Yes, I am Scottish. Yes, I have tried Haggis, and yes, I actually enjoy it! [Ed. note – Haggis is defined as “a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s offal (heart, liver, and lungs) mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach” for our non-Scottish readers. There’s something wrong with the Scottish]
The game of Haggis won’t require you to indulge in this Scottish delicacy while playing, but it couldn’t hurt. It is a trick taking, climbing game that is tense, challenging, and enjoyable with a potential for great moments of surprise. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and will leave you wanting more. Just like the real thing!
How it Plays
Haggis is a 2-3 player game that plays out in rounds, only ending when a set amount of points has been reached by one of the players. The suggested amount of points is 250 for a shorter game, and 350 for a regular game. Fourteen cards are dealt to the players and the remaining are set aside as the Haggis. Each player is given three face cards that are played on the table in front of them, and then they must bet on whether or not they will be the first one out of cards for the round. The bets can be 0, 15 or 30.
Each round is then played over a number of tricks. The card combinations that can be played are sets, sequences or bombs. Sets are a group of cards of the same rank. Sequences are a set of three or more singles, or two or more larger sets (pairs, 3 of a kind, etc) of consecutive rank and of the same suit. The face cards are used as wilds in a set or sequence, as singles, or as a bomb. A bomb is a special combination of point cards that can be played to beat any combination except a higher bomb. After a bomb has been played only a higher ranked bomb may beat it.
The trick starts with a combination of cards being led, and then proceeding to the next player who either plays a higher combination or passes. The combination must be the same type as the one that was led. Play continues until no higher combination can be played and all other players pass. When the trick ends, then the player who played the highest combination wins the trick. However, if the trick was won with a bomb, then the winner must pass the trick to one of their opponents.
When all but one player has shed all the cards from their hands, the round is over. All the remaining cards in the final player’s hand, as well as the Haggis, go to the player who got rid of all of their cards first. The round is then scored. Points are scored for 1) Cards left in your opponents’ hand (5 points each), 2) Points cards captured during trick play (any 3, 5, 7, 9, J, Q, or K you have in your captured tricks) and 3) Bets. If your bet was successful it will be added to your score along with any other opponent’s unsuccessful bets. If you don’t go out first, but bet nothing, you will also gain from the unsuccessful bet. The next round then begins. The first player who gets to the agreed upon point total wins the game!
Chieftain O’ the Puddin-race or Better Left on the Plate
Haggis is a quick, trick taking card game, normally something I stay far, far away from. These types of games always remind me of an older relative, trying to teach me at a young age some sort of boring card game when I’d rather be outside or really doing anything else. As I grew older, I naturally remembered how dull and complicated I found them, and made sure they never came near me again. I mean, where are the dice, and the board, and the pieces? How can I have fun with a game without any of those! When I heard about Haggis I decided to give it a shot. Maybe it was the name, or maybe it was the tartan box that got my Scottish pride all riled up that drove me to it. The worst thing that could happen was I would reaffirm my former prejudices and it would languish on my gaming shelf until I was old enough to gain an appreciation for a slow, boring, predicable card game.
I was wrong, and I am adult enough that I can admit that. This game can be tense. So tense that my heart would race, and I would struggle with keeping my cool in the face of my opponents. Poker faces don’t come easy to me. Anyone who has played any card game with me knows this. But with this game, I managed it…barely. When you see the perfect combo of cards to combat what your opponent has just played, it is exhilarating. Or when you finally play your “trump” hand, only to have it easily dashed by another play, your heart drops right to your stomach. You are then left to scramble to try and figure out what, or how you can salvage the round! I have never felt so many thrilling wins, and so many crushing defeats as I did with this game. Even though it is just cards, the amount of strategy that you employ and the player interaction keeps you engaged to the end.
The game, while easy to pick up, has a lot of depth. Not all of the cards are in play every round, so this makes the game more difficult as you don’t really know what your opponent has until they start playing cards. This causes you to have to make up your strategy on the fly as well as trying to keep your opponents off balance. The wild cards that everyone are dealt do mitigate the luck of the draw aspect, but skillful and creative play will always beat the “better” cards of your opponent.
Haggis has so many different ways of playing it, and so many decisions that you can make, it is deceptive when you first read the rules. They are simple enough and easy to teach, especially if you are teaching someone who has previous experience in trick taking games. It is very accessible, but once you start playing and seeing the different tactics you can utilize, it takes on a whole new level of play. My opponent found that holding out for tricks with points wasn’t working for him as a strategy. He found it was better when you matched big runs of cards over little ones, and always reserving a bomb to take back control if you lose it. This strategy worked for him, but there is always someone who will play differently enough that this may not work all of the time. You definitely have to be flexible when it comes to how you play.
The game has great mechanics that allow for a player to catch up with the person in the lead. You never feel as though you are being left behind in points since you know there are ways that you can stage a comeback with one good round of play. All the players are guaranteed wild cards and bombs, and this can help a player gain points quickly. Although, with the bombs forcing players to give up points, it is usually beneficial to the player in the lead to give those points to the one that is the furthest behind. So even though you may not get rid of all your cards first, there is a chance that you can make it up in the points gained with your tricks.
The betting system rewards the winner, but it isn’t overpowered and you can still win the game with failed bets. If you bet nothing you can even benefit from the failed bets of your opponents. If you realize early on in the round that you won’t be the first player out, you can still play to maximize your point cards or to minimize your opponents score. This gives you the feeling that even though you may be behind, catching up is always a possibility. Keeping this in mind, I have had a case where one game was a run away. I am not sure if it was the timing or if there was distractions, but I won a two player game by being over 200 points in the lead. I have only had this happen once, but it is a case of never say never when it comes to card games! My opponent did admit that once he saw how far behind he was, he really didn’t have his mind in the game, so perhaps that was also a factor in the outcome.
If trick taking or card games in general aren’t your style, then this one may be one to skip. It can be susceptible to analysis paralysis which will lead to some downtime between turns. However, since the maximum amount of players is three this isn’t a huge issue. The game will still be over within 30 to 45 minutes, which makes it a great filler game.
The cards in Haggis are beautiful. They have great artwork that gives you a different feel than a standard poker deck. The suits are unique and look great together, although the silver suit can be a bit hard to see in poor lighting conditions. The linen finish really makes the cards feel great and they fit nicely in your hand. They do feel a bit on the thin side, but I didn’t feel as though they are going to become bent or torn. The game comes with player’s aids, which are of the same quality and a nice inclusion especially when you are just learning, but even just to double check what you have. The box is nothing special, but it keeps everything organized and has a place for the cards, rules and betting tokens. The tokens are a thick cardboard and are printed on both sides, so you only need three of them. The game itself has a very small footprint, so it is easy to slip into a purse or carry-on bag to pull out whenever the whim takes you. It can be very addictive, so you will want to take it everywhere!
Haggis is a great game. It is fun, easily accessible and quick to learn. Even your friends and family who don’t like games in general will like this one. It has cards that are familiar, but unique enough that it will draw them in. Once you have them playing and all the ways you can win become apparent, it will be hard to get them to stop! Perhaps, this may even lead the way into the wider world of gaming out there.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Indie Boards and Cards for providing a review copy of Haggis.