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It’s Tricky! An Ode to Trick Taking Games

Trick taking games are believed to be among the oldest in gaming history. All that is required is a deck of cards featuring a variety of ranks, suits, or numbers, along with a rule or two about how tricks are won.

The standard formula for trick taking games looks like this:

  • A number of players, each with a hand of cards,
  • several rounds of play (called tricks),
  • each player contributing one card per trick,
  • then the awarding of the trick to the player whose card suit, rank, etc. is considered to have “taken” or won the trick.

But even within these bare bones, there is a lot of room for complexity, reversal, and even mechanics and components outside of those represented by the cards themselves.

In other words, it isn’t always as simple as playing the highest or lowest card or even who ends up with the most tricks in the end. Trick-takers have a fascinating depth considering their rather elementary foundational elements.

First, let’s talk about some of the pros of trick-takers, and then we’ll dish on a few notable examples of the mechanic.

The Pros of Trick-Takers

Trick-takers are overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) card games, which means they are highly portable! Because they often rely only on cards, they require almost no set up and very little space. If you’ve got a small play area for each person and someone who can shuffle and deal, you’re golden.

The foundational elements of the trick-taker (see above) can be extremely simple or surprisingly complex. The card game War played by young children all over is technically a trick-taker that values rank, ignores suit, and does away with the player’s choice of card played (extremely simple).

Conversely, Bridge has all sorts of complex rules that has octogenarians regularly sitting down to massive tournaments every year! This means that regardless of age, there are trick taking games on the market that will appeal to your game tastes; many of which don’t even require a purchase outside of your standard deck of 52 cards!

A Couple of Our Favorite Trick Taking Games

Trick-takers are all over! While preparing for this post, I ran across several Top 10 lists that featured games I’ve never even heard of but now want to track down: Diamonds, David and Goliath, and Nyet! just to name a few.

But Nerds on Earth has a special place in our hearts for two trick taking games you may not have heard of, but we think deserve a signal boost.

The first is Tournament at Camelot. It takes a fairly standard trick taking game and adds a few fun wrinkles that dramatically affect gameplay. First of all, you don’t want to take a trick! Every card in every trick taken equates to damage to your character at the end of a tournament round.

Secondly, each player chooses a Protagonist card which is paired with a Companion card. Each grants the player unique abilities that affect the cards they play, the damage they take, or even entire tricks for everyone at the table.

And lastly a number of the players with the lowest remaining HP at the end of a tournament round get to draw a godsend card that give them extra bonuses and abilities for the next round. These give those who take a thumping in one round a strong fighting chance in the next, and they oftentimes significantly affect gameplay which makes each tournament round feel fresh.

Tournament at Camelot‘s added mechanics makes it feel like a whole lot more than a trick-taker, and it shines as a result. Grab a copy here!

Kings’ Struggle is another unique trick-taker in which each round isn’t solely decided by the suit or rank of the cards played. Instead, all of the cards (except the King) feature text that can force trick-changing interactions between cards to swing the win from player to player.

Click to embiggen.

The first player lays a card down face up while everyone else plays theirs face down. Once all cards are on the table, they’re finally revealed and the negotiations begin! Card abilities can be bought or sold for money which counts towards end game scoring right alongside the scoring of “runs” of the cards’s rank (1-10).

In most trick taking games, once your card hits the table your work is done. Not so with Kings’ Struggle! The negotiating phase and the banter, bargaining, and begging that characterize it are 1000% what propels this game to noteworthiness.

We’ve written a more comprehensive review for Kings’ Struggle here, and you can buy yourself a copy of this game (and you totally should!) here!