I inherited from my father a love of interesting and eccentric games – and several of the books he owned on the subject. My favorite was a thick paperback by renowned card games scholar David Parlett, which must have had hundreds of games and thousands of variants all organized into families. I can’t find that particular book at the moment, (though I remember flipping through it within the past several months,) or remember the title – though I remember that it has an Ace of Spades design on the cover.
I have been able to retrieve three other David Parlett titles from my bedroom bookshelf, at least – to refresh my memory when a Storywonk podcast quoted the name of the two-player tricks and combinations game ‘Bezique’ as a top-scoring Scrabble word. These books are organized by the number of players required – there’s one book of ‘Card Games for Two’, and ‘…for Three’ and ‘…for Four’, so that you can flip through them when you want to settle down for a night of parlour games, depending on the number of players available.
I don’t think I’ve ever played Bezique – most of my fondest memories are of the games in the ‘Card Games for Three’ book, used on occasions when it was just my parents and I interested in playing. There’s Bismarck – which is really four different card games in one, because the rules change from deal to deal – first no trumps, then random trumps, then the dealer calls trumps, and finally no trumps again, but all players trying to lose tricks. One player deals for all four variants in a row, and then the deal passes around the table, so the full match ends after twelve hands – which makes for a full evening of cards.
I’ve mentioned Tyzicha in passing, and it’s possibly one of my favorite games from ‘…For Three.’ You play with a short deck, ace through nine, and three of the cards are dealt into a blind pile in the middle of the table, while the rest are dealt out to the players.
Each player then bids a contract of points that he thinks he or she can make, (with the player left of dealer stuck for a contract of 100 points if nobody bids higher.) The highest bidder gets to take the blind, sort through his hand, pass any two cards to his opponents, and lead to the first trick.
Each card is worth a different amount if captured in a trick, 11 for an ace ranging down to zero for a nine. You can also score points by leading out the king or queen from a ‘marriage’ – IE, if you have the matching king or queen still in your hand. Whatever suit is married becomes trumps until superseded by a later marriage. So a considerable amount of trick play can revolve around keeping marriages in your hand until able to lead one of them, and marriages are a huge factor in the bidding – either marriages that you already have, or how many marriageable monarchs you hold whose soulmates might be sitting in the blind.
And each suit scores a different amount if married – 100 points for hearts, but only forty for spades.
It’s an interesting game that tells you a lot about personalities – who’s optimistic or pessimistic, choosing between focusing on marriages or on trick points, and whether the opponents can effectively ally to defeat a contract or only play for their own score. One little tidbit I remember is that if the contract winner realizes that things are hopeless, and guesses that his opponents might score high if the hand is played out, can concede the hand, taking the full penalty for losing his contract. Usually, whenever I was playing this, conceding was done by tossing your cards, including the ones that you’d just picked up in the blind, into the center of the table face down, and announcing – ‘forty each,’ because in the event of a concession, the opponents both count a fixed score of forty points.
During the last several years that Dad was on active faculty in the Computer Science department of McMaster University, he taught a course of ‘introduction to programming for physical science majors’ or something like that. The term project that he liked to assign was a team affair, with each team picking a card game, and developing a program that would play the game both in ‘one human user versus the computer’ mode, or a mode in which all players were controlled by the computer. He converted many of his favorite programs into versions that would run on our PC-XT clone home computer, and I loved to play on them. I don’t think that there was ever a Tyzicha program, but I remember Bismarck and Five Hundred, Euchre and Ombre.
Okay, that’s enough rambling from me. Do you know any unusual card games? Or have you ‘inherited’ obscure expertise from a parent?