Turnspell – Board Game Review

Turnspell Game Box

Turnspell Game Box

Another game we played at our most recent game night was Turnspell released by Mattel in 2016. This is a word game where 2 to 4 players are scored based on their ability to construct four letter words. Contained with the game are four, four-by-four letter boards for each player with scoring pegs and a center spinning board which contains letters chosen randomly from a pouch.

The pouch contains tiled letters with the exact same frequency and score values as Scrabble. I was actually disappointed to discover I am missing an “I” from my favorite travel Scrabble set when I tested the theory that these games use the same lettering system. Mattel, I think you may owe Hasbro an explanation, or at least a concession that they know what they are doing more when it comes to word games.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Scrabble and Turnspell tiles match up perfectly.

Letters are chosen at random and placed on the center spinning board, filling each of its four four-letter tile spaces. When we started the game we thought you were supposed to spin the spinning board to determine who started with which letters. Don’t do this unless you want pick the letters up off the floor on opposite sides of the room.

Try to make the letter setup truly random so no one feels cheated in the first turn. When we started one game, one of the sides of the center spinning board was completely filled with “E” letter pieces. Given that there are rare letters that are worth more points and common letters that are quite prevalent, my friend was forced to take an “E” on his first turn while his opponents were taking “J” and “X” letters. Perhaps a mulligan system could be employed to provide a more balanced start for all players. I would suggest if a side on the spinning board is completely filled with one-point vowels, or perhaps only one-point letters (vowels or consonants) at the beginning of the game, one letter should be traded out until a higher point valued letter is drawn to take its place.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

Center spinning board. Be careful when spinning.

All players play simultaneously. Each player draws a letter and places it somewhere on their player board. The player’s objective is to create four-letter words on their board. Once a four-letter word is created, it is scored by counting the point value each of the letters is worth. The word’s total score is added to the player’s score total using the pegs on the player’s board and the letters from the word are then placed back into the letter pouch.

There is a possibility for a player to use a letter to create two four-letter words at the same time. When this happens, the letter values from both words are added together and then that final sum is doubled to compute their total score for that turn. When a player reaches a score of 44, they win the game. If two players surpass a score of 44 in the same turn then the highest scoring player wins. If both players tie past 44 in the same turn, I assume they must fight to the death or the universe explodes. The rules do not specify in this final case.

Once a tile is placed on a player’s board, it cannot be replaced without taking a penalty. If a player wishes to remove one tile, they may surrender five points or twice the point value of the letter to do so, whichever total is higher. If they do not have enough points in the game to take the penalty, they may not remove the tile. When a tile is removed, it is placed back into the letter pouch. It cannot be replaced on the player’s board.

A player board. All she needed was a "Z" and I took it before she could get it.

A player board. All she needed was a “Z” and I took it before she could get it.

The player may also remove an entire row of tiles from their player board for no penalty. If there is only one tile in the row, it may be removed with no penalty. Similar to removing the one tile, if a row is removed from a player’s board it is removed to the pouch, not rearranged on the player’s board. Once all players have placed a tile on their player board, the center spinning board is turned one-click clockwise so that the next set of letters is facing a new player. Then the missing letters from the previous round of play are replaced at random from the letter pouch.

Turnspell is a good word game for board gamers who are not good at word games. I never win at Scrabble. I only ever really play it because other people enjoy it. I won at Turnspell against people who enjoy Scrabble and win often at Scrabble. It felt good, but also felt like sort of a cheap thrill for me while playing with such Scrabble aficionados. This is a nice light party game that takes a lower vocabulary and less brain activity than other word games in its class.

Dragonwood – Card Game Review

Dragonwood Game Box

Dragonwood Game Box

Game night was fast approaching, and it had been made my duty to bring an old game night favorite, Apples to Apples to the festivity. I had many side quests to attend to on my way. In the midst of my engagement to these side quests, I realized I had left all of my games, including Apples to Apples at my abode. Devastated by my error, I made a trip to the local merchant to examine their wares. There I found and purchased a game called Dragonwood, developed by Darren Kisgen and released by Gamewright in 2016, “a game of dice and daring.”

Dragonwood may be played by 2, 3, or 4 adventurers. These adventurers are tasked with slaying all sorts of hideous beasts that seek to threaten the land. These creatures are contained in the green Dragonwood deck. The greatest of these foes are the blue and the orange dragons, the final bosses of the adventurer’s journey. These cards are shuffled into the bottom half of the Dragonwood deck. Prior to this happening, a number of cards must be removed from the Dragonwood deck.

For 2 players, this number is 12 cards.
For 3 players, this number is 10 cards.
For 4 players, this number is 8 cards.

At the beginning of the adventurers’ quest, the top five cards of the Dragonwood deck are drawn and placed face-up in a row in the middle of the table. There are three types of Dragonwood cards: creatures, enhancements, and events. The effects of events occur immediately when drawn. Whatever the event card says must be executed in that moment of play. If an event card is discovered in the original five card reveal, remove it and shuffle it back into the Dragonwood deck and reveal a new card. Enhancements can be used to make the adventurer’s quest easier. And creatures are fodder for the fortune and glory of the adventurers.

The adventurer deck is then shuffled. Five cards from it are dealt to each player. The adventurer deck contains numbered cards 1-12 in five suits along with four joker cards with a Lucky Ladybug on them. When a Lucky Ladybug is drawn, the player discards the Lucky Ladybug and draws two more cards. A player may have no more than 9 adventurer cards in their hand. If they exceed this number, they must immediately discard to bring their total hand size back down to 9.

The adventurer cards are played and creatures are thereby slain and taken as trophies in three ways. The player may strike the creature by playing a straight of numbered cards of any color. An example might be red-9, green-10, blue-11, and green-12. The player may stomp a creature by playing cards of the same number. An example might be purple-4, blue-4, and orange-4. Or the player may scream at a creature by playing cards all of the same color. An example might be cards that are all green.

Each Dragonwood card revealed on the table has a strike, stomp, and scream value. In order to defeat the Hungry Bear I could stomp on him by playing three cards with the number 4 on them. The Hungry Bear’s stomp value is 6, which is the number I have to roll in order to slay the bear and take him as a victory trophy. I receive one die for each card I play in an effort to slay the creature; in this case I would receive three dice. The dice are six-sided and have the following numbers on their faces: 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 4. This means with a roll of three dice, it is only slightly probable to get a 12, but impossible to roll an 18. There are six such dice which is the maximum number of cards that may be played at a time. The minimum number of cards a player may play is one. If my roll to slay the Hungry Bear is 6 or above, then I take the Hungry Bear and add him to my personal victory pile and I place the cards I used to attempt to slay him to the adventurer deck’s discard pile. If my roll were less than a 6, then I must discard one card from my hand representing a “wound” from the encounter with the creature. The adventurer card discarded may be from any adventurer card in my possession, not just the cards currently in play. Enchancements are captured in the same way as creatures, but other enhancements cannot be used to aid in capturing new enhancements.

In an adventurer’s turn, the player has two options: draw a card, or attempt to slay a creature or capture an enhancement. The player with the most victory points from slain creatures at the end of the game wins. The game ends when either both the orange and blue dragons have been slain, or the adventurer’s deck has been fully played through then reshuffled and played through a second time.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

Dragonwood deck in play, adventurer card combinations, and dice.

After the rules had been laid down, the adventurers set out on their quest to slay the wild beasts of the land, to ultimately defeat the vicious dragons threatening the safety of their peoples. Laid before us were items of mystical powers and creatures of varying strengths. A Magical Unicorn was charmed by one of my fellow adventurers to give her plus one in subduing any beast. Another fellow adventurer laid claim to a Silver Sword to give her plus two to her strikes against any creature. But me, I chose the way of the sailor, the Bucket of Spinach proved my greatest weapon dealing an extra two stomp damage to any fowl beast.

Along the way we all had our successes and failures, incrementally increasing our victory points, until at last it happened; the blue and orange dragons were revealed. They were the most majestic of creatures: powerful, colorful, graceful in their movements, and deadly. We targeted the blue dragon first, given that it was slightly weaker than the orange dragon. A few of my fellow adventurers tried their luck with the blue dragon, but all wound up wounded from their attempts. As fortune would have it, I had succeeded in obtaining a one time use enchantment, a Lightning Bolt, that would increase my chances against the dragon by 4 damage points. With the help of my trusty Bucket of Spinach, I stomped that blue dragon into the dirt to the cheers of all the people of the land.

Unfortunately for them, the adventurer deck ran out shortly thereafter for the second time. My fellow adventurers and I counted up our victory points, looked at each other, and commended ourselves for the trophies we were able to seize. We’ll let the common folk contend with the Orange Dragon now that we have become rich in our fame and fortune.

Apples to Apples – Card Game Review

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples Game Box

Apples to Apples: The Game of Crazy Combinations is a party card game released by Mattel. My copy is copyrighted 2013. The game is designed for 4 to 8 players, but I have played games with as many as 12 participants.

My Apples to Apples deck contains 438 red apple cards, 62 green apple cards, 3 blank red apple cards, and 1 blank green apple card. In our house rules we decided to not require players to use the blank cards if they did not want to. They are available to make the game more interesting and more personalized for those who wish to come up with a creative wild card.

All red apple cards are shuffled together and randomly distributed across as many piles as is convenient face down. These are the draw piles for all players. All players draw five cards out of the red apple cards to compose their beginning hands. The green cards are also shuffled together into their own deck and placed in the middle of the table so everyone can reach them.

Apples to Apples Card Piles

Apples to Apples card piles

Someone is selected as the first judge. It’s typically best for this person to be the one with the most prior experience in playing Apples to Apples. The judge takes a green apple card off of the green apple card pile and selects one of the two adjectives written on the card. They then place the card face up on the table where everyone can see it and say what adjective they chose out loud. All other players then play face down the red apple card they feel contains a noun that is best described by the green apple card adjective selected and then draw a new red apple card from the red apple card decks to replenish their hand up to five cards. Once all of the players have played a red apple card, the judge selects which green/red apple card combination they like the best. Once they have picked the winning red apple card, the green apple card is awarded to the winner of that round for score keeping and play continues with the player to the left of the judge acting as new judge in the next round of play.

The rules state that the first person to win four green apple cards wins the game, but there is really no max number you have to stop at. The last time I played this game we exhausted the entire deck of green apple cards. Another interesting twist we made to our own game was to create a dummy player. Each round of play we would toss an additional random red apple card into the pile for the judge to examine. It was fascinating to see how well the non-player did compared to the actual human players around the table. In fact in the game I played last night, the dummy player actually came in second place!

There have been numerous times that I have asked people if they wanted to play Apples to Apples and they have wanted to know what it was. I would then explain it to them and they would say, “Oh, kind of like Cards Against Humanity? I’ve got that one, why don’t we just play that?” Apples to Apples is a family friendly game, while Cards Against Humanity is more adult themed with explicit content. Be aware of this if you are a newcomer to this genre and you want to keep your gaming experiences more family friendly for everyone involved.

The Apples to Apples rulebook contains a couple other play variations that I have yet to try out. In the Crab Apples variation, the objective is to pick the best red apple card that is the opposite of the word chosen for the green apple card. In 2 for 1 Apples, each player attempts to pick the one red apple card in their hand that matches best with both words on the green apple card.

If you were judge, which would you pick?

If you were judge, which would you pick?

Apples to Apples is probably my most frequently used go-to game to take to parties, especially those where I am unsure of the tastes of the hosts and whether they are gamers or not. Given that Apples to Apples is essentially an exercise in understanding other players’ psychology, this game acts as a good icebreaker to better understand and relate to the people I play with without bringing up any over the top embarrassing or offensive themes. One of the red apple cards is “Republicans” while another is “Democrats.” One of the red apple cards is “George W. Bush” while another is “Hillary Rodham Clinton.” I have been able to learn a lot about the people I play with based on the cards they play and how they talk about the subjects on the cards. We all learn a lot more about each other. Apples to Apples has probably helped me build rapport with those I have played it with more than any other game I own.

Any gamer who is serious about being a social gamer should have Apples to Apples in their collection. It’s easily available and fairly inexpensive in most stores with a toy section. I don’t even worry if my copy gets damaged because I know I can always get another copy. Meanwhile its benefits to opening avenues of conversation through a friendly game cannot be understated. I feel this game truly is a treasure to human society.

Zaxxon – Board Game Review

Zaxxon the Board Game

Zaxxon the Board Game

Zaxxon, published by Milton Bradley in 1982, is a board game designed after the hit arcade classic of the same name developed and released by Sega. Zaxxon is a two player game. The objective of the game is for each player to be the first to successfully shoot Zaxxon once using each of their planes.

Player 2's outer fortress perspective

Player 2’s outer fortress perspective

Each player starts with two planes on their respective Player 1 or Player 2 home base starting locations. The game board is divided into two sections, the outer fortress and the inner fortress. In the outer fortress, each player must use their planes to destroy a gun turret, a missile silo, and two fuel tanks. When a fuel tank is destroyed within the outer fortress, it is moved into its designated spot in the inner fortress. Once a plane makes it into the inner fortress, for the remainder of the game whenever it is destroyed the plane will respawn at one of the restart positions right outside the inner fortress. In the inner fortress each player must destroy all of their fuel tanks prior to facing Zaxxon.

Zaxxon the Board Game Spinner

Zaxxon the Board Game spinner

Each player gets control of one six-sided die which they roll together at the same time at the beginning of each round of play. The player with the lowest roll then gets to spin the spinner. The spinner has three colors it could land on. If the spinner lands on blue, then all gun turrets currently in play are activated and any plane within their area of effect is shot down. If the spinner lands on red, all of the missile silos currently in play are activated and any plane within their area of effect is then shot down. Any missile silo or gun turret that has been destroyed no longer has any area of effect. The missile silo and gun turret closest to Zaxxon may not be destroyed, they are considered indestructible by the game’s rules. If the spinner lands on white, nothing happens.

After the spinner is spun, the player with the lowest roll moves their pieces the number of moves designated by the die they rolled. If they rolled a five, then they would have five movement points. Moving one position takes one movement point. Changing altitude takes one movement point. Firing at a target requires the number of movement points the plane is away from the target. In order to fire at a target, there must be a direct path through the hex grid from the plane to the target to fire in a straight line across the hex positions. A player may distribute their movement points across one or two planes any way they like and planes may move in any legal direction across the hex grid. A plane may not stop on top of a wall, so at least two movement points are required to clear any wall. After the player with the lowest die roll moves their planes, the player with the highest die roll then moves their planes. After all movement has been made, play continues in the next round as it did in the previous round with both players rolling their die together again.

Game pieces with different altitudes

Game pieces with different altitudes

Just like in the arcade game, altitude matters. In the Zaxxon board game, a plane may be in high altitude or low altitude. A plane must be in low altitude to hit a target. A plane must be in high altitude to pass over a wall. And a plane must be in the same altitude as another plane in order to shoot it down.

The dog-fight zone within the inner fortress

The dog-fight zone within the inner fortress

Right within the inner fortress, there are many spaces designated by open circles contained within an orange area. This is the dog-fighting zone. Players may shoot down their opponent’s aircraft here. Within this zone is a radar barrier. In order to send a plane through the radar barrier, the player must have rolled the highest of both players on that round of play.

Zaxxon and its movement area

Zaxxon and its movement area

Once a player’s plane has entered the radar barrier, Zaxxon becomes alerted and activated. At this point in the game, whenever a player spins the spinner and it lands on a space with a “Z,” that player will move and fire Zaxxon based on the their roll of their die. Zaxxon cannot move beyond the area it inhabits designated by the dark black circles on the board, nor can the player’s planes enter this area. Zaxxon can shoot as far as the fuel tank positions in the inner fortress. Any player within those positions can be hit by Zaxxon.

The game of Zaxxon I played with my opponent started out easy enough. We both handily destroyed our targets within the outer fortress on our way to the inner fortress. When we crossed the walls into the inner fortress the showdown began. We had fun shooting down each other’s planes. She crossed the radar barrier and I shot her plane down and vice versa.

As soon as we crossed the radar barrier, Zaxxon activated and moved up to the limit of his movement zone. We cautiously eliminated the front missile silo and gun turret in front of the fuel tanks and eliminated each of our fuel tanks when we were not eliminating each other. At one point we had four of our planes just outside Zaxxon’s range ready to take Zaxxon on. I sent one of my planes to the right-most side to flank it, and with a good roll managed a hit sending one of my planes back to home base and sending Zaxxon to his starting location. Using the same maneuverer with the second plane, I had to wait awhile until Zaxxon was back in position for me to strike again. As soon as the time was right, I got my hit and won the game.

Bird-eye view of the game board

Bird-eye view of the game board

Zaxxon is probably the best arcade to board game adaptation I have ever played. The game is balanced between both players. The game board, pieces, and game play feel close to the original arcade game. And the board game creators did a satisfactory job of balancing the level at which skill and chance factor in winning the game. The Zaxxon board game is not difficult to learn, and takes around 20-30 minutes to play once you know what you’re doing. It is a pleasant game that is fun and original and doesn’t make you think too hard; a good board game when you’ve got time to kill with a friend who doesn’t want to play anything too involved or is a fan of arcade gaming but the power is out.

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent – Compatibility

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent

Windows 10

  • Installs – Yes
  • Runs – Yes
  • Uninstalls – No, not automatically.
  • Requires CD-ROM to play.

Surprisingly, this game from 1997 installs and runs nearly flawlessly for me in Windows 10. There is some flicker or transparent artifact that can be seen surrounding the border of the video cut scenes, but the cut scene itself is unaffected and so is game play. This game requires the CD-ROM to play, even when installing the full game to the hard disk. Its consistent polling of the CD-ROM drive can cause the game to lag slightly. You will want to reconfigure the controls prior to playing this game since the default controls will trigger a “Sticky Keys” dialog to appear in Windows 10. The Sierra provided uninstaller program does not seem to work correctly in Windows 10.

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent – Computer Game First Impressions

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent Title Screen

Title Screen

It has probably been years since I last played a pinball game, let alone one on a computer. The last time was probably when I played Space Cadet Pinball as a pack-in game for Windows XP. Its 2D visuals were nice and crisp. Its sounds were sharp and futuristic. And it was fun. Computer pinball games in general have always been fun for me. The first computer pinball game I recall playing was Crystal Caliburn by Little Wing for Windows 3.x. Even though it came out in 1993, its sharp higher resolution bitmap artwork kept me enthralled with its medieval theme. I would play for hours as a grade school student when I should have been doing my homework.

For those who don’t know what pinball is, I’ll have to write a later article to do the subject justice. It should suffice currently to just imagine that there is a ball, falling down at an incline, and that the player can push it back up using one of two paddles on either side of a hole in the middle. If the ball falls into the hole too many times, the game ends. The object is to keep the ball up in the air and score points by knocking the ball into objects within the inclined playing field.

Jewel Case Art

Jewel Case Art

While working my way through my game collection, looking for games that will run natively in Windows 10, I found 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent. It is the second in a series of pinball games created by Dynamix and published by Sierra in 1997. While I was impressed with how well the game runs on Windows 10, what is most impressive about this game is how cheezy it is.

CD-ROM Art

CD-ROM Art

The game’s plot appears to be that a passenger plane is damaged in a lightning storm and crash-lands on a deserted island filled with dinosaurs and a mad scientist. In the beginning cut scene, as the plane is going down, you can see the pinball playing field on the island. It looks like the plane actually crash-landed into a pinball table. The intro cut scene looks like something designed by my high school buddies using Microsoft Movie Maker. It was 1997 and Movie Maker did not come out until 2000. You can decide if I should cut them more slack. It looks like they had fun making this game what it is, and honestly its most redeeming quality is that it does not seem to take itself too seriously.

Pinball Table Lower Right

Pinball Table Lower Right

I can only imagine begging for my parents to buy me this game in the store when it was retailing upwards of 20 dollars and then getting it home and being incredibly disappointed. I got my copy for 3 dollars at Goodwill. That price was probably worth it just for the laughs I have gotten from watching the intro cut scene and listening to its terrible one-liners. I’m actually somewhat surprised that Sierra released this game at all.

While Sierra released some duds over the years, they generally kept the bar for their releases relatively high. A potentially little known fact about Sierra is that they provided a one hundred percent money-back satisfaction guarantee on all of their games, one that they stood behind. If for any reason you didn’t like the game, you could send it back within 30 days for a full refund. I wonder what percentage of these they received back after people complained demanding their money back.

T-Rex with Some Happy Little Trees

T-Rex with Some Happy Little Trees

The game play in my initial play-through was mediocre. Balls seemingly sometimes unfairly fall out of the play field immediately after being released. When this happens, the game would often toss me a free ball as if it knew it gave me a cheap shot. The free ball seems to come in at random though and blends in too much with all the dinosaurs moving across the screen. It’s hard to tell what the ball is doing when it’s doing it, or why I received certain points and bonuses. I read in another review that 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent has 16 pinball table levels. When I hit a game over, it allowed me to continue. Hypothetically, if the player were to have unlimited continues, there is nothing stopping them from playing all the way through the game provided they had the patience to do so. 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent can also be played by up to four players, so play with people you hope to bore that you don’t want coming to see you very often.

Multiball!!!

Multiball!!!

Apparently Windows 10 retained another pinball buzzkill I remembered from my Windows XP days. Whenever you press the shift key too many times in a row, a dialog box pops up asking if you would like to turn on Sticky Keys in Windows. Of course the shift key is a standard paddle key for most computer pinball games. It sure would have been nice if Microsoft had provided a checkbox on their dialog that said something on the order of, “Don’t display this dialog again.” Control keys can be configured in 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent and game pads can also be enabled, but when all you have is a keyboard, using the shift key just feels natural.

Reconfigure Controls to Avoid this in Windows 10

Reconfigure Controls to Avoid this in Windows 10

Another frustration I have with 3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent is the way it continuously checks the CD-ROM drive for the disc during play. This is a game from 1997, and yet it is lagging on my computer from 2017 because it’s continuously polling the CD-ROM drive even after I chose the option to install the entire game to the hard disk. I figure this is some form of late nineties DRM. Someone at Sierra had a lot of pride in believing anyone would want to make pirated copies of this game.

T-Rex says, "Hi Guys!".

T-Rex says, “Hi Guys!”

3D Ultra Pinball: The Lost Continent really does have a lot of charm. It’s worth installing and loading just to see the cut scenes if obtained at a reasonable price. As far as pinball games though, this just isn’t as fun as a lot of pinball titles that I recall playing prior to its release and pinball games that came after it hit the bargain bin and was largely forgotten.

Spades – Card Game Review

Spades

Spades

The other night I attended a game day with many people from my local church. I noticed that while a large number of people showed up with the expectation of having a great deal of fun, few were willing to take a plunge on learning a game they had never played before. It seems to me that most people get awkward when approaching a new game. Perhaps they don’t want to appear ignorant or less than proficient at something they don’t have much experience with. Most of the family classics were represented. There was Battleship!, Yahtzee, Jenga, Connect Four, and all sorts of games high on luck with little skill required. I will admit Jenga requires a great level of skill, and the Jenga game played that night was phenomenal. More on that in its own game review. In general however, it is my hypothesis that most people who would consider themselves to be non-gamers prefer games of chance. If they lose they can always blame their situation on simple poor circumstance.

I tend to be the opposite when it comes to these types of game gatherings. Because of my highly introverted nature, talking about a complex game helps me ease into social interaction with people I don’t know well. I think I’d rather play a game I had never encountered before, because talking about that game helps me overcome my social anxiety just enough to break the ice. Gamers who have never met but share a love for a game in common can talk strategy and experience. Doing so conjures up all sorts of powerful good memories that they share in common which in turn builds rapport between people who were complete strangers prior to that interaction.

I think I am going to come up with a new scale to publish along-side all of my game reviews to measure a game’s position on the chance/skill spectrum. Yahtzee might be an example of a game solidly on the chance end of the spectrum with no skill. Maybe it should receive a 100/0 chance/skill rating. Then there is the game of Chess which is solidly on the skill end of the spectrum. Obviously this would receive a 0/100 chance/skill rating.

So I stood there awkwardly at the game day hoping someone would play something interesting I could talk with them about. Meanwhile others stood awkwardly looking at complex games they were hoping they would not be asked to play. I brought the games Codenames and Forbidden Island with me. To my knowledge they didn’t get touched the entire night. I watched people fawn over a really neat looking yard sized checker set someone purchased on Amazon. Many people said they might buy one too, but no one actually played checkers at all.

Thankfully my friend Larry came up to me and asked me if I knew how to play Spades.

Yep!” I said trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

Would you like to be my partner?” he then asked.

Yep!” I replied, happy to get into a game and away from my social anxiety and awkwardness.

Spades is a card game that can be played with a standard 54 playing card deck. Both jokers are removed to make a 52 card deck. It is typically a four player game with two players playing together on each team. Each player sits across from their teammate such that each turn iterates from one team playing to the other. Spades is part chance and part skill. While the cards are dealt to all players at random, it is up to the player by what strategy they play their hand. Measured on my chance/skill spectrum, I would rate it as being C50/S50.

Now Spades is one of those games in which I find it wise to tread carefully as far as the rules are concerned. Because of its wide popularity, the general faultiness of human memory, and the disregard many people have for reading written rules of any sort, many variations of Spades with their own house rules exist. I did my best to not be a bother and played by the rules the opposing team insisted were the correct ones. I still don’t really understand all of the arithmetic my opponent used to calculate our scores, but I can tell you his house rules math did not impede the fun we had playing together.

A starting dealer is selected. The dealer shuffles the card deck and deals out 13 cards to each player, which when dealt properly will exhaust the number of cards in the 52 card deck. With 13 cards in each player’s hands, there are thirteen tricks that will be played in each round. Starting to the left of the dealer, each player examines their cards and makes a bid for the number of tricks they believe they will be able to win.

A trick is won by being the player to play the highest ranked card in that moment of play. Rank is determined first by suit and then by number. By number, Ace is high followed by K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Spades are trump. Essentially whatever suit (clubs, hearts, diamonds, or spades) is led (played by the person who starts the trick), its highest ranking number will win the trick unless a spade is played, in which case the highest numbered spade will win the trick.

In the first round I examined my hand, noted that I had two aces (diamonds and clubs) and four spades with the Jack being the highest. Therefore I estimated I might be able to take four tricks. The bidding went around the table with everyone estimating the performance of their hands.

Since there are a total of 13 tricks, if one were to bid 13 and successfully take all of them they would receive 130 points. In this particular round, I bid 4 tricks while Larry bid 2. This gave us a combined bid of 6 tricks. When we finished the round, we had taken all 6 tricks, so we received 60 points. If we had not taken all of our tricks, we would have received -60 points. If we had taken 7 tricks, which is one beyond what we had bid, we would have received what was called a sandbag for a total of 61 points. Each sandbag is worth one point a piece, but if you get ten sandbags, you lose 100 points. Finally, if a player were to bid zero, it is called going nil. If a player successfully takes zero tricks while going nil, they will receive 100 points, but -100 if they fail.

In the first trick, everyone plays the lowest club in their hand. If the player does not have a lowest club, they may play any card. Whomever won the trick using the highest ranking card then leads the next trick. A spade cannot be played to lead a trick until a spade has been played in regular play to take a trick. When this occurs, spades are said to have been “broken.” A player may not play any card with a suit that is different from the suit that was led unless that player has no cards with the leading suit. Play continues until all 13 tricks have been won by a team. After the end of the 13th trick, the scores are recorded and play continues until a team reaches or surpasses 500 points thereby becoming the winner.

Our first round was fairly non-eventful. Both sides met their bids. They bid 7 tricks while we bid 6. We were confident everyone knew how to play by the rules. It was time to take it to the next level. In the second round they overbid in order to take more from us. When both team bids add up to 13 or less, both teams have the opportunity to be winners. But when the sum of all bids is higher than 13, someone has to lose points. Unfortunately for the opposing team, we made our bid which pushed their score negative.

In order to pull their score back up, one of our opponents went nil. She almost succeeded, but was forced to take the last trick which left them over 100 points negative. When a team is over one hundred points below their opposing team in Spades, the team is able to make a special bid called a blind nil. A team must announce they are going blind nil before any cards are dealt out by the dealer.

Once blind nil had been announced in our game, the dealer would shuffle the cards and then deal one card to each player who was participating in the blind nil. The player who received the lower of the two cards was called low. This would be the person working their darndest to take zero tricks in the next round. The player who received the higher of the two cards was called high and would bid as normal and would do everything they could to help their teammate take zero tricks. I am not sure what we would have done if both cards had come up with the same number value on them. Maybe we could have played War and drawn again, or allowed the players to then choose who would be high and who would be low.

Once the high and low player was determined, the dealer would once again shuffle the deck and deal out the cards as normal. The player designated as low would look through their hand to find their two worst cards for going nil (official rules is actually three cards I believe) and pass those cards to their teammate. Their teammate would then choose out of their hand the best two cards to use for going nil and hand them back to the teammate playing low. Play would then continue normally.

My partner and I continued to play fairly conservatively, continuing to receive points in moderation and a fair number of sandbags along the way as we attempted to set our opponents. The details of our opponents’ gameplay was a little fuzzy for me, since for the next three or four rounds they went double nil each round, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. Somehow the score right before the final round wound up with us both being roughly one hundred points from victory.

My eyes widened when I saw the score sheet. I was kicking myself for not going nil when I had received a hand with no spades in it. I decided to play it safe while I thought we were far ahead in points since I had an ace of diamonds. As it turned out though, while the other team needed points, our greatest danger would be to get too many sandbags and lose the points we already had that were necessary for victory. We entered that round with six sandbags, received two, and exited the round victorious. Larry makes a point of telling people that as a team we’re still undefeated champions. Time will tell. Maybe we’re just that good, or maybe we just quit while we were ahead.