Berlin, 2010-03-05

LYNX — THE CARD GAME

A HUMOROUS, GRATIFYING YET STRATEGIC GAME OF CARDS by carlo von lynX.

As spring is around the corner it is a good idea to have some things to do that do not involve carrying around electronic devices. What about a new addictive card game?

The Story

In my teenage years I was very much into card games as it was a good way to spend quality time with grandparents and parents. At some point, when I got to twenty, I came up with my own game, and hardly ever played other games since then. I combined the rules of two popular but very different games, to create one that turned out to deliver the good aspects of both games.

I have taught this game to dozens of people — they picked up the rules in half an hour and were soon addicted, so they urged me to write down the rules. Putting rules of games into words isn't easy at all, to properly consider all the special situations, and who needs yet another card game anyway? Well, it hasn't gone sour over the years and the rules are really well-balanced by now, so here they are. Since most of my audience is either Italian or German I'll choose the middle ground: English.

The original game rules were developed with a childhood friend of mine, Max Racioppi. But since he is not so much into game design, his contribution were of rather artistic kind. I have described them further below as the 'Max Extensions'. They are not very practical to employ but can be fun. The original name of the game, "la svista", was based on the Joker rule that has proven unusable. So I'll just call this game the way most people call it, lynX's card game.

Inheritance

The game is based on a popular German card game called 'MAU MAU'. Some people may have heard of a similar game called 'UNO' or you may know 'CRAZY EIGHTS'. It is a very simple game, played with a single deck, and particularely popular with teens for its surprising action cards which make it fun.

The other game that contributed to this is 'CANASTA'. Kind of RUMMY's big sister. It is actually simpler in some aspects to Rummy, and more gratifying, as you have so many cards that things work out more often. In other aspects it is terribly complicated, in particular when counting points. Luckily I threw away those counting rules.

These two very different approaches to card gaming are combined, plus a bit of Rummy.

THE RULES

Starting the Game

The game uses two French decks of 52 cards without the Jokers. Each deck consists of four suits being hearts (''), spades ('♠'), diamonds ('') and clubs ('♣'). The ranks are '2' through '10' followed by Jack ('J'), Queen ('Q'), King ('K') and Ace ('A'). The Ace ('A') may instead be employed as a one in front of the '2', but it cannot be used with both meanings at the same time (This is traditionally the case with many card games, so I don't want to make things complicated here ;-)).

The game can be played by two or more people. Have one player be the card dealer and let him shuffle the 104 cards, the player to the dealer's right cuts and the dealer gives out 12 cards to each player (With more than four players taking part you may choose to use more than two decks or deal out less than 12 cards). The remaining cards are left in a stock in the center of the table. The top card from the stock is turned over to initiate the discard pile. Possible action meanings of this card are ignored at this time.

Melds of Cards

A 'meld' consists of at least three cards of the same rank (♠4, ♥4 and ♣4 for example) or consecutive cards of the same suit (like ♠9, ♠10 and ♠J). The Ace ('A') may be employed either as One or after the King, but not at the same time. When collecting cards of the same rank, in this game it is fine if two identical cards from the two decks are combined, as in the case of ♦8, ♠8 and another ♠8 (The suits do not need to be all different from each other, so a meld of a rank can grow to eight cards whereas a meld of a suit can hold up to 13 cards). A meld may contain action cards whose action meaning is ignored when published as a meld.

The Turns

The player to the dealer's left has the first turn, play then proceeds clockwise. Each turn consists of drawing (picking up) a card, publishing melds, appending to other people's published melds, then discarding a card.

Publishing melds is optional, a meld can be kept in hand for as long as the player may find it strategically useful. To publish it means to arrange the meld visibly onto the table in a suitable way for counting the score later. Appending cards to other people's melds is optional, too. It makes them have a higher score at the end of the game, but it is probably useful for the player in order to finish up sooner. Also drawing a card from the stock pile is optional if you have a suitable card to discard.

Players discard by matching rank or suit with the top card of the discard pile. If a player is unable or unwilling to match the rank or suit of the top card of the discard pile, he must draw a card from the stock pile, which may turn out to be suitable for being discarded, or not. Some cards have an action meaning when being discarded, but unlike similar games in this game none of the action cards can be played at all times. Like any regular card they must match suit or rank before they can be discarded.

Stealing Cards

Alternatively to drawing a card from the stock pile the player can make use of the card from the discard pile. Should the player have two matching cards to form a meld with the card on the top of the discard pile, she can choose to publish the two, then add the card from the discard pile. In this case she is not permitted to draw a card from the stock and can only choose to discard a card matching the card that has now appeared on the discard pile. Any action card meaning this card may have had earlier is no longer applied. If the discard pile consisted of only one card to be stolen, without any card underneath it, the player is entitled to discard any card she likes to discard.

Stealing the Pile

When the player has an entire meld of at least three cards in her hand, which match the card that has been discarded, she can choose to steal the entire discard pile. She does so by publishing three or more matching cards, then adding the top card from the pile. Then she takes the entire discard pile into her hand. Her turn ends immediately: She is not permitted to discard a card and she may not publish melds until her next turn. The game continues while she is busy reorganizing the cards in her hand. The next player is allowed to discard any card he likes to discard.

Strategy Tip: Stealing the pile is a very mighty operation. The more cards you steal, the more melds you can make that will bring you a lot of points. But the later in the game you do this, the higher the chances this will allow the other players to finish the game with all of your melds still in your hand!

Action Cards: The Seven

When discarding a '7' to the discard pile the player can nominate somebody to draw three extra cards from the stock pile. He can choose to nominate himself for strategic reasons. This will however not occur if the next player in turn is able to either steal the card from the discard pile or announces to be able to discard one more '7'. If so he plays his turn, discards the '7' and chooses someone to draw six cards instead of three. Again the next player in turn may be able to steal the card from the discard pile, which would cancel the action meanings of all previous Sevens, or she may be able to add one more. With each '7' another three cards are added to the sum of cards to be drawn and the player discarding the last '7' decides who is to draw them.

Drawing the extra cards happens independently from the flow of turns, therefore the person receiving the cards must take them into his hands and wait for his turn to actually make use of them (This can be annoying if the game ends before the turn has reached him, but that's how life goes sometimes). Should the next player in turn draw a '7' he may discard it on top of the previous Sevens, but counting restarts at three cards, if the previous action cards have been played out.

Action Cards: The Eight

In this game, the '8' makes the next player skip a turn, unless he can block the action meaning by stealing the card from the discard pile.

Action Cards: The Nine

The '9' is a card that, when discarded lets the player immediately play another turn. The '9' cannot be stolen as it is being used, only if it happens to remain on top of the discard pile after it has played its meaning. Also, a player can't finish the game with a '9'.

Action Cards: The Ace

When discarded, the 'A' allows a player to choose a different suit to be matched by the next player (Example: When the suit on the discard pile is ♣ you can discard an ♣A and request from the next player to follow with a card of ). The next player may however steal the card or play another 'A' herself.

Finishing the Game

The game ends when a player manages to discard his last card, successfully completing his last turn and remaining without a card in his hands. He cannot end the game only by publishing a meld or appending a card to somebody else's meld. Action cards have their meaning even at the end of the game, so a '7' allows the player to force an opponent to draw 3 cards that will immediately be counted as negative points. A '9' cannot be discarded to finish the game.

Scores

Each player's points are counted by summing up the value of the cards of her published melds. Face cards ('J', 'Q' and 'K') are worth two points while all other cards only count for one point. Cards that were still in a player's hand when the game ended have double negative value, that means -2 for each regular card and -4 for each face card. The player who finished the game is awarded an extra bonus of 30 points, but he may not necessarily be the winner since another player may have accumulated more points in form of melds.

MAX EXTENSIONS

Action Cards: The Three

Max added a fun action card: The '3' is the card of "desire". Things you can desire when discarding a Three are:
  1. A pause of three minutes.
  2. A food item or sweet from an exclusive bowl of '3'-food.
  3. A different music playing in the background.
  4. A kiss from another player.
  5. A local phone call of maximum three minutes duration.
  6. End of the games after this round.
  7. Continuation of the games after this round.

No Jokers

In earlier versions of the game we also had jokers that would allow for all sorts of melds, but it made the game too unpredictable. It also led to that very complicated Canasta-style scoring system where Jokers would make melds less valuable. And then we had to decide what happens when someone discards a Joker. Max suggested that the player discarding the Joker can make somebody else flash her cards in her hands. If the player then guesses the suit represented by the greatest number of cards, it would expect the other player to draw 8 cards. Obviously there is plenty of possibility to cheat here. Also, drawing 8 cards may actually be helpful rather than a penalty. All of this makes this rule quite impracticable.

THE CLAIM

This game avoids many of other card games' "musts" and gives the player many decisions to take at each turn. It has developed out of a game like Mau Mau, which is mostly based on luck (or randomness), into a surprisingly strategic beast. While in Mau Mau the strategy is always to quickly get rid of the cards in your hand, in this game having more cards can lead to success, and choosing the right moment for a change of strategy can be key.

Since you can't spend minutes at each turn, players develop strategic habits. Some pick good ones, which indeed lead to continous winning streaks. Some other pick bad ones, finding themselves a lot less likely to win rounds. I didn't have the impression the game is terribly linked to intelligence, but rather to the will and ability to detect bad strategic habits and to get rid of them. It's like a course in self psychology.

It's quite amazing to meet a player that once again shows me how I am not the best player at my own card game. Whenever that happens I try to understand and learn good habits from my competitor. Sometimes it's just how this person tends to play the game from the very beginning — there isn't such a steep learning curve.

The way the cards themselves have a tendency of matching up easily, gives a sense of gratification during the game, but acting in response of that gratification can be one such "bad strategy". Maybe you should not let yourself enjoy the gratification?

Luckily, these two addictive aspects of the game are complemented by frequent surprises, which make it humorous. The battles of '7' and choosing who is to draw the cards, finishing by surprise by publishing melds and appending to other people's melds, stealing a discard pile, making a lot of points unless some other player is prepared to finish the game just then. All of these things can be surprising, but they can be very strategically chosen. The moment when to start a battle of Sevens, and being prepared against the other player's reactions, for example. So, strategy and amusement go hand in hand but fun and gratification make it less important to actually win the games.

COPYRIGHTS

The Copyright to this game, except for the Max Extensions, lies with me. I have however borrowed language from Wikipedia in order to describe the game, thus the game description itself is provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

—lynX




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