Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part four: Family games

Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean you don’t still need some simple, easy-to-teach games for families or casual groups to play.  (I’m going to ignore the dire implications of children in an apocalypse, because, woof, any way you think about that is depressing.)

Family games?

By which I mean “games that can be played with kids, but also adults.”  It’s not a lesser genre (and, in fact, one of my favorite games of all time is in this list), it’s just one that’s got a broader scope of appeal than, say, Contract Bridge.

Under no circumstances is War part of the Cardpocalypse

It died an inglorious death along with the rest of the world.  Do not perpetuate its awfulness upon any future generations.  Let it rest in tedious, awful, not-actually-a-game peace, somewhere far far away from us.

You can choose to read the above as applying to either the concept or the thing-you-do-with-cards.

Two-player family games

Spit and Speed are games where it’s all about, well, speed.  I learned Speed at a young age, but Spit is a bit more refined, with a touch more strategy.  You’ll want to use decks that you aren’t too emotionally attached to for these games, though, as the cards tend to get rather a lot of abuse in the process.

Rummy is a stone-cold classic, and another one of those games where you’re going to need to get agreement on the basic rules before playing.  There are a ton of variations on the core; Gin Rummy is particularly famous, which is unfortunate, because it’s game that should basically only be played for money and generally isn’t nowadays.  (Plus, what exactly is money worth in the Cardpocalypse?)  The most basic forms of rummy are easy enough to teach, though, and the game is at its best with two players even though there are variants that support many more.

Family games for more

Crazy Eights is all right, but its elaboration in Bartog (or Bartok, or some other names) has provided me with some of the most entertaining experiences I’ve ever had at a gaming table.  The short explanation: it’s Crazy Eights, except each time someone wins they get to add a new rule to the game.  You can essentially re-create Uno, if that’s the direction you want to go… or you can make a mind-twister of a game where suits and values constantly change over the course of play, valid cards are based on bizarre criteria, and you have to say (or not say!) random things to continue.  We used to play this at lunch pretty regularly when I worked at a university, and I only considered it a successful game if at least one person complained about their head hurting by the end.  Of course, it can be played in a much more casual manner, with easy-to-follow rules like the traditional skips and reverses and the like.  It’s one of the rare non-cooperative games where I find the experience of play way more interesting than who actually wins or loses… unless the person who wins stinks at coming up with good rules.  (A suggestion: start every game with what we call the “Got it!” rule, where if you draw because you don’t have a valid play and that draw is valid you’re allowed to play it immediately, saying, well, “Got it!”  It speeds up the game a bit, which means more new rules, which means more fun to be had.)

It’s simple and silly and loud as hell, but Pig/Spoons is always a good time too.  Its only danger is that kids will want to play it again and again (and again…) and it just doesn’t have that staying power for adults.  That’s fine, though; it’s why you have two decks of cards.  Leave the kids playing Pig while you switch to something else.

It goes by a bunch of minced-oath names, but Bullshit is a great bluffing game that plays better with more players, not less, a rare trait.  You’ll notice that Go Fish isn’t on this list; that’s because it mostly teaches kids how to cheat.  How about making that part of the game?  That’s what Bullshit does.  Learning to have a “poker face” is an essential skill at, well, life, and Bullshit does a good job of teaching that.  It also happens to be quite a bit of fun, if sometimes over-long.  (Play to a number of hands rather than elimination to speed things up.)

And I can’t not put Durak in the Guide, a game I’ve almost exclusively played after parties in huge groups as an evening enlivener and wind-downer all in one.  It’s another shedding game like Bullshit, but one where you’re explicitly targeting the player to your right rather than wondering about everyone at the table.  I was taught to play with a full 52-card deck, and while we’ve experimented with a bunch of different ways to let people jump in, the most strategic is only allowing the player after the defender to join.  As a folk game, though, it’s going to be different for each group.  The litany I’ve learned to repeat over and over is “attack by rank, defend by suit,” and I’ve never figured out if the reason no one can remember that is because it’s hard or because I’m often the only sober person at the table when we play.

I strongly suspect the latter.

Weekly status update [0029/????]

Let’s get right into it.

  • As mentioned before, my shoulder was acting up all week.  Fortunately it seems almost completely better now.  I’m still going to take it easy for another day or two, minimizing my time at the computer and with a controller, because boy howdy did it suck for a while there.
  • Due to the aforementioned shoulder issues, I ended up spending most of the week reading rather than playing games.  I finished Christopher Moore’s Secondhand Souls, which was good but not as good (or captivating) as A Dirty Job, a book I read in a single sitting a week or two ago.  Then I picked up Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle and read it from cover-to-cover in a single day.  I’m currently working on its sequel, which seems like it will also be excellent.
  • One of my old coworkers moved out of town this week to go back home to his family (and a job much closer to home).  We spent basically the entire weekend playing board games; Saturday was just the two of us, with his son joining on Sunday after he flew in.  It was a good time.  The two new-to-me games that we played were Cinque Terre, which was fine if rather slight, and Keltis: Das Kartenspiel.  On the face of it, the latter game is pretty ridiculous: it’s a card game adaptation of a board game (Keltis) which itself is an adaptation of a card game (Lost Cities).  Instead of being a third-generation blurry photocopy, though, it’s actually a pretty fascinating tactical game on its own, and the fact that it supports more than two players means that it could potentially hit the table more often than Lost Cities in some gaming groups.  I need more time with it to establish a firmer opinion, but I liked the game of it we played.
  • The big thing that happened this past week was my coming along to my old work’s Summer Outing as an old friend’s “+1” on Friday.  The weather was stunningly nice, hovering around 80°F and with low humidity; we were at a combination pavilion-greens-lakeshore thing, and the water in the pool was just the right level of cool to feel infinitely refreshing.  It was nice to see a bunch of old faces again, including the kitchen staff, who I miss dearly.  I had a really good time… and a much better one than the last time we were at the same venue, four years ago, when I jumped into the pool with my phone, destroyed it, and then got paged by work and had to spend the rest of the trip furiously fixing remote issues rather than having a good time.
  • I also managed to have a few games hit the table while on said outing.  The only new one was Lost Cities: Rivals, yet another game in the Lost Cities/Keltis franchise.  It was… fascinating, with a bidding mechanic that is wholly new to the series, and I didn’t really wrap my head around it by the end of the game.  I still managed to win, somehow, but we also weren’t playing by the rules entirely (it was a first game and I was rushing, as we had to leave soon).  I look forward to playing it a little more deliberately… and correctly… in the future.
  • I didn’t get burned at all despite spending a lot of the day in the sun!  Woot!  That… might be a first?

Despite the frustrating health issues, it was a nice week, with more board gaming than I’ve done in the last few months, and a lot of time spent with people I like.  What more can one ask for?

Cold (typing) shoulder

Apologies for the radio silence this week, but I’ve been having issues with my right shoulder that typing and mousing exacerbate.  I’ve chosen to be a (relatively) good boy and keep them to a minimum… which means the continuation of the Cardpocalypse will have to wait another week.

Weekly status update [0028/????]

This was a week that even I found surprisingly quiet.

  • After over a month of off-and-on effort, I finally managed to order a bunch of back issues of Akıl Oyunları, a Turkish puzzle magazine that comes highly rated from several people.  It’s basically impossible to get in the United States without some serious shenanigans.  Whether they’ll actually arrive successfully at my house or not is another matter entirely…
  • I actually watched a tiny bit of television this past week, namely two or three more episodes of the second season of Jessica Jones.  It definitely got better from the first, rather dire, one.  I’m still not sure it’s good, and it definitely comes across as particularly weak after the fantastic first season, but I’m going to finish it off… if only so that I can watch the second season of Luke Cage.
  • I even watched a couple of movies, another rare event for me.  The Avengers: Infinity War was pretty much exactly what I suspected it’d be; I don’t want to talk about it too much, for fear of spoilers, but I can imagine some people who aren’t aware of comic book tropes were Real Shook Up by that ending.  I also watched A Quiet Place, which was excellent.  It had a couple of silly bits, but overall it was a finely-crafted bit of horror.  It’s basically Signs but only 5% as stupid.
  • After working on it off-and-on for well over a year, I saw the end credits of Picross 3D Round 2… which unlocked a whole other set of puzzles.  Heh.  This wasn’t surprising to me, as that result had already been spoiled… and I hadn’t gotten the final score emblem yet even though I’ve received a perfect score in every level.  I’m taking the post-game easy, though, as I solved a lot of puzzles in a rush to get there, and it’s one of the few videogames that actually hurts a bit to play, due to the weird claw grip you have to hold the 3DS in.
  • I’m not playing this one, but Landail is: he’s made it to Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game I played back in the late ’90s or early ’00s on a loaned copy from a friend.  It goes for over a thousand bucks now (!!).  I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t hold up to my memory… but, no, it’s still a beautiful, well-designed game.  Phew.  Sometimes it’s not Happy Sappy Delusion Syndrome muddling your memories of the past.  It’s been a blast to watch.
  • I actually made more-than-single-line changes to Giles over the past week.  Nothing too exciting, mind, but it required me to actually look at some Python documentation, which is more of a commitment than I had made to programming in quite a while.

As is often true for a quiet week, I still somehow figure out how to write several hundred words…

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part three: Trick-taking games

I’ll be blunt: if you take nothing else from this series of articles, remember this: trick-taking card games are the best games ever.  I have played a lot of other games over the years, whether board or card, but nothing compares to a good trick-taker.  Like many a Cajun, my first was Bourré when I was a pas bon ti garçon, and after thirty-plus years I’m still learning how to “git gud” at trick-takers… and still three-quarters of that description.  There is an infinite well of learning here, so drink greedily or sip carefully; there’s more than enough for everyone.

Wikipedia has a surprisingly solid overview of the concept of trick-taking games; if you’re completely unfamiliar with them, start there.

Four-player partnership full-deck games

The best trick-takers are all four-player partnership games, where teams of two compete to see whether it’s Them or Us that are the best, with the entire deck of fifty-two cards dealt out to the players.  There are a bunch of reasons for this:

  • Partnerships combine both the joy of cooperation (working together with someone to win) and competition (crushing the souls of your opponents);
  • Full-deck games mean that you can have a firm grasp on what cards are still in play, because every card is in play at the beginning, rather than having a pile of undealt or discarded cards messing up your calculations;
  • Weaker players can be paired up with stronger ones to even the teams out, helping to ensure that everyone has a good time; and
  • Probably the best game in the world (Contract Bridge) is a four-player partnership full-deck game.

Their fatal flaw, of course, is that they have to be played with four people: no more, no less.  This is fine for Bridge clubs but less fine for casual gaming.  That said, if you’ve never played a trick-taking game before, this is almost certainly where you should start.  The grounding you get from one of these games will serve you well with any other trick-taker you might play.

The best place to start is with Hokm.  It has a couple of peculiarities: you deal and play “backwards” due to its Persian origins, you deal in packets rather than one card at a time, and one player (the hakem) looks at their first five cards before anyone else to pick the trump suit.  But there isn’t any bidding, which is one of the parts of many trick-takers that can be very challenging for newcomers, so you’re free to simply play the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt, and the high luck factor with the hakem’s trump choices mean that you can always blame bad luck when things go awry.  Hokm is my go-to game for a group that has anyone not deeply familiar with trick-takers, but it’s also a good game to play in general when you don’t have the mental energy to bid precisely.

Next up is Spades, which is probably the trick-taker that most people are familiar with.  It has a near-fatal flaw, though: as a “folk” game, absolutely no one agrees on exactly how to play.  Every group of people scores slightly differently, allows different bids, and so on.  In the event of the Cardpocalypse (and, honestly, now), it is absolutely essential that you work out with your companions exactly what rules you’re playing the game with; disagreements over valid bids can get absolutely vicious.  Don’t go there.

Further up the complexity bar is Forty-One, another Persian game.  It’s unique in that it’s a partnership game where each partner scores separately for each hand, which allows for another layer of strategy–because trick-taking games just weren’t complicated enough.  We typically play with a variant rule that reduces the minimum total-tricks-bid each hand by one when a hand doesn’t “make,” resetting to 11 when a hand finally happens, so as not to spend most of the game shuffling rather than playing… but that probably mostly means that we’re just too timid with our bidding.

The ultimate four-player partnership full-deck trick-taking game (whew, that’s a mouthful) is Contract Bridge.  That said, even though I think it might be the greatest game on the planet, it also has a fatal flaw: you will simply be no good at it unless you devote a lot of time to the game.  A lot.  You have to learn bidding conventions, bidding strategies, and it has this weird dummy-hand mechanic that means one player every hand literally sits there and does nothing.  It’s genius, but it’s flawed genius, and although I respect the game a lot I can’t in good conscience make it part of the Guide to the Cardpocalypse.  I suspect you can figure out a way to learn about it if you’re interested, though.

Three-player trick-taking games

Sometimes you don’t have a full complement of players.  That’s sad, but it turns out that there are a couple of very solid three-player games.

The first is Ninety-Nine.  It’s actually a relatively recent invention, and technically plays from 2-5 pretty well, but the two-player game is meh, and if you have four your time is better spent with one of the games above.  It has a unique bidding mechanic where you have to discard cards from your hand to represent your bid… but those cards may have been the ones that made the bid possible!  It’s a nice little twist of a game.

The second is Austrian Preference, which is actually often played four-player, with the dealer rotating and sitting out on the hands they deal.  My inclusion of this game when I don’t include Contract Bridge is more than a little hypocritical: it has a complicated bidding mechanic, a talon, and some weird “you must play this way” rules that take it away from being a pure trick-taking game.  But it is also unquestionably the best three-player trick-taker I’ve ever played, and I feel that its stumbling blocks are way less brutal than Contract Bridge.  You can actually become competent at it in a couple of games, which definitely cannot be said of Bridge.

Finally, a note that there is actually a quite-solid three-player variant of Hokm, with a quirky “you win if the other two players tie” rule that makes for an interesting game.  But that same rule also feels more than a little unnatural, so unless you really don’t want to have to play a trick-taking game with bids, I’d recommend the two games above.

Two-player trick-taking games

There are, as far as I know, no good two-player trick-taking games.  Believe me, I’ve searched far and wide for them, but I’ve been unsatisfied with every one I’ve played.

The canonical trick-taker for more than four

What happens if you have more than four people?  Well, fortunately, that can actually still work.

Oh Hell! (also known by a bunch of other minced-oath versions of the name) plays smoothly up to 7 and can accommodate 8 in a pinch.  It’s a bidder, and an exact bidder at that, so if there are people at the table who aren’t that familiar with trick-taking games they might be in for a rough time.  Fortunately the game’s pretty light and breezy, particularly if you play with the standard “card count down, card count up” rules; later hands can be a total crapshoot, which can be a great equalizer.  Or a rich-get-richer situation.  You never know.  I recommend two particular variants strongly: the dealer shouldn’t be able to make a bid so that everyone at the table can be happy, and a bid of zero should score 5 points plus the number of cards in the hand (so 13 in an eight-card hand, but only 6 in the one-card one).

Whither Bourré and Hearts?

You’ll notice I mentioned Bourré up above as my first trick-taking game.  In fact, I’m the primary author of the Wikipedia article on the game.  But it’s a weird one, almost exclusively played for money, and with a bunch of odd rules and corner cases that make it a hard sell if you didn’t grow up with the game (or have an enthusiastic Cajun teacher).  I’m happy to show you the ropes in person if you and a group of three or four others want to play (it’s best at 5-6), but as much affection as I have for the game I don’t think it should be part of the Guide.

Hearts is another game many people are familiar with, but it’s not really a trick-taking game so much as it is a trick-avoidance game, and this article is already really long.  Rest assured it’s part of the Guide, but it’ll come later.

I also didn’t cover any point-trick games (Pedro is the canonical example here).  I probably should, and might do so in a later article, but in general I find them to be inferior to their plain-trick brethren, a little too beholden to the luck of the draw.

A final note

I read recently (sadly, I forgot exactly where) that a four-player trick-taking game like Hokm or Spades can be considered a multiplayer puzzle: given this particular deal, with this particular trump, what should you and your partner bid?  And how do you play the cards in such a way so as to ensure victory?  Perhaps that’s why I consider trick-takers the ne plus ultra of card games, as I’m also a huge puzzle fan.  But even if you’re not, I know that you can take any of the games in this section of the Guide, learn them well, and have years of enjoyment.  Like I said at the top: trick-taking card games are the best games ever.

Good luck, partner!  (Or filthy opponent; we’ll see, won’t we?)

Weekly status update [0027/????]

A week past the six-month mark, and… well, other than that particular milestone, it’s been a pretty bog-standard sort of thing.

  • I’ve been having fun writing my Guide to the Cardpocalypse, and plan on writing the first one that actually covers games tomorrow or Monday–it’s going to be on trick-takers–so if you have Opinions you want to Express, now’s the time.
  • A lot of reading this week, but not of the book variety.  Instead I read through a couple of very good Let’s Play threads.  For those unfamiliar, a Let’s Play is a playthrough of a particular game–in this case, early Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games, along with the original Master of Orion–done by someone who is usually very familiar with that game.  They show off the inner workings, interesting strategies, and hidden bits.  Most modern Let’s Plays are done in video on YouTube; some huge Internet personalities like PewDiePie (ugh) got their start in the format.  But the original form was a combination of text and screenshots in a forum (most famously the Something Awful forum, which I won’t link for… pretty much the same reasons I didn’t link PewDiePie above), and that’s the format I like the most.  It’s easy to pick up and put down, and I read way faster than I watch video, even at 1.5x speed.  If this sounds at all interesting to you, check out the Let’s Play Archive and find some game you’ve always been interested in.
  • Also actually playing games on my own, mostly Let It Die, where I continue to delay my storming of the endgame for no good reason other than that I’m scared, but also some Dead Cells now that it’s out on consoles.  Yeah, that means I bought the game twice, which is dumb, but I really like playing it on my big TV with my PS4 controller.
  • Had dinner with friends not once but twice over the week, which was nice.  Particularly since one of the meals was with someone who moved to Europe in the last few months–it was nice to catch up–and the other was with someone who is moving away soon; another opportunity to socialize with people before they leave is always nice.
  • One of those dinners ended up being not-the-best for my diet, though, so I’ve been playing it tighter for the rest of the week.  I’ve (sadly) gotten used to going to bed hungry, but it’s necessary to help get my “desire to eat everything under the eaves” under control, which (like all addictions) has a nasty habit of springing up with just the slightest provocation.  I’m actually genuinely curious at this point as to how much I weigh now; I don’t know how much I had gotten up to, but I have a rough idea.  I’m not going to seek out a scale, though.  Regular weighing has been one of several things that has completely ruined my self-control due to over-correction.
  • Other than some more time with Picross 3D Round 2, I didn’t do much in the way of puzzles… but I did finally get a lead on getting a bunch of back issues of a particular Turkish puzzle magazine that comes very highly recommended.  (Don’t look at me like that.  I already have a ton of Japanese puzzle magazines; why not Turkish too?)  I’m waiting to hear back from the publisher/editor.  The magazines themselves will be dirt cheap.  It’s gonna be the shipping that’s killer.

The weather’s been uncommonly pleasant here in North Carolina, not but not crazily so, although the off-and-on rain makes it hard to enjoy.  I’ll take it, though, along with the lassitude of my current lifestyle.  It’s been a very different August than my last twenty or so, that’s for sure.  And that’s a good thing.

Twenty-six weeks and what do you get?

…half a year older, for sure; thankfully not deeper in debt.

(A quick note: I added a widget to the side that lets you subscribe to the blog via eMail; put in your address and you’ll get a message whenever I write a new article.  Several people have asked how to follow along a bit easier.  Hopefully that helps.)

My last day of work was February 2nd, 2018.  This past Friday marks twenty-six weeks since then, fully half a year of retirement.  It’s kind of crazy to think about; I remember when I was in my late twenties and thinking, “huh, maybe I can pull this off sometime in my mid-forties if I work really hard at it.”  Working in tech let me pull that off seven or eight years before my original plans, and for that I will always be grateful.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been six months, but it doesn’t feel like it’s only been a couple of weeks either.  If I had to put a number on how long it feels, I’d say something like three months… but I’m not sure that that perception of time is really any different from when I was working.  I was at my last job for just a bit over five years but it felt like three at most.

Let’s answer the most obvious question first, because it’s also the easiest: No, I don’t regret retiring.  Do I have any concrete regrets at all?  Sure.  I miss the social aspects of my workplace, playing board games at lunch and chatting with people in the halls.  I miss the food team and the delicious free food (although my waistline is rather happier now).  But I honestly hadn’t been all that happy with my day-to-day job for a couple of years when I left, and there’s no question that I enjoy what I’m doing now–even if, to the outside world, it might look like a fat lot of nothing–quite a bit more.

The money situation requires a Magic 8-Ball response: Ask again later.  The market volatility this year has completely swamped any attempt I could make at understanding whether my rate of spending is sustainable or not in the long term.  That rate of spending has actually been surprisingly constant over the year, which I discovered almost by accident last week when messing around with graphs in Gnucash; it’s quite a bit higher than I would like–looks like it’s likely to be somewhere around $36,000 for the year, when I’m aiming for something more like $30,000–but there is still a ton of superfluous spending in there, if it turns out I have to buckle down and Get Serious about my money habits.  And assuming my spending increases at the same rate as the value of my investments (a pretty ridiculous assumption, seeing as the trend is downwards, not upwards) I still have somewhere around twenty years before I have to touch the first penny of my retirement, at which point I’ll be in my late fifties.  Yeah.  It’ll almost certainly be fine, but still: ask again later.

As for longer-term plans, well, I said I’d give myself a year before I started worrying about that sort of thing, so get back to me in six months.

From one perspective, these twenty-six weeks have been profoundly unproductive.  Other than this blog, I haven’t written anything of note; other than a few tiny patches and tinkerings, I haven’t written any code either.  But that’s at least partly by design; I don’t want to force myself into those things if I’m not really feeling it, and in both cases I can feel the desire to “do something” percolating more and more inside me.  I suspect it won’t be more than a couple of weeks before I sit down and write something, be it code or prose.  I’m going to let it happen naturally.

From another perspective, though, it’s actually been quite productive.  Changing the way that I type–something I do a lot of, even if it’s not writing prose–has been a huge undertaking; I remember that first weekend, typing at 5wpm and thinking it was the worst idea I had ever had in my life.  But now I’m back to something like 75% of my old typing speed, which puts me in the top 1% or so of typists in the world, and that is Plenty Sufficient for my needs.  It’s also way less strain on my hands, something I need to be careful with if I want to be able to do this for the next thirty-plus years.  It’s the sort of “short term pain, long term gain” thing that I couldn’t really justify back when my livelihood at least partly depended on how fast I could bang on the keyboard, and my life will be better now indefinitely into the future for it.

There’s the other stuff too.  I’ve read a bunch of books I hadn’t gotten around to, played a bunch of games I never finished, completed a couple of puzzle books that have been lingering near my chair for years… basically doing things I always pushed off because I didn’t have the time.  My backlog of media is effectively infinite, so it’s hard to say that I made progress on those fronts, and it still grows at a rate greater than my ability to consume it, but there’s no question that I did something there.  And that’s satisfying.

Another thing that retirement has made easier is taking control of my weight.  There’s no question that I’m addicted to food, and being alone at my house allows me to highly regulate the food I come in contact with; the ever-present snacks at my old work place were a serious impediment to my diet, and although I overcame that for a while it is always easier to just eat all the things.  I still have quite a way to go, but the combination of calorie restriction and keto is doing its job.  (It’s also making me pretty grumpy some days, but you can’t have it all, at least if you want to drop a bunch of pounds in time for the holidays.)

In some ways this was always something of an experiment.  You can plan and plan, hypothesize that “it’s going to work out,” but until you actually do the thing it’s almost impossible to know whether or not such a long-term life shift is actually going to work out.  And it’s still very much early days yet; I won’t presume to know that my first six months are indicative of the next six, much less the (hopefully) long life ahead of me.  But: so far, so good.  So very, very good.

Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.  If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address, whether briefly in replies or via longer-form posts, just let me know.  Thankfully I get enough comments to know I’m not just screaming into the void, but I’m happy to hear feedback of all types.

See you here again in six months!  (Also on Friday or Saturday, for the weekly rundown.  But also in six months.)

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part two: Etiquette

Before we dive into any actual games, there’s still some more important ground to cover.  (And I’m still looking for feedback about which games you think should be part of the Guide!  Feel free to comment either here or on the earlier post.)  In the case of an actual apocalypse, this part is actually probably more important than knowing the rules of any particular game; screwing around with cards is more likely to get you stabbed, or shot, than simply not understanding the rules.


Learn how to do a bridge (or riffle) shuffle properly.  There are unsurprisingly quite a few nice, short videos on YouTube about this; it is a skill that will take the majority of you an afternoon at most to reach a reasonable level of competence.  My mother didn’t pick it up until she was in her late sixties, so don’t let “but I didn’t learn it as a kid!” be the thing that stops you.  Practice with a fresh deck of plastic-coated paper cards, then practice again with your nice all-plastic cards, which tend to be a lot more slippery and have a habit of shooting off everywhere if you don’t keep a firm grasp on them.  Then find that old shopworn deck of cards that’s hiding in the back of the drawers of the china cabinet and practice on that.  Worn-out cards are toughies, but in the Cardpocalypse you’ll have to deal with them sometimes.  You don’t need Vegas-level pizzazz with your shuffling, just competence.

I generally shuffle the deck a minimum of seven times before using it, but I am a compulsive shuffler, so it’ll get done twenty (or thirty, or…) times if I’m the person holding the second deck while the first is getting used.

If someone asks to cut the cards, let them.  Place the deck face down on the table in front of them; they’ll make two or more piles of cards, which you’ll pick up in reverse order.  Keep the deck level when you do this; more about how you hold the deck in Dealer etiquette, below.

Player etiquette

Wait for the dealer to finish dealing before you touch the cards in front of you.  If you’re an inveterate fiddler, like me, offer to pre-shuffle the second deck while you wait for the dealer to finish.  There are exceptions, like for the hakem in Hokm, but you’ll know them by the game; the vast majority of the time, you should keep your hands far away from the dealt cards until they’re all distributed.

Learn to pick up cards properly.  On a felt/cloth surface, rubbing them across to the edge is just fine, but on hard wood/stone surfaces you’ll scratch the cards.  Some tables are easier or harder to take cards from, and you’ll have to be careful not to accidentally flip them over.  Feel free to use one card as a bit of a lift for the others if you’re having trouble; just don’t slam it into the table.

Learn to hold your cards properly.  They shouldn’t be held out far away, where the people to your sides will be able to (intentionally or inadvertently) see what they are; if you need to do that to see them, get new glasses and make sure to use large-index cards.  (They shouldn’t be crammed up in your face to where you’re rubbing your nose on them, but that tends to be less of an issue.)  Don’t hold them so tight that you’re actually folding them over, either; these cards need to last the entire Cardpocalypse, after all, and people like me will get on your ass for damaging a nice set of cards with your death grip.  They should be kept as vertical as possible; tilting them too far forward–“tipping” your cards–shows them to people across the table, which in a partnership game is an extreme form of cheating.  That’s bad.  Very bad.

Don’t fidget with the cards either.  This is a hard one, and I used to do it myself, but tapping the cards on the table is both distracting and damaging, particularly on hard surfaces.  Riffling them back and forth, rubbing them together, and so on are all no-nos as well, distracting at best and damaging at worst.

Learn to play cards properly.  Flinging them across the table and having them embed in the hat of your opponent can be amusing but also deadly.  The vast majority of time you just need it to land face-up in roughly the center of the table.  A little style here goes a long way; no one’s gonna begrudge you a smug thwack when you snatch an assured victory out of some jerk’s hands with a perfectly-timed trump (except for that jerk), but if every card you play is a miniature Stephen Sondheim production you might want to tone it down a bit.  Meekly dropping the card right in front of you and forcing whoever cleans the trick or hand up to reach three miles across the table is not cool either.

If you’ve got to get up from the table, put them down well.  A sort of fan layout, like you hold them in your hands, will make them easier to pick back up when you return, but anything that isn’t too close to the edge of the table (where they’re likely to get knocked over when you sit back down) is fine.  Never, EVER walk away from the table with your cards still in hand.  This is grounds for getting shot now, much less in the Cardpocalypse.

If you’re the next (or second-to-next) dealer, collect the cards from the table after the hand.  Sometimes this happens naturally over the course of the hand, sometimes it needs to wait until the end, but as the hand finishes the cards should end up with whoever needs to be shuffling the deck.  If you’re doing the Cardpocalypse right, you should be using two decks, so it’s not the next dealer, but the one after that.  Do not let the cards lie messy on the table while a new hand is getting dealt.  That way lies mixed decks, madness, and stab wounds.

Dealer etiquette

You can always shuffle.  Even if someone hands you a pre-shuffled deck ready to go, it’s a good idea to give it at least one shuffle.  This isn’t even necessarily a “cheat check,” particularly in a friendly game; I don’t want to get into psychology too much here, but pairing shuffling with dealing helps put you into a precision mindset that’s very important when you deal.  (But, yeah, it’s also a “cheat check.”)

Always offer a cut.  In general, you should offer a cut to the person in the opposite direction of the deal (usually to your right) that isn’t on your team.  They can always decline, and in friendly games you’ll often skip this entirely, but they should never have to ask to cut if they want to.

Hold the deck properly when you deal.  You want to grasp it firmly in one hand, generally your off hand, with the deck tilted very slightly downwards away from you.  (This is to keep from exposing the bottom card of the deck to the people across the table.)

Deal the cards one at a time, starting with the eldest player (unless the game uses a different dealing mechanism).  The “eldest” player is the person next in player order, usually the person to your left; this baffled the heck out of me when I was a kid reading my copy of Hoyle’s, and looking up the definition of eldest didn’t clarify it at all–why should I start with the oldest person at the table?  But I digress.  In almost all circumstances, you should get the last card dealt in each pass around the table.

Deal the cards carefully, properly, and in order.  You want to slide them off the top of the deck one at a time, still keeping them tilted very slightly downwards away from you, for the same reasons that you do so with the deck.  Make sure to deal them to each person in order.  We are rational beings who do not believe in the Heart of the Cards, but hoo boy will you infuriate some people if you skip them and then proceed to deal them a different card than the one they rightfully deserve.  Don’t do it.

In general you’ll want to stand up and deal directly in front of each player.  This is one of those rules that is easily relaxed in friendly games, where you’ll often deal right in front of yourself, sitting down, and then just push the packets to the right person, but this is the Cardpocalypse we’re talking about.  Better safe than sorry.

If you accidentally flip over a card, stop.  It is absolutely the right of anyone at the table to call a misdeal at this point, at which point you may forfeit the right to deal again.  Some games handle this in particular ways (in Bourré a single flipped card can generally become your “trump card,” but if it’s a high face card or an Ace it should probably be a forfeited deal), but let the table decide.  And then don’t do that again.

Etiquette etiquette

(Wow, that word is starting to lose all meaning for me at this point.)

Etiquette is as serious, or as irrelevant, as the table decides.  If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’re very unlikely to piss off even the staunchest of SRS BZNS card-players, and a lot of the tips (particularly in how you handle cards) should be followed no matter how casual the game.  But most friendly games don’t care a lot about cutting, proper deal order, or how pristinely you play your cards.  If it’s time for a raucous round of something, don’t take it any more seriously than you have to.  If, on the other hand, there’s someone at the table who wants it done prim and proper, who believes in the Heart of the Cards?  Accommodate them.   You can use the practice, after all.

Any game, or social group, may have its own rules that supercede these.  There are games that want you to shuffle in particular ways, to maximize clumping (no, really!)  There are groups that really, really care about how you shuffle and deal.  Serious Texas Hold’Em players don’t want you picking up the cards at all, just tipping the corners to peek at their values.  And, of course, who knows what weird new rules of etiquette will come up with the dawn of the Cardpocalypse?  Make sure you know the details and follow them appropriately.

We are finally done with this etiquette stuff

Phew.  That was a much longer article than I was expecting when I sat down to write it!  But there was a lot to cover.  Do you feel like I missed anything?  Went too far?  Comment away.

It’s poor etiquette not to.

(Seriously.  Not even a word any more.)

Weekly status update [0026/????]

Half a year in.  Woof.  Let’s jump right in.

  • I made up for lost time on reading this past week; the first book (Ninth City Burning) was fun but slight.  The second, A Dirty Job, was so good that I read the whole thing in a single sitting, something I hadn’t done in ages.  Christopher Moore is always at least interesting and funny, but A Dirty Job was also very engaging, as evidenced by the fact that I couldn’t put it down.  Good stuff.
  • As mentioned here previously, we had a game night Tuesday that led to me starting a new series of articles about card games.  I’ll be writing another one up soon on card-playing etiquette before we jump into the games proper.  I’m still looking for feedback on what games you think should be part of the Guide to the Cardpocalypse.
  • I actually watched the tiniest bit of television this week, a single episode of Jessica Jones.  It was better than the first, which was good.  I have a lot of catching up to do with the Marvel Netflix series, not to mention everything else… but honestly I’d generally much rather read, play games, watch other people play games, or do puzzles.
  • Speaking of puzzles, while I didn’t do a whole lot in any magazines, I picked my Nintendo 3DS back up and did a bunch more of Picross 3D: Round 2.  It’s an excellent game, really hampered only by the clawlike way you have to hold the 3DS to be able to hit all the buttons; my hands actually cramp up after solving a puzzle or two, an issue I don’t have with any other puzzle games.  I’m close to the end, though, so I’m likely going to try and muddle through in the coming week or two.
  • I broke my diet somewhat for the first time since I started; I just really really needed some General Tso’s chicken on Thursday, and topped it off with jalapeño poppers.  It was delicious, and I suspect that one moment of weakness will help make the next several months easier.  I’m not really craving anything right now the way I was before… other than the always-persistent Ghost of Carbs Past moaning in the back of my head, but I’ve gotten good at ignoring that particular bugaboo.

Half a year.  I’m definitely going to write something up this coming week about what it’s been like so far, but just in case you were worried: still not bored.

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part one: Intro and equipment

We had another game night last night–the first time since I’ve retired that I got to play games two Tuesdays in a row–and we ended up playing trick-taking card games for most of the night.  I was shocked to learn that those two games, Oh Hell! and one of my own devising, were the first times Chad had ever played a trick-taking game, and I already knew that another one of the regulars had only played them two or three times before.

Trick-taking card games are, I think, one of the best ways to spend an evening with friends.  I love “proper” board games to death, but I’ve sunk something like four thousand hours of my life into trick-taking games–mostly Bourré, being a proper Cajun boy and all–which is probably roughly equal to the time I’ve spent playing literally every other kind of game I’ve ever played.  So you could say I’m a fan.

I mentioned yesterday evening that I consider a solid command of a bunch of card games an essential skill; a deck of cards is pretty much universally available, either in someone’s house or the nearest gas station or convenience store, and cards remain the most versatile piece of gaming equipment I know.  (Six-sided dice are the only other things that come close.)  Armed with a deck of cards, you can stave off boredom for yourself… or up to seven or so other people.  You’ve just gotta know what to do with them.

So: I’m starting up a new series of posts, a “guide to the Cardpocalypse.” It’s a set of games and concepts I feel every person reading this blog should learn.  Armed with these and a simple deck of cards, you should be prepared for all eventualities.  Give or take an apocalypse.

The equipment

As mentioned above, you can get a deck of cards just about anywhere, and in a pinch gas station decks will do.  That said, spending a few bucks on a decent set of cards will pay dividends.  The act of shuffling a nice deck of cards is a way to bring pleasure to a large subset of humanity (myself included); that deck you have in the back of the closet that’s been used 100 times, with the nick on the Queen of Hearts, should probably be retired.

If you’re cheap, go for the better plastic-coated cards, like Bicycles or Bees.  There are two general sizes of cards, “Poker-sized” and “Bridge-sized”; most people are only familiar with the former, but the narrow profile of Bridge-sized cards make them way better for games like, well, Bridge, where you have to hold 13 cards in your hand at the same time.  If you can only buy one and have both available, buy those.

A little bit more money in the short term will save you a ton in the long run, though.  Good plastic playing cards will last years of play (particularly if you wash them occasionally… yeah, it sounds dumb, but it works), and a pair of decks of plastic cards isn’t much more than their inferior plastic-coated relatives.  I’ve gone back and forth over the years since KEM got bought out, but I’ve come to prefer the Da Vinci over the Copags by a bit.

You’ll note that both links above are to “large index” cards.  That’s intentional; in general, if you let older people play card games with you, they will teach you a lot while mercilessly crushing you.  Be nice to their eyes (and also people like me with crap vision).

You also want a minimum of two decks of cards: one that’s being used to play while a second deck gets shuffled by someone else at the table.  There are also several very good games that require the components from two decks of cards with identical backs; I probably won’t be covering them in this series, because that’s a little fancy for a Cardpocalypse, but consider ordering two of the same Da Vinci or Copag sets so that you’re set up for this.  In general, though, you’ll want the two decks you’re using to have different backs to minimize confusion at the table when the cards get messy, as they inevitably will.

 Next time

I’m going to save talking about actual games for two posts from now, because I want feedback before then.  The next post will be about general card-playing etiquette; in the coming Cardpocalypse, you don’t want to get murdered by an opponent because of bad dealing habits.

So: What games do you think are essential parts of the guide to the Cardpocalypse?  I’ll be covering trick-takers, of course, but also games like Rummy and Poker (which isn’t a card game, but we’ll get to that later) and even single-player pastimes like various solitaires. “Kids’ games,” too, although preferably ones adults can play without losing their minds; War is decidedly not on the list.  And I’m open to what games should be talked about.  I have a good idea as to what trick-takers I want to cover, but the rest of the field is a lot more nebulous.  Comment away!