Full disclosure: A review copy of Dealt! was provided by AMIGO.
This is an exciting development! I was finally able to play some 3- to 5-player games. Looks like things are starting to look up re: vaccinations, locally, as well, so hopefully I’ll be able to get some of the more complicated games played in the near future, as well. I have a bunch of trick-taking doujin games that I’m really trying to get played soon, so, here’s hoping. Dealt! isn’t quite a trick-taking game in the conventional sense, but it’s got a lot of the same elements, so let’s see how it plays!
In Dealt!, you’re trying to play the best combination, but here’s the problem! You can’t change the order of the cards once they’re in your hand! You’ll have to pluck out the right sets of adjacent cards to get the perfect combinations (or set yourself up for better ones in the future. How will you handle the hand you’re dealt?
First, distribute chips!
Give each player 2 chips for a short game, or 3 chips for a longer game. Next, shuffle the cards:
If you’re playing with 5, deal each player 7 cards. If not, deal each player 10. Set the remaining cards aside. Each player picks up their cards to form their hand, but does not rearrange them. The order of the cards that you’re dealt is the order they stay. Reveal two cards in front of each player to form their reserve, and you should be ready to start!
Dealt! is a card game of tricks and combinations. Each trick, each player will potentially play a combination of cards. Once each player has taken a turn, the trick ends, and the player who played the highest-value combination takes the cards. They start the next trick!
Combinations work as follows. Each combination is higher in total value than all combinations above it:
- Single card: One card, by itself. A higher-value card beats it.
- Two-card straight: A pair of cards in either increasing or decreasing order. 1-2 is fine, 12-11 is fine, but 12-1 is not fine. It doesn’t wrap around.
- Pair of cards: Two cards of the same value.
- Three-card straight: A set of three cards in increasing or decreasing order. Weirdly, they don’t have to be in any particular order. 1-2-3 is fine, 6-5-4 is fine, but also 10-8-9 is fine! When comparing triples, the highest-value card in the triple determines its rank; a 6-5-4 beats a 3-5-4.
- Triple: Three cards of the same value.
When it’s your turn, you can pull a valid combination from your hand and play it. The combination must be higher than the most recently-played combination. The cards can be anywhere in your hand, but they must all be adjacent.
There are a few special cards, as well!
- Stop: This card, when played, immediately stops the trick. The player who played the Stop card is treated as the trick winner and starts the next trick.
- Redraw: The player who won the trick draws three additional cards, one by one. They may put each card anywhere in their hand once they draw it.
- Wild: This card can take on any value. Your pick! Use it to complete a combination.
If you can’t beat the current combination, you may play a Stop card if you have it, or you can take one of the cards in your face-up reserve and pass your turn. If you would draw a card from the reserve but do not have any cards left, the round ends! You must discard one of your chips and all players return their cards, reshuffle, and deal out for a new round.
If you run out of cards in your hand, you’re out! That usually means that you’re safe and won’t lose a chip. If every player save one goes out, the player who is still in loses a chip! My personal favorite, if the last set of players all go out during the same trick, every player loses a chip, except for the player that won the trick.
When the round ends, start a new one! If, at any point, a player needs to give up a chip and cannot, that player loses! All other players don’t, so I guess they win. That’s fun.
Player Count Differences
Not a ton! The nice thing about card games without too much complexity, I suppose. The major thing to keep an eye out for is that more players usually means that there are more cards in play per trick, which may push the average value of a trick upwards, right? I mean, going last in a 5-person trick is going to be fundamentally more challenging to win, on average, than a 3-person trick. Beyond that, though, I wouldn’t notice an increase in player count too too much. More players in this game doesn’t fundamentally lead to more competition; in fact, it pretty explicitly means that there will be more winners! Generally speaking, at least. I suppose it’s possible for more than one player to lose this game at the same time, but that seems to require a lot more effort than I would expect to pan out. Since the game fundamentally depends on how cards are dealt out to various players, there’s not a whole lot more to expect other than variance occurring based on card hands, but since they’re randomized (assuming you deal cards randomly … like you should), any variance in hand quality (basically getting dealt a “better hand”) should normalize over the multiple rounds. There will likely be more rounds, since there’s a higher potential number of rounds that can happen before the game ends, but that’s to be expected, as well. Plus, the rounds will go faster at a higher player count, as players start with fewer cards, so I wouldn’t expect that to result in a longer overall game (by too much, at least). This is all to say that I don’t really have a player count preference for Dealt!; I’d probably enjoy it at any number.
- Don’t organize your cards! Not a strategy, just a reminder for a way to not ruin the game. I don’t know if you do this, but I absentmindedly reorganize my hand cards when it’s not my turn, so I have to fight that instinct when I play this.
- Also watch for when you can absolutely best an opponent with a combo. Careful getting down to 1 or 2 cards left in your hand! If you’re at that point, any three-card combo becomes unbeatable (by you). If your opponents are at that point, you can essentially push them back by playing more cards than they have.
- Holding on to “bad cards”? Generally, not a great idea. While it’s not a bad idea to hold on to cards that you think you can work into a combination, you shouldn’t hold on to solo 1s for that long; they’re hard to play.
- As with a lot of ladder-climbing-type games, it’s usually good to win a hand and then dump your worst card. Yeah, my best advice is generally if you have some garbage cards in your hand, using a STOP card or a good, hand-winning combination to win the trick and then playing a bad card can be useful. Just keep in mind that playing your worst card may enable your opponents to play theirs, which might not be great.
- The critical thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to be first! You just need to not be last. Generally, this means that you’re sort of running from a bear, in a gameplay sense. You don’t need to be the fastest, you just need to not be the slowest. That’s all well and good, but don’t stress yourself trying to go out first if there’s still options for you. Instead, try playing cards and making moves to see if you can force other players to take cards from their reserve instead of playing.
- If you’re worried about being last, a late-round redraw against another player might be just what you need. Even though they can insert the cards wherever they want in their hand, they can only do so one at a time, and they don’t necessarily have guarantees that they can play all of them in a combination. Particularly, a redraw card ensures that a player will have to play at least two more tricks before they run out of cards (they can only play three at a time, and they draw three cards as the result of a redraw).
- Sometimes grabbing a reserve card is exactly what you need to do. If you can pull the right card from your reserve, you can set up a combination that might help you dump the rest of your cards (or at least set up a few plays that might let you dump all of your cards).
- Even your best combination may not be enough if an opponent has a Stop card. Don’t rely on triple 12s to definitely win you the trick, unless you’ve already seen both Stop cards. That can really mess up your plans! Similarly, if you have a Stop card, relying on holding it until you need it might be, timing-wise, critical. You can definitely throw off at least one player with an unexpected Stop.
- If you want to be mean, you can try and target the player who has the fewest chips, but it’s difficult to force one player to lose. I really don’t think it’s doable, but I’ve been wrong before. You can always save redraws for tricks where they have to go, but giving players too many cards is also never a good idea. They can rework that into massive combinations that you won’t be able to outplay.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The game looks great on the table. It’s got bold, clean lines and bright, flashy colors; it’s superb, especially for a small-box card game. Don’t get me wrong: I love elaborate, complex card games with hand-painted art and stellar designs and whatnot. But I also do like games that are clean and simple, that aren’t as aggressively flashy. Dealt! isn’t particularly flashy; it just looks good.
- The core mechanic is excellent. I’m a huge fan of trick-taking / ladder-climbing type games, but having one where you can’t organize your cards is fascinating. It forces you to think about the order in which you play cards, which I think it makes for a great way to teach players about these types of games. Plus, with a single-loser, it means that they may actually get through the game without losing to the player with the most experience.
- Portability is nice. This will probably end up in my trick-taking Quiver, along with a bunch of other games in this genre I really like. A lot of the games are just a bunch of cards, anyways. I may just leave the chips behind and use some of the tokens from The Crew in lieu of formal chips.
- It’s a bit easier to teach than a lot of trick-taking games, since there’s no concept of suits. I think people struggle with the combination of following suit, trump suits, and how to win a trick in that environment. Now since it’s just “you have to play something better”, once they get the pattern of “what’s better” down, they’ve got it. The thing that will mess them up is having to deal with their hand in the order it’s dealt, but that’s the name of the game, yeah?
- That said, it’s just trick-taking-adjacent enough to appeal to my brain. I just really like trick-taking games. Is it because my experience playing them makes me feel smart? Maybe, but I’m in the business of reviews, not armchair psychology. Either way, Dealt! is fairly close to a trick-taking game, so I’m into it. I think there’s something to the juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity that I enjoy, where you can make a deep and compelling gameplay experience from just a deck of cards. Dealt! has that going for it as well, so, it’s probably sticking around.
- It’s also in that nice space of hobby card games that aren’t so overwhelming that you can’t teach them to folks who aren’t into hobby gaming. I usually use these games to trick my dad into playing something with me. Ganz is in that space, Dealt! and a lot of other trick-taking games are in that space. And they’re good! If you can get someone excited about those games, you might be able to get them excited about other things!
- Single-loser games are interesting! I just don’t see them very often. They’re interesting! They do kind of lead to dogpiling on whichever player looks the weakest, but I think that’s very difficult to do well in Dealt!. So, as a result, you kind of have players still looking out for themselves, but more players don’t lose! That’s always nice.
- It’s very hard to internalize the rule that straights don’t have to actually be in increasing or decreasing order to be played. That’s probably the thing that threw me off the most, being honest. If I see 8-7-9, that’s not a straight in my mind. It’s something I can adjust to, but it takes time.
- A reference card that indicates the relative value of combinations would be helpful for new players, I think. It’s quick enough to learn when starting out, but the first couple rounds would benefit from like, just one card that you could consult at a reference, especially given that straights rule.
- Games that only play 3+ have been really hard to get to the table in the last year. This has also been why you’ve seen basically no party games get reviews from me anytime in the recent past. I’m usually capping out at two players, and every so often I can get a third player. It’s just hard to schedule disparate groups of folks online at the same time, I guess? Anyways, this is more me whining about my personal situation than the game itself; just an acknowledgement that certain games are tough to play in small groups.
- You’re definitely going to have at least one game where a player accidentally organizes their hand when they start playing. It’s a hard reflex to kick, even online with an “Organize Hand” button. That does kind of mess up the entire game, so make sure you emphasize and reemphasize it.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Dealt! is a lot of fun! I’ve been trying to assemble a group of simple card games that I can teach to most people, specifically because it’s helpful for work travel or trying to convince (read: trick) my father into playing games with me. Games like Dealt!, Coloretto, and No Thanks! are low-complexity and have a small enough footprint that they’re easy to take with me when I travel. They’re also easy to teach, which makes these games good tools to have in anyone’s arsenal. I actually kind of admire the simplicity of Dealt! and games like it. It’s not trying to do anything particularly flashy or fancy or involved; Dealt! just has a nice schtick and bright colors. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. Dealt! plays quickly and does a great job showing off its core mechanic, even if you’re probably going to have one game that gets a tiny bit ruined because someone (usually me) absentmindedly sorts their hand. It’ll be a bit easier to play once I can see more people, though; that’s kind of where I’m struggling to play it these days (that three-player minimum). That said, it can be a great trick-taking adjacent game for the trick-taking fans, or even just a great modern card game to introduce to folks who are interested. If that sounds like your kind of thing, I’d recommend Dealt! I certainly enjoyed it.