Sticheln

Finnish users can go ahead and read the Finnish review.

I’ve played enough Sticheln that I feel I can write a review. However, my point-of-view is very biased: I’ve only ever played the three-player game. Well, one four-player game, but that’s not enough. Still, I think Sticheln is such a superior three-player game that reviewing it is useful.

It’s a trick-taking game, but a tricky one. Players try to collect as many tricks as possible, as each card is worth one point — except those who aren’t. You see, each player must choose a misery colour. Each card in the misery colour is worth negative points. And it’s not one negative points — it’s as many points as the card’s value is. So misery six means six negative points!

Another tricky aspect is the trumps. There’s no fixed trumps. Each colour (there’s five or six in the deck, depending on the amount of players) is trump colour, except the colour of the leading card. So if I lead a trick with red card, every colour except red is trumps. There’s no obligation to follow suit, so it’s rare to see someone win two tricks in a row.

All of this means the card-play isn’t obvious. You’ll want to keep your hand well stocked with big cards to score tricks and low cards to avoid scoring tricks. Zeros, which can’t win tricks are very useful. Having misery cards in hand is good — at least you’ll know where they are — but getting rid of them safely can be hard. And of course you’ll want to keep the heavy-hitting misery cards to hit your opponents with. Each player’s misery colour is public information and if someone makes a mistake, punishment usually follows immediately.

The three-player game can be quite nerve-wracking. Because there are so few cards (0-8 in five suits), counting them isn’t that hard. I always count the cards in my misery suit so I know what’s to be expected. This means I can always make a safe play — unless I run out of suitable cards. So you can never be 100% sure. However, most of the time I collect only one or two negative points — and those come from the card I use to indicate my misery colour.

Keeping the control is challenging and satisfying and probably the reason I like the game so much. With more players (according to my limited experience) keeping the control is much more difficult: there are more players and more cards. I guess the game gets less serious with more players. Which is fine, if that’s what you want. Punishing your opponents with misery cards is fun and games with more players will give you more opportunities do that, I believe.

The deck is highly useful for various purposes. There are, as I said, six colours. Cards go from 0-18 in three colours and 0-20 in three colours. The extra cards are used to play Hattrick, a double-trick game with rules included in the box. You could also use the deck as a standard deck and to play Lost Cities, Battle Line and many other games… But make sure you get the 2001 new edition of the game. The 1993 edition doesn’t have the extra cards and maxes out at six players. With the new edition up to eight can play. The cards are illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel and while they aren’t spectacular, they are clear (except the closeness of brown and purple in low light) and easy to use.

Sticheln is currently my favourite three-player game. There’s lots of other games to play with other player amounts, but amongst three-player games Sticheln stands out.

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