Friday, September 12, 2008

Wizards card game

Recently I played the card game "Wizards". I'd heard that this variation of the traditional game "Oh hell" had sold millions of copies. I played a German edition with strange pictures and symbols, which to me only made the game harder to play. Two suit colors were red and green, indistinguishable by the two color-blind players in the game. So we had to use the weird symbols that don't even have obvious convenient names. The designer is Canadian, and I suspect most editions are closer to normal cards.

We were using a weak translation of the German edition of the rules, so conceivably we did not play everything correctly.

I don't play cards much, and the only traditional card game I play is Oh hell, with my wife and in-laws. H is a trick-taking game, dealing increasing and then decreasing numbers of cards in each hand, trump randomly determined, must follow suit. You bid how many tricks you will try to take, and fail to score if you do not get exactly what you bid. You score 10 plus the number you bid if you're successful. Hence the game removes some of the chance factor, if you have poor cards, you bid low. I tend to bid rather low because it's easier to avoid taking tricks than to take them. "Quack quack" is often my bid (a duck, meaning a bid of zero--ducking).

This game is a "randomized" version of OH. There are four "Wizard" cards that beat all other trumps and can be played out of suit. There are four jesters that are "nothing", but can change the suit that must be played in the rest of the trick (I may not be recalling correctly) in mid-trick. I suppose that by taking some of the skill out of the game, you make it more "family-friendly" for kids.

Further randomization comes from playing hands of up to 15 cards. You can't do much to plan with such large hands--I'm used to playing up to 7 cards, then back down to 1--so at that point you bid something a little below average, say three out of 15, and hope you can manage it. Of course, if you have a couple wizards and good trumps you'd have to adjust.

The scoring is different from traditional OH scoring. You score 20 if you make your bid, plus 10 per trick, and lose 10 per trick by which you miss a bid. This rewards trick-taking (as opposed to bidding zero) more than the traditional version. (I still played the Duck most of the time, and won the game.)

There were other variations, such as forcing bids in the round of two cards so that someone will miss their bid. There was something about, when you have one card, you hold it in front of you so everyone else can see it, and then bidding occurs; but this is so randomly unfair we canned it (you don't know what card you've got, so how can you bid intelligently except in obvious instances?).

I'll stick with the traditional form, though the scoring is worth considering.


Mark Haberman said...

Most of the time aren't you able to take at least one trick if you want? It seems like bidding 0 when you know with certainty that you can take 1 or 2 is just throwing away points.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

Even a Wizard can lose a trick to another Wizard, but certainly if you have a very powerful trump in Oh Hell you cannot bid 0. It is quite possible to go low even with trumps, in some circumstances. When the number of cards gets up to 7 it's harder to quack. Perhaps other players tend to be optimistic about what they can take, and so throw their big stuff into play too hurriedly, which helps the Duck get rid of his stronger cards.

Lewis Pulsipher said...

I didn't directly address your question, I see: it is much SAFER to duck than to try to take exactly one trick, in many circumstances. I suppose this is because you're playing against (say) three other people, it's easier to lose than to win.