Trick Taking Week: An Interview with David Parlett

I started trick taking week by talking about the recent rise of trick-taking games. But the growth of trick taking games has been centuries in the making, and the spark that led to the era of designer games came decades ago, when game designers started focusing on making new trick-taking games.

A forefather of all of this was David Parlett. If you’ve heard that name before in the board game context, it is because he was the first-ever winner of the Spiel des Jahres, for Hase und Igel (a.k.a. Hare & Tortoise), back in 1979.

As we celebrate trick taking week, I had a few questions to ask him, and he generously agreed to answer them. I kept it short, because his time is valuable, and candidly, I am still grateful that he takes the time to answer my inquiries after all these years!

He has designed a number of trick taking card games over the years, and you can find the rules for them on his website. The tagline of his website is amazing: “You can teach an old dog new tricks.” He mentions several of the games below, so those are a good place to start. His game Ninety-Nine is in the Trick-Taking Guild’s Hall of Fame, so that is where I personally recommend starting.

Before I get to the interview, I strongly recommend that all fans of trick taking games read his book, A History of Card Games. It has a nice overview on the rise of trick taking games, and an overview of the different sub-genres of them in the public domain.

Chris Wray: Trick taking is surely one of the most popular game mechanics in the world, and designer trick taking games are having a bit of a moment. What do you think has contributed to the popularity over the centuries? What draws people to this form of card play?

David Parlett: Trick-taking games are fast and decisive. A deal lasts requires no more acts of play than the number of cards in your hand (unlike rummy games, which seem to go on for ever). After each trick you acquire more information about the cards remaining in play and can make appropriate judgments accordingly, especially in games where all the cards are in play.

Chris Wray: I frequently point readers to your book, A History of Card Games (and in fact, I did it above).  One of the lines that has struck with me over the years is that trick taking games likely originated shortly after the deck of cards. Why do you think that is the case? Is this just a natural expression of a deck of cards? To me, the idea of a trick is pretty intuitive: everybody plays one, and the highest card takes them all!

David Parlett: The earliest known cards contained numerals from 1 to 10 and two or three face cards (or their equivalents) representing characters belonging to a hierarchy of ministers or military officials. Such cards seem designed for capturing cards lower in rank, and would not have been appropriate for a mere matching or arithmetical game.

Chris Wray: You’ve released a number of card games over the years. If somebody were just discovering your card games, which ones would you recommend they try first?

David Parlett: Depends on the number of players. For two: Duck Soup, Parity, Galapagos, Dracula; three: Ninety-Nine, Bugami, Gooseberry Fool; four in partnerships: Tantony, Concerto, Seconds; four solo: Collusion; five: Anarchy, Minimisere; six: Chwech. Bugami is good for any number from 3 to 6. All these are trick-takers except Dracula and Concerto.

Chris Wray: What are your personal favorite trick taking games?

David Parlett: Presumably traditional rather than games of my own (see above): for two, Piquet, Schnapsen, Cribbage; three: Skat (my absolute favourite), Five Hundred; four in partnerships: Contract Whist (in preference to Bridge), Doppelkopf; four solo: Hearts. On the whole, I prefer games for three players.

Chris Wray: A favorite game of The Trick Taking Guild over on BoardGameGeek is Ninety-Nine.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you arrived at the idea?

David Parlett: I can well remember the place and occasion on which I developed it, but not exactly what led to its key feature.

Thanks again to David Parlett for his answers, and for all he has done for trick taking over the years. It was a joy to have his participation in trick-taking week!

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