Episode 99: Trumped Up

99: Trumped Up

Release Date: Mar. 29, 2010

Running Time:  123 min.

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Tricks are treats. We explore the history and evolution of trick and trump games from Pinochle to modern titles like Triumvirate, Sticheln and Die Sieben Siegel.

News & Notes: Haggis, Sticht Oder Nicht, Spielbox Update
Back Shelf Spotlight:  Pinochle
he List: Sticheln, Triumvirate, Die Sieben Siegel
Game Sommelier:  5 essential trick-taking games for a new player
Mail Bag: 
New players in Sweden, new curlers in PA, kickstarter.com

Complete Show Notes continue after the break.

 News & Notes

Haggis Official Site | BGG

A ladder-style game from Sean Ross with some very interesting twists including wild cards and bonuses for cards left in opponents' hands. Any fan of Tichu should be interested in getting a plateful of Haggis to the table.

Sticht Oder Nicht  BGG

The time honored conflict between bees and swordfish (wtf?) is renewed in this new trick taking game.

Spielbox Magazine Available in Single Issues

Try an issue before you commit to subscribing. You can now order single issues from select retailers like ThoughtHammer.

The List

Sticheln Official Site | BGG

Possibly the most evil trick-taking game on the planet. Declare your misery suit before each round. You score face value for each misery card you take but only one point for each other card you collect.

Triumvirate Official SiteBGG

A very clever indirect trick taking game for 2 players. Play a hand of 3-7 tricks to send a senator to vote for one of the Triumvirate. When one General has three votes, the player with the greatest number of legion cards pledged to his service will win the round.

Die Sieben Siegel Official Site | BGG

Decide how many tricks you'll take and what suits they will be before you play each round. Here's the catch: everyone can see your predictions! You can also choose to play as the Saboteur, trying to stop everyone from making their bids.

Back Shelf Spotlight

Pinochle Pagat | BGG 

A classic trick taking trump game that never goes out of style. Bid to determine trump, score your melds, the play your hand and be the first partnership to reach the target score.

Truckloads of Goober

Dominion: Classic 

1300 cards, including the original game and expansions all organized into 52 card decks usable for any classic card game.


The Game Sommelier

The challenge: 5 essential trick-taking games for new players.

The Great Dalmuti





Next Challenge: 5 favorite Spiel moments from the past 100 shows.

Mail Bag

Thanks to Shelly "Not Dead Yet" Fowler for pointing us to Kickstarter.com, a great resource for aspiring game designers (or podcasters!) in need of start-up money for new projects.


Music credits (courtesy of Ioda Promonet) include:

"The Tricksters" by McGuinness Jazz Orchestra - buy the track

"Tricky the Clown" by Tricky the Clown - buy the track

"Tricked Out Trombones" by US Army Concert Band - buy the track

"Trickle" by Joe Sullivan Big Band - buy the track


I'm sure there are some goofs in there somewhere. Let us know if (when?) you find one!


I pretty much dismiss trick taking games as soon as I find out they are trick taking games :)

I tell myself that I don't like them, but that isn't true. I have really enjoyed a couple in the past - most namely Euchre at the end of High School, but the rules and strategies elude me until I get a lot of repitition. WIth frequent play, I would enjoy them, but trying to pick one up after a year or more off just is a nightmare.

At least you don't have to make words out of your trump cards. I am missing that synapse in my brain that allows for the formation of >3 character words out of a selection of letters.

They might not be your cup of tea, but not all trick taking games are alike. I'd encourage you to give Triumvirate a go, for instance, as its gameplay really has a different feel.Never know until you try, right?

Same goes for word games. Not every word game is scrabble. Word on the Street (which we just covered in #98) avoids many of the pitfalls of typical word games which makes it accessible to more players, I think.

In fact, the two player trick taking games might be just what I need. I have a much worse time when I am dragging down the team. Getting whupped by the wife is fine.

Yes, with 2 player games you avoid the perils on the angry partner. My Mom used to get very miffed at me when I was her partner playing bridge because I never understood the bidding conventions. Keep in mind I was just a whipper-snapper, but even that wasn't enough to sour me on trick taking games... just bridge for a while!

For me, partners are essential in a good trick-taking game.  I understand that a bad partner can be frustrating, but a good partner really makes the game a great experience.

Partners and trick-taking are nearly synonymous in my book as well.

The whole social/team aspect to these games is what sets them apart from others. 

Plus, when things go south, you can always blame your partner...

I used to caddy at local bridge tournaments as an early teen - that was an interesting experience. In addition to running the boards we also ran the snack bar - lots and lots of coffee was consumed, and the arguements got louder and more heated as the day progressed.

The good thing was that winning pairs were good tippers - like we somehow affected the hands on the boards.

Two player trick taking games a new idea? They practically started that way! What about Piquet?

For that matter, what about Zeppo?

Everything old is new again, right?

Absolutely, there are several 2 player trick games which helped give rise to the genre.

However, I'll stick my neck out and say the most common conception of trick taking games *today* is of a game involving more than 2 players - and more often than not 4 players playing in partnerships. My main point with Triumvirate was that a 2 player trick taking game stands out in todays game landscape.

Heh. Sorry if that came off brusquer than intended; I was reacting more to Dave's incredulity that such a thing was possible- but that's another thing; a two player game called Triumvirate. Hmmm...

Anyway, I just thought that when the show came around on my audio deck (I had it on shuffle) that it was an unkind cut to omit my favorite and said to myself, "what's the deal? They've missed the heart of the matter." Ah well as Marx said "I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member." Marx, that's right, and what about Gummo?

Fine game, Gummo... cards do get a bit chewed up though...

The irony of the 2 player TRIumvirate was lost on me until you pointed it out. :)

I think a game series, one for each Marx brother, is in order. (said in jest but now that I think about it, it could be really cool!). Dibs on Groucho!

 I would still like to help teach you bridge since I've been slightly obsessive about it for the past few months. I think I might be able to find some time in April if my girlfriend can get healthy... 

That sounds like fun, Mark. I am sooo rusty, but I think it will come back to me.

After Pinochle, Dave is chomping at the bit for more.

4 Clubs is ace-asking. Normally you'd use Blackwood (4NT) for ace-asking, but because we're in NT bidding, we have to use Gerber (4C) instead. :)


The ACBL has a pretty darned good "Learn to Play Bridge" software package for free on their website. It teaches play of the hand first and then bidding. It seems backwards, but it's better to learn that way.


I will warn that I have found it to be very very addicting.

At least you're not brow-beating me for my bid!

Thanks for the link. I've been addicted to Scopa online for quite some time. Perhaps I need to split my addiction with Bridge. :)

This was my favorite episode that you have done.  I love trick taking games, and have always enjoyed traditional card games (Euchre, Hearts, Sheepshead) as well as themed trick taking games (DragonMaster, Canyon, Frank's Zoo).  Single play is fun, but partner play makes it a truly social activity, one of my primary reasons for enjoying this hobby.

You've encouraged me to give Bridge a go.  I've ignored it for years, because a negative perception that I had from seeing hands in the newspaper.  I never thought of it as the pinnacle of trick taking before this episode.

Thanks, Larry. Obviously, we are birds of a feather when it comes to trick taking games.

We covered DragonMaster back on Episode 21, otherwise it would have been near the top of my choices. It was one of my parents' favorite games that wasn't a traditional classic. There's a title that should be reprinted, for sure!

You should definitely give Bridge a go. Feels like chess in that its a game you may never master, but it will always keep you coming back for more.

Sorry Dave, but I have to totally agree with the thumbs down on Great Dalmuti. As "essential", you have to put Hearts or Spades in there, the landscape of players in America who know one or both of those games (and their pure trick-taking mechanics) make them far more essential than Dalmuti.

I'm a bridge player as well (actually went and played in the "beginner" bracket at nationals one year when it was in DC and I was living in Virginia: if you think sci-fi or gaming cons are something, go to what is essentially a bridge con. Quite something!), having learned it from my parents when I was a kid. But as much as I love the game and I think that people who like trick taking games should learn it, I'm not sure I'd call it "essential for new players". Even you guys admit to not yet knowing it: it's a game to learn and aspire to play IF you like those games. New players and games essential to new players really should (IMO) be about getting new players interested in and familiar with trick-taking games, not "here's a really hard game, it's essential".

That said, if you want to play some bridge at any cons I happen to be at with you, I always have a deck of cards in my travel bags. :)

-- Joe

Yes, the consensus from all the responses I have received has been to shoot Dave's Dalmuti choice down. Start with a few more classics and work out from there.

I did like his stairstep approach in terms of increasing or building on a person's knowledge as they progress through the five games. Bridge might be a little ambitious to include, but something like pinochle that has bidding and trick taking (albeit in a slightly different structure) would certainly help prepare new players to take on Bridge.

I have actually played Bridge but it has been forever and a day since the last time I played! My Mom taught me when I was growing up and I would occasionally get to sit in for a missing partner in her bridge club. But that was many many moons ago! Maybe we can twist Mark Wilder's arm (see above) into being our fourth and get in a game at a convention.

Your coverage and news are timely: I just saw today that they're using Kickstarter to try and raise money for a second printing of Triumvirate! How about that?

-- Joe

Hey, that's a really smart idea. Glad to hear it. Thanks for the tip.

Here's a link to their Kickstarter entry

 I was listening to this episode in the car today and during the description of Die Sieben Siegel I had this image of little wooden seals in my head. 

I couldn't for the life of me work out the connection between these marine mammals and the game play - but then Sticht Oder Nicht was all bees and sharks so it did not seem so strange. In fact I thought that was the April fool part. (or April Fish as they say in France (keeping to the obscure animal theme))

Ah, seals. I get it now I've seen the picture. Was I being dumb or just distracted?


Sommalier sounds extra cool this month. I already have my five - it will be good to compare notes.

For you it was wooden seals, for me it was Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal. I kept expecting the Sabateur to be Death wanting to challenge me to a game of chess. Or for Max Von Sydow to suddenly stroll in from the countryside...

You'll have to post your five if we miss some of your favorites.

 incidentally Dave, the German word "Die" is pronounced 'dee'' and not 'dye'

why must the baby's seals die ?

it brought to mind the sad case of Knut the baby polar bear who was sentenced to death in a German zoo. The following explanation and song explains it all:


Alas, poor Knut, I knew him Horatio...  Perhaps we are looking at the next great literary serial. Tarzan was raised by apes. Mowgli by wolves. We'l just  balance the scales and let the circus bears raise a child and call it even.

As for the seals, perhaps they just like to go clubbing? Ouch. OK, that was bad.


I greatly enjoyed this show - it was only the 3rd episode I listened to but I am already downloading more of them... :-)

Just a word about the title of the game "Sticheln": Indeed, a "Stichel" is an engraver's tool, but more straighforwardly "Sticheln" is a pun on the term "Stichspiel" which simply means "trick taking game". A "trick" is "ein Stich" and "to take a trick" is "stechen". The main meaning of the verb "stechen" outside of card games is - as you correctly pointed out - "to prick" or "to pierce". This is also the reason for various other puns on the covers of trick taking games like the mosquito on "Was sticht?", or the bee and swordfish on "Sticht oder nicht" above.

On the other hand the related verb "sticheln" means something like "to tease", probably a reference to the confrontational aspect of this game - so "prick!" might not be too far off, after all...

Anyway, you have a new fan in Austria!


Thanks for the lesson in the subtle word play. Very interesting!

I am always very eager to know how titles translate into other languages since so much is often lost in translation, Clearly, that was our problem here.

Welcome aboard.