Thursday, August 11, 2005

Better than Tichu

A little riddle: what is a card game, has partners, and is better than Tichu?

Some would say 'nothing', I know. Some would mention bridge. But for me, the answer is partnership Fairy Tale. (And I really love Tichu).

Fairy Tale is a card drafting game, in which players choose one card out of a group of five, pass the remainder to the next player, then pick one card out of the ones passed to them by the player next to them, and so on. The cards score based on which other cards you have, so the game is about drafting combinations of cards which work well together, and drafting cards with great potential to score based on what you will probably get later.

Played where each player is playing for themselves, the game is interesting at first, but gets easy pretty quickly. After you know what you're doing, there really aren't any difficult decisions anymore. Its playing partnership that makes the game shine.

The partnership rules are the same, except of course, that at the very end of the game, the two partners on each team, who sit across from one another, sum their individual scores together. Your cards don't help your partner's cards score, or anything like that, you just add your two scores. This serves to make the game far more interesting.

Without partners, you will often be faced with the decision: Do I take the card that is good for me, or the card that is great for the next guy, but I cant use. And you take the card thats good for you pretty much every time, except in extreme cases. And everyone is just taking the card that is best for them every time, and then all that matters is who lucks into the best cards. The decisions are quite simple. When a player does play defensively and starts taking stuff the player after them needs, it just screws the two of them and they both probably lose.

But with partners, the situation changes. Now, a defensive move that costs my opponent a 9 point play is somewhat like I just scored 9 points myself. Now, when faced with the decision of taking the good card for me, or the great card for my opponent, one will often play defensively. It is in the weighing of whether the defensive move is better than the point scoring move, that makes the game interesting.

For those who have played Fairy Tale, but haven't tried it with partners, you really need to. The two games are simply incomparable.

The rest of this article wont be very interesting to those who haven't played the game, I'm afraid. (And maybe the first half wasn't either), but I figured it would be good to give some advice on playing fairy tale (especially in its partnership form).

First of all, it is important to take cards that create good threats. A threat is something that could potentially score you a large amount of points, if your opponents don't do anything about it. Thus, your opponents will then face difficult decisions of whether to help themselves or to hurt you. If they have to spend a lot of their time taking cards away from you, then it is difficult for them to get a good score.

So what makes a good threat? Its a combination of three things. The more of them that are present, the better it is.

First, it needs to have the potential to score many points if not defended against. Good examples of this are the 3 and matching *x3 cards, the * scoring cards of each of the three main colors, and some other things like the 9 point conditional cards, and some of the other high scoring conditionals.

Secondly, it should score you some points already, even if it is defended against. Thus, if you have the choice of taking a basic 3 point friend card, or a *x3 card, the 3 point card is better early on, because it is already scoring you points. If you start off by taking *x3 cards, it is a poor threat, because if your opponents deny you the matching 3 point cards, you score nothing. Also, your opponents can play the 3 point cards and get something for their picks. If you take the 3s however, then you have points already, and they have to take cards that are completely worthless to them to stop you.

Third, it should ideally have many cards in the deck that will be good for you, and must be defended against. The 3 / *x3 combinations and the * cards are good examples of this. Thus, your opponents are often seeing cards that they must take away from you, to prevent you from scoring many points.

To summarize, the best threat is generally taking the basic 3 point friend cards, and any matching *x3 cards you see. This will often force one's opponents to take many cards that are nearly worthless for them. Second best are the 3 point hunt cards, which have a corresponding 9 point conditional card. These are good because they score points already, and the 9 point card is very large, and will be completely worthless to your opponent if they take it away from you. After that, the basic * cards are pretty good, however it takes several of them before they become decent, and your opponents only have to really defend once you reach that point. However, if your opponent takes one or two of them away from you, they are nearly worthless to him or her, and if you can get at least 3 then they will be at worst okay for you.

The conditional scoring cards, which you have a chance to fulfill, are the other big early pick, and in many cases should be picked over the cards mentioned above, even the basic 3 point friend cards (which are excellent). Mostly, the conditionals which are fairly easy to fulfill given enough time, or who help you fulfill themselves, are excellent early picks. For example, the 8 point conditional cards that require you to have at least two cards in each of the other two non-shadow suits are my favorite cards to pick as a first pick, and are likely the best choice later on, until such time as you would be unable to fulfill them in time (and even then, it may still be the best as a defensive pick). The 7 point 'most stories' shadow conditional card is excellent, as it counts as a story itself, and the 6 point 'most shadows' and 'most of a color' cards are also great. The shadow cards fall in value if you have passed a hunt card around (which is a good reason to often take the hunt card as a high pick, unless there is something else really good).

Barring any good threat cards, early on it is usually good to take a 6 point close card, since you will have plenty of time to find an open card for it. The shadow 'all players close 1 of a suit' cards are also quite good, especially if one team or the other would be hurt by it a lot, but the other wouldn't. (If its your team that would be hurt a lot, then you probably need to take it defensively).

When taking cards, be sure not to take cards that your partner really needs. For example, the 3 or *x3 cards they are collecting, 1 open cards that they need to open something and you don't, * cards they are collecting, and so on. You would take these only if the player between you and your partner really needs it also, and would take it if you didn't, and it is worth it to take the card defensively. When playing shadow cards that force all players to close a card of a color, make sure that it hurts the other team more than yours.

A final note about choosing whether to draft defensively or to take something for yourself: Each round, you play only 3 of the 5 cards you draw. Thus, you can draft defensively twice without hurting yourself, provided you can still find three good cards.
Also, if your opponent already has three good cards, it doesn't really hurt them to deny them another, they cant play four anyway. This means that if a couple cards have already gone by, and you don't really have anything good for yourself yet, you probably need to prioritize getting something for yourself much more than normal. Likewise, if you have passed a set or two of cards with nothing good for your opponent in it, and have something good for yourself, then you can focus more on defense and make sure your opponent gets nothing they need that round.

The play of the cards also has some strategy to it as well. For one thing, when choosing the order to play your three cards that you are going to play for the round, especially early on, play cards of colors you already have first, before playing cards of a new color. This can prevent you from closing cards to a shadow card, especially one that your partner may be playing to hurt your opponents, while your team doesnt yet have cards of that color.

For everyone who hasn't tried it, I highly recommend partnership Fairy Tale! It is fast, relatively deep, and tons of fun.


ekted said...

I find the card layout and art to be prohibitive to enjoying this game. You can barely see the images at the bottom of the card to figure out what cards it matches up with.

ReXwoo said...

Fantastic idea ! I have to try this as a team game.

Patrik S said...

Interesting. Haven't played the game, but fully understand the concept.
The individual game, reminds me of the decisions in area controlling game, like El Grande, Tikal, Louis XIV, etc. They might have been somewhat interesting 10 years ago, or with newbies.

I also would like to recommend the german card game Doppelkopf (DoKo), which means "Doublehead". In this exciting card game you often play partner games (You can also play certain kind of solo games, against your three opponents), but there are two main twists:
First: You do not know who's your partner at the beginning.
Second: The highest cards are not the most valuable.

This makes for an ever interesting game.

/Strömer, from Sweden

Alex Rockwell said...

@ekted: Yes the card layout is difficult at first. You just have to learn what the cards do through practice. I have heard there is a new version coming out that improves this, but we'll see.

@patrik Doppelkopf is awesome. I'd put it under Fairy Tale and Tichu in my list of favorite card games. But its certainly very close. Unfortunately, its difficult for me to get peopleto play it. You explain the cards in the turmp suit, and they want to run away. ;)