The fast-paced world of checkered flags, of nigh constant acceleration, of trying to be the first to cross the finish line.
But do you have what it takes to play your checkered combos before the other players finish the race?
How It Works
Krass Kariert is a trick-taking/climbing game for three to five players. Players are trying to shed all their cards to avoid losing one of their chips. A player loses when they have to lose a chip and have no more chips to lose.
To begin, players are dealt a hand of cards and two cards face-up in front of them. Players are not allowed to rearrange the cards in their hands. A start player is determined and play begins.
Each hand is played in tricks. One player plays a combination, and each successive player must either play a higher combination (a better combination or the same combination with a higher value) or pick up one of their face-up cards and put it anywhere in their hand. Once all players have had an opportunity to play or pick up, the player who played the highest combination leads the next trick.
Combinations that can be played are (in ascending order of power) a single card, a two-card series, a pair, a three-card series, or “trips” (three of a kind). Combinations can only be played if the cards are adjacent in the player’s hand, but they needn’t be in order (i.e., combinations can come from anywhere in the hand, and “2-3-1” can be played as a series as long as the cards are adjacent).
There are three kinds of special cards in the deck. The wild card can be played as part of a combination as any card. The stop card can always be played during a trick. It immediately stops the trick (players who haven’t played don’t get to play once the stop card is played), and the player who played the stop leads the next trick. The draw 3 card can similarly be played on any trick, but it isn’t considered a winning combination (unless it’s the only card played). Instead, the player who wins the trick must draw three cards from the deck and add them anywhere in their hand.
A hand ends when either one player only has cards left in hand or a player is unable to play a higher combination in a trick and has no more cards to pick up. That player loses a chip and a new hand begins.
The game ends when one player would have to lose a chip and has no more chips to lose. That player loses and the other players win.
I like trick-taking games and grew up playing them. My earliest memories of playing games were watching my parents and their close family and friends play Rook and Pinochle and finally being invited to try it myself. Unfortunately, trick takers aren’t the most popular games to bring to game night or even gaming lunches. Like chess, they’re often seen as the type of games that, if you didn’t get in on the ground floor, if you haven’t been playing for years, you’re bound to be left behind.
This is why I think Krass Kariert is special. Yes, it is a trick-taking game (kind of), and a climbing one at that, but the game is clever enough and odd enough and therefore fresh enough that it can be played without the baggage usually associated with trick-taking games. And it’s fun to boot.
The main thing that sets Krass Kariert apart is its fundamental rule: players may not reorganize the cards in their hand. Trick-taking games are usually hand-management puzzles, but Krass Kariert is a hand management puzzle in multiple ways: there’s the usual consideration of when to play cards and when to save them, but there’s the additional consideration of how to get your best cards together in the first place. You’re looking for opportunities to make better combos, because better combos get rid of more cards at once, increase the possibility that the next players won’t be able to play, and make it possible that you’ll get to lead the next trick (which helps in shedding cards that will be hard to get rid of). But you also have to take opportunities as they come.
That tactical opportunism is one of the things I appreciate about Krass Kariert, and it’s what makes the game exciting. At the start of each hand, players are trying to put together the combos they’ll use and a general sense of when they’ll play them, but they have to fall into the rhythm of play that is sometimes dictated by the other players. I might have a killer combo ready in my hand, only to discover that the player on my right has an even better one than mine, rendering me unable to play. Players are forced to react to what other players are doing and recalculate their plans on the fly. Krass Kariert still involves some long-term planning, but it falls closer to the “tactical” end of the strategic spectrum. While some seasoned trick-taking players may not appreciate this, it does help in getting other players involved.
Another way Krass Kariert is approachable is in its special power cards. There are three special cards in the deck–a wild, a stop, and a draw 3 card. The two non-wild special cards can be played on any turn in place of a combination, and if you play them, you don’t have to draw. This can help you out of a jam, but you also have to weigh the moment of greatest need. The special cards add a little spice and uncertainty to the game, which is all to the good. The draw 3 card, for example, can even out luck in a hand. If another player drew good combinations and is moving quickly toward being out of the round, the draw 3 card can bring them back in. Again, this is an eventuality that is hard to plan for, but it does help keep the game lighter than some more serious trick takers. The stop card can also help you out by letting you automatically stop and win a trick. Even a stellar combination that seems impossible to beat can be trumped with a stop. But a stop is still just one card out of a player’s hand. While it helps to even out luck, it’s unlikely to help a player get out of the hand who wasn’t playing well to begin with.
There’s uncertainty in Krass Kariert both because of the special cards and because there are always at least six cards set aside in each game. If the two draw 3 cards are not played, those six set-aside cards will never make it into circulation, meaning that while players can mostly count cards, they can never do so with 100 percent accuracy. Again, this makes the game approachable. Yet there is still enough information on the table for observant players to make good decisions. Krass Kariert, while usually not firmly within a player’s control, avoids the opposite ditch of devolving into utter chaos. Clever play is usually rewarded, yet each play involves an element of risk. I like this tension.
One of the fun wrinkles in Krass Kariert is card drawing. Whenever a player is unable to play a better combination in a trick, they have to draw one of their two face-up cards. This seems like a bad thing–you’re adding a card to your hand and not losing any cards–and it usually is. But there are occasions when gathering strength in this way can unlock the combination potential of your hand because drawn cards can go anywhere in the hand. Similarly, while the draw 3 card is devastating as players approach the end of the hand, early on it can be the key to getting several high combinations (or, let’s be honest, it can still be devastating). I like the ebb and flow of cards entering and leaving hands, making hands stronger or weaker in the process.
My main criticism of the game is the scoring. A hand of Krass Kariert ends when only one player has cards left in their hand or when one player can’t play when their turn comes around and has no more cards to draw. That player loses a chip, and the game ends when a player has to lose a chip and has no more chips to lose. In other words, Krass Kariert doesn’t have a winner, but it does have a loser. If you focus too long on the scoring conditions, Krass Kariert can feel a little bit pointless: you’re trying to get out of the round…just to not lose? In this way, while a hand of Krass Kariert feels great to play, a full game of it can feel a little unsatisfying. There’s no differentiation between barely-good-enough play and excellent play in the final tally. That being said, I’m not sure Krass Kariert would feel as light or exciting as it does if it had a more hierarchical scoring system. As it is, it retains the hot-potato tension of, Will I be able to play when my turn comes around? And even with the losing condition, most players at the table will feel good about themselves–there’s only one loser. (And even losers don’t feel too bad–despite the tension of a hand, the game feels fairly low stakes.)
Another thing to be aware of is that Krass Kariert is a little thinkier than your typical lighthearted card game. While a game is usually not quiet–there are big laughs or groans when someone makes a surprise play–it does require more thought than a rummy variant might. It’s less stressful and taxing than a high-stakes trick-taker, but it might be more than a casual audience is willing to tolerate. The rules are fairly simple, yet the idea of being unable to rearrange your cards paired with a game of making successively better card combinations can be hard, at first, to comprehend. (That being said, I have had success playing it at work with casual gamers, and most people I’ve played with have enjoyed it…even when they lose.)
The components for Krass Kariert are what you would expect from a small-box Amigo card game: the card functions are clear, if minimally illustrated, and of good quality. I love that the game is so portable and that a hand is so quick.
The game supports play with three to five players, and it’s fun at each count. I do think it’s the most fun with four–with three players, there’s a little too much pressure (and several cards removed), and with five there’s too little–but I wouldn’t turn down a game at any count.
Krass Kariert is a very fun game that bridges the gap between players who like trick-taking games and players who don’t. It’s light and exciting while still offering several opportunities for players to make clever moves, and the central idea of the game, while seen before, feels fresh for this genre. I’m not crazy about the “no winner, only a loser” scoring, but I’m willing to put up with it because I enjoy the rest of the game so much, and I suspect that even this contributes to Krass Kariert’s lighthearted excitement. Krass Kariert is a keeper.
(Note: Krass Kariert is not currently available in English, but copies are available on Amazon.de, and English rules are available online.)
Fresh hook for a trick-taking/climbing game
Gameplay is tense and exciting while still feeling lighthearted
Game is portable and quick
Simple rules still offer room for clever play
No-winner, only-a-loser scoring can be a little unsatisfying
Occupies a weird niche where it's both light and thinky
Great overview! I thoroughly enjoyed this game and played it nearly a half-dozen times at Origins this year, taught by the daughter of good friends who also attended the event. It played fast and had just the right amount of luck for a card game, coupled with the right amount of tactical-cum-strategic choices to make it a great game.