Thursday, 23 September 2010


The Game

Wizard is one of the games that I helped with English-to-Malay rules translation, but I had never played the game when I did the translation. I didn't even own the game. Only recently I receive a copy. So I decided I needed to get it played at least once, simply because my name is in there, right at the end of the Malay rulebook.

Wizard is a trick-taking card game, like Bridge. The term "trick" means each player plays one card, and one of them will win and claim this set of cards. This set of cards is called a "trick". There are four suits in Wizard, each numbered 1 to 13. There are also 4 wizard cards and 4 jester cards. The game is played over a number of rounds, depending on the number of players. In the first round, only 1 card is dealt to each player. On the second round, 2 cards, etc. The twist to the game is after looking at their cards and before starting the round, each player must predict how many tricks he will win in the current round. A player scores points if his prediction is correct, and loses points if it's wrong, regardless of whether he has overestimated or underestimated the number of tricks won.

Similar to Bridge, there is a "trump" concept. Every round one of the suits will be randomly assigned to be the trump suit. Cards in the trump suit will always beat cards in other suits. When two cards are both in the trump suit, then the higher numbered card wins. The wizard and jester cards spice things up a little. Wizard cards beat all cards. If two players play wizard cards in the same round, the player who plays it earlier wins the trick. Jester cards are the opposite of wizard cards. They are weaker than all other cards.

Some of the cards in the game. The blue suit is humans, yellow giants, green elves. The 4th suit is dwarves. The icons are supposed to be the weapons they use I think, swords for the humans, clubs for the giants, bows for the elves, and axes for the dwarves.

That's basically the game. You try to be accurate in your prediction. But there is incentive to predict higher, because when your prediction is correct, aside from a fixed 20pts, you also earn 10pts per trick won. The penalty for an incorrect prediction is -10pts per trick less than or more than the prediction. When you play, other than trying to make your own prediction come true, you also try to deny your opponents correct predictions, e.g. forcing them to win one trick too many.

The Play

Despite being the rules translator, I taught the game quite poorly and kept getting teased by Han and Allen. The rules are actually quite straight-forward, but there are a few special cases that I forgot about. We played the first few rounds wrong. Thankfully the stakes were much lower in those early rounds, so I think it didn't hurt our game too much.

We had 4 players, which meant 15 rounds. The game probably took us 45 minutes. The game becomes more and more strategic towards the later rounds, because more and more cards will be in play, and there is less uncertainty about whether certains cards are in the game or not. I realise a lot of fun in the game is in trying to make others predict wrong. If you can be the only player to predict right in a round, it is a big boost because you are the only one advancing and all the rest will be penalised.

By looking at the predictions made by other players, you can roughly guess how they will play and what kind of cards they have. Also as a round progresses, and your opponents start winning tricks, you can also guess how they will play based on how close they are to their predicted number of tricks.

In our game, Han did quite well and stayed in front most of the game, while Allen and I were mostly slightly behind, Allen close to him than I most of the time. Yee Ling was not so fortunate with her predictions and struggled quite far behind. I was score keeper and kept announcing the scores after each round. At one point Yee Ling even asked not to have her score announced. At game end, Han won at 45pts. I had 40pts and Allen 36pts. And we all cheered for Yee Ling because she made it to two digits. I shall not say the exact score, but it's the minimum requirement for meeting the two digits criteria.

The Thoughts

Wizard is a clever card game. It is quite a traditional style card game. Nothing very fancy. Forget about theme. Having some artwork is nice, but don't expect the game to tell any story. The game can feel a little long if you play by the exact rules. I wonder whether it will be better to start in round 4 or 5 (i.e. each player gets 4 or 5 cards), especially when you have fewer players.

One variant of the game is that the predictions made by the players must not add up to the current round number. E.g. in Round 8, the players cannot be predicting to win 2, 1, 3, 2 tricks. If the first three players have already predicted 2, 1 and 3, the last player must predict a number other than 2. This ensures that it is impossible for every player to achieve his goal. Someone will get screwed. I think next time I should play with this variant.

The excitement in the game is it can be a very big swing when your prediction is off by only one. E.g. you predict 6 tricks won. If you get it right, you gain 20pts + (10pts x 6) = 80pts. But if you "accidentally" win a 7th trick, your score becomes (-10pt x 1) = -10pts. That's a 90pt difference!

I like Wizard well enough, but there is one other similar card game I'll always choose to play over it - Sticheln, simply because the penalty in Sticheln can be much worse than in Wizard. I find the penalty system hilarious, even when I'm the victim.

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