Colonial Gaming: "Put" and the Lower Classes

“If you want to be robbed, my son, play Put in a tavern.”
   Captain Crawley, The Card Players Manual (1876)
   [via David Parlett]

Put was the Poker of Colonial Virginia: a disreputable game of luck, bluffing, and wagering played in taverns by members of the lower classes. (The middle and upper classes preferred Whist and Loo). It followed the English colonists to Virginia, where it became very popular.

At first glance, the rules seem positively primitive. Three cards each are dealt to 2-4 players. Players take turns putting down cards to win tricks, with the rankings 32AKGJT987654.  I’ve seen no explanation why 3s and 2s are high, and have to assume it was simply some quirk of the rules dating from the game’s origin in the 1600s.

High card wins each trick, regardless of suit, and there are no trumps. Each trick is worth 1 point, and game is 5 points.

This seems to make the game merely a mindless bit of trick-taking for money, but the “Put” rule is where it turns into a bluffing game. At any point, a player may say “Put” before playing the first card in a new trick. This is a shorthand version of the phrase “I put it to you that my card can beat your card.” Maybe it can, maybe it can’t. If the non-putter refuses the put, the putter gains a point. If the put is accepted, then the winner of the trick jumps to 5 points and wins the whole pot.

I tried a few hands of this with my son. It sounded boring and pointless, but after a couple of rounds, we started to find some definite strategies and a very interesting element of bluffing. By the end of several hands, we were finding it quite enjoyable.

It’s a great game to introduce to kids to give them a taste of the taverns where the Revolutionary War was incubated. (Beer is optional.) They might also find it interesting how a game that was probably played in the time of Shakespeare migrated to the New World.

A couple of descriptions of Put can be found at Pagat. The authors of Pagat note that Charles Cotton (author of The Compleat Gamester in 1674) calls it “‘the ordinary rooking [fleecing] game’ of every place, and devotes much of his chapter on it to describing various common methods of cheating by marking the cards, introducing cards from another pack, and so on. He also explains ‘The High Game,’ in which the cards were stacked so as to deal the victim a three and two twos while the dealer dealt himself a two and two threes. The non-dealer would put, and perhaps agree some extra wager on the game, which the dealer would then see and win. Cotton remarks that you cannot get away with this more than once against the same player”


The Electronic Games 100: Done

The annual Games 100, our guide to the best games of the year, is finally locked down. The awards are picked for Electronic Game of the Year and Runners Up, and category winners for Action, RPG/Adventure, Sports/Driving, Strategy, and Apps are selected.

This is my biggest job of the year. The final text comes in at 11,000 words, which is about 15 pages in the December issue. The Traditional Games 100 list will fill the same amount of space. I believe this is the 30th Games 100. I’ve done the last 10 or so, and worked on it with the late Burt Hochberg for 5 years before that.

As we get closer to street date (late October), I’ll talk a little bit more about what’s in it and why we made the decisions we made. Last year was a bit of an upset, with the top electronic award going to Batman: Arkham Asylum, while the traditional game award went to Small World. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you really should: both are excellent games.

App O’ The Mornin’: Reiner Knizia’s Samurai Review

Samurai is one of Knizia’s more popular designs. Along with Tigris and Euphrates and Through the Desert, it’s part of his “tile-laying trilogy,” all published in 1997 and 1998. Although some of his other games featured similar tile-laying mechanics (most notably Ingenious), these three had a different feel to them, if only because they replace abstract design with historical themes.

In fact, theme doesn’t matter all that much in Samurai, except to lend the game some flavor. This is a pure area control game, with up to four players taking turns laying hexagonal tiles on a map of medieval Japan. The goal is to exert the most influence on map areas bearing figures representing religion (a Buddha), the military (a helmet), and labor (a peasant). It works this way:

Players get a selection of tiles, and draw more as they expend this selection. Each tile has an image and a number from 1 to 4. The image represents the kind of influence that tile exerts (religious, military, or labor), and the number represents the strength of that influence. Samurai tiles are wild cards that can influence all three types of figure.

There are also “fast play” tiles, depicting a ship for control of sea hexes, a ronin to act as another (albeit weaker) wild card, and a “figure-exchange” tile to move figures on the map. You can place one standard tile per turn, and any number of number of fast move tiles.

The goal is to place tiles to surround the figures. When the figure is totally surrounded, the person with the most influence captures that figure. Influence is measured by the total value of matching or wildcard tiles that are surrounding that figure.

For instance, you place a samurai worth 3 and a ronin worth 1 next to a helmet figure. Your enemy places a samurai worth 2 and a ship worth 1 next to the same figure. Since you have more influence on that figure, you capture it and add it to your final total.

The game is played until all of one type of figure are captured, or there are four ties for figure control.

If all of that sounds a little fussy and complicated, have no fear. The App comes with a terrific little three-part tutorial that explains everything, as well as complete rules. Since it sets everything up and helps direct you towards legal moves, it’s all very easy to learn.

The graphics are quite nice, and the interface manages to compress a lot of control and information into a limited space. Four players can compete, either a single player with 2-3 AI opponents, or humans. The app has a full range of multiplayer features, including pass-and-play and turn-based online with push notifications.

All-in-all, a great new addition to the Knizia library.

Games Magazine: Online Puzzle (Contest)

A new puzzle is up at the website. This is a tough one. I didn’t create it, and I doubt very much that I can solve it.

If you can solve it, you might be among the five lucky winners who get a free one-year subscription to Games Magazine.

Please follow the instructions on the website when submitting entries. I’m turning off the comments on this one, since my sharp puzzle-solvers usually slice through challenges like this in mere minutes, and publicly posted answers would invalidate the contest.