This is the name of a card game I invented in the late 1980s, in an attempt to spice up a rather boring game of the same name†. Like a lot of card games it resembles other card games in certain areas, but the scoring, the easy expansion of the game from 2 to 5 players, and the rather even luck/skill balance I believe make it quite unique.
Over the years I've taught this game to several hundred people, and after one round of utter confusion, people seem to take to the game quickly, and demand that we play again and again! I have even taught this game to people in situations where we shared no common language! Once learnt, it's quite addictive.
It can be difficult to learn a card game from a description, so I've tried to cover everything here and to provide an example of play that is clear and illustrates some common features of the game. Any questions and you can always /msg me.
You need 10 cards for each player, plus one. So for 2 players you need 21 cards, 3 players need 31, four need 41, and five players need 51 cards. If you have "odd suits" then you discard in 500 suit order, Hearts Diamonds Clubs Spades. To make that completely clear:
- for 2 players, you keep the A K Q J 10 of every suit, making 20 cards, and the 9 of Hearts.
- for 3 players, you keep the A K Q J 10 9 8 of every suit, making 28 cards, and then the 7 of Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs.
- for 4 players, you discard 2 3 4 of every suit, and the 5 of Diamonds, Clubs and Spades.
- for 5 players, you keep everything except the 2 of Spades.
This can leave one or more suits "long" or "short", and of course that needs to be factored in to advanced play. The discarded cards do not feature in the game, they can be left safely in the box!
This is quite unusual. The game is played over 19 turns. The game is dealt initially 1 card to each player, and then a final card, the "trump indicator" is turned over and left in clear view of all players. Each turn, the number of cards dealt to each player is increased by one, until all players have 10 cards. Then, for the final 9 turns, the number of cards each turn is decreased by one. Each turn, the ultimate card dealt is the face up "trump indicator". To be totally clear, the number of cards dealt to each player each turn goes as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Finally, the deal moves one player to the left each turn.
Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player estimates how many tricks they will win in total, from zero to the maximum number available that turn, taking into account the trump suit, as indicated by the face up "trump indicator". Each player can estimate what they like with one exception: it is strictly not permitted for the total number of tricks guessed by all players to equal the total number of tricks available. This can (and often does) mean that the last player to bid will be stuck with bidding more or less than they actually want! Remember that the bid rotates, and starts with the player to the left of the dealer each turn. Each player's bid must be recorded. Pen-on-back-of-napkin works fine. Write the number of cards dealt down the left, and each player's name across the top. You'll be recording each bid each turn.
The first player that must play is the player to the left of this turn's first bidder. There are no rules governing what must be played first, however all players must strictly follow suit at all times, unless they cannot by virtue of having no cards in that suit, in which case they can play whatever they like on the trick. The winner of the trick collects the trick, arranging it face down in clear view so that all players can clearly see how many tricks each player has won. The winner of the trick then leads the next trick.
Trumps may be lead at any time, and can be played if a player cannot follow suit. Trumps beat all. If more than one player cannot follow suit and chooses to play trumps, the highest trump will win. If trumps are lead the highest trump will win, like any other suit. Trumps cannot be trumped. Play continues until all dealt cards have been played, the turn is scored, and then the next turn is dealt. Failing to follow suit will void a turn; the turn must be replayed with the person who didn't follow suit penalised the maximum number of points possible for that turn.
Scoring a Turn
If a player wins the same number of tricks as they estimated, they are not penalised. If, however, a player won either more or less tricks than they estimated, then they are penalised a number of points equal to the number of tricks available that turn plus the number of tricks they actually won or the number of tricks they estimated, whichever is the largest. A cumulative total is kept. Write this total next to the player's bid each turn.
The player with the lowest number of penalties wins the game at the end of 19 turns.
The way to use this example play is to deal it out, and then play it assuming a different dealer each time. In the example below it's the second turn, so each player has 2 cards, and player 2 has dealt. There are four players. The "trump indicator" is the King of Hearts. The four players have cards as follows:
P1: JD 9C
P2: QH 10S
P3: 10C 9S
P4: AD AC
P2 has dealt (it's turn 2), so P3 has first bid this round.
P3 can see she has no trumps, and is virtually guaranteed that someone will be able to beat her in either of her suits. Better yet, she knows that P4 will play first, making her bid very easy. She bids 0.
P4 knows he will play first, and knows that if there are no trumps out, he will win both tricks. However, it is almost certain with 8 cards out that there will be at least one trump somewhere. So, P4 counts on losing one, and bids 1.
P1 has no trumps, and a relatively poor hand with no real expectation of winning any tricks. He bids 0.
P2 would love to be able to bid 1. She's got an excellent trump (she can see the King in the trump indicator), likely the best in play. But her other card is a loser. But because she CANNOT bid 1 (the total number of bids would equal the total number of possible tricks), she is FORCED to bid 0 or 2. She sticks her courage to the sticking place, and bids 2.
Now we watch the play. P4 to lead:
Trick 1: P4 AD P1 JD P2 QH P3 10C. P2 wins with the trump and takes the lead.
Trick 2: P2 10S P3 9S P4 AC P1 9C. P2 wins with the highest card of the lead suit.
So what's the aftermath? Well, P3 and P1 both bid and got 0. They are both unpenalised this turn. P2 was forced to bid 2, but cleverly won them anyway. She is also unpenalised. P4 bid 1 and won 0, so he is penalised 2 for the turn, and 1 for the trick he didn't take, a total of three penalty points.
This is a very democratic game. You cannot afford to let anyone get themselves voted Proconsul for life! If someone opens up a sizeable lead, it can be very hard to change that ranking later in the game. Be ruthless in forcing other players to miss their bids. They will certainly be trying to do the same to you. Form alliances (unspoken of course) to take down players that get into a leading position.
Once you've played a few rounds, everyone's estimation of how many tricks they will win sharpens dramatically, and on most rounds, the last player to bid will be "stuck" with bidding higher or lower than their preference. This is by design, and is core to the game.
For a very different feel you can play the turns from 10 - 1 - 10. I don't think this is quite as good, but some people I have taught prefer this. Also, you can fool around with adding a joker or two as "super trumps" (removing one or two of the deck's low cards as detailed above) but this doesn't add measurably to the game in my opinion. Some players prefer to conceal the specific number of tricks they have won by stacking them (instead of clearly displaying them as the rules require), and this adds a "Hearts-like" element that some players enjoy (remembering "how many" each player has won). Note that all players must agree to any rule variations before any game begins!
Noded in response to Suggestion 4 of This place needs more actual content. Let's begin.
When and Where
You can play Estimation anytime you've got an hour to kill, although because of the record of bids and the running score it's an easy game to stop and pick up again, particularly if you stop at the end of a turn. I've played this game in planes, on trains, and in a variety of non transport-related settings. Something about it, though, really suits long journeys by rail.
† There are at least another 2 card games I am aware of, also called "Estimation" that are played over one hand or a number of hands. Both require the full deck and must have 4 players. The bidding is a similar feature to all games, but the scoring and arbitrary trumps and most other features are very different.