Many games being produced today miss out on the dynamics of the classic card game. For hundreds of years, a simple set of (usually) fifty-two cards organized into four suits of thirteen in two colors gave incredible potential through matching and trumping. There are plenty of games today that use cards, but their rules steer the game toward information on the card rather than the cards themselves. North Star Games updates a classic mechanic and gives it the NSG spin to make it suitable for experienced card players as well as those more familiar with other styles of gaming.
Clubs is reminiscent of trick-taking games like Hearts and Spades. It also goes back to ideals of shedding games like Tichu, but in a very simplified fashion. Each player is dealt ten cards, and the Lead player begins a round with a Meld-Type. Melds are either duplicates as “Of-A-Kind” or runs with numbers in a row. For example, the lead player can play two fives, making all other players play two sixes, two tens, or above. Play goes around the table until all players but the winner of the trick have passed. Points are given for each club card won. It is a standard fare we have seen in card games for over a century.
The twist in Clubs comes with the bonus point cards. While Hearts and Spades have particular strategies in holding onto certain cards whereas Tichu has strategies of burning others, Clubs combines both by establishing descending bonus points for each trick taken. For example, the winner of the first trick takes home twelve points; the winner of the second ten, eight, and so forth. This gives the notion that a good strategy is to play good cards as soon as possible to win the bonus points. On the other hand, if a player holds back strong cards, he or she may dominate in the latter part of the game, scooping up valuable club cards while others have no defenses. Players must excel in skill, luck, and reading others to capture the most points.
Like most North Star Games, Clubs comes with variant rules. The first makes the game playable even between two people. Another gives 15s, the highest card, the ability to become wild, introducing more creative thinking to the game. Yet another rule lays down groundwork for partner games, which are often seen in Clubs’ ancestors, Hearts, Tichu, and even Bridge. Further variation comes in an additional rule booklet called Crazy Clubs. Here, players can beat a lead by playing a more powerful Meld-Type. What once was a sure win as a pair suddenly becomes victim to a trio. This makes for a cutthroat game where strategy meets guts and play becomes hilariously intense.
Clubs is a game for two to six players, ages eight and up available on Amazon and major gaming stores. It is a short game, taking about thirty minutes. Play stays quick with each hand taking only a few minutes before adding up the score and dealing again until someone gets fifty points. It is a great way to expand game nights to include those who may not enjoy more convoluted gaming and perfect for family get-togethers. Grandma, of course, may dominate.