ContractGrid

A weird trick-taking card game I thought, for three players. Inspired by those games with missions. I haven’t tested it though, and asking for anyone that wants to playtest it to test it.

Players 3 Cards 33 Playing time Estimated to be 1-3 hours

Requirements
The game is played by a 33-card deck: AKQJT987 from highest (A) to lowest (7) in all four suits, plus a joker. The joker is always counted as the highest trump; in particular, it is counted a trump.

In addition, each player needs a paper, a pencil, and four small objects. The paper and the pencil can be shared though, and if there is an eraser, the small objects might not be necessary.

Objective
To be the person with the most points when the game ends, without exceeding a score cap, unless he also has the grid completely marked.

Starting phase
First, the players create a 4×4 grid, and fill a contract in each cell as the player likes; the only restriction is that all contracts are different. There are 16 contracts, as follows:
– Zero: To make a number of tricks which is divisible by 3 (0,3,6,9)
– One: To make a number of tricks which leaves a remainder of 1 when divided by 3 (1,4,7,10)
– Two: To make a number of tricks which leaves a remainder of 2 when divided by 3 (2,5,8,11)
– First: To make the most number of tricks
– Second: To make the second most number of tricks (but not to tie)
– Third: To make the lowest number of tricks
– Different: To make the players get different number of tricks
– Soloist: To get a number of tricks different from the other two, which must tie
– Partner: To tie with someone
– All-Trump: To collect all trumps
– No-Trump: To collect no trump
– Spades: To collect spades more than or equal to any other suit
– Hearts: To collect hearts more than or equal to any other suit
– Diamonds: To collect diamonds more than or equal to any other suit
– Clubs: To collect clubs more than or equal to any other suit
– Play: To play

The grid has 14 lines: 4 horizontal lines, 4 vertical lines, 2 long diagonal lines of four squares, and 4 short diagonal lines of three squares.

Starting the hand
Before starting the hand, the dealer deals 11 cards to each player. After looking at the cards, starting from the player to the left of the dealer going clockwise, each person declares a suit that they don’t want to be the trump; the remaining suit is the trump.

Afterwards, also starting from the player to the left of the dealer going clockwise, each person marks four squares as their bids for the hand.

Playing the hand
The hand is played according to the usual trick-taking rules. The player to the left of the dealer begins the first trick; afterwards, the winner of the previous trick leads the next trick. Each trick is won by the joker, or the highest trump if the joker is not present, or the highest card in the led suit if no trump is present.

Scoring
After all 11 tricks are played, the hand is scored. Each player will have made some of the 16 contracts, called the values. In addition, each square on a player’s grid is either marked or unmarked; at the beginning of the game, they are all unmarked.

Each player scores 1 point for every value that is unmarked on their grid.

Each player also scores 5 points for every value that is bid. Afterwards, that contract is now marked. (Note that marking a bid scores 5 points for the met bid, plus 1 point for an unmarked value, for a total of 6 points.)

Each player also scores 5 points for every line of marked squares on their grid.

The largest that a player can make in one hand is 94: 14 lines (14*5), plus 4 made bids (4*5), plus 4 unmarked values (4*1).

End of game
As long as no player reaches a score of 1000 points (reaches the cap) or has their grid completely marked (a complete grid), the game continues with a new hand, with the dealer position rotating clockwise.

When someone reaches the cap or has a complete grid, the game ends. The winner is now decided as follows:
– If there is someone that reaches the cap and has a complete grid, the winner is the person with a complete grid and the largest score. Otherwise,
– The winner is the person with the largest score not reaching the cap. Otherwise,
– The winner is the person with the largest score.

Put in another way, the winner is the person with the largest score. However, if a person reaches the cap without a complete grid, they immediately fall behind everyone (except against other hit-cap-but-incomplete-grid players, where larger score wins). If there is a tie, the winner is the person with the larger score at the last moment the scores were not tied. (If two people tie all the way in the game, they both deserve the win.)

Variations
– Different cap: You can change the cap of 1000 points to anything you like. A smaller value leads to a rush of completing grids without making too many lines, but a value too small (less than 96) becomes a game of avoiding making bids altogether to avoid the 5-point score and going over the cap. A larger value leads to more strategic game stalling, which will also make the game longer.
– Different number of bids: You can change the number of bids in each hand (originally 4). A player can probably achieve 9 contracts at once (by collecting none, you get Zero, Third, Different/Soloist/Partner, No-Trump, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, and Play). (The least is 5: Zero/One/Two, First/Second/Third, Different/Soloist/Partner, Spades/Hearts/Diamonds/Clubs, Play.) Changing the number of bids have different effects; in particular, sometimes players want to miss bids as equally as to make bids to keep some cells to give those 1-point scores.
– Different contracts: You may determine different contracts in the game. You might also go for changing the dimensions and the scoring lines, which should be combined with changing the cap and changing the number of bids. For a simpler (but equally long) version, I suggest removing the last seven contracts for a 3×3 grid, with three bids per hand and a cap of 100.
– Removing cap: You can remove cap, but expect non-leaders to stall the game. This is related to a strategy discussed below.
– Removing completed grid requirement: By removing completed grid requirement, the winner is basically the person that has the most points. This usually leads to the trailing players to lose interest as the leader approaches the cap; in the original version the trailing players can try to push the leader over the cap without making their grid complete.
– Different unmarked cell reward: A smaller value leads to a more careful planning of bids, making sure that the bids are hit for the large scores. A larger value leads to a more careful planning of bids, making sure that the bids are missed so the squares remain unmarked.
– Changing number of cards: I suggest playing with 24-card deck (AKQJT9) for faster hands and probably faster gameplay.
– Changing number of players: This game can be easily adapted for a different number of players. However, of course almost everything (contracts, cap, number of bids, etc) should be changed.
– There might be even more variations, but none has been tested. (The original game itself has not been tested anyway.)

Strategy
I find the strategy to be extremely rich, more in the contract making and score management than in the trick-taking phase. This ContractGrid part might even be able to be implemented to a game where the “actual” phase is not terribly important (five-card draw poker with different contracts?), so more attention is focused on the grid. However, the players should be able to thwart the plans of each other to make sure the game doesn’t become a simple race to the top without being able to tamper with others.

Here are a few basic strategies:
– When you’re leading, complete the grid as fast as possible. This is natural. However, when you’re trailing, almost complete the grid as fast as possible, and leave a single cell (or more, your choice) intact and never bid it so you won’t accidentally complete the grid and give the leader his win. Doing this grants you the line bonuses (at most 11 if you haven’t completed it) the fastest, and enables you to catch up with the leader; just bid accurately to gain 75 points (11 lines + 4 made bids) per hand and you’ll get to the leader in no time. Or if it takes long, then the leader is going to go over cap soon anyway.
– Also, if you’re trailing, make sure that you can thwart all the leader’s attempts to mark his final cells. A better measure is to force him to get all but one cell, preferably not in the center, so that he is forced to claim 55 points per hand (11 lines). Then, feed him all his contracts other than the single cell; this gives 70 points (11 lines + 3 made bids).
– Sometimes, it’s better to miss bids to avoid scoring high. A particular strategy is to just bid some cells that you have made when you have no line, for the sole purpose of thwarting the leader; however, if you do this, you’re most likely at third with a considerable margin and you have two people to take care of. It’s difficult.

I suppose you can start going for a particular playing style and find a wealth of strategies for that.

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