Topic of the Week: Tricks, Takes, & Shakes

I’ve kind of been avoiding this but it came up on another thread, re: Nokosu Dice, so here we are.

Shakes: What is your favorite milkshake and/or favorite cocktail?

Tricks: When were you first introduced to trick taking? What are the “traditional” trick takers you’ve been exposed to (or suffered through) and do you like them?

Takes: How do you feel about the recent glut of trick taking? Fan or disgruntled spectator? Highlights, lowlights, and most anticipated in this area?

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I’ll say I was overfed on trick taking, circa the 90’s, until I choked on it. Hearts was first. Not sure what else, some games from Hoyle’s book like Yukon? Eventually Bridge. A lot of Bridge.

I don’t like Bridge. Trick taking gets rote and deterministic under the bridge model - all cards dealt, win most tricks. To the point where, with a skilled table, after bidding has ended, whoever won may announce “I’m going to lose the 2nd, 8th, and 9th tricks.” And they are usually right (barring unusual card distribution around the table).

This is why all trick taking games try to bolt something else on. Bridge is a bidding game more than a trick taking game. At this point, Bridge bidding is also codified, like a table that has played out Hanabi but this time it’s the whole world in on it. If I bid 2 Spades, it’s bundled with a wealth of information about how many Spades I have, how many high cards, etc.

Euchre is an archetype for “deal half the deck.” It tries to keep it interesting with chaos, rarely knowing if your card is THE high card and just when you’re going to get trumped. I didn’t like that either, there’s not enough to go on. Moreover, Euchre (Pitch, 500) are still “most tricks wins” which means three out of four hands, give or take, you’re just passing and waiting for the next deal because you don’t have anything over a 9.

After all this, I did realize I still enjoyed Hearts. Some navel gazing led to some conclusions about what does make trick taking work.

1) Needing to win some tricks and lose some tricks. In this situation, the trick taking portion of the game is no longer rote. Tactics shift and react to what is led and what has come out. There are more, and harder, decisions in this case that still engage me.

2) Hitting a target vs Most tricks wins. This addresses the Euchre problem. If you have a 2 trick hand, trying to win exactly 2 tricks is just as interesting as trying to win exactly 7. Every hand matters, everyone plays every round. This also feeds back to #1, where things might go too well and suddenly you’re trying ditch an Ace that turned liability two tricks ago.

3) Something else clever but not complicated. Bridge has a complex bidding and scoring system to try to keep things interesting. Skat has an unbelievable system where you can bid not just trump and tricks but also the rules of the game. I think many people have also concluded that trick taking is mundane by itself and continue to bolt on more and more complicated metagames to keep it interesting. I’ve found a few, pre-dating the avalanche of the post-Crew years, that managed to bolt on something simple that still worked. This is more ad hoc.

Leading to, traditional trick takers that I still like:
Spades and Hearts: I mean, I’m not gaga over these. But they don’t overdress the game. Both are very simple and take #1 and #2 above to heart. They don’t ask more from you than they give, and they don’t fall into the worst pitfalls of trick taking.

Oh Hell / Scottish Bridge: This is my favorite. This is a legit good game that I get excited to play. It’s #2 in a nutshell. The shifting hand sizes also create a shifting dynamic that just works. No, playing No Trump Whist is not fun, but I’ll do a hand or two in the 12 and 13 rounds of Oh Hell. The 1 and 2 card rounds are amazing as everyone is probably going to get zero but maybe not? Eyes up, reading your opponents like a poker table. The game has seasons.

99: This is a #3 game. You remove cards from your hand, and place them face-up, to make your bid. So you are constrained in what you can bid, you provide public information, and you are also changing the make-up of your hand and the length of each suit when bidding. This isn’t my favorite but the turn-zero crunch and everything you have to think through gives the game some life.

Napoleon: Not the 5-card European bad tricker. The full deck Japanese Napoleon. For 5 or 6 players. This one has hidden roles! Each player bids independently. Winning player is Napoleon and names a Secretary card. Whoever is holding that card is, secretly, partnered with Napoleon. Communication is limited, Napoleon can basically tell the Secretary to win or not win the trick. Once the Secretary card (a take everything, uber trump) is out, the partnership comes to light. It works much better than Skat, where the lead player basically draws trump and then triggers the hidden partner reveal - no drama. This one benefits from keeping that partner hidden longer and requires the Secretary to try to bluff their false partners into throwing tricks to them, as if they are helping, before the reveal.

I’ll write separately about the modern glut. I’ve mostly sat it out because I find that most are remixes rather than innovators. Not the worst thing, Tichu is a remix but executed so well it’s one of my favorite games. But I mean, you get 7 Symbols, 7 Nations, which is all about “how do you win a 7, when it may not be the high card?” Cool idea. Then you see that idea again in Fox in the Forest. The Crew makes a campaign out of that concept. (Yokai Septet was just a reprint of the original there). So there’s a lot of new games but not necessarily new ideas. Maybe once everything is calmed down I’ll try to sort through who did each thing best?


I didn’t do much in the way of trick-taking as a child. I’ve never played Hearts.

Bridge always struck me as like Chess in that you get to a certain level of competence and to get better you have to Memorise Stuff—in the one case bidding conventions, in the other opening routines. I’m very bad at memorising stuff, much better if I can build it into a framework.

I mentioned elsewhere but it’s worth repeating here: I played 99 last year (with @Captbnut and @lalunaverde on BGA), and it made a lot of ideas about trick-taking shake out in my mind and come to make more sense. I mean, my tactics haven’t advanced all that much, but I feel I’m at least on a correct path.

I think trick taking is currently the Hot Mechanic, where roll and write was a year or two ago: there may well be good new games out there, but it’s easy to take a thing you already have and make it a trick taker that’s a lot like other trick takers.


Yeah, I do feel like there’s a mechanic du jour (or whatever “year” is in French) and we have to mash it up with everything. Trick taking now, R&R before that. Deckbuilding at some point before that.

I’m discovering that circa 2014-2017 it was area control/area majority. Let’s take everything and add in area control. I’m digging that period.


It was Fox in a Forest that was the introduction for me, but it was The Crew that really made me like this one (I had the German edition so it says “Die Crew”, which is still accurate in English based on how we play)

For traditional ones: I still like various variants of Oh Hell. Ninety Nine remains my fave from these I think.

I have been going through these card games and I find myself solidifying on a small number of releases. I sold Cat in the Box as the novelty fades. But The Crew remains up there with Nokosu Dice, Voodoo Prince, Schadenfreude and etc


I liked The Crew when I first played it, but the stumbling block for me wasn’t part of the trick taking exactly—it was that the difficulty of a given mission can vary hugely depending on how the random objectives line up. So when we complete that mission, does it mean we got better or did we just play it enough to get lucky with the deal?

(Also one particular chap in the local group who tends to fix on a specific game and want to play it endlessly so I ended up playing it more than I really wanted to.)

  • Shakes… milk: none? Cocktails: Negroni is the clear winner and its variants. (It’s equal parts Gin, Campari and red Vermouth with a dash of orange bitters)

  • Tricks:

    • Skat is the local classic (there seems to be a relation to Euchre but what I can tell from Wikipedia it is NOT the same game). So Skat is a 3 player game that is played with a 32 card deck. The interesting thing is the bidding system and the ensuing scoring system and that it includes fun stuff like rounds where you have no trumps, or fewer trumps or where you need to score 0 points or all the points and it is (almost) always 1 vs 2 and who is the one depends on the bidding… it is also a game that people who can count cards have a clear advantage. I learned this from my grandma and played it all throughout high school… but I have not played since then–but it is played around me still. There is some relation to The Crew in some of the playmodes it feels like.
    • I once learned Doppelkopf which is the non-bavarian variant of Schafkopf. Which is a 2 vs 2 game where players have to find out their team mate through clever play. I think it is played with 2 decks of 32 cards. I only played it a few times but my dad had a regular round with some friends that often got very loud and lasted all night just below my bedroom :wink: But like Skat it has a lot of arcane side rules and I never quite grokked it.
    • the next thing I remember is a friend telling me to get The Crew because it was going to be SdJ (it was). I still love it.
    • I currently own 10 games that have trick-taking listed as mechanic. But except for The Crew I haven’t played any of them for a significant number of games for various reasons:
      • Sail wasn’t bad but I haven’t had it for that long and while it is neat, it’s not something I would play a lot of rounds of. It is a pretty a good attempt at making 2 player trick taking have interesting decisions
      • Fox in the Forest I don’t even own anymore. I thought it was pretty boring. My first 2 player trick taker.
      • Awimbawe–a third 2 player trick taker. Good to take on a vacation to play, not good enough to get out at home over other stuff.
      • Cat in the Box–gimmicky. Fun to play a couple of times. After that… overrated?
      • Ghosts of Christmas–played this with friends who really play a lot of thinky games and we decided it was too much of a headache to consider what to bid with all the past future present tricks
      • Unplayed for various reasons: Shamans (3 players req.), Mori (just arrived),Tournament at Avalon (I am not brave enough to bring this to the table, every card is different), Anansi (shiny packaging caught my eye more than the game), Nokosu Dice (too new, proxy copy), Jekyll vs Hide (another 2 player, bought for vacation, didn’t get played)

Most anticipated is definitely Arcs now that I saw some recent comments on its development. I didn’t even remember that it included Trick Taking until Tom talked about that.

Generally, I like the mechanism but not above mechanisms. Also, I have yet to find a combo-tastic trick taker–and I think M:tG ruined cardgames without combos for me to a large extent. Not that I play M:tG anymore. But I stopped playing Skat when I discovered M:tG so there might be a clue there.

And then I dislike how complicated games (and their rules) become to figure out “a new twist”. I think that the current/on-going hype is … a bit much. It is probably caused in equal parts by the success of The Crew and also because trick takers generally being smaller games are kind of the anti-thesis to the giant KS games we have been seeing for many years now I think that this is in part a movement to get away from the gigantism of crowdfunding (even as some tricktakers are crowdfunded). But that’s just my personal theory.

Over here trick taking games have more or less always been somewhat popular. Skat is and remains a popular pastime for many people and in many cases probably the only game people play. So this new flood of games has not had a great impact in my circles. Or for me.


I really like this one. And it strangely got some thematic sense. Jekyll wants to balance the tricks between the 2 players, while Hyde wants them very unbalanced - regardless of who leads. And if the Jekyll player keeps their wits for the entire game and doesnt succumb to Hyde, they win!


I conflated this with Skat. Yeah, two different games.

I was very excited to learn this one and very disappointed to play it. Because the hidden partnership never seemed to matter; at first the leader would draw trump (and everyone has no choice but to follow) and then immediately after, the partnership would be revealed. Not enough cards in the hand to draw out any shenanigans.

I’ve spent enough time writing for the day so I’ll come back to this tomorrow? I’m curious if Jekyl/Hyde, or Dracula/Van Helsing, are an improvement on Fox in Forest or more of an entry level Fox in Forest. My thesis remains that FIF went over most people’s heads but if they come back to it after playing all these other Trick Takers, they’ll suddenly respect the game.

Yeah, the hidden partnership does not usually stay hidden very long. I am also not sure that that is the point. This is the type of game played at pubs with lots of beer like Skat… and you have to put your card on the table with a fist as loud as possible. My dad’s rounds were raucous.

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In the US, that’s Dominoes.


(can't figure out how to embed a gif to save my life)

A cider sour

It’s a whiskey sour with a ginger and vintage cider syrup.

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I played a lot of Hearts in sixth form, a lot of knockout whist and tens at home

I’m really into the new wave of tricktakers/ climbers. However, as a friend of mine pointed out a lot of them do feel the same with small twists making a big difference. I have a problem that the games I think are the best utterly melt my brain.

@lalunaverde favourite Tindahan sits head and shoulders above for me.

Mino Dice for non sensical chaos is fantastic.

99 is probably my favourite with a traditional deck

I’m not sure that trick taking is the new hotel mechanic, I think as a group we are very into them so it feels bigger than it is.


Tournament at Avalon is great…

If you and your group like things like Cosmic Encounter. It’s stupid and silly and shouty and you can ditch all of your negative points to the person sat next to you.

It’s not a game for clever plays but it’s brilliant if you’re in the mood


If I can find a coffee and oreo shake, that’s it for me. Otherwise, maybe vanilla. VANILLA IS NOT “PLAIN.”

Traditionally, I just like a good old fashioned. Maple Syrup instead of Simple. Or neat scotch with a cube or two. Lately I’ve been making a gin fizz because the Mrs likes it and, you know what? I think I do, too.

My history with trick taking games was very much family based to start with. My mum loved playing cards and we played a bunch of knockout wist and gin rummy. One of those isn’t a trick taker. With my dad’s family every year we spent 2and a half weeks in a holiday home by the sea in Scotland with no TV. Days sailing and evenings playing cards and reading. We progressed to bridge. I didn’t od on them due to limited time slots of playing.

Of recent years, Iown and have really enjoyed Fox in the Forest. I like the twists and it’s quick enough. Anansi I think is excellent, the on the fly bidding and shifting trumps is really fun. Tindahan has maybe been the best one I’ve played. Nokosu Dice has been a great discovery too the drafting giving you possible bids is the best bit. Stick 'Em is also great but also wildly infuriating. Trick of the Rails is amongst the best. Got it in a sale for a mere £4 when it was an oddity that hit clearance stock status. It is mad and really messes with the traditional trick taker flow and hand management for want of a better term. Also the train game vibes are fun.

Similar to @RogerBW I moved on The Crew after thinking that it seemed a touch arbitrary between the hands and the objectives but it was fun getting to that point. I sold Tournament at Camelot after one session of 2 games. Just seemed like a turkey. No one at the table had a good word to say about it and I’d not play again.

On a best card games video from SUSD I think Quinns summed up the appeal of card games to me quite well. There’s something about the luck and tactility taking the competitive edge off and making them engaging but chilled activities that can be a nice calm time with friends or family. For me trick takers are just card games and while it’s not direct when I’m in the mood I could play a trick taker or climbing game just as much as 6 Nimmt! or Piepmatz and it wouldn’t dissatisfy the craving.


Mechanic du ans? I don’t speak french but it’s fun to reach back to school memories and see what shakes out.

Yeah, I’d agree, things like the Barracks Emperor seem to be using it in such a different way in a board game it shows the scale of the current enthusiasm for the mechanic. I’m less engaged with BG media so it’s this supposition and listening to SVWAG so you may want a better second for this.

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de l’année


Shakes: My favourite cocktail is Death in the Afternoon, which was invented by Hemingway and even he said to take it slow. It has only two ingredients: champagne and absinthe. Do not drink as many as the book recommends, you are not Hemingway. (The book is a celebrity cocktails book from 1935, when that was a thing).

Tricks: My first trick-taking game was in school, and it was Hearts. It’s really good. If you haven’t tried it, do. Simple to understand, instant competitive shouting.

Takes: I’m just not a fan. I enjoyed the 2-player co-op of Fox in the Forest Duet and it has the “you can’t communicate to your partner” element, but I would probably hate The Crew. Very much want to try Tournament At Avalon / Camelot, because I like swingy superpowers that are just comedy.

The modern ones I’ve taken the plunge on:
Tournament at Avalon: Only had one game of this but I was pro. The trick dynamic of trying not to play lowest was a good hand management puzzle, very different than what I’m used to. Way more different from standard tricking than I would have guessed. The powers were bonkers. Both changes were too much for the other people at the table so I haven’t found a new group to try it on.

Brian Boru: I mean, right? Tricks to determine board ownership, turn order, tiered rewards, etc… Draft your hand. there’s a lot going on here and it’s fascinating.

Barracks Emperors: Same thing as Brian Boru. 13 tricks at the same time? I have to try this. And the shenanigans of essentially playing cards into other peoples’ tricks and moving barbarians around. Very excited to try this out.

Cat in the Box: Still in the honeymoon phase. Based on other comments, it’ll run its course. Haven’t played it out yet and the dynamics of area control? polyomino-esque placement? What would you call it? Plus hand-planning? I don’t know what this game is.

Tindahan: Area Majority + Tricks for the win, I guess. What grabs me here is the variable game length, in that when you go for area majority, you don’t play a card. If someone else focuses on cards, the round can end before you’ve done your thing…

Trick of the Rails: I’ve barely begun to understand this one. It’s bonkers enough that I want to figure it out. I need to find some warm bodies who want to figure it out as much as I do, online wasn’t its peak format. Again there’s some planning here, anticipating what tricks you want to win or lose, and some visibility into what’s coming, so you are trying to play your cards when they matter.

The Crew 1&2: I’ve been about 50/50 on people who love or don’t care about this one. I agree that some hand/goal combos can break rounds, but the hit rate on interesting rounds is high enough for me (for now) that I’m still high on this one.

Yokai Septet: Planning to back this summer. This is one of the twists I like, similar puzzle to the Crew but more controlled so rounds should be more regular.

Fox in the Forest: So far, by these comments, my hypothesis is holding up. People who did a lot of trick taking growing up seem to like it pretty well. People who first encountered the mechanic here don’t. The scoring rubric, and each of the 6 abilities, are each masterfully selected to address the weaknesses of trick taking and draw out what little is interesting about it, in and of itself. Once you know about suit length, counting trump, drawing trump, voids, doubletons, etc you find all the little handles built into Fox in the Forest and often stop to scratch your head and marvel at the decision you’ve just been presented. At the Control the game just offered you, but the uncertainty with what to do about it. It’s masterful but subtle.

(Scrolling to see what I missed…)

Sail: It’s nice. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. I got this game in a bundle. I respect its design. I’m not in the mood for a series of frustrating failures right now. But I’d still recommend it, if it’s adjacent to what you’re looking for.

Then there’s Nokosu Dice, which triggered this topic this week. Everything in it feels old and rote, but I’m wondering if (like Tichu) it just brings together and polishes these old mechanics in a way that works like you’ve never seen it before. I’ll keep my eye on it and maybe that one will fall into my house one day as well.

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