Dale Yu: Review of St Patrick

St Patrick

  • Designer: Haig Tahta, Sacha Tahta Alexander
  • Publisher: Matagot
  • Players: 3-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Matagot

St Patrick, first released as Salvage, is a simple trick-taking game that combines the fun of Hearts with the assessment of Oh Hell and the fairness of duplicate Bridge (according to the box). Everyone starts at 20 points and takes damage over the course of play. The game ends when one player reaches 0, at which time the player with the most points wins.  In the original Salvage game, an oil tanker is on fire, and you are part of a rescue team sent to deal with it. You will take damage as you put out the fires, but before the operation begins you can salvage oil as an insurance against the costs you expect to suffer.  In St Patrick, you now compete to retain the most life points by using relics to avoid snake bites.

The key dynamic of the game is that before playing a hand you assess the strength of your cards and make a bid of how many points you are prepared to lose not to play the hand. That bid acts as an insurance, and you will be penalized only for points you lose above that bid. However, if everyone’s combined bids equal the total amount of damage that can be taken, then everyone loses the amount they bid, and the hands get passed around the table so that other players have a chance to do better with the same hand.

The game is made up of a 36 card deck, the three colors of the Irish flag (green, white and orange) from 1-9 as well as a black snake suit from 1-9.  Each of the black cards is worth 1 snake, and the 7 of white and orange are each worth 3 snakes.  There are also 15 relic tokens which you use to avoid snake bites.  Each player starts the game with 20 lives.  Mark this on paper or find some d20 to use for life counters.

The cards are dealt out and the 15 relics are placed on the table.  Each player passes cards to the player on their left.  If there is a player who is alone in last place, they choose the number of cards to pass (0 to 2).  If there is a tie for last, you always pass one card to the left. Then starting with the player who has the Green 7 (St Patrick), players can choose to take one or more relics from the center or to pass.  This continues until all players pass OR all the Relics are taken.

If all the relics are taken, the round is a wash.  All players take damage equal to the number of Relics they chose to take, and then all players pass their hand to the player on their left and a new round of Relic taking is begun.

If all players pass and there are still relics on the table, you get to play the hand…  The player who holds the St Patrick card leads the first trick, by choosing any card from their hand.  Play goes clockwise, and as with most trick taking games, you must follow suit if possible.  If you do not have the suit, you can play anything.  When all players have played, the player who played the highest card of the led suit wins the trick.  The only cards that matter are those with snake icons on them.  Take those and place them face up in front of you.  The winner of the previous trick leads the next trick.  Continue this until all the hands are empty.

Then, at the end of the round, players count the number of snake icons they took and subtract the number of relics they took at the start of the round.  If a player manages to take all 15 of the bites, they lose nothing and all other players lose 3 life points.  Play continues to the end of a round when at least one player has lost all 20 of their life points.  At that time, the player with the most life left wins.

My thoughts on the game

This is a super interesting trick-taking game, but perhaps more for the bidding and posturing than in the card play itself.  You can easily see this as a Hearts variant, because in the end, avoiding tricks is the best way to avoid taking points.   Unlike Hearts, taking points isn’t necessarily always bad though – because the bidding allows you to collect charms to negate the penalty of taking snake cards…  In this case, you might end up taking a majority of the scoring cards, but if you managed to take a bunch of charms; someone else may end up with the worst score on that hand.

Of course, as you take more and more relic tokens, you run the risk of the largest penalty if/when all the tokens are claimed.  There are exactly enough tokens for the snake cards in the deck, so if everyone correctly predicts the number of snake cards they will take; they would each get negative points equal to their bid.  The trick here, if you have a “bad” hand, is how to take what you need without having the pool empty out.  Alternatively, if you have a “good” hand, maybe it is worth it to take an extra token, resulting in an extra penalty point; but this might cause someone else to take a much larger penalty.    There is also a risky strategy of bluffing on your first bid and not taking tokens; trying to make other players think that their snake risk is higher than it actually is – but you could then get stuck with a bid of 0 if the next two players pass….

Where the game gets really fun for me is when a penalty is triggered, and then the hands are passed and the bidding then re-commences with different owners for those hands.  Now, you have direct knowledge of what your LHO has in their hand (as you passed it to them); and you also know what the original owners bid on all four hands.

I have played both versions of the game, and I do wish that St Patrick came with a scoreboard as the original game did.  While it is easy enough to score with pen/paper or a phone app; as with most games, only the scorekeeper can easily remember what everyone has; and knowing what each player’s current score is can definitely affect how you bid or who you try to give points to…

The art in the new version is superb, and the theme is a bit more appealing to me than an oil tanker going down in flames…  I have certainly enjoyed the games of both this and Salvage which I have played, and having a chance to play the game with the original publisher gave me some insight on subtle strategies which I hadn’t discovered on my own, and which I look forward to trying to implement on my own in future games.  A highly recommended trick taking game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): While making a variant on a classic game is a fine idea, for me such a game has to at least be as interesting as the original to be worth its while.  And I can’t imagine ever choosing to play St. Patrick in preference to Hearts.  There’s just far more randomness, and the ability to guard against taking bad cards doesn’t quite work as intended – and makes the game significantly longer as points will be tempered by the relics.

Dan B. (1 play): I didn’t dislike it as much as Joe did – I suppose I’d be willing to try it again if pressed – but I certainly didn’t see much appeal in it. I suppose if bids are frequently too high and hands are passed, it could get interesting, but I’m not seeing how good play is going to lead to that very often. Sure, if I think my risk is low I might take one extra relic to deprive other players, but in that case I’m almost certainly not taking the last one, so who is going to? Someone who is short a relic because I took an extra one? They probably lose more points relative to me by emptying the pool than by just playing the hand.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral. Dan B.
  • Not for me… Joe H.

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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