But those same advantages also come with down sides. For mediocre players most plays are fairly pre-determined. Long running tallies mean there is little chance for the loser to catch up, and there is never any logical place to stop other than who dealt first.
To address these concerns I thought about merging aspects of sheepshead with aspects of poker. The average poker player has many decisions to weigh during betting and card selection. The fact that people can go bust means there are natural stopping points to games.
It was with these factors in mind that I started thinking of my latest game (as yet untitled.) My merger game takes the betting and set collection aspects of poker and combines them with the trick taking aspect of sheepshead. To make things more interesting and strategic, a card drafting mechanic is also thrown in.
Here's how it works. The cards are two standard poker decks, jokers included. Players start with X amount of money or chips and maintain an 8-card hand. The game goes until someone has collected a hand with 5 of a kind or a 5-card straight-flush, at which point a payout occurs, and play can continue or end.
Each hand begins by flipping over a card from the top of the deck. Its suit determines the trump for this hand. Then there is a betting phase. The standard ante is one, only one time around, and a maximum bet or raise of three. Players who drop out of betting can still play the hand, but they do not get the payout if they win.
Next, a sheepshead style hand is played. Rather than diamonds and queens/jacks being trump, the flipped up suit is trump. Rather than counting points, the winner is the first person to win two tricks. The winning player is first for the card draft and assuming they stayed in the betting, gets the pot.
The card draft redistributes cards played during the preceding hand. All the taken tricks plus the initial trump card are put face up on the table, and players take turns choosing one. Chosen cards stay face up on the table in front of the player and count toward their hand. This goes for two rounds regardless of how many tricks were played.
Finally, players draw back up to eight total cards including those face up. At some point a player will have collected 5 of a kind or a 5-card straight-flush. All other players must pay them; 5 for the former or 10 for the latter. At that point a new game can begin (not resetting the money/chips), or play can end.
The game has gone through one 3-player play-test, which worked out a few kinks and clarified some details. It also proved to be quite fun and much more strategic than sheepshead. You have to balance playing your powerful cards versus saving them for the big payout. There is also the tradeoff between offense and defense during drafting. But the game still has a "beer and pretzels" feel. Players can skip a hand and still stay in the game, and a losing player still has chances to catch up. There can be a running tally, but there are logical ending points.
Hopefully the game can get a full test next month at my buddies' "Bacon Weekend". There will definitely be beer and probably pretzels. And maybe the jackpot will include some bacon.