The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Haggis — Scottish or Crap?

I’ve finally gotten around to playing Haggis, a 2-3 player Tichu-esque game. It’s clever — each player gets 3 set cards (J, Q, K) which can be used as higher single cards (the main deck is 2-10), wilds (for pairs, trips, sequences) or bombs (any two or all three make a bomb). Cute, and helpful to balance. The face cards also score well. Another nice aspect — If you bomb a trick you win it, but give the points to an opponent (serious players will use the Tournament rule, to restrict kingmaking). Finally — if you make a bet (“Call Tichu”) you gain more points OR give your opponents more points. The game moves inexorably towards completion.

So I like the rules in theory. How does it play? Some thoughts:

  • Whether to use your face cards as high single cards, wilds, or bombs is a big deal. This adds lots of flexibility, at the cost that the hand plays slower. I’m no Tichu-hound, but I’ll play it, but I imagine each hand is going to be a bit slower.
  • I do think that not having passing detracts a bit. Perhaps one idea is to deal out an extra card to each player (2 in 2 players) and have them toss the same number into the unused pile (which are worth points to however goes out first).
  • Going out first is a big deal … you get 5 points for each card the player with the most cards has AND you get the cards the last player holds (when the others have gone out). Going out quickly can be worth 70+ points easily without calling Tichu. This means that players who aren’t going to go out may want to quickly play as many cards as possible, just to keep the score low.
  • While going out first is big, calling Tichu isn’t so important. You bet 15 (or 30) points, but if you fail then the player who goes out first gets it, and the other player also gets it IF they didn’t call Tichu themselves. An odd dynamic. Also, once one player is close enough to likely go out, you’ll have some weird endgame issues. Haggis could possibly use something like Backgammon’s Crawford Rule (although I’m not exactly sure what it would be).
  • Our first game (3 players) took about 45-50 minutes (to 250 points).  Most hands scored the winner around 70 points, but some as few as 30-40. Losers got 10-30 points (plus sometimes a paid off bet if a Tichu called failed and they didn’t bid). Odd cards are worth one point, evens are worth 0, and J/Q/K are worth 2/3/5 respectively. So giving away tricks by bombing usually isn’t a big deal, (although we sometimes have ~20-30 point tricks if lots of face cards are used as wilds to pair/complete runs).
  • Since the lowest score leads to a hand, and you call Tichu when you play, I’m vaguely curious if there are certain hands where that could be a detriment. Probably, but overall it’s beneficial to lead.
  • The allowed groupings are slightly different, which isn’t bad but will lead to a bit of glancing at the player aid. For example, running pairs (etc) must match suits. Sequences must be the same suit, no full houses. Finally, the (non-face card) bombs are 3-5-7-9, either 4 different suits (low bomb, which is beat by any pair of face cards, or all three face cards) or 3-5-7-9 of the same suit.
  • The “Everyone gets 3 face cards” rule probably reduces the wild swings, so I suspect there’s at least as much room for skill as in Tichu. I say this as someone who doesn’t particularly have any, though.

Anyway, as a confirmed Tichu non-hounds, I think I slightly prefer Haggis (since it would probably top out  at 90 minutes for a long game to 350, and the hands are probably slightly more balanced). Anyway, I suspect all the Tichu hounds are already baying to try this.

Verdict — Probably Scottish.

Update — As Sean noted below, we missed one scoring rule. In a 3 player game, the person who goes out second scores 5 pts per card that the 3rd player has left. In one sense, this is nice as it means that the scores between 1st and 2nd will likely narrow. On the other hand, this does mean you can get into a “Let’s you and him fight” situation. The player who bombs (or otherwise burns a wild) to stop the first player from going out often weakens their chances of going out second. The correct play may be to shrug and play for second.  I don’t know if that would happen, but already in our first game (without that rule) there were at least two times when a player had to decide whether to bomb in a mild attempt to stop the player perceived to be going out first. I’m not sure how I feel about this, yet.


Written by taogaming

September 20, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Posted in Reviews

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  1. I found one scoring rule we didn’t play correctly — The player who goes out second also scores points for the number of cards left in the 3rd player’s hand!


    September 21, 2010 at 11:43 am

  2. What I find most interesting about Haggis is that there are SO many ways to play your hand, and there is a lot of strategy in figuring out the best one (or being flexibile). Also in how to use your face cards.

    It (necessarily) loses the awesome partnership depth that Tichu has, but it replaces it with the greater number of ways to play a hand.


    September 27, 2010 at 4:11 am

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