Friday, 2 September 2016

The game of Conference is a ‘dead’ game now but worth reviving, if only for learning and for those whose style of game play is hopelessly informal (yes you, Bindi, Rebecca, and Jossie).

Four play in fixed partnerships and, unusually for such games, they sit next to each other. The goal is simply to win the most card points. The Conference rule allows partners to discuss their hands and strategy.

The game of League is original and does away with this rule but implements a novel order of play from a Hungarian game, that makes for some interesting strategy.

There are two other original – and entirely optional – rules sets introduced: Allegiances and Gallowglass.  

Pack: A tarot pack of 78 cards is used consisting of four regular suits of 14 cards, a suit of 21 trumps, and The Fool.

Card Points:
Honours 5 points
Kings 5 points
Queens 4 points
Cavaliers 3 points
Valets 2 points
All Others 1 point

Ranking: Rational ranking is used...

Pip cards rank in suit from high to low:

King, Queen, Cavalier, Valet, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace

Trumps rank by their number, 21 high, 1 low.

Empty Cards: These are cards that have values of 1 point or less.

Honours: The Juggler, The World, and The Fool are called The Honours. They are always among the highest scoring cards.

A game consists of four hands.

Deal: First Dealer is chosen at random or by consent with the role moving to the player on Dealer’s left after each hand.

First Dealer shuffles the cards but for subsequent hands they are instead cut by Youngest (Dealer’s Right) – this is done by setting the pack face down and then lifting off three or four piles that are then re-stacked in a different order. On any deal any player may call for the cards to be re-shuffled.

Dealer gives each player 19 cards in one packet of 4 and two packets of 5, taking the last 2 cards into his/her own hand. Dealer must then discard two cards that may not include Kings, Honours, or, unless there is no other choice, trumps (if playing the Game of Allegiances, then Aces may not be discarded either). The discards count toward Dealer’s Side’s tricks at the end.

Play: Eldest (Dealer’s Left) leads to the first trick by placing a card face up on the table. Each player in turn, moving to the left, must play a card from their hand of the suit led – this is called following suit. If they do not have any cards of the suit led, it is called being void in that suit and they must play a trump card instead. However, if they have no trumps, they may then play any other card, though it will not win. Whoever plays the highest trump to the trick wins it, or if trumps are not played, then whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins it. The winner takes the cards and places them face down in their trick pile to be counted at the end.

The player that wins the trick then leads to the next one and play continues until the hand has been played out.

If The Fool is held, then it may be played at any time instead of a card that the rules might otherwise require and although it will not win, it is seldom lost. When played, The Fool is returned to to its player who then places it face up beside them until the end of the hand when they must pay the player who won the trick with a card from their trick pile (obviously, they will choose an empty card if they can). However, if they have taken no tricks, then they must surrender The Fool instead.

The Conference Rule: Players of each side may quietly confer with one another about their hand and strategy. However, they may not show each other their cards. I would caution against this rule for the alternative games of Allegiances and League.

A Game of Allegiances: This is an original and optional set of rules – if it is to be played at all, it must be agreed by all the players. The conference rule is optional for this game but I would caution against it.

Ace of Allegiance: When an Ace is played to a trick there is an opportunity to play under allegiances. The four suits are comprised of two Round suits (Cups and Coins) and two long suits (Swords and Batons), and each Ace is treated has having a corresponding card accordingly. So the Ace of Cups corresponds with the Ace of Coins, and the Ace of Swords corresponds with the Ace of Batons. When an Ace is played to a trick, then if whoever played it or their partner holds its corresponding Ace, they may show it to the other players and make a Call of Allegiance. 

The Call is either “ours” or “yours”. If the call is “ours”, then the player and partner will only score points in their tricks for those corresponding suits, while their opponents will only score points in their tricks for suits of the opposite correspondence. So, if on playing the Ace of Cups to a trick, the player then shows the Ace of Coins and calls “ours”, then that player and partner will now only score points in their tricks for cards of either Cups and Coins, while their opponents will only score of taking Swords or Batons in theirs 

Switching Allegiance: When allegiances have been set, they may yet be changed under the same scheme by either team. When this happens, each team starts a new trick pile. Cards of the first pile are scored according to the first called allegiance, while those of the second pile score according to the new one.

League: Having partners sitting next to one another means that rather than simply play Tarocchi with different seating, we can introduce an innovation from Hungary’s Royal Tarokk. Here, Dealer’s side will be Attackers, while the other players are the Defenders. I would caution against using the Conference rule in this game.

Before each deal, the Dealer removes both the 20 and the 21 of trumps, keeping the 21 and giving the 20 to Partner. Then, in the first round of the deal, Dealer and Partner each receive only 3 cards instead of 4.

Dealer takes the role of Driver, while Partner has the role of Catcher. Dealer leads to the first trick and the direction of play from that point is opposite to the side that Dealer’s partner is seated – so, if Partner is sitting on Dealer’s left, then the direction of play for that hand will be to the right and vice versa. If Partner wins the trick, it will still be Driver who leads to the next trick.

You might also want to allow the Gallowglass rules.

Gallowglass: Broadly, a gallowglass was a mercenary. Originally it was specific to an ethnicity but over time it referred more generally to skilled mercenaries of another nation. Employing such mercenaries from outside had a serious benefit – they didn’t have a dog in the local race!

Dealer has the option to nominate one of the regular suits to be the gallowglass suit which has both benefits and a cost.

When a suit has been led in which a player has only one or more court cards, then, if they hold any, they may play a card from the gallowglass suit as if it was of the suit led. This means that if the gallowglass card is higher than any card of the suit led and no trumps have been played, then it may win the trick. If a card of the suit led and the gallowglass are of the same rank, then the second of the two to be played ranks higher. However, gallowglass cards have no point value, nor do any cards in a trick that is won by them. And herein lies their cost, they reduce the total value of card points in the pack all the while, the declarer must still win as many points as their contract requires – so this option should be used with caution.

Scores: When the hand has been played, players count their teams’ card points individually and then add 1 bonus card point for each trick (Cards of the discard to not count as a trick). There are therefore 149 card points to be won in the standard game. Whichever side wins 75 points or more wins the difference in game points from the opponents.

For a game of Allegiance, the maximum number of points that can be won by a team will vary. Players total their card points according to the changing allegiances and the number of tricks won. Whichever side wins the most points wins the difference between the two scores from their opponents.

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