How far can we stretch a definition? I have been toying with the idea that trick taking games have a far broader application than perhaps I have given them credit for. My concept of trick taking games was exclusively set to card games. Yet as I have explored the topic further I have come to consider that the simple trick taking game may not be as limited as I initially thought. In a traditional sense of trick taking, players compete to take tricks or sets of cards. This is usually achieved by playing progressively stronger suits or combinations of cards. The leader of a trick plays a card which forces all others at the table to follow suit unless they use a trump card that can win regardless of suit.
alt Let’s get the obvious out of the way and quickly mention a few games that fit the more traditional definition of a trick taking game. Tichu has to be on of my favourite games to play as an app right now. I play it nearly every day and don’t seem to be tiring of it anytime soon. This is a more traditional card game but has enough variation to heighten the experience. 12 Days is a simple trick taking game by Mike Slinkier and James Earnest that uses theme rather well. It has a triangular deck (10 copies of the 10 card, 9 copies of the 9 card, 8 copies of the 8 and so on through to 1 copy of the 1 card). This game plays tricks you can score off of, but scoring also takes into account your hand at the end of the game. Through the game, you are trying to win tricks while keeping higher number cards for the scoring stage.
alt This is all good and well but I want to stretch the definition and I feel that games like Diamonster sand Get Bit do just that. These two games require that players compete for tricks but each have mechanisms that provide a twist on card play. In Diamonsters the cards are numbered 1-5 with the highest number wins. In Get Bit the same rule applies as Diamonsters, only each player has cards numbered 1-7. In both Diamonsters and Get Bit turns are simultaneous and everyone knows which cards you have used. The complexity is present in that in both games if two players use the same card they effectively receive a penalty. Additionally, in Diamonsters the one card trumps the five card providing an almost rock paper scissors scenario. These games are not only fun but use trick taking in a clever way. The problem is that not everybody would agree with my using trick taking in this way. If that is you strap in because I am going to push the definition just a little further.
alt Loot is a simple card game by Reiner Knizia. Loot is listed as an area control game on Board Game Geek, but not a trick taking game. Yet definitions on trick taking games do not specify when the trick can be won. In Loot, you place pirate ships of varying strength to “attack” and win a supply ship for scoring purposes. Ships remain on the table until play can proceed around the circle with no one else being able to play a higher valued pirate ship to win the supply ship. There are even trump cards in the form of Pirate captains. Clearly, the use of the term area control is warranted, but in my mind, these are still just tricks being won, even if multiple tricks can be active on the board at once, or tricks may take some time to win. The question is how far can I stretch this definition? Can I say that Small World is trick taking? You are using tokens instead of cards and placing larger numbers of troops in a space to claim a trick, and there are even trumps such as the dragon token. Yet if people would be resistant to me calling Loot a trick taking game then I suspect they would be even less supportive of my calling Small World a trick taking game. But I am becoming more and more convinced that trick taking is a mechanic that finds form in many formats and styles and I am not convinced yet that games like Small World don’t include the mechanic on some level.
alt When we take trick taking into board games I think it is important to mention such games as Treasure Hunter by Richard Garfield. After the card draft, you use the characters in your hand to either get the strongest value or the lowest. The treasure tiles provide motivation to go for one or the other. The treasure tiles essentially provide motivation for going after a trick and help determine the most rewarding way to win the trick by having either the highest or lower strength. If both are bad it may be that all you want to do is avoid taking either treasure by playing cards that land you between your opponents. But this is not the most outrageous definition for trick taking and some who rejected Loot or other games may still acknowledge that Treasure Hunter has trick taking as one of the mechanics in the game. Yet I wonder if anyone has ever considered that most CCG’and LCG’s are trick taking games as well?
alt If you look up Magic the Gathering on BGG it refers to MtG as having hand management and player elimination as its primary mechanics, but not trick taking. Yet when you break the basics of game play down in MtG you have two or more people taking turns to play cards that trump their opponents card. While you could look strictly at the card strength this does not clearly demonstrate how Magic uses card abilities to provide additional strength or support to cards. This directly and confrontational nature of play may be pushing the definition somewhat, but it is helpful in reshaping the way we have looked at trick taking as a mechanic. More importantly, it may help us find new ways to use this mechanic in games we develop bringing it to a new audience.