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Last issue Alan and I looked at some modern German trick taking card games and the way that they bent what traditionalists regard as "standard rules". This game (which, I confess, I hadn't heard of before it arrived unannounced on my doormat) makes a nice coda to that article. Tzuris is actually American rather than German, but with a designer called Otto Coffelt and graphics credited to a Kristin Meyer, the land of the Rhine and the Elbe can probably claim some sort of influence on the proceedings.
Tzuris is an avoidance game with bidding, an elaborate trump suit and a gimmick. The gimmick being that when you play a card, you don't play it in front of yourself but in front of one of your fellow players. This is done in such a way that by the end of each trick, each player will have a card face down in front of them. These cards are then turned face up and the winner of the trick is determined. So the idea is to use your own good cards to force opponents to take tricks which will, you hope, contain cards which will count as penalties against them.
Each card has a colour, a symbol and a number (-3, 2, 3, 4 or 5). There are three possible colours, four possible symbols and these, in conjunction with the five numbers, make for a 60 card deck--each colour/symbol/number combination occurring exactly once. In each hand each player will have either a colour or a symbol that they are trying to avoid (with the scoring making an allowance for the fact that the numbers of cards make avoiding a colour harder than avoiding a symbol). This part is thus like a more complicated version of the objective in Sticheln. The trumps are also "like a more complicated version of", but this time of Mü. There will be a trump colour, a trump symbol and a trump number, together with a rule saying which has precedence. Moreover, each trump combination will only last for a few tricks before a new one is chosen. (This being a design ploy to ensure that trumps remain a dominant feature in each trick throughout the hand.)
At the start of the game the cards are arranged on the table in twenty piles of three, with each pile consisting of a symbol/number combination in all three colours. A typical pile would therefore be "2-triad" in blue, red and green. Players now take it in turns to pick several piles. Just over half your hand comes to you in this manner; the rest is got by shuffling the unchosen piles and dealing them out. In principle this means that you start the hand knowing the position of over half the cards.
Next comes a two stage bidding process, at the end of which the first set of trumps will have been chosen and everyone will have a target and a small points handicap. A typical target is something like "18 green". The hand is then played out and at the end of it the player with the "18 green" target will extract all the green cards from the tricks they have won and add up the numbers on them. If this sum, plus the small points handicap that they acquired while jockeying for position during the bidding, comes to no more than 18, they have made their bid and score a bonus. The lower the target you have set yourself, the higher the bonus.
This is the basic game and it can be played with 3-5 players. The publishers recommend the 4-player partnership game as the best. A modified set of rules turns the game into one for two players and there is also a patience/solitaire game to be played using the cards.
Does it work, is it interesting and is it fun? That depends to a very great extent on your reaction to my description of the procedure for assigning players their cards. If you got past the sentence "In principle this means that you start the hand knowing the position of over half the cards" thinking "No problem", you'll probably enjoy the game. If, on the other hand, you found yourself muttering about games of soldiers and what I should do with them, you won't. The whole game hangs on whether or not you are the sort of card player who remembers all the cards, both the ones that people chose at the beginning and the ones that have been played. Non-card players think that card players, particularly those who play "hard" games like bridge, do this. They are wrong. Some do it; some don't. I play tournament bridge and when I play a hand, I draw inferences from the bidding, I track key cards and I count distributions. However, I do not make any attempt at remembering the fall of every card. For me it would be too much like hard work. Fortunately, in bridge it is not necessary. In Tzuris it is necessary. If you don't make use of all the information that is available to you, the whole game will go by out of focus. This means that this is not my sort of card game. It is a memory game and, as I have noted before, I don't like memory games. Those of you who do may well find Tzuris interesting, particularly in its partnership form, when the scope for deduction and tactics is greater.
The cards are hand-finished but also attractive, glossy and nicely printed and the game is neatly packaged in a 'video case' box.