English language edition -- 2-card-pack set
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Even though over 642 million Chinese play Tichu nearly every day, the game is very complicated for Europeans. One need only get rid of his cards. Tichu is primarily a partnership game for four. With just the two packs of cards, Tichu is also well suited for large groups.
I am a fan of Contact Bridge and Skat. Westernized card players overlook the depth and skill of this game. The rules are confusing until it is played a few times. BELIEVE ME I'VE SEEN BRILLANT PLAYERS AND THEY WEREN'T JUST LUCKY. I recall as a chess snob remarking that backgammon was not really a game of much skill. After many losses and a much lighter wallet, I began to change my mind. If you are a card player who enjoys different games of skill, add this to your expertize.
Dalmuti style, in depth, varying really a lot. Takes a little learning to get into the philosophy of the game, following the 'unwritten rules' and general strategy but it's sure all worth it when you get it. Maybe *the* card game when it comes to co-operative play. Bombs bring whole new aspect to game. I love it :)
Nice additions are that you can play Zheng Fen and very entertaining version of 'Someone's always the a**hole' -game. Latter being maybe one of most entertaining light but still interesting card games suitable for more than 5 people. We've played it as fixed 14 card (as in tichu) variant which seems to work really well.
If you like card games like hearts, bridge and variants or great dalmuti I can recommend this wholeheartedly.
I first became aware of this game at a gaming mini-con over at someone's house near Boston. They played it all the time there. This piqued my interest, and I ordered it. I did finally get to try it, and I have to admit, the game has me hooked. It has a lot of options to it, and actually turns the Dalmuti-style game into a real cardgame and not just a filler. I personally find the game less convoluted than Frank's Zoo, which counts for something in my book.
In any organization there is a division of responsibilities and one of Alan's duties is to buy every game that is published this side of Ulan Bator. It is a job he takes very seriously and so it is something of a mystery as to how we came to miss this one. The one consolation is that most other English speaking gamers seem to have missed it as well and it is only in the past six months that it has begun to be noticed and appreciated in our part of the hobby. I hadn't even heard of the game until Barbara Dauenhauer mentioned it in Counter 8 as part of the discussion about Zoff im Zoo. The copy I eventually managed to get hold of during the Summer is "copyright 1998" for both Amigo and Fata Morgana, but Barbara said that the Fata Morgana edition has actually been around for about seven years and that the game is now well established in Germany with flourishing leagues for the game in various cities.
No designer is credited because the game is supposed to be one that the publishers learned while in China and if you look at John McLeod's definitive card game website (www.pagat.com), the story looks as though it could well be true. There you will find two games: Zheng Shangyou and Zheng Fen. The first has become known in the West under several names, with the one you use being dependent on what words you consider rude and what company you are in. The Germans seem to call it "Einer ist immer der Arsch"--"Someone is always the Bum". It is the social climbing game where the object is to get rid of all your cards and where the deal is rigged against the people who are currently at the bottom of the heap. It is a good party game for six or more players and commercial versions of it exist under the names Karriere Poker and The Great Dalmuti. Zheng Fen is a hybrid of this and other Chinese games where the object is to collect tricks containing the scoring cards king, ten and five. Tichu is a partnership version of Zheng Fen.
The deck is a standard one, which has been made to look oriental by changing the suit symbols and to which four special cards have been added. The objectives in each hand are to avoid being the last player to get rid of your cards, to try to ensure that either you or your partner is the first player to get rid of their cards and to win tricks containing kings, tens and fives. Spice is added to both the scoring and the play by the special cards and by three possible bonuses.
When you are on lead, you lay either a single card or a combination of cards from your hand. The permitted combinations are the poker-style ones of pairs, triples, full houses, runs (of at least five cards) and runs of at least two consecutive pairs. The next player may then either pass or play a set of the same pattern but with higher cards. So if I play a run of five cards to the 8, you could beat it by playing a run of five cards to the ten, and so on. However, note that you have to match the pattern. My play was a run of five cards and that means yours must be also: you couldn't play a full house, a run of pairs or even a run of six cards. The trick continues until a complete round of passes brings things back to the player who played the most recent set. This player then takes the trick and leads to the next one.
That, at least, is the pattern for most tricks. The exception comes with certain special card sets known as "bombs". You will note that missing from my list of poker combinations are "four of a kind" and "running flushes". These are the "bombs" and they can be played at any time, whether it is your turn to play or not. Their effect is to replace the existing pattern by that of the bomb and now a player's options are either to pass or to play a better bomb.
A hand continues until only one player has cards remaining. This player then hands over all the cards they have left to the opposing team and all the tricks they have won to whichever player went out first. The hand is now scored on a team basis, with the basic scoring being 10 for each king or ten and 5 for each five. Further scoring comes from two of the special cards and from possible bonuses.
The available bonuses are for getting you and your partner out before either opponent goes out and for bids of "Tichu" and "Grand Tichu". A bid of "Tichu" is made before you have played a card and is an undertaking to be the first player out; a bid of "Grand Tichu" is the same thing but made at a point roughly half way through the deal. Failed bids carry penalties.
The four special cards are the Mah Jong, the Dog, the Phoenix and the Dragon. The Mah Jong is a weak card whose primary function is to decide who leads to the first trick. It counts as a '1' and as such is a lone card, since aces are high in this game. You can play it either as a single card or as the start of a run. You aren't obliged to play it on the first trick but usually you will, as it is a liability thereafter. The Dog is also a weak card but one that can, in certain circumstances, win the hand for your side. It can only be played when you are on lead and its effect is to restart the trick but with your partner on lead. All you personally have gained from this is to get one card out of your hand, but, as anyone who has played any of these "get rid of your cards" games knows, gaining the lead can be vital. If your partner is in one of those "if I can get in, I can go out" situations, you have just made the decisive play--particularly if your partner was trying to bring home a bid of Tichu or Grand Tichu.
The other two cards are strong but two edged. The Dragon is the highest single card. It can only be played as a single card, but in such tricks nothing can beat it. It is also worth 25 points, which is a lot when you consider that the kings, tens and fives together only come to 100. The snag is that the trick that it wins has to be handed over to the opposition. At this point you have to try and give it to the opponent who is most likely to come in last: that way you will get it back. The Phoenix can be played either as a single card, in which case it can beat anything other than the Dragon, or it can be used as a joker in any card combination other than a bomb. The drawback this time is that when the card is scored at the end of the hand, its value is -25. With both these cards you are almost certain to win the trick and thereby gain that vital position of being on lead, but the privilege comes at a probable penalty in points.
Tichu is much more of a heavyweight game than Zoff im Zoo, Karriere Poker and so on. They are all either party games or end of evening fillers. This is the sort of game that will keep card players happy for a couple of hours or more. There is much more to the tactics and hand management than there is in the simpler games and the scope for partnership cooperation is real. It is obviously not on a level with something like Bridge, but it can stand comparison with games such as Solo or Tarock and I can well understand why places like Munich have local leagues. If you are a card player, you should give it a try. The basic game is for 4 players, but with a couple of minor changes it can be played by six players in two teams of three.