2015 May 13

American Schnapsen

Familiarizing a foreign card game

Topics

Cards from an Austrian schnapsen deck and an American schnapsen deck

As I’ve said before, Schnapsen is a terrific game. But it’s a tough sell for American audiences, what with the Ace-Ten card order and point values and a number of finicky rules.

So this version uses standard card order (Ace high through Jack low), with card values based on the familiar bridge system: A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1. Other rules have been simplified or jettisoned as follows in the table below.

(For a larger discussion of Schnapsen rule variations, see Martin Tompa’s Schnapsen blog.)

American Schnapsen Rule Changes
Original Game American Schnapsen (Proposed) Rationale
German deck French deck More familiar
20-card deck (A, T, K, Q, J) 16-card deck (A, K, Q, J) Since the T has no point value, the game felt more like “American 66” (66 uses A, T, K, Q, J, 9 and the lowest card has no point-value). To really capture Schnapsen’s “every card counts” aesthetic, we jettisoned the T. If 16 cards and 8 tricks per hand is just too little for you, go ahead and keep the T and play “American 66”.
A=11, T=10, K=4, Q=3, J=2 A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1 More familiar, easier to keep running total
Exchange low trump for turned-up trump Keep Gives players a reason to keep low trump
Deck must be open to exchange low trump Keep Turned-up trump is gone once deck is closed
Player must be on lead to exchange low trump Keep Incentive to be on lead, which is usually a disadvantage. Makes for good tension.
Cannot look at captured cards (strict rules) Keep Adds to tension and rewards skill
Marriage (KQ suited) earns bonus Keep Adds to tension—nearly every card is valuable
Deck must be open to claim marriage (in strict rulesets) Still play-testing Very different dynamic if allowed to claim after deck is closed. Leaning toward no marriages after deck is closed, since it makes for a nice contrast between “anything goes” deck is open, and “strict” play when deck is closed. Also adds to the tension between wanting to close quickly to preempt opponent vs. needing to keep deck open to claim a marriage.
Player must be about to lead to claim marriage Keep Incentive to be on lead, which is usually a disadvantage. Makes for good tension.
Regular marriage is 20 pts Regular marriage is 5 pts Needs to be sufficient to make marriages enticing (and make it difficult for players to release Ks and Qs), while not being so high as to unbalance the game. In original Schnapsen, 20 is 1/6 of total points, which would be equivalent to 7 in American Schnapsen. 20 is also about 1/3 of points required to win, which would also be 7. 20 is roughly twice the value of the highest card (A=11), which would be 8 here. So 7 is probably closest to the original… but 5 is easier to remember. In practice, this feels about right.
Trump marriage is 40 pts No extra bonus for trump marriages Too unbalanced—player with KQ of trump already has advantage. This is the single rule of original Schnapsen that I find most bothersome.
Marriage score doesn’t count if no tricks taken Marriage bonus always counts Keep “memory requirements” as low as possible
Winning total for each hand is 66 trick points Winning total for each hand is 21 trick points 21 is a simple majority of points in the deck and is easy to remember because of blackjack.
Winner of last trick wins 1 game point if no one has claimed 66. Keep (Winner of last trick wins 1 game point if no one has claimed 21.) Need a way to break potential ties
Player earns 3 points for successfully claiming 66 when opponent has no tricks Player earns 3 points for successfully claiming 21 when opponent has no points Essentially the same, since it’s impossible to have a trick with no points, but more consistent since nothing else in the game is based on tricks. Keep; encourages early (risky) closing. Adds to tension.
Player earns 2 points for successfully claiming 66 when opponent has 2–32 points Player earns 2 points for successfully claiming 21 when opponent has 1–9 points Keep; encourages early (risky) closing. Adds to tension.
Player earns 1 point for successfully claiming 66 when opponent has 33+ points Player earns 1 point for successfully claiming 21 when opponent has 10+ points Keep
Penalty for closing and failing to win or claiming incorrectly varies from 1 to 3 points Penalty for closing and failing to win or claiming incorrectly is always 3 points Easier to remember and prevents “gaming the system” by deliberately sacrificing
Winning total for game is 7 game points Winning total for game is 21 game points Easier to remember, since same as winning trick point value. The relatively higher value also gives skill more opportunity to prevail over luck.