Below is a session report sharing some of our experiences with the game, including some alternative rules (aka mis-reading).
Our basic play
For the serve, we allow the following options:
(1) serve a single card from the top of the deck
(2) serve one or two cards from your own hand
We also allow returns that have the same value, if the largest card in the combination is higher. For example, 8 + 2 can be played on top of 7 + 3.
When playing doubles, we followed tennis conventions: one player serves the whole game, return of serve alternates. For the return of serve, the designated player must return on their own. For other returns, either of the partners alone or in combination can play cards for a return.
Having gone back to John's original post, I now see that we played with the inverse rules for aces. On the serve, we counted them as 11, all other times 1. We didn't distinguish between aces played from the hand or served from the deck, those were all 11s. That formed a strong advantage for the servers, while making aces essentially worthless for all other players.
With three players, I had the kids play as partners and I played with a ghost partner. The ghost partner would contribute cards randomly. When the ghost played cards that weren't large enough to be legal plays, we considered that an unforced error and awarded the point to the other team. While the ghost was able to hold serve for one game, it was a big disadvantage. An alternative for three players would be to have the ghost partner with the server and for everyone to take turns serving. This would put the server advantage (with our "house rules" for aces) against the ghost disadvantage.
In our play, we have found that the 10 value cards and aces (on serve) dominate game play. Here are two ideas to address that:
- Assign face cards values 11 for Jack, 12 for Queen, and 13 for King. Ace, on serve, can have a value 14.
- Allow players to combine as many cards as they like. This would probably work best with our "Further extension" rules below. A possible sub-variant is to only allow gradual escalation where the players can step from single card plays to 2 card plays, from 2 to 3, etc, but could not jump from a single card play to a 3 (or more) card play.
My instinct is that the variation we will like the most is to differentiate the face cards and allow gradual escalation for multi-card plays.
Now that we've gotten comfortable with the basic and doubles games, we are considering a more complex version. The idea we are considering is to somehow limit the players' abilities to refresh their hands by redrawing so that burning a lot of cards will have a cost.
This is the rule modification, written for a 2 person game:
- Create a draw pile for each player with 15 cards.
- At the start of the game, each player draws 5 cards into their hand.
- Points are played as in the normal rules
- At the end of a point, the players refresh their hand up to 5 cards from their draw pile
- If a player runs out of cards in their draw pile, they cannot draw additional cards to refresh their hand.
- If both players run out of cards in their draw pile, then shuffle the pile of face-up played cards and give each player a new draw pile with 10 cards.
- Repeat step 6 as often as needed
The idea of this variation is to thematically mimic the idea that one player could push too hard, too fast, and get tired out relative to the other player. Strategically, our idea is that this will also create a tension between dumping your own low cards and letting the opponent dump.