I spent this past weekend in Cincinnati at T8, a small trick taking convention run by fellow OG-er James Nathan. Longtime readers know that I’m an enormous fan of trick taking games — I have written numerous articles about them over the years, and I design them — but I had never attended a trick taking only convention.
To quote one attendee, T8 was heaven. I could write a full convention report, but this article is just about the highlights: the games, the moments, and the people that made this a special weekend.
By the Numbers
- 17 New-to-Me Trick Taking and Climbing Games
- 8 Trick Taking Games I’d Played Before
- 7 Games Not Involving Trick Taking or Climbing
- 9 Unpublished Prototypes (6 Trick Taking and 3 Non-Trick Taking)
- 1 Game Designed for the Convention (BoardGameGeek Page: T8)
- 1 Game Designed and Playtested On Site
- 4 Times Eating Skyline Chili
- 30+ Different People Played With
Overall Favorite New-to-Me Games
This is probably a three way tie, and interestingly, all of the games are climbing/shedding games, so maybe I’ve been in a mood for them.
Five Three Five: Designed by Kenichi Kabuki, this was Kickstarted a few months ago by Portland Game Collective. Unlike in other climbing/shedding games, in 535, you can add cards to existing sets, which makes for fascinating choices on the hand management front. 535 was my most-played game of the convention, and literally everybody I played it with enjoyed it. It is also likely the game I saw played the most at T8. Backers should have their copies soon; I can’t wait to get mine.
Bacon: Designed by Sean Ross, this game is an approachable, modern, and engaging entry to climbing/shedding games. It is playable with two standard decks, and in fact, that is currently the only way to play it, with the web-published rules linked on BGG. Comparisons to Tichu or Haggis (which is also designed by Sean) are inevitable, but I like this better than Haggis, and this is certainly a better game to teach a new player than Tichu. Longtime fans of Tichu probably won’t abandon Urs Hostettler’s creation for this… but they just might given how much more teachable and pleasant this is. I played the three player version (which is fantastic) and the four-player partnership game (which is equally as good), and I fell in love. This will likely be the first game I teach people when I get back home.
Of What’s Left: Designed by Taylor Reiner, and playable with a standard decks of cards, the goal of this shedding game is to not go out first. Taylor is perhaps best known for his amazing Youtube channel, but if I learned one thing this weekend, it is that he is an exceptionally talented designer, with fresh ideas, an eye for development, and an encyclopedic knowledge of trick taking games. This game was extraordinary: it is the right amount of streamlined, and the individual pieces of the game all fit nicely together. Climbing games are all about the rhythm, and this plays with that in fun ways. I played three games Taylor is working on, but the only other one I can mention is Short Zoot Suit, which is also playable with a standard deck of cards. In it, players earn points for not following. It was an interesting concept that I also look forward to playing more. Dear publishers, you need to sign both of these.
Favorite New-to-Me Trick Taking Game
Roulette-Taking Game – Designed by T親方, and published by Paix Guild, the idea here is that you’re betting on a roulette-themed board for card number will capture the last trick. The deck has cards numbered 0-36, like a roulette board, and you win different amounts depending on how risky your bet is. A copy of this is likely hard to come by, but nevermind that: I can’t recommend buying it, because it feels like it could use some more work, it is almost certainly mathematically unbalanced, and it would benefit from better components. Nonetheless, if you find yourself near a copy, I enthusiastically recommend playing it, because it is such an incredibly cool concept, and the ending is always entertaining. I personally was shocked that I was able to get this from the prize table, because there is literally no game I’d rather have had, but I suppose luck was on my side.
Speaking more broadly, Roulette-Taking Game feels emblematic for this moment in trick taking: games at this point are pieces of art to be enjoyed a few times, rather than played over-and-over like some of the trick taking classics. And that is okay, and it is the benefit of finding access to a library like T8 had (and there are several amazing trick-taking libraries popping up around the country).
Rarest Game – Transportation Tricks by fellow OG-er Joe Huber was released in 2005, with a whopping 13 copies ever made. I played it for the rarity (when would I ever get the chance again?), and because I’ve always enjoyed trying Joe’s designs. But I kind of loved it: it feels ahead of its time. The idea is based around separating suits from numbers, which has gotten some attention in recent years, but Joe did it first… decades ago.
Best Non-Trick Taking Game – Rankster, designed by Rikki Tahta, is laugh-out-loud fun. Three famous people (fictional characters, celebrities, etc.) are revealed on cards. A question is asked (“Which would give the best dating advice?”). And one player secretly ranks the famous people based on the question. Then everybody else has to try to guess the player’s secret ranking. You can even substitute in a card where players rank one of their fellow players against the famous characters. Playing games with Rikki (who designed Coup, which is one of my-all-time-favorite bluffing games) was one of the best part of the convention: I admire his work, and playing some of his prototypes was a true delight. And while I’m mentioning Rikki, the redo of Salvage (called St. Patrick) from Matagot is gorgeous, and the gameplay remains a delight.
Worst Trick Taking Game Ever – 24 Countdown Game is a hot mess, and yet, I had tremendous fun playing it. The rules are indiscernible, the components are awful, the gameplay makes no sense, the game overstays its welcome, and the theme is bizarre at times. Nonetheless, it was laugh-out-loud fun, probably because we knew it was going to be ridiculously bad, given that the BGG rating is a mere 2.8. The cover says the game publisher has won more than 200 awards, and I like to think this is number 201: publisher of the single worst trick taking game ever designed. But in all seriousness, my goodness I’ll cherish that play. Games are rarely memorable because of the game itself: it is all about who you play with, and James Nathan and Rand made that play special. James Nathan is known for believing that there is no such thing as a bad game, just games that aren’t for him, and I suppose that is a bit of a mantra for this site given our ranking system. I don’t subscribe to such a theory — I believe there are community values that can make a game a bad game — and 24 Countdown Game is a bad game because it busts ever norm of design and production. But even a bad game can be fun, and this was.
Hot Games at the Event
I spent several hours each day working for my day job, so I wasn’t around the convention until late afternoon. But I was watching what everybody played, and the most played games seemed to be Green Fivura, Ortrick, Trick Raiders, 535, and Roulette-taking Game.
Other Favorite Moments:
- On Friday, I got to have dinner with OG EIC Dale Yu, Sai Beppu (the oh-so-talented artist of a few trick taking games), and Trick Kuma (her husband) and had a great time. The food was great; the company was better.
- My game February has a secret: I have several iterations of it playtested and worked out, and I intend to release a new rules set each February. Playtesting one of the versions with Dale, Luke Hedgren, and Rikki was a delight, because they offered a couple of suggestions that made that version the leading candidate for this year’s release, possibly supplanting what I had intended to drop. No matter what I end up picking, I’ll post the rules and new board to BGG in … February. (Isn’t this a fun surprise? The idea of a special deck getting a new rule set each year? I thought it was a cool concept for a calendar-themed trick-taking game.).
- Speaking of playtesting, I got to playtest trick taking games with Taylor and John Prather until the early morning one morning, discussing theories of design, and that was a few hours I’ll love forever. Their games have so much promise; they offered some solid feedback on a design I had prototyped at the convention; and they were just a ton of fun to spend time with.
- I had an amazing meal with Patrick and Cindi Hillier, who are exceptionally kind people, the sort of souls that make gaming such an enjoyable hobby.
- Playing Ohio in Ohio today was a hoot. That no-luck Reiner Knizia trick taker is as weird today as I’m sure it was when it was released in 1998, but as it hits its 25th anniversary, it is worth everybody giving it a try. It is playable with many different decks (standard deck, Sticheln, etc.) and can be learned in just a couple of minutes.
- Chatting with Eric Martin, who is always delightful, and always insightful.
As I said above, it was trick taking heaven. I met a lot of people there that were fun to be around, and I look forward to seeing them in the future.
As a parting note, I would like to thank James Nathan for his exceptional work, not only in bringing this group together, but for the enormous work he does to foster the international trick-taking community. I’ve been importing trick-taking games and writing about them for a long time, and things have really taken off, in large part thanks to his scouting and writing. 2015 felt like a desert; 2023 feels like a flood. Publishers like Allplay and PGC are printing trick takers; people like Taylor Reiner are talking about them; and several people are designing and developing them. That is all because people like James Nathan are testing them out and making sure the light shines on the best ones. Thank you, James Nathan: your work has brought joy to countless numbers of us.