Thursday, September 22, 2005

Train Games

Went up to the Seahawks game by train with some family members on Sunday, we got in a couple of games going and coming back.

The popular choice on the way up was Katzenjammer Blues. The first time I ever played this game I thought it was a waste of time. Now I think it's one of the best four-player card games out there. I have no idea what I got wrong in that first playing, but I figured it out correctly later. This is a great game even without the third-party partnership rules.

Bill and Scott (my nephews) had already played this game, but it took a few hands for Scott's friend John to get a good grip on how to play, even after a practice hand. Scott got out to a big lead when he did not in fact end up having the most jokers in the first hand, scoring 9 points. Bill and I both made runs as the game went on, but I handed the game to Scott on the last hand when I foolishly decided to use a lot of jokers to score lots of points (9), giving me 29 instead of 30. Scott got a five pointer easily and won with exactly 30.

We were down to three on the way home, having sacrificed Scott to the football gods to allow a Seahawks win (the only way they seem to win these days). No, really he had to catch a plane to Memphis out of Sea-Tac for a business meeting the next day, so John, Bill and I played Where's Bob's Hat and Mamma Mia! This was the first time with both games for John and Bill, and my first time with Bob's Hat.

WBH is your basic trick taking game with three twists. First, you get points for correctly predicting that you will take the most tricks in one of the three suits (or the fewest tricks overall). You could also predict multiple suits, even a suit and fewest overall cards. Second, every hand has more cards dealt, starting with five. With three players, you play 12 hands, so that meant 16 cards in the last hand. This makes prediction tougher as the game goes on, which I liked. Third, the dealer decides if Bob's Hat will be worth -10 or 10 points at the end of the hand. Points are scored for successful predictions and the plus Hat, lost for unsuccessful predictions and the minus hat.

Every 14 and 15 card has an extra picture of Bob's Hat, which is a rainbow-colored baseball cap, in addition to the Inca, Pilgrim, or Amerind hat associated with each suit. When you take a trick that has one or more pictures of Bob's Hat, you get the Bob's Hat card. Whoever has the card at the end gets (or loses) the points. Early on, Bob's Hat went for minus points as the six cards didn't come up that much, but that turned to plus points as the game went on and people felt they could control who got the card at the end.

It became very clear as the game went on that you play to the person on your left, as the person on your right would have the last chance to play a card and thus be most likely to take it. John had a good early run going for the fewest cards, while Bill and I struggled a bit. However, a particularly brutal hand where both Bill and John lost points while I gained almost 20 sealed the deal, and I coasted to a victory with Bill in second. I will note that this was John's first exposure to euros, so he can be forgiven for his poor showings.

There are a lot of trick-taking card games out there, and I'm not sure that WBH is top tier. It certainly is pretty easy to teach, and the hats are cute, but I feel like I'm simply playing another variant of Bridge with a slightly different deck. At least Sieben Siegal feels like a different game with more tension and that silly standup figure that my group calls (for reasons you really don't want to know) Rupert. WBH also comes in the same "flimsy" box stock that Mamma Mia does, so it's not a great choice to throw in your backpack. As such, I'd rate this as a marginal thumb's up with three, perhaps four would be shorter and more interesting (although the box says best with three or four).

Finally, too tired to play but too bored not too, I pulled out Mamma Mia! This may not have been the best choice for a late night game with people who weren't familiar with the mechanics, but it was that or Frank's Zoo with three. It took a couple of hands for John and Bill to get the idea (common among even experienced gamers), and I'm not sure it ever registered that you can play the order cards to your heart's content, it won't hurt your score if you don't fill the order. I play pretty aggressively, laying down at least three or four order cards in a hand, and I win more than my fair share. This session was no exception, and I won handily. Bill had actually done well in the first hand, but couldn't fill more than one more order in the last two hands. Also, because so many cards were left in the ingredient stack at the end of each hand, we ended up with fairly short second and third hands.

So, for the most part, these were learning games for John, although he was doing much better at Katz by the end of the game. Katz is now the official Seahawk train game for my family. Thanks for playing, guys, and we'll do this again next year!

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