Card Games


Weird Little Card Game

TRICKTAKERs stretches the boundaries of trick-taking to its limits, quite possibly breaking them in the process. Read more in this Meeple Mountain review.

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

Bananas. Absolutely bananas.

A table full of various decks in different sizes, a smattering of tokens of all varieties, and oversized character cards.

This is a trick-taking game? I am having a hard time writing anything other than variants of “Bananas.” Bonkers. Bizarre. Bugnuts. The more I think about TRICKTAKERs, a trick-taking game of remarkable ambition, the madder it seems.

Typically, trick-takers come in one of a few varieties. You want tricks, you don’t want tricks, you predict how many tricks you’re going to win. We can add the more recent addition of you try to accomplish certain tasks, as seen in The Crew. Think of those as the primary ingredients, the various flours available to form the base for whatever else gets added on top. Some games use a mix of two flours. Few, if any, dabble in more than that, but TRICKTAKERs does. Not only does it use all four, it uses them simultaneously. Different players have different rules, different approaches, and different desires.

Folks, what we have here is—it makes me tired as much as it thrills me—an asymmetric trick-taking game.

Root: The Card Game

After the deal, a paltry five cards from a deck of considerably more than that, each of the three rounds starts with a character draft. The characters determine your approach. Each has unique scoring conditions and unique mechanics that make their goals more difficult.

The full spread of eight characters that come in this edition.

The King, for example, wants to win as many tricks as possible, and gets a special trump card, but his trump card can be beaten by the lowest card in the game. If you choose the Gambler, you predict the number of tricks you’ll win before the round starts, and score more points for having done so accurately. The Berserker has their own deck of very powerful cards, but they don’t want to win all the tricks if they can help it.

The characters get stranger. The Resistance, the Adventurer, the Collector, and the Ruler all add further wrinkles. Extensive wrinkles. Schisms, really, more than wrinkles, and ones that don’t bear description here. You already know if you’re interested or not. Just know it gets weirder. Your rate of return will depend on whether or not you think weirder is better.

I do. I think weirder is great. I love when designers push the envelope, especially in a context that’s relatively easy to teach and quick to play. TRICKTAKERs is that, even if it doesn’t seem like it would be. This game is more overwhelming in theory than it is in practice. If someone at the table has played before, teaching only takes a couple of minutes. It also plays lightning fast, even if you aren’t sure what’s going on.

You often won’t be. The action moves quickly. If you’re inclined towards games with sophisticated decision spaces, this isn’t it. If, on the other hand, you enjoy watching a wild design run free, you’d be hard-pressed to choose something more interesting. That, of course, is my favorite criticism-related adjective, one that elides the question of quality. If every game were interesting, my job would be a breeze.

At the end of each round, you determine points, hand out some Crowns—more on those in a moment—and then deal a new hand. Players draft characters all over again. The keenest decision point in TRICKTAKERs is the moment when you look at your hand and decide which character is right for you. The rounds themselves pass so quickly that they don’t feel terribly substantial in and of themselves.

As a result, this doesn’t feel much like a trick-taking game. It doesn’t feel the way the best trick-takers feel. The rounds pass so quickly that you don’t get to play the long arc strategies that make games like Seas of Strife and Fox in the Forest so fun. It’s a card game that happens to use trick-taking as its primary mechanism more than it is a trick-taking game, if that distinction makes sense.

TRICKTAKERs was originally published in 2021. The current edition, which gives designer Hiroken’s game lavish treatment, is being published by Portland Game Collective. PGC are relatively new kids on the block, but having now played both this and their update of Haggis, they are doing great work. If they keep publishing games like this, they’re on track to develop a fevered cult following.

TRICKTAKERs is decidedly not for everybody. It’s a fascinating game, one that I’m happy publishers can find a space for. I don’t know how often I’d play it. This feels like the kind of game that I’ll break out every now and then for designers and genre enthusiasts, a curio to be experienced rather than a game to be savored. TRICKTAKERs is a wild experiment, the kind of design that throws the doors wide open for more constrained—and probably, ultimately, more successful—designs to follow.

  • Good - Enjoy playing.


About the author

Andrew Lynch

Andrew Lynch was a very poor loser as a child. He’s working on it.

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