2009 October 19

What Makes a Good Card Game?

Topics

I have definite ideas about what makes a good card game. My favorite card game, duplicate bridge, meets many of those expectations but requires 4 people to play. Tennis and Whiskey are my attempts to develop games for 2 and 3 players that meet all my standards.

What are those standards? Glad you asked:

  1. The game results (scores) should reward skill and not luck.
  2. The game play should allow scope for both strategy and tactics.
  3. Information should be deducible and progressively revealed.
  4. The rules should be simple yet provide depth of play.
  5. The scoring should be as simple as possible.

Specifically, I wanted to take my favorite card game—bridge—and convert it to a viable 2- or 3-person format while removing the drawbacks of rubber bridge. There are already such variations, but I’ve never seen one that retained the original’s complexity of play (finesses, end plays, transportation issues, squeezes, etc.). Nor have I ever seen a version that eliminated the problems of:

High cards
The player with higher cards can win more tricks.
Suit order
The player with the higher suit can win more auctions.
Scoring
Some suits score more than others, and the whole system is too complicated.

David Parlett’s excellent game 99 addresses the first two issues by having players make individual bids and try to reach them exactly. This negates the suit order problem because there’s no competitive bidding, and it negates the high card problem because making a bid of 0 is worth just as much as making a bid of 9. (The scoring is also simpler than bridge.)

Yet as designed for 2 or 3 players, 99 cannot offer the depth of play that bridge does. Many of the complexities that make the play of the hand at bridge interesting stem from the partnerships of two hands working together. Tennis and Whiskey therefore use bidding reminiscent of 99 but play more like bridge.