Out in Public
I've been working on Curse of the Archmage since Game On! a couple years ago.
Had a chance to play Bottle Imp with a few friends, and really wanted something with a more flexible player count. I'd also been looking at Briscola for a while, hoping to find a way to get that "hidden teams" aspect into one of my own games.
I ended up with three differences from normal trick-taking games:
The first twist: though it’s a team game, you don't know who's on your team at the start. After dealing out the cards, the dealer looks at their hand and names (“curses”) any card in the deck. Whoever is holding the cursed card is on the dealer’s team, and everyone else is on the opposing team. The dealer doesn't get to know who holds the cursed card, though. They have to lead the first trick without knowing where it's going to go.
The second twist: though you want points, you don't score points by winning tricks. The player who wins each trick leads the next, as normal, but they give their winning card to the person who played the lowest card in the led suit for that trick. This makes teamwork even more important, as you try to set up your teammate to score big points by choosing the right suit to lead, or trumping with huge points when you think they've got the low card.
The third twist: your team's score is the lowest of the individual players' scores, not including those players who scored nothing. At the start of the game you want one teammate to score everything, the other to score nothing. Your opponents are trying to do the same thing, so you also want to get just a point or two to their "nil" player to sink them.
There are several other small details to make all this work, and keep the game interesting from hand to hand. Two examples:
- There are two jokers. These always win the trick, but the player who scores them gets the joker to play later, and also gets to manipulate their score pile.
- Different distributions of points across suits, so the cursed card (which also determines the trump suit) has a large effect on the play of that hand.
It's more difficult than it might seem to remember that the winning card goes to the "biggest loser" of the trick, but it makes the whole thing run. The methods for signaling your teammate and figuring out how to best score points are subtle, but wonderful with experience.
Archmage is almost certainly too complicated for a wide market, but if you're a trick-taking fan, it might be just right for you.
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