|Interaction||Components & Design|
You may have heard of Haggis. It is, in it’s original form, the crown jewel of Scottish cuisine. Or Pandora unleashed, depending on whom you happen to ask, and at which juncture of nutritional and alcoholic consumption said person happens to be.
For the current purpose, however, none of that matters too much. After all, we are not concerned with foople (food meeple, for those of you keeping score of meeple-induced neologisms) – but games, games, games!
Haggis is first and foremost a card game involving tricks, various suits, points and all the lovely things that turn a nice evening in pleasant company into a nightmarish trip to card rage county.
If you know Tichu (recommended), or if you have read our review (essential for further existence), you will not fail to notice a plethora or similarities. And indeed, for the Tichu veteran the game does feel cosily familiar, but with quite a few interesting twists. Also, Haggis has the prime advantage of being playable in 2 and 3 players – eliminating a standard issue with finding the perfect player number you get in Tichu.
For this reason, the rule summary will give Tichu pride of place, and measure Haggis in relation to it’s more famous relative. We look mostly at the 3-player game, but the 2-player format is pretty much the same in all important respects.
– Haggis deals you a hand of 14 cards.
– Tricks are played with ‘combinations’ (singles, pairs, straights, triples etc), and can only be trumped by the same type of combinations and the ever popular bombs.
– Yes – that means there are some very powerful combinations called bombs.
– Points are scored for certain cards only, and not necessarily the high ones.
– The finishing order has a significant influence on the point scores, although more indirectly than in Tichu.
– You can place bets on finishing first, and get rewarded or penalised accordingly.
– Players are in it for themselves. This eliminates the partner dynamics, but allows equally good gameplay for 2 and 3 players.
– There are five instead of four suits, which in return only cover cards from 2 to 10.
– Jack, Queen and King are present, but suitless and act as wild cards. Also, they are not part of the regular deck and hand, but are distributed equally ( One J, Q and K each) to, and are kept openly in front of each player. Other wild cards are not present in the game.
– Wild cards act as bomb building material. Since every player has the same wild cards at game start, each player is guaranteed at least one bomb option per round.
– Oh yeah – there is no card swap phase after cards have been dealt, to the joy/dismay of people (please pencil in accordingly, you’ll be torn on that)
– When all players have 14 cards, the remaining cards go to a stack (the haggis) – which end up on the point scores of the first finisher.
Generally speaking, the gameplay resembles Tichu a lot. The current player opens with a combination (specifics of legal variations vary between Tichu and Haggis, but only in details), and the other players either pass or play a higher variant of the same type. The winner of the trick proceeds with playing a new combination and so on. If a trick is bombed – which happens much more frequently in Haggis due to the wild card bombs – the trick goes to one of the other players – in the tournament rules (we recommend playing these) it is awarded to the player with the second-highest contribution to the trick – so being second counts here, too. Since the wild cards are point-heavy, this is something players need to consider before sending them on a bomb run.
The major aspect which sets apart Haggis from Tichu is the way finishing is awarded; let’s leave aside for the moment the bets, which need to be made before playing ones first card.
When the first player finishes, the game is briefly halted. The remaining players count their remaining hand (including wild cards in front of them), and the finisher gets the higher of the numbers in points – multiplied by five. Afterwards the remaining two players play on until the second one is through, who then receives points from the third player’s cards by the same calculation. Then, the first finisher receives the remaining player’s hand cards along with the haggis. All tricks are then counted and scored for each player before the next round starts.
Considering there is no card valued more than five points, and the highest bet is thirty, you can imagine what finishing with another player still with a full set of cards on their hand means (17×5=85 points). And while the target score for a full game is variable – it is recommended as 200-400 – this is where games are won and lost. Also, this is where Tichu converts suck miserably initially, as their regular strategy represent an uber-fail. Unlike Tichu, where it is a sound strategy to bide your time with a subpar hand and aim to get into the game when other players have left a lot of cards on the table, this is guaranteed to backfire in Haggis.
In essence, for us this is what turns a mere Tichu-variant for two or three players into an independent game in it’s own right. There is no point in arguing similarities (and the origin is even alluded to on the box), but the dynamics are easily different enough through the lack of partner play, the abundance of bomb material and the player involvement induced by the scoring mechanism to not overstress this vicinity.
The game material itself is functional, and while low-level lighting can make colours difficult to tell apart, additional symbols help the cause in case of doubt. The rules are well-described and allow a quick start, with some rule variants to keep things interesting in the long run.
From our experience, Haggis works well in two and three players, and provides good entertainment and that – thanks to the adjustable point target – at a flexible duration. So, if you go on holidays in a group of four and you are not sure you will all be game for a game any given day – just pack Tichu AND Haggis and you will be safe!