Saturday, June 7, 2008


To kick off HoGS night for June, I joined two others for a quick game of cards. The game we played was Knaves.

I've never played Knaves before, but as it's a game played with regular playing cards, like Casino I'm not adding it to my list of new games played this year.

It's quite a clever little trick taking game because it's not just about capturing as many tricks as possible. Tricks are good, but if you capture a Knave (Jack) you lose points.

It's a 3 player game where 51 of the 52 cards are dealt evenly between the players (that's...erm..17 cards each). The final card is turned face up to determine which suit is trumps for that hand. You can't, however, have the same trump suit for two hands running so if card 52 is the same suit as the last hand then there are no trumps this time round.

There is a lot of strategy involved, and as all the cards will be played (except one, but you know what that card is) it is a definite advantage if you can keep track of what suits have been played.

Just for the record, I suck at card counting. I can generally strategise based on how many cards each player has remaining and how many cards of a particular suit I have, but I got into trouble a few times by leading a suit I shouldn't have later in the game.

So here you are trying to win tricks. The game is played just like all the other trick taking games. All players must follow suit, and if they do not have a card of the suit led they may play a trump to try and win the trick, or throw out another card.

The twist, as I mentioned earlier is with the Jacks. All the jacks are bad, but some are badder than others. It's sort of like the game Hearts, in that if you win a trick containing a Jack then you lose points.

J♥ will lose you 4 points, J♦ will lose you 3 points, J♣ will lose you 2 points, and (you may be able to follow the pattern here) J♠ will lose you 1 point (I could have typed out the name of each card in full, and it would have been quicker, but I just wanted to be all funky and use the suit symbols).

Given that there are 17 tricks to be won each hand, and a total of 10 negative points, it means that each hand there will be a net 7 points shared between the players. The first player to reach 21 points is the winner.

Obviously, you really don't want to collect Jacks, especially J♥. There's no bonus for collecting all the Jacks.

The safest option is usually to lead with a 10. The general pattern here is that the second player will usually play a lower card in case the third player has the Jack of that suit. This means that the third player is free to win the trick with a Queen, King or Ace.

Of course, it doesn't always pan out that way, but in the early game most tricks are won by the player going third.

Something you want to avoid is being stuck with a face card as your only remaining card of a suit, and having to play it and let the final player throw the Jack at you. High cards can be good, but when to hold on to them and when to play them is the key to the game.

It is sometimes a good strategy to throw away a high card of one suit when another suit is led, just so that later on you don't get stuck winning a trick that contains a Jack.

Possibly the suckiest thing is to be dealt the Jack of trumps. The only time it's not going to win is where the Queen, King or Ace of trumps are played in the same trick. It gets even worse if card 52 (the card that decides trumps) is a Queen, King or Ace as there are even fewer chances to successfully dump that Jack on someone else. If that happens, just hope trumps are Spades.

I managed to hold my own in the game we played, taking an early lead, but I made some poor decisions and got stuck with too many high cards in the later part of the game and ended up finishing second.

It's not a game I'd play much as there are other card games I enjoy more, but it was nice as a filler while we waited to play something more meaty.

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