Friday, December 01, 2006

Oh Hell Indeed

Over the last month, I've played quite a few games. Be advised that this number of plays (129) is higher than average for me, due to BGG.con and a week of Thanksgiving vacation. What game have I played more than any other this month?

Oh Hell.

More than Category 5 (BGG, BUY ME!), more than Zendo (BGG, BUY RULE CARDS), and more than twice as often as my beloved Jungle Speed (BGG, BUY ME!). Oh Hell (BGG) is an addictive trick-taking card game you can play with a regular deck of playing cards. None of this fancy "new style" of game, mind you. Due to the age and popularity of the game, there are dozens of variations on how to play.

Here's the rules as played in the office:

Play consists of ten rounds. Each round, flip a card- this indicates the trump suit as well as the number of cards to be dealt out. Face cards are worth ten and Jokers are ten, no trump. For six players, face cards, tens, and nines count as eight cards maximum. Depending on mood, a Joker may get shuffled back in and a second card flipped to determine hand size and trump suit.

Everyone looks at their cards and holds their hands under the table. Put a number of cards indicating your bid into one hand, and with a count of "Ready, Steady, GO!" everyone puts their hands on the table and indicates their bid. Zero bids are allowed. The unlucky sod chosen as scorer records all bids. (This version of simultaneous blind bidding is taken from the English method called "knocking," where players use their hands alone. One hand makes it difficult to bid more than five, though.) If it happens that players have bid the exact number of tricks available, we let it ride.

The player left of the dealer leads. Trumps do not have to be "broken," so any card may be led at any time. Other players must follow suit, and may slough an off suit or play a trump if they have none of the led suit.

Make sure to play with the Jokers. As I was taught Oh Hell, the Jokers are used like the jesters from Tichu (BGG, BUY ME!)- that is to say, Jokers are Ultimate Fail and a guaranteed lose. A player who plays a Joker may do so without restriction- in other words, you can play a Joker to avoid having to play another card you might normally have to play when following suit. If a player leads a Joker, there is no led suit and control passes to the next player to determine suit. The same is true if the second player plays the other Joker.

Aces are high. High card of the led suit wins the trick. Cards of the trump suit beat all cards of the led suit. A Joker can't win the trick. The player who won the trick leads the next trick.

Once all tricks have been won, it's time to score. Right now, I have two scoring variants- the one I was taught originally, and the ruleset we play with in the office, affectionately known as "English Consolation Points." In both, if you make your non-zero bid, you get ten points plus your bid. So a successful bid of four is worth 14 points. A successful zero bid is either worth a flat ten points (English-style) or five points plus the number of cards in the round. If you miss your bid, you either score nothing or one point for each trick taken (English-style consolation prizes). I prefer the non-British scoring methods, but YMMV. Note that there are no partners, so your score is your own.

The shuffle and deal passes to the next player on the left.

Other common variants: Jokers are high. Bid openly, but the last player must not bid to make the tricks come out evenly. Trumps must be broken before they can be led. Play a round with 8 cards, then 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and finally 8. Trump suit rotates in an orderly known fashion: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs.

And finally, no matter what shouted epithet you wish to hurl with vitriolic fury at the player who has smugly played an Ace over your King in a one-card hand, your line is always "Oh, Hell!"

1 comment:

catzmiyow said...

I like the flip-a-card rule to determine hand size and trump, and I like simultaneous blind bidding much more than the open last-person-gets-screwed mode.

Interestingly, while I love Oh Hell and am very particular about which rule variants I like and don't like, I have no real preferences about scoring - I think because I enjoy play so much that winning or losing don't really matter to me. :)