Stichling Impressions – A trick-taking game that doesn’t feel like a trick-taking game
I am by no means an expert at trick-taking games. I own a handful of them (Clubs, Chronicle, The Dwarf King, Potato Man, etc) and enjoy them, but I never played any of the “classics” like Hearts or Pinochle. I always avoided them, thinking they weren’t the kind of game for me. Modern trick-taking games have taken the basic mechanisms and expanded on them in unique ways. Stichling is a recent addition to that list of trick-taking games with a twist. Click through to read my thoughts about the game! How novel!!
To put it plainly, in Stichling you’re playing on up to four tricks at a time. Each player starts with a hand of 12 cards, and play goes until all players’ hands are empty. The round is then scored. This is repeated for two additional rounds and the player with the most points is the winner. But like most seemingly simple things in life, the devil’s in the details. Or the devil wears Prada. Maybe he wears Prada while he’s focusing on the details. Anywho! There are two main details that set Stichling apart.
First off, the scoring. Winning tricks does not equate to getting more points. Each round has it’s own set of scoring cards. The first round, all players use the cards with values 1, 2, and 3. In the second, the cards have values 2, 4, and 6. And in the third round, they have values 3, 6, and 9. At the beginning of the round, once each player has their 12 card hand, but before any cards have been played, the players put their scoring cards in a row face down, in whatever order they choose. Over the course of a round, if a player wins a trick, if they have no face up point cards showing, they flip the first card face up. If they already have a face up point card showing, they’ll flip it face down and flip the next point card to the right face up. If they win their fourth trick, they in essence wrap around and flip their first point card face up again. So you’ll only ever have at most one point card face up.
In order to score points for a round, one of your point cards must be face up. Beyond that, you need to figure out how many tricks you feel like you can win, so you know where to put your highest value point card. Don’t feel like you’ve got a snowball’s chance in hell of winning many tricks? Then maybe you should put your highest point card first in the row. Feeling pretty confident? Well, maybe you should put it at the end. But remember, if you end up winning one too many tricks, you’ll wrap back around and hide that high point value card.
So that doesn’t seem too crazy, just make sure your point cards are lined up right. Pfft, why have you wasted my time with this drivel!! That’s what you’re probably saying right now. Or maybe you gave up long before this point. If you’ve made it this far, tweet me @TheCopac for funsies! Well now we’ve come to my favorite part of Stichling. The trick-taking.
In Stichling, you’ll be playing on anywhere between one and four tricks at a time. The deck in Stichling is straightforward: four “suits” or colors, ranging in value from one to fifteen. Depending on your player count, you’ll remove cards from the high end of the range accordingly. Each player is also given four scoring markers of the same color, more on this later.
On your turn, you simply play a card, but you have some options. You can play it on an existing trick on the table or if there are fewer than four tricks out, you can start a new trick. If there are four tricks already on the table, then you have to play your card on a trick that was lead with a matching color card. If, and only if, there are four tricks and none of them were lead with the color you’re trying to play, then you are allowed to play off-color on any of the open tricks. The scoring markers I mentioned earlier are used to indicate which tricks you are currently winning, more specifically where you have played the highest card of the color that was led. Tricks are complete as soon as there are four cards played to it. Once a trick is complete, it’s removed from the table to the discard pile and the scoring marker is returned to the winner of the trick, who flips their next point card as described above. This then makes room for another trick to be started. At the end of the round, any unfinished tricks are not scored.
These two features of Stichling are what make it feel like I’m not playing a trick-taking game. Yes, you have to win tricks to score points. But if you go into this and focus solely on the tricks, you’re likely to lose. You have to be very aware of how the other players are playing their hands. If there’s an open green trick on the table, and I choose to open a new green trick, that’s something to be aware of. And just because you have a bunch of high cards in your hand, you’re still going to have to be very aware of timing. If you go big on a trick that only has one card in it, the rest of the players can try and stall you by avoiding that trick and forcing you to complete the trick yourself. Because remember, unfinished tricks don’t score. And don’t forget the point cards. If you keep a keen eye on which values your neighbor’s already revealed, you can deduce where their high value point card is and try and force them to win tricks they didn’t want, making them cycle right past their big points.
I feel similarities between this game and 6 nimmt!, when it comes to the timing and, to a lesser extent, playing the players. In 6 nimmt! just because you can play a card now doesn’t mean that you should play it now. I get the same feeling when I play Stichling. And getting caught up in planning out which trick to play on, and how many I need to win to optimally get the most points, while at the same time trying to force my neighbor’s hand and deducing what position everyone has their high value point cards, in the end, all adds up to what I would call a really fun strategic card game that has a trick-taking mechanism in it before I’d call it a straight-up trick-taking game!