Friday, January 02, 2009

Wielding the Decks 1: Pit

I need a weekly project for this blog, having finished my roundup posts. So here's my new project: each week, I will teach you how to simulate a proprietary game using two decks of standard playing cards and (optionally) some counters, dice, paper, and pencil. Maybe I'll turn it into a book.

And the series shall be called: Wielding the Decks. My first game: Pit.

Pit is a wild, fast stock card trading game from 1904. Ring the bell, and each player shouts across the room, trying to corner the market in one type of goods. The Bull card is a wild card which you can use for any type of good, or double the value of a complete set. But if you get caught with it when someone else wins, you lose points. The bear has none of the benefits, and all of the drawbacks, of the bull. Even worse, you can't win the game so long as you hold the bear.

In the original game, each type of good has a point value. When someone completes his or her set, he or she gains the points of the set he completed. Play several games until someone has reached a predetermined value.

In my simulations, I generally dispense with the points (and the bull's drawback) and just play until someone wins, and that's it.

How to Play

For 5 to 13 players

Take from the two decks one rank of cards for each player. E.g. for ten players, take the 2 through J. There will be eight cards of each rank. In addition, take a black joker for the bear, and a red joker for the bull. If you're not playing with 13 players, you can use black and red aces.

Mix and deal to all players. Two players will have 1 additional card, but that's ok.

When ready, yell "Go!". Each player acts simultaneously, shouting the number of cards that they want to trade with any other player (NOT the rank of the cards, just the number of cards). Every trade must be for cards of a single rank ONLY, and all trades must be for the exact same number of cards.

There are no turns in Pit, no rounds, and no order. Players shout simultaneously as often and as frequently as they desire, trading with whomever they desire at any time. No trades are forced. If you shout a number, and no one else is shouting that number, try shouting a different number.

For instance, you can trade 1 king for 1 other card by shouting "1!", or 3 fours for 3 other cards (which must all be the same rank) by shouting "3!" You cannot trade 1 seven and 1 three for two other cards (although you can do two "1" trades instead of a "2" trade, if the other player is willing), and you cannot trade 3 sevens for 2 cards or 4 cards.

There is one exception to this: you cannot trade the bull or bear as single cards. If you want to trade them, you MUST trade them together with other cards. So you can call out "3", and trade 2 sevens and the bear for 3 cards from someone else; they must trade you back 3 cards of the same rank, or 2 cards of the same rank plus the bear (or bull).

The winner is the first to collect all 8 cards of a singe rank (those of you with 9 cards in your starting hands, be aware that you will have an extra card which doesn't matter) and shout "I won!" The bull (red joker or red ace) is a wild card (aka joker) which counts as any rank. You can win with seven cards of one rank and the bull. The bear counts as no rank; it's only effect is that you cannot win the game so long as you hold the bear; trade it away! Remember! You can't trade the bear on its own; it must be traded along with some other card or cards.

That's it. Games with up to eight players will last about a minute or two. I played with 12 and the game lasted 4 minutes.


You can play with the scoring from the original game: earn 10 points per rank of the completed set (face cards all count as 10). Double your score if you have all 8 cards AND the bull (only two players can achieve this each round). Lose 10 points if you don't win and are stuck with the bear or bull (20 if both).

Another variant you can play is with teams: a pair of players each hold 4 cards. Or, with many people, each player on a team holds 1 or 2 cards. Your team has to end up with the complete set to win. This requires not only trading, but constantly coordinating strategy and comparing holdings with your teammates.

Next week

I'm planning on tackling Power Grid. If you have a game you would like to see me cover, add a comment.

I'd also love to see your versions of Power Grid with playing cards. Send me an email if you want to try.


Chris said...

Cute project. :) I was just thinking the other night that Lost Cities can be played with a conventional deck...

I may have misread, but it seems to me that you imply, but never state, that you combine two decks of cards to play your version of Pit. Might want to say that explicitly.

I have been a Pit player since I was a young sprout, and have bought many editions of the game, and confess to being a mite sceptical of your version here. It will work, certainly, and have much of the same energy, but not having different values for the commodities hurts the play as you don't get the decision as to whether to aim high - where increased competition decreases your chances of scoring - or to aim low and try and get a quick but small win. It really is an important aspect of the original, and you could include it in this version by making A's worth the most and 2's worth the least, but it might require a look up table which is a tad inelegant.

(Also: the Bull and Bear penalties are really important to the schadenfreude in this game - if you were to do a score-based variant, I'd bring back the original rules here).

But then, the goal of this isn't to recreate the games, I suppose, so much as to adapt them to another "platform". I heartily approve!

Export onwards, good sir! :)

Yehuda said...

Chris: I can say unequivocally that the game works without the scoring. I've done it many times, and no one who has never played the original misses it. I've played the original and don't miss it.

Note that if you plan to play only a single game, scoring doesn't make any sense, anyway.

I added the word "both" to the post to emphasize that both decks are used. It seems fairly clear to me; I hope it is to others.

And you're right: I'm not trying to duplicate exactly, but to adapt.

Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I don't think these rules are complete. In particular, you haven't explained how to determine which player to trade with.

I liked the roundup posts. I'd like to do something similar when my blog is three years old, but monthly rather than weekly.

Yehuda said...

I thought "Each player acts simultaneously, shouting the number of cards that they want to trade with any other player" was clear.

Help me make it clearer?


Anonymous said...

Let's say there are seven players, of which two shout "One", three shout "Two", one shouts "Three", and one shouts "Four". The only thing that's obvious is that the two players who shouted "One" would swap with each other.

I take it the players who shouted "Three" and "Four" would not swap with anyone on that turn (e.g. the Four-shouter can't say to the Three-shouter, "Well, three's close enough, so I'll swap with you"). But you could have been more explicit about this, saying that you swap cards with someone who shouted the same number you did.

That leaves the three players who shouted "Two". One of them will miss out, so how do you decide who that will be? Likewise, if four people shout the same number, how do you decide who pairs with whom? Surely there has to be some mechanism to keep this fair.

Yehuda said...

Ah, I see.

There are no turns in Pit, no rounds, and no order. Players shout simultaneously as often and as frequently as they desire, trading with whomever they desire at any time. No trades are forced. If you shout a number, and no one else is shouting that number, try shouting a different number.

Anonymous said...

So if there are no rounds, I take that to mean there is no synchronisation. Although at the start everyone shouts simultaneously, afterwards some players might be shouting at the same moment that others are exchanging cards, because each player proceeds at their own pace. Is that right?

The alternative is that the shout of "Go!" happens more than once, to keep all shouting simultaneous. But it sounds like that's not the case, because then the game would be divided into units of play that would count as rounds. I'm just checking in case I've misunderstood, as I'm a little confused by the sentence "players shout simultaneously as often and as frequently as they desire". Either they shout simultaneously or they shout as frequently as they (as individuals) desire.

Trying to visualise how it would work, I imagine proposing a trade by proffering a handful of cards to someone who's shouted the same number I did, and laying it in front of them if they reciprocate. Also, I imagine that if I'd just heard you shout "Three", and three was an acceptable number for me to trade, I might shout "Three" as I grab hold of the three cards I intend to trade, and then immediately proffer them to you. (I wondered if I might even shout and proffer simultaneously, but then I decided that probably wouldn't happen because I'd need a moment or two to grab hold of them.)

Yehuda said...

You have read too much into the word "simultaneously". There is no synchronization. The game starts when someone says "Go", and ends when someone wins. In between you trade and shout as much and as often as you can.

As an example, you shout "Three! Three!" until you hear or see someone else also shouting "Three!" Then, if both of you are willing, you each pass three cards to each other, face down. Each player must pass three cards all of the same rank (exception: bull or bear), face down (or, without looking at what you got until you have also given).