Thursday, 3 October 2013

Carrera Hearts Poker

That’s what played this evening at Roll For The Soul, more or less, and not in that order. There were four of us at the start: me, Adam, Joe and Martin (Gonz couldn't make it. Something about a "birthday". Not sure what that's all about). Tonight we were banished upstairs because there was a gig downstairs and I suppose the owner of the cafe thought that a group of people yelling “Here goes his funny bone!” at sensitive moments of the set wouldn’t go down well with the artist.

Of course, we didn’t play Operation. Instead we played Black Spy. A rather feeble makeover of Hearts, the famous card game. The difference here is that the cards have illustrations of spies on them, they only go up to eleven (with a lot of sevens), and there are five suits instead of four. I have little to no patience with games that are just new versions of old favourites and this is no exception.

We played the first round with a fundamental rule wrong: we thought the player with most points won. I won. Then we looked at the rules and saw that we should be aiming for the lowest points. We played a second round, and I came in last by miles with 70+ points, while everyone else scored in single figures more or less.

After this, Katy arrived and we all played Kakerlakenpoker. This is a pure bluffing game. In a pack of 64 cards of eight types of animal (rat, cockroach, bat, fly etc) the rule is simple: pass a card to an opponent face down and tell them what it is. They can either say they believe you or not (if they’re wrong they keep the card, face up, in front of them. If they’re right, you keep it) or pass it on, having looked at it, to someone else and the bluffing begins again. The first person to have four cards of the same type loses.

So simple, yet so cunning. And, luckily for me, not an “improved” version of poker (although I did inwardly wince when I heard the name). It’s all about the bluff, the nerve, about having the chutzpah to look your opponent in the eye and say, without laughing, “That’s a frog.”

There is only one loser in this game, and it was me, hoisted on my own petard of confidence: five rats were out (three in front of me) and I thought I knew where the others were but Martin blind-sided me, and I confidently said “That’s not a rat!” to his card, but it was. My second last-place of the evening. Suddenly, everyone’s eagerness to have a RFTS leaderboard was looking like a trap!

Finally, it was a second appearance for The Palaces Of Carrera. This game had been a cautious hit the last time we played. Katy bowed out, and the four of us set up and Adam got an introduction to the rules. I played with half an eye on the time. I remembered how quickly the game can end, with little warning.

I bought up expensive white and yellow marble, so I could build in the highly desirable residences. Martin bought dirty dirty black marble, keeping his buildings at the lower end of the market. Joe and Adam went for cities in the middle.

During the game, Martin admitted that he still didn’t know the right strategy for this game even though he’d played it six times. Certainly, I was feeling the pinch from spending so much early on, and I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. But then, we all seemed a bit skint. We’d begun with a spate of buying marble. So much so that we ended up with no blocks left in the bag! An event so startling that Martin reeled back and accidentally knocked his pint glass off the table in such a way that most of the glass went under the table. Physically impossible, you might think, but anything’s possible at Roll For The Soul!

As for the game, Adam picked his way through the rules gingerly, like a cat unsure of the surface it’s about to jump on. I went for money, mostly. Joe had started building up resources in readiness for a big push when once again Martin closed the game suddenly. The thing about this game is: after that happens, you only get one more go, maximum. And there’s not a lot you can do in one go. If you don’t have some nice buildings ready to score at a moment’s notice, you can be left scratching your head.

However, I had used up all my bad luck earlier that evening, and my investing in the two highest echelons of Carreran property was just enough to get me bonus points for both (I tied with Adam in one, and with Joe in the other). This sped me off around the score-track and I ended comfortably in first, with Martin second, cursing my luck.

I left after this, but I guess they others stayed for one more. I await more news...

By the way, what about this leaderboard? Any ideas? Something serious like The Division or something a bit random and silly?


  1. The last game was Sticheln, which I hadn't played with only three before and really enjoyed. I made a horrible mistake in the first round, leaving myself stuck with the highest card in my pain suit. But then it all came back to me and two strong rounds left the final score Adam 25, Martin 25, Joe... erm, less than 25.

    I'd been thinking about buying Black Spy but I'm glad I didn't. I'd rather just play Hearts or something properly different like Sticheln instead of this half-way house.

    Carrara was interesting again. I just didn't look around enough to realise how badly that final scoring card was going to go for me. I hope you guys are up for playing some more, though I didn't think Adam seemed very keen.

    Kakerlakenpoker is just so great. I should pick up a copy of the Royal version which adds a couple of fun little twists.

  2. If Carrara were half an hour longer, I'd feel more in control but paradoxically (?) less inclined to keep trying it - which is a roundabout compliment. I would have happily played again right there while it was set up - once a fortnight doesn't seem enough to fully get to grips with it's machinations.

    It seems odd that you have six scoring pawns - I can't imagine a scenario where you'd get to use them all - though perhaps if we were all fully aware of each other's situations we'd be trying not to end the game . . .

    Black Spy's place is the family, I think - my girls might just enjoy the theme more than simply playing Hearts, but perhaps I'm projecting. I'm projecting.

    Sticheln was ace - for me it's a Poison-killer for end of evening play. Similar length if you play one round per player, and although the gameplay is quite different, it's similar in feel, ot me at least. You can poison the trick for another player, the scoring is similarly swingy (allowing for great comebacks), but it feels more strategic.


  3. Joe - I've had a game where I ran out of scoring pawns and still couldn't end the game; a lot depends on the combination of objective cards that comes out. It's definitely the feeling that I'm not in control and don't understand how to play well that keeps me wanting to try again!

    Black Spy has a theme? I think it just has some art.

  4. Well yeah, it's not a theme; but kids don't know that! Not that they're the least bit interested in spies. Or hearts.

    Interesting aside: in Sticheln, Adam was the only one who didn't have a negative score on any of the rounds.

  5. Can you believe my mates didn´t want to celebrate my birthday at the Roll for the Soul? At least I got a copie of Dixit as present...Looking forward to see you guys next week!
    PS: good to see that i´m not the only one who gets key rules wrong! :-p

  6. I'll give Carrara another go next time - I just wasn't that keen to play again as I had no idea what was going on and thought some time could add perspective. It didn't, but ah well...

    Andrew - I think the table should be a form table, so people only have to visit a couple of times to get to the top.