(2012 – Stronghold Games, White Goblin Games)
Many trick-taking games can be played with a standard 52 card deck of playing cards. Spades, Hearts, and Bridge have been played and learned by millions around the world. It is no surprise then, that variations of these trick-taking mechanics appear throughout some of our beloved modern card games, such as Haggis, Tichu, and more recently, the Dwarf King. In most trick-taking games, players are required to follow a particular suit, and collect the most tricks (won cards of round) or collect a certain number of points found in the tricks.
Little Devils, designed by Michael Feldkotter (whose most recent design was released at Origins this year; Via Appia) takes a somewhat different approach, containing a deck of 54 cards, containing no suits whatsoever, and rewarding the winner of a trick with negative points. Interesting? Let’s take a look.
Each player is dealt 9 random cards to begin the game. Since Little Devils can play anywhere between 3 and 6 players, certain cards will be used depending on the number of players:
– In a 3-player game, cards numbered 1-27 are used (9 cards per player)
– In a 4-player game, cards numbered 28-36 are added.
– In a 5-player game, cards numbered 37-45 are added.
– In a 6-player game, cards numbered 46-54 are added (all 54 cards being used).
During a turn, each player will lay down 1 card from their hand. Since each player starts a Round with 9 cards, there will be 9 turns per Round (as well as 9 completed tricks each Round). Play during a turn will commence in clockwise order in the following way:
Player 1 – The initial turn begins with the player to the left of the dealer laying down the first card. The only restriction to the placement of this initial card is that it cannot be a card that includes 5 devils. This is because it is impossible for the beginning player of a round to win the trick (as we’ll see in a bit). This initial card will reference the base number of the trick.
For instance, Player A is the start player and chooses to lay down the number 20 card that includes 3 devils. He could not have played a number 25 cards as the start player, since it includes 5 devils.
Player 2 – The second player of a turn has the most influence on determining how a trick will resolve. If the 2nd player plays a card that is higher than the base card in play, all other players are required to play a card higher than the base card, with the highest numbered card winning the trick. If however, the 2nd player plays a card that is lower than the base card in play, all other players are required to play a card lower than the base card, with the lowest card winning the trick.
(Because of this, it is impossible for the start player to win the trick, since it is his card that the base of the trick is based off of. Since a card that includes 5 devils is the most hazardous to a player’s score, the rules do not allow the start player to rid himself of this type of card into a trick that is impossible for himself to win.)
As the 2nd player of the turn, Player B decides to play a number 23 card that includes 1 devil. Since Player A had previously played a number 20 card, this means that Players C, D and E must player cards from their hand that are higher than 20.
Players 3-6 – All remaining players will, in clockwise order, place cards from their hand based off of how the 2nd player determined the stipulation of the turn. After all players have placed their cards, the winner of the trick is the player who played the highest or lowest card, depending on the stipulation of the turn. There are however, some additional rules to how this may resolve if a player can not place a particular type of card.
At times, (more likely toward the later turns of a Round as player’s hands become smaller) player’s 3-6 may be unable to play a card higher or lower than the base card. In this case, they have essentially “trumped” the hand, and will win the trick instead. If an additional player is unable to play a card according to the stipulation set forth by the 2nd player, the player that placed a card furthest from the stipulation is ruled the winner of the trick.
For instance, continuing with the example above, Player C is required to place a card numbered higher than a 20. He decides to place a number 26 card which contains no devils. He worries that he may end up winning the trick, therefore placing a card with no devils will minimize his overall negative score.
Player D however, is unable to place a card that is higher than a 20 because all of his remaining cards are lower. He therefore places a number 11 card containing 1 devil.
Player E has the same issue, he can also not place a card higher than a 20 out. However, he knows that if he can place a card higher than an 11, Player D will be forced to win the trick. Knowing this, he places his number 15 card containing a full 5 devils. Player E ends up winning the trick because he played a card considered a “trump” that was furthest from the stipulation of having to play a card higher than a 20. From this trick only, Player E totals -10 devils, though he won’t add up his total until all 9 turns have been taken and the Round ends.
After the trick has been won, the player that won the trick then becomes the start player. This will ensure that no player will ever win 2 tricks in a row. Remember, that the start player may never start the turn with a card that contains 5 devils. The only exception to this is if he has no other choice. For that reason, if a player can horde a card containing 5 devils until the 2nd to last turn, and win that 2nd to last turn, he’ll be able to get rid of his 5 devil card without worrying about winning the trick. As you can imagine, this can be quite risky but rewarding if one can pull it off without backfiring.
After all 9 turns have been completed, players will total the number of devils from all of the cards in their currently won tricks. Players cumulatively combine their negative scores from Round to Round. If a player has reached a score of -100, the game is over and the player with the least amount of negative points wins. Otherwise, play continues for another Round.
Little Devils is a unique take on the trick-taking genre. Though gameplay is broken up into 9 separate turns per Round, players must strategically place their cards with upcoming turns in mind. It is entirely probable that a player will win at least 1 trick during the Round, therefore being able to control which trick you win and minimize the number of devils gained by that trick is an interesting balancing act. And though themeless, there seems to be something witty about forcing another player to win a trick full of mischievous looking devils. Though Rounds end fairly quickly, setting the endgame at -100 points lengthens the game to a sufficient and rewarding amount.
Though the game is functional with 3, a 3-player game misses a bit of the game‘s essence, losing the apprehensive uncertainty of what that 4th, 5th, or 6th player is going to play behind you. The game seems to be at its best with 4 or more players, focusing towards gamers with families and/or are looking for a neat trick-taking filler for their game night. With the current trend of board games moving more towards the counter-filled, component stuffed boxes, fans of trick-taking games will be glad to know that the genre hasn’t been forgotten.