Ever since the creation of the standard deck of playing cards one of the first types of card games were trick-taking games. The basic premise of a trick-taking game is that one player leads with a card/set of cards and the rest of the players follow by playing a card/set of cards higher than that played by the previous player. The player who plays the highest card(s) wins the trick and gets to start the next trick. Depending on the game you are playing you score points in different ways. One of the earlier trick-taking games was Hearts which came around in the 1800s. Spades then came around in the 1930s. These were the only two trick-taking card games based on the suits from a standard deck of playing cards. That was until 2013 when Clubs was created and Diamonds was released a year later in 2014. I didn’t know what to expect from Clubs. I don’t mind the trick taking genre, but I wouldn’t consider it to be one of my favorites either. Clubs is a new take on your typical trick-taking game which can be fun for fans of the genre even if it doesn’t drastically change the formula in any meaningful way.
How to Play Clubs
Included in Clubs is a number of different games. I will begin with the rules for the main game and then address the differences with the other games.
- Place bonus cards on the table based on the number of players. Bonus cards that aren’t used are returned to the box.
- 6 players: Use all of the bonus cards.
- 5 players: 0, 2, 5, 8, and 10 bonus cards.
- 4 players: 0, 2, 5, and 8 bonus cards.
- 3 players: 0, 2, and 5 bonus cards.
- 2 players: See alternative rules below.
- Use some paper and a pencil to keep score.
- Choose who will be the first dealer.
Playing A Round
Clubs is played over a number of rounds. Each round begins with the dealer shuffling the cards and dealing ten cards to each player. The rest of the cards won’t be used in the current round.
Before a player plays their first card they can decide to call out “Double or Nothing” if they think they have a strong hand. By calling this out they think they will be the first player to get rid of all of their cards. Whether they are successful or not will determine how many points they score at the end of the round.
Starting the Trick
The player to the left of the dealer will lead the first trick. This player will play one or more cards that make up a meld. A meld can be one of the following:
- One or more cards of the same number.
- Two or more cards in subsequent order.
After a player has lead a meld all of the other players must follow by playing a similar meld. A player can either play a proper meld of cards or pass their turn. If a player passes they can choose to play a card(s) the next time it is their turn.
When playing cards a player must play a set of cards with the same number of cards as the player lead with. If the leading player played a meld of cards of the same number players must play a meld of cards of a higher number. For a run a player has to play a run with the highest card being higher than the highest card in the previous run.
End of Trick
A trick can end in a couple different ways. If a player plays a meld that features a fifteen that player will automatically win the trick. Otherwise the trick ends when all of the players pass consecutively. In this case the player who played the last card(s) will win the trick. The player that wins the trick will take all of the cards that were played. They will also get to lead the next trick.
When a player plays the last card from their hand they have gone out. They will take the highest bonus card that is still available. This player is done playing cards until the next round. If a player goes out and proceeds to win the trick the player to their left will lead the next trick.
End of Round
A round ends when the zero point bonus card is taken. If there is only one player left with cards they will take the zero point bonus card.
Player will then score their points for the round. Each player will score points equal to what is printed on their bonus card. If a player got any bonus card other than the zero point card they will also score the points from the clubs cards they collected throughout the round.
If a player choose to play “Double or Nothing” and they were the first to go out they will score twice as many points as they normally would score. If they weren’t the first to go out they will score zero points for the round.
The player to the left of the previous dealer will be the dealer for the next round.
End of Game
The game ends after any round when one of more players have scored 50 or more points. The player with the most points wins the game.
Two Player Game
In the two player game you will only use the five point bonus card. The game ends after the end of the trick that one of the players go out on. The first player to go out will take the bonus card. They will score five points plus the points from the clubs they collected. The other player will score points based on the clubs they collected (not the clubs from their hand that they never played).
15s Are Wild
Fifteen cards can be played as any number. The fifteen of clubs will keep its value of one point.
This game is played the same as normal Clubs except that the players play in teams. At the end of a round players will add their scores together. When a player calls out “Double or Nothing” it only applies to their own score. If all of the players that haven’t gone out are all on the same team the round ends and that team will score zero points.
The number of points needed in order to win the game are as follows:
- 4 players (two teams of two): 100 points
- 6 players (three teams of two): 100 points
- 6 players (two teams of three): 150 points
Crazy Clubs plays the same as normal Clubs with a few additions.
A trick only ends when all of the players pass consecutively. Thus playing a fifteen doesn’t automatically win you a trick.
In addition to playing a similar meld featuring a higher card, players can also beat other players by adding cards to a meld. For example 3 fours will beat 2 tens. Also a 7-8 will be beat by a 3-4-5.
My Thoughts on Clubs
In a lot of ways Clubs is pretty much your basic trick-taking game. One player starts each trick by playing a single card, a run of consecutive numbers, or a set of cards of the same number. Then each subsequent player has the opportunity to play a meld of cards that is higher then the previously played group of cards. This continues until all of the players pass. The last player to play cards wins the trick and takes all of the played cards. They then start another trick. The goal of the game is twofold. First you want to collect as many clubs cards as you can as they are worth points at the end of a round. You also want to try to get rid of all of the cards from your hand as quickly as possible. The faster you get rid of all of your cards the more bonus points you receive. You also don’t want to be the last player with cards remaining as you won’t score any points in the round.
If this sounds like your basic trick-taking game it should as it is very similar to most other games from the genre. Outside of the similar naming convention Clubs shares quite a bit in common with Hearts and Spades. How you play cards in each game is basically the same. How you score points is the main way these three games differ. In Hearts you lose points for each hearts card you collect (unless you collect them all) while you actually want to collect clubs cards in Clubs. Spades is more about predicting how many tricks you are going to win in a round. For this reason your opinion of Clubs will likely depend on your opinion of trick-taking games in general. If you have never been much of a fan of the genre I see no reason why Clubs would change your mind as it doesn’t do anything particularly original. Fans of this genre though will probably really like Clubs though as it has some interesting tweaks to the formula that keep things fresh.
I personally am not a huge fan of trick-taking games, but I don’t mind playing them every so often. Clubs doesn’t revolutionize the trick-taking genre. It does add a couple interesting tweaks to the formula though. The two main differences is the addition of the bonus cards and the fact that you score points for each clubs card that you gather. This creates an interesting trade-off situation for players. Players want to collect as many clubs cards as they can as each scores them more points. Lower value clubs cards are worth more points as well so you want to collect as many low numbered clubs cards as you can. This leads you to want to stay in the game longer so you can collect more clubs cards. You don’t want to stay in too long though for two reasons. First the faster you go out the higher the bonus you will receive. The bigger concern is that you don’t want to be the last to go out. It doesn’t matter how many clubs you collect during a round if you are the last to go out as they won’t be worth any points. The cards you are dealt will likely determine how quick you can go out and how many clubs you collect. If you are dealt a good hand though these mechanics add an interesting risk versus reward mechanic to the game.
Like many of these type of card games I would say that the biggest factor in how successful you are is going to be luck. There is no real way to get rid of luck in a game like this. Skill plays a role in the game, but there isn’t much you can do if you aren’t dealt good cards. The player that is dealt the best cards will likely go out early and collect the most clubs cards. Basically there are three different things you want from your cards. First it is better for your cards to be higher (outside of maybe the clubs cards as the low cards are worth more points) as a higher card will always beat out a lower card when played in a similar meld. Getting dealt more clubs cards also helps as you can choose when they get played and thus have a strategy to improve your odds of taking them yourself. Most importantly you want to be dealt cards that work well together. You want to be dealt a lot of cards of the same numbers or that can make large runs. This is important because it allows you to win more tricks which is key to going out quickly and collecting clubs cards. The player that is dealt the most runs and sets of cards of the same number has a pretty large built-in advantage for a round.
While luck is the main deciding factor for who wins a round there is still some skill to the game. The key to doing better than the cards you are dealt comes down to being able to read and play the other players. Being able to read what type of cards your opponents have gives you information that you can use to improve your odds of winning tricks. It can tell you whether you need to play your best set of cards to win a trick or whether you can play a lower set and keep your better cards for another trick or to raise the meld if another player should counter. There will be times that you can beat another player’s meld, but it might be better off waiting to see how the rest of the trick plays out. You are taking a risk as it might not make its way back to you, but waiting could really help you out. This is the area where experience with trick-taking games really pays off. I am far from an expert at trick-taking games so it doesn’t really apply to me. If you are really good at this genre though I think you could overcome a decent amount of the bad card luck with the strategic play of your cards.
Clubs comes with a couple different game variants which change up the gameplay. Of all of them I think Crazy Clubs is the most interesting. I played using both the normal Clubs rules and the Crazy Clubs rules and I definitely preferred Crazy Clubs. I preferred Crazy Clubs because it just gives players more options. In normal Clubs in order to beat a previously played meld of cards you can only play higher cards in the same type of meld. Crazy Clubs allows you to beat a previously played set of cards by playing more cards of the same number or playing a longer run. I think this adds more strategy to the game as it gives you more options as players can raise the meld more often. The normal game just felt restrictive where the cards you were dealt limited what you could do in each trick. In Crazy Clubs though you had a better chance of raising and thus you had more choice over what you wanted to do. After playing Crazy Clubs I honestly don’t see ever going back to the normal Clubs gameplay. Some people will likely disagree with me, but I think most people would prefer Crazy Clubs over the basic game.
Ultimately Clubs is a pretty basic card game. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it is still enjoyable to play. I would probably say that the game’s greatest strength is that it is quite easy to play. Anyone who has ever played a trick-taking game can jump into the game almost immediately. Even if you have never played a trick-taking game before you can learn the game within just a couple of minutes. The rules are really straightforward after all. The game has a recommended age of 8+, but I could see kids a little younger being able to play the game. This simplicity leads to the game playing pretty quickly as well. I would guess that most tricks will take a minute or two unless players take way too long debating their options. This means that most rounds will only take five or so minutes. Therefore I would expect most games to only take around 30 minutes to complete. This should make Clubs a pretty good filler game.
Should You Buy Clubs?
In a lot of ways Clubs is your basic trick-taking game with a couple small tweaks. The basic gameplay is the same as you play cards in order to win tricks allowing you to collect clubs cards and get rid of all of the cards from your hand. Anyone who has ever played a trick-taking game should have a good idea of what to expect out of the game. Clubs has a few of its own tweaks which makes the game somewhat unique. Having to decide between trying to collect as many clubs cards as possible and going out adds some interesting decisions to the game. This along with being able to read the other players adds some strategy to a genre that generally doesn’t feature a lot of it. The game still relies quite a bit on what cards you are dealt. There are ways to minimize being dealt bad cards, but you can only do so much with a bad set of cards. This is one of the reasons why I would highly recommend playing Crazy Clubs over normal Clubs as it adds some more options to the game which may mitigate some of this luck.
Basically my recommendation for Clubs comes down to your opinion of trick-taking games. If you hate trick-taking games I would pass as there are better games in the genre. If you are looking for a simple card game or are a big fan of trick-taking games though you should have fun with Clubs. For a good price it is worth picking up Clubs.