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.
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