai Septet).  I’m enamored with the 4-player team game, with staggered suits (A-7, 2-8, 3-9, etc.), and the twist of trying to capture the majority of the 7s.  I also voted highly for Time Palatrix, Let Me Off, Nokosu Dice, and a prototype that I would describe as positing the question: what if each player is playing a game with the same hand of cards, but the tricks are resolved in parallel dimensions? (And it does so quite elegantly!)

Anyway, it came up last night, so let me ramble about Let Me Off for just a bit.  Maybe I’ll review it soon too.  There are a few quirky trick-taking games that do things with card racks (such as the delightful Pikoko, a game “I Love” and yet didn’t make my Top 10!), but Let Me Off gives each player three (3!) hands of cards: one you’ll share on a rack with your left neighbor, one you’ll share on a rack with your right, and one that you’ll hold in your hand, all to yourself.  It also features a couple odd twists: if you can’t follow suit you don’t play at all (so there will be asymmetric hand sizes), and only a player who runs out of cards in all three of their hands will score points for tricks taken!  It is a doozy.  (Again, not something for which I think voting into a Hall of Fame would be reasonable, but would I love to be playing it right now?  You bet!)

What else did I vote for? Trapezista, BON, Peter’s Two Sheep Dogs, and Mit List und Tücke!  To Joe’s comment, Länder toppen! is another “I Love It!” that I didn’t have enough votes for.  Tezuma Master probably would be too, but I’ve only had a chance to play it once.  Quacksalbe?  It might get there, but I’ve also only played once. 

(Oh, speaking of which, another that could make my list, or maybe I’ll review soon, is the two-player game Catchy! A little 18 card tug of war that left a very strong impression after the first play and is sitting on my coffee table awaiting more.)

Brandon K – I don’t have a whole lot to chime in with here, I think the list, from what I have played, is pretty spot on. I am really happy to see that Bargain Hunter finished as highly as it did. I’ve seen this game go on sale for as low as $1 on Miniature Market and I think that’s a shame, who cares if it has awful clip art for card artwork, the gameplay raises it up into that upper echelon of trick takers. Between that game, Sticheln and Wizard Extreme/Sluff Off, I think I am good with trick takers in general. Sadly absent from the list? Voodoo Prince would be the one that I think of. Also, had I played Nokosu Dice when I voted on this one, I’d have definitely had it in my Top 5 I think. I am not the big fan of The Crew that everyone else seems to be, I do believe I voted it fairly high on my list though, blame it on my inexperience, but I think that The Crew is a horribly important game at this time. Using it as a teaching tool, you can learn a lot about all of those things that veteran trick taking players talk about. 

Tery: I struggled HARD to rate only 10 trick-taking games. I love trick-taking games, and there are very few I don’t enjoy. I am happy enough with the list we came up with, even if my order might be slightly different. 

Was Sticht is one of my favorite games in general, trick-taking or not. You’ve got a logic puzzle, goals and trick-taking all wrapped into one fairly small package! Sticheln is also a favorite, since it is a brainburner in the best way possible. Potato Man sees a lot of play with some of the people I play with regularly and has held up very well over the years as a good trick taker for 4 or 5 players. I am firmly planted in the Die Crew is great camp, despite not being able to play it all during the pandemic; the games I have played of it have all been compelling and left me wanting to keep playing one more round. 

Most of the things I voted for ended up in the list or as an honorable mention. One exception is Peter’s Two Sheep Dogs, which James Nathan mentions above. I only know this game thanks to James Nathan, and am grateful to him for sharing it, as I really enjoy it. It’s trick-taking meets Mancala, with cool bits and a lot to think about as you plan your turns.

—–

Past Articles in the 10 Great Series:

10 Great Worker Placement Games

10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia

10 Great Roll ‘n Writes

10 Great Ticket to Ride Maps

10 Great Games of the 2010s

10 Great 2-Player Games

10 Great Card Games

10 Great Deduction Games

10 Great Animal Games

10 Great Tile Placement Games

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4 Responses to 10 Great Trick Taking Games (Article by Chris Wray)

  1. I know even less than John Snow when it comes to trick taking, I’m sure Martin will be along shortly but I wanted to swoop in and take his and Hannibalicious’ recommendation for “American Book Shop Game”, which is a very cool looking trick taking game featuring an in hand “bust” limit and a “get the most or else” scoring system when you collect the cards from the tricks

  2. > The missing game that I think most deserves to make the list is Texas Showdown, which is a delightful game that works at higher player counts, unlike many in this genre.

    YES!

  3. Rob says:

    I recently picked up Die Crew after seeing it back in stock at my local game shop–but have yet to play it due to the pandemic.
    So many of my favorite trick takers are absent here–Dragonmaster, a ‘trick-avoidance’ game from the 80s similar to Coup d’Etat (easily played with a standard deck), Mormon Bridge (we call it “I Hate that Game”, although it has several other names), and the granddaddy of them all, Pinochle.
    Texas showdown (from the comments) is another I have been trying to track down at a good price. Bargain hunter is also on my list, but some of the games above I have never even heard of, so I guess I have some homework to do.

  4. John says:

    I think I would have had Canyon and Trumpet on my list. I probably also would have listed Hearts for two reasons: (1) it’s a good game to teach children the basics of trick taking and (2) once you teach the children, it becomes a family staple.

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