Gang of Four
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Filled with an endless variety of strategies and tactics, Gang of Four is fun, entertaining and full of surprises, yet is simple to learn and play. Originating in the gambling backstreets of Hong Kong, Gang of Four is highly addictive card game for your family or friends.
Average Rating: 4.5 in 4 reviews
As a Tichu nut, and a player of other eastern "Climbing" games I came to Gang of Four with a little concern. Tichu seemed more like the real Eastern games and I thought this would be another dumbed down version of the genre. (How many variations of Oh Hell! are on the market?)
Gang of four is a mixture of the going out games and the collection games of the far east, you must go out first, but score the cards in your opponents hands. Clear rules, an online tutorial and play through the Games of Wonder website give you a chance to hone your skills.
Tremendous room for skillful play and tactics.
I leave it to the other reviews for game mechanics. I will tell you that this is a wonderful card game that is very addicting, and has zoomed to the top of my list of desired plays. Added to that is a free one year web pass to play online. The action is particularly great at noon when the French pile in after their work day. This will be one of my games where the cards will wear. And that's a great thing. Enjoy!
There is no doubt that Gang of Four is certainly in the same family as Tichu, a game that has developed a cult-like following in some gaming circles. Ive played Tichu twice and both times was very foggy concerning the rules and various strategies. As a result, I felt more like a spectator at a curling event; in other words, I had no clue what was going on. Thus, Ive not gotten caught-up in Tichu-mania. Fortunately for me, Gang of Four is easier to learn and play than Tichu. Still, when it came time to play Gang of Four for the first time, I felt it would be to my best advantage to try the game online first and learn some pointers from experienced players. This was a reach for me, as I had never, ever played an online game. I spend WAY too much time playing, reading and writing about games already, so I have no time or real incentive to jump into online gaming. Still, I figured Id be able to learn the game better from experienced players, so I signed onto the Days of Wonder website and waited for the opportunity to be dragged into a game.
Imagine my surprise when I was dragged into a game with one of the proprietors of Days of Wonder, Eric Hautemont, along with two Frenchmen. They were all very patient in helping me learn the rules and possible strategies. In what was either an amazing accomplishment or an act of charity on the part of my fellow players, I managed to win the game. I must admit that I initially thought the game would not be to my tastes, but I really enjoyed the experience. The online version of the game is VERY good and helps the game play quickly and easily. Overall, it was a most satisfying experience.
However, the next time I played the game was when I was visiting my good friends Craig Berg, Michael Adams and James Miller in frigid Ohio and, to my disappointment, the game fell flat. Scores were ridiculously low as everyone managed to keep their hand size below eight. We played three rounds and I dont think anyone was in double-digits, meaning it would take hours and hours for someone to reach the game-ending score of 100. We aborted after four hands.
Fortunately, my next several experiences were all much better and closer to my online experience. Even though I regularly get thrashed, I find myself enjoying the game and am still struggling, yet eager to learn the strategies necessary to play the game well.
Perhaps an explanation of the game is in order. The deck consists of 64 cards in three suits:
60 cards ranked 1 10, two each in the three colors (green, yellow and red)
1 multi-colored 1
2 Phoenix cards (green, yellow)
1 Red Dragon
When ranking cards, numbers are considered first, then colors. So, a 9 is always higher than an 8. If two 9s are played, however, then the color rankings are examined, with red being the highest and green being the lowest.
When playing with four players, the entire deck is dealt and play begins with the player possessing the multi-colored 1. The player may play a combination of 1 5 cards, which must include this multi-colored 1. In Great Dalmuti fashion, all players must then play a combination of cards consisting of the same number of cards played by the lead player, but in a higher rank. Or, they may pass if they desire or if they cannot play the required combination.
So just what are the possible combinations?
Pairs (numbers, not colors)
Three-of-a-King (again, numbers, not colors)
Five card combinations, including:
* Straight 5 cards in sequential order (no Phoenix or Dragon allowed)
* Flush 5 cards of the same color of any rank (no Phoenix or Dragon)
* Full House A pair, plus three of a kind
* Straight Flush 5 cards in sequential order and of the same color (no Phoenix
Four of a Kind numbers, not colors. This is known as the Gang of Four. Please note that it is also possible to play a Gang of Five, Gang of Six or even a Gang of Seven (by using the multi-colored 1 to complete a set of six 1s!). The Gang of Four (or Five, Six or Seven) beats all other hands and can only be beaten by a higher Gang of Four (or 5, 6 or 7).
The two special types of cards in the deck are the Red Dragon, which is the HIGHEST single card in the deck and can ONLY be played as a single card, and the two Phoenix cards. The Phoenix cards can be played as a single, in which case the card may only be beaten by the Red Dragon or the higher ranked Phoenix, or as a pair, either alone or in combination with a full house. They cannot be played as a part of any other five-card combination.
Since players are required to play the same combination of cards (with the exception of a Gang of Four (or 5, 6 or 7), which can be played on any combination, the game has a certain Great Dalmuti feel to it. The critical skill is managing the cards you possess so that you can control the pace of the game and quickly deplete your hand in rapid succession once you gain control of the lead. One would think that your fate would be determined by your hand of cards. To be sure, this does play a factor, but Ive witnessed some incredibly skillful play wherein a player managed to consistently deplete his hand of cards, even when in possession of a seemingly horrible hand!
Players continue to play combinations until no one can play. The player winning the hand then leads the next hand. This process continues until one player depletes his entire hand of cards, at which points scores are tallied. Players score points based on the number of cards remaining in their hand:
1- 7 cards: 1 point per card
8 10 cards: double the points per card
11 13 cards: triple the points per card
14 15 cards: quadruple the points per card
16 cards: quintuple the points per card (OUCH!)
Since the object is to deplete your hand and hopefully score zero points, you can see that minimizing the number of cards remaining in your hand at the end of a round is vital. After four games, Ive managed to somewhat gain the skill of getting my hand down to just a few cards, but I rarely manage to go out first. Ill keep trying, though!
Once the scores are recorded, a new hand begins. This process is completed until one player reaches or tops 100 points, at which time the player with the fewest cumulative points is victorious. In two of the four games Ive played, this took about 30 minutes or so. In the other two games, it would have taken considerably longer if we had played to completion. I think, though, that it is a matter of skill. The more skilled the players involved in the game, the quicker the game will go as they will have mastered strategies and techniques in which to rapidly deplete their hand of cards.
The game also includes a few other twists. One is VERY Dalmuti-ish, requiring the loser of the previous round to give the highest card in his hand to the winner of the previous round, while the winner gives the loser any card of his choice. The difference here is that the winner gets to examine the card given to him BEFORE giving a card to the other player. Further, the exchanged cards are shown to all players.
Another main ingredient is the Last Card requirement. Whenever a player has only one card remaining in his hand, he is required to declare Last Card (kind of like the Uno requirement!). If a player fails to do so, he cannot win that hand and will score one point when the hand is completed. After this declaration of Last Card, the player sitting immediately before the declaring player MUST play his highest single-ranking card, provided that single card combinations are being played or if he is opening the hand.
The game also has a confusing reverse rule wherein each hand alternates direction clockwise, then counter-clockwise. This is done, according to the rules, to insure that no player is forced to consistently play after the strongest (or weakest) player. That may be true, but it also adds considerable confusion to the process.
After over a half-dozen playings (albeit two of them shortened), I am still intrigued by the game. Im generally not a fan of traditional style card games, so the whole straight, full-house, flush lingo still confuses me. I also still have trouble visualizing the various possible combinations I can form from the sizeable hand of cards. Skilled card players will likely have no trouble with these aspects of the game. Still, Im learning, and Im finding that Im enjoying the game more and more as the learning process progresses. I dont think Im ready for Tichu yet, but it may not be too far away!
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There is a group of Chinese card games built round the idea of using Poker-style combinations to get rid of the cards in your hand. The central idea is that the player on lead lays down one or more cards that fit an allowed pattern, such as a single card, a pair, a run of five, a full house, etc. Subsequent players must either pass or play a better set of the same pattern. This continues until all players have passed in sequence. The last person to play takes the trick and leads to the next one. The key aim is to win the race to get rid of your cards.
The principle can be, and has been, made the basis for several games and you can get the rules for them by going to the website www.pagat.com. Here you will find Zheng Shangyou and Zheng Fen. The first of these is a party game based on the sound social observation that the easiest way to get to the top is to start there. Players are assigned places in a social ranking and then play hands of the game. At the end of each one their finishing places determine their new positions on the ladder. However, because that would be too fair to be realistic, the players at the bottom of the heap must begin each hand by surrendering their best cards to the players at the top and taking their rubbish in return. "Unto him that hath ......". The other game follows a more orthodox pattern by playing for points and cutting out the "life is unfair" features.
Both Zheng Shangyou and Zheng Fen are played using standard decks of cards which include two (distinguishable) jokers, a fact that hasn't prevented the commercial companies from seeking to hitch a ride. Their approach has been to devise variants that need special cards. The social climbing game was turned first into Karriere Poker and later into The Great Dalmuti, while the points one provided the basis for both Tichu and Zoff im Zoo. And that brings me to the game under review. Gang of Four is another Zheng Fen variant.
The deck this time consists of 60 standard cards and 4 specials. The standard ones are in three 20-card suits (green, yellow and red). In each suit the cards are numbered 1-10, with two of each number. The specials are a multi-coloured 1 (which is both the highest ranking of the 1s and a member of all three suits, a green phoenix, a yellow phoenix and a red dragon. The allowable combinations of cards are single cards, pairs, triples, five card combinations and quartets. Pairs, triples and quartets all consist of cards of the same numerical rank. The five card combinations are straights, flushes, full houses and straight flushes. The play principle is the same as in all these games: players must either pass or play a better set of the pattern set by the player on lead. Ranking is by number in the first instance and then by colour (red beats yellow and yellow beats green). The five card combinations count as being "the same pattern" and with these there is also a rarity ranking which goes from straights up to straight flushes. The three animal cards can be played either as singles or, in the case of the phoenixes, as a pair. They outrank the numbered cards.
Quartets (which, slightly confusingly, cover five or more of a kind as well as the obvious four) form an exception to the "follow the pattern" rule in that they can be played on any pattern. Once one has been played the trick can only be continued by another player playing a better quartet. It is these "wild" sets that give the game its name and enable the publishers to set up resonances with the Cultural Revolution that caused such misery in China during the last days of Mao Tse-tung.
The hand ends as soon as one player has got rid of the last of their cards and the other players then score penalties according to how many cards they each have left. This a basic 1 point per card, which is then multiplied by a factor in the range 2 to 5 if you have more than 7 cards remaining. The game ends when one player's score reaches 100 and the winner is then whoever has the lowest score.
In the 4-player game all the cards are dealt out, but in the 3-player one a dummy hand is dealt so that each player still receives just 16 cards. The dummy hand is not revealed. Card counters won't like this, but they could always create a situation more to their liking by spreading the dummy face up.
Both Gang of Four and Tichu are variants of the same game and so the obvious question at this point is which is better. If you are a card player, the answer is Tichu. The partnership aspect and the necessity for hand evaluation make that game the more skilful. It also has a scoring system that gives you extra things to think about during the play - things of the sort that card players like to think about because they add to the strategy. However, if your description of yourself is not "card player" but "games player who enjoys the occasional game of cards", then what I have just cited as the strengths of Tichu are probably precisely the things that make you see it as being a bit too serious and complicated. For you Gang of Four would be the better choice. It plays well, it has the same basic idea, it offers plenty of scope for skill in the management of one's hand, but it has a simpler and more sharply defined objective.
Gang of Four is a good game with good quality components. I'd be happy to play it at any time and my only gripe is the minor rule which says that at the start of each hand other than the first, the loser of the previous one gives their best card to the winner in exchange for a card of that player's choice. This is an unwise lift from Zheng Shangyou, but whereas in that game it is totally in keeping with the game's premise, here it is out of place. A game which is played for points (and even money) and which asks to be taken seriously has no business tipping the whole balance in favour of whoever wins the first hand. I suggest you play the game without it.