Authors: Moritz, Walter, Hans
at the table: Andrea, Björn, Hans, Moritz, Peter und Walter
on the table: Sticheln, Hare & Tortoise, Bluff
“Sticheln” is a simple but strangely addictive trick-taking card game. The special trait of this game is that ALL card suits other than the one played are trumps, the highest valued trump will win the trick. Another, even more important trait is that each player takes one of his cards (all players do this at the same time, secretly) and declares this suit his “pain” colour. This means that all tricks that include cards of his pain colour taken as a trick during the game count as negative point values (in the value of the card, so a “pain” 14 will hurt you a lot! And yes, of course there can be several of your pain cards in the trick!). The cards of other suits in a trick count as only 1 positive point, regardless of the card value, so avoiding tricks is the main issue here.
It will be clear to everyone that earning negative points will be easier than making positive points, so good card management and well-executed play make the day in this “more-difficult-than-it-sounds” game...
Here are some approved strategic tips:
The rules state correctly that it is not good to select a “short” colour as your pain colour. I’d say that 3 cards is the absolute minimum for your pain colour. Of course you want to take a suit that is rich in low cards (the lowest card you play at the beginning as the “pain” card will already count in negative points, so you don’t want to select a set that has, say, a “5” as the lowest card). And you DO want to have your pain colour available throughout the game. A mistake that players commonly do is getting rid of your pain cards as quickly as possible. This will leave you in dire straits if your fellow players suddenly decide to play a round consisting only of your pain suit, where even the meekest card of another suit will take the trick with the “always trump” rule. You want to have a lower card of your pain colour available in this case to “undercut” the suit, don’t you think?
Take the longest possible suit that has the lowest possible cards in average. One or two high cards won’t hurt you, you might just be able to get away even with a “14” late in the game, if you play carefully.
If the suit is too long, you might end up being the only one with that particilar pain suit, and that is not always good. Still, it has it’s advantages, as the other players might quickly use up your high pain suit cards to get tricks. I think it is good to have the knowledge of at least one high card in your pain suit early on, this will make your end game easier (see below).
And we don’t mean your tailor...Know your suit – at ALL costs. Memorize all the cards that are missing, deducted from the info you have on your own pain cards. You might make a mental note like: “ok, I know 2,3,4,6,9,11,13 of my pain suit are still in the game”. If the “2” is played, scratch it, and memorize the rest, again! Always momorize which cards are still left. Constantly know which cards of your pain suit are still in the game!
I leave it to you to devise your own memory tricks to achieve this, but believe me, knowing the cards left exactly will improve your game 100%. Why? See “The end game” below....
And now to the tactics:
If you have to play your pain card early in the game
So your first, huh? What card do you play? If you have a long suit of your pain card, you might want to get rid of some (the constant challenge in “Sticheln” is: you never want to have too many pain cards, but also not too few). It is clear that you MUST play a low card, to avoid other players forcing awful pain cards on you immediately (and believe me, they will have them readily available in abundance in the first rounds). The highest value you can play depends on the number of players. With 4 players you should play a “2” maximum, for example. A “3” might be dangerous already (imagine the other players playing a 1 and a 2 plus a zero, you will end up with minus 2 points!). Of course your possibilities will improve when you know exactly what cards are left of your pain suit. 5,4,3,1,0 are gone? Of course you can play a 6 then!
I have seen disastrous plays in which the players thought: hey, the chances are really LOW that the others will play this and that card, so I can get away with playing this and that card....DON’T! Murphy’s Law applies here throughout: always assume the worst can happen and make the safest play possible!
Again, again, and again: Always make the safest play possible! Make the play that has the least chance of earning you pain cards. You will most likely always have this choice. The game is not won by many tricks, but by one or two safe tricks during the end of the game (and the occasional “Round End” trick taken by the player who comes last in the round, when one can fully judge what cards one will get and how). Follow this rule until you know that all the pain cards of your suit are gone or in your hand, period. If a trick comes along that is absolutely safe to take, take it of course, but with the least effort possible. Wait, wait, wait, and the win will be yours. You might even push this end game in “forcing” a pain suit play. For example: you play an 8 in your pain suit, and you know the only lower cards left in your pain suit are 6 and 4. The other players will happily play these cards in an attempt to give you negative points, but one of them (if you play with at least 3 other players) will just HAVE to play the trump card and gain the trick. Voilà – problem solved. Now you will dominate!
Follow these guidelines:
you want to have as many suits available as possible, to be always able to “undercut” and avoid taking tricks you don’t want. Having as many suits as possible in your hand means you can always avoid the nasty trick by playing the suit of the first played card. So play all suits equally, always keeping them equally distributed in your hand. If you have only two cards left in a suit, play the higher card – just to be on the safe side. Even if you don’t take a single trick in the game, you will be on the winning side with 0 victory points, especially if you play a series of games.
play the middle card of a suit, after deciding which suit to play. Why? You win the game by playing either low cards (avoiding tricks), or high cards (taking tricks when it’s safe). So you want high and low cards, not medium cards. Therefore, if you have a 5, a 7, and an 11 to play, play the 7. Always follow this rule and you will win the end game.
always keep some cards of your pain suit for the end game. Of course the difference with the pain suit is that you don’t want to keep the high cards, so if you have many of them, get rid of them early on. But the high cards can be handy in playing destructively (if another player has the same pain suit), so this is not always a clear decision. But with the pain suit, you want to have only low cards in the end game. Why is it not dangerous to have pain cards left at the end of the game? It is extremely unlikely that the last tricks played will only contain one suit, because it would involve a mutual secret pact by all players to reserve only one and only this one suit for the end game. Extremely unlikely....Chances are that many colours will be depleted, and therefore cannot be played by everybody anymore. I could write a long statistical essay on this, but I guess you can trust me that normal stochastic laws apply. If you start a round, and you know your trick suit is depleted, you can always play any card of your pain suit, even the highest ones This is usually the best way to get rid of them, especially when you can “force” a play (see above). The other players will not keep track of your pain suit as well as you do, so they will always try in vain to force their pain cards on you, when you smugly know that they can’t hurt you in fact because of the value of the card you played (=”haha, there are only 2 lower cards than this left, and you have to play the trump card, if you want it or not because you are three other players...”)
The perfect end game begins with you having only high cards in many different suits with your pain suit either completely depleted or in your hand. Now you try to take every trick possible. When you then begin a round, your own pain suit cards, now safe, come in handy, as taking a trick is easier when you react, not when you begin a round. So switch: Gain a trick, let somebody else take the next trick, gain a trick again. 1 or 2 tricks will suffice – you’ll win!
Of course there is rarely a perfect end game with only high and low cards, but you can, as described already, force the end game for you with playing your pain suit cards tauntingly. If there is still a “15” out there in your pain suit, don’t fret. You can go pretty high in attempting a trick then, just be carefully not to play a “15” card yourself, so the pain “15” can be used to undercut your own trick.
Full knowledge of the depletion of your pain suit is, as you can imagine, absolute paramount, so I state it again here.
If you can give negative points to any player – do it! Even if you waste cards you think are valuable later on. Always go for maximum damage, give them the highest card in their pain suit you have! The only difference is when you’re the last one to play a card and could gain a trick with only positive points for you. The other players might groan when you foil their plans, but taking four positive points for yourself means giving ALL the other players negative 4 points (in comparison to you), so that’s ok.
And that’s it. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll be much more successful in playing this sometimes very confusing game.