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Pontis

A card game created by Aaron Hopewell

Note: All words in italics denote terms specific to the game.

Pontis (meaning "bridge", from Latin "pons") is a shedding card game which, contrary to its name, has no relation to the popular card game, Bridge. It is based on the importance of the difference in rank between two cards, called the bridge, which is ironically the most obvious difference it has from Bridge. Pontis is an easy-to-learn hard-to-master game requiring mathematical and tactical thinking. Card rank is the most important, with suit being partially involved.

Setup

The game can involve any number of players, each with a bank (a discard pile) and uses a standard 52-card deck, usually along with 2-4 jokers. The game is better played with more than two players with the game becoming more entertaining the more players there are. Players are usually seated in a circle. One complete suit is picked from the deck and shuffled. Each player is then dealt one of these cards face down, and this forms the foundation of their bank. The remaining cards are placed back into the deck, which is then shuffled and dealt equally between the players as far as possible, with any remaining cards being put out of play.

Gameplay

To begin the game, the dealer turns the first card of their bank face up. Going clockwise, the next player does the same and now must if possible play the bridge, which is a card whose value is the difference between the top cards of their bank and the bank of the previous player (called the affecter). The bridge card is placed face up on top of the player's bank. Each player in turn does the same - each playing the appropriate bridge onto their own bank. If a player hasn't got the bridge card required (this situation is called called a miss), the turn passes to the next player.

The general aim is to shed as many cards as possible into your bank before the game ends. During play, players gain one extra point each time they match their affecter's bank in suit. These are called suit points and it is customary to tap twice on your bank when you gain one.

The play ends when one player has no cards left in hand, or when no one is able to play any further cards.

Card Values

Sum Ability

If no player has the required bridge card, then the player who originally didn't have the single bridge card in that round gains the sum ability. The sum ability is the ability to make the bridge by playing two cards which can be added or subtracted to equal it. For instance, if a player needs a bridge of 3, then he or she can play a King (13) and a 10 (13-10=3) or an Ace (1) and a 2 (1+2=3). When two cards are played, both cards are added to the player's bank: the player can choose which card to place on top. If the player cannot use the ability, then it passes on to the next player and so on until one player has used it, in which case the next player returns to trying to discard one card once again.

Having the sum ability is a significant advantage, as the possessor can discard two cards in one turn and in particular discard high value cards. High cards are much more likely to be playable when making the bridge with a sum than with a single card.

Curdle

A curdle occurs when two adjacent players cards have equal value cards on top of their bank piles. If both are aces, a king can be played as a bridge, treating one ace as 1 and the other as 14. With other curdles, no single card play is possible, but a player with the sum ability could play two equal valued cards for a zero bridge.

In the two-player game only, a player who creates a curdle immediately acquires the sum ability (so unless it is an ace curdle and the opponent plays a king, the creator of the curdle can immediately play again with two equal cards). This is contrary to the normal rule, which would give the sum ability to the opponent first if both failed to play a single bridge card.

Result

Once the game has ended, all players count up the cards in their bank and the total is added onto the suit points already collected (if any have been).

Bonus points and penalty points are also collected depending on the way in which a player ends the game.

Ending with no cards remaining
As the hardest way of ending a game, it gains the achiever a grand bonus of four points to be added to the total. These points are usually only counted if further games are being played (with a player's overall points being totalled), as the achiever will have won that game regardless of extra points.
Ending with a complete curdle
When the top cards on all banks match in rank, no further cards can be played except for pairs of equal cards (using the sum ability) or kings (in a complete curdle of aces). Since this is an easier way to end the game, the person who played the final matching card receives neither a bonus nor a penalty.
Ending with no players being able to produce the required bridge value (even by using the sum ability)
Since this is the easiest way of ending, the first player who was unable to play a single bridge card (the player to the left of the last player who played a card) loses two points from their total.

Once all points have been counted, the player with the most points wins.

List of Terms

Strategic Considerations

The gameplay works like a chain reaction (similar to card games like Michigan (Newmarket)) with every bridge card played potentially determining every bridge card that would need to be played thereafter until a complete curdle is achieved. A player can therefore potentially work out what bridge they would need to make for every turn.

However, a number of factors prevent complete predictability of the game, namely:

  1. a player might run out of cards.
  2. a player might miss.
  3. there is an option of two different bridge cards that can be played when an ace is involved.
  4. there are usually various choices of what cards can be played when a player has the sum ability. For example, any two consecutive cards can be played to make 1.

Factor 1 is easily circumvented. A player simply keeps an eye of the number of cards the other players have. The effects of factor 2 can be predicted if a player memorises what cards a player has and hasn't got, which involves memory skills. Factors 3 and 4 are basically unpredictable, although a player could memorise whether a player has only one of the options available in points 3 and 4. For example a player could have memorised that another player has only one pair of consecutive cards and will therefore only use them when having to make 1 with the sum ability. This, though, would require exceptional skill.

The options in factors 3 and 4 therefore make up most of a player's conscious power over other players. This is where most strategic options occur, and the other players are hard pushed to predict the result. Although the options arise by chance, using them requires skill. The outcomes of factors 1 and 2 are usually determined by luck, although factors 3 and 4 have a small part to play in determining how and when they occur. Factor 2 can be made more strategic with the inclusion of the "faking a miss" option explained below.

There are further considerations of how to exploit factors 3 and 4 to gain the most points - based on the mathematical laws of probability.

Therefore, a player could possibly exploit factors 3 and 4 by predicting that the other players, when given the option, will dispose of the highest cards they can. This again would require exceptional skill.

Advanced

There are many ways to make the game more complex, interesting and skilful once a player has become experienced at the basics of the game. The most popular is adding the tactic of "faking a miss".

Faking a miss

"Faking a miss" is when a player pretends to not have the bridge card required on their turn - effectively lying. Usually, players play honestly, but this is a skilful optional tactic that can be allowed. It gives a player more power and makes the game less predictable and a player might use it in one of two situations.

  1. If a player has the bridge card on their turn, but can also make that bridge with the sum ability, and they believe that no other player holds a playable bridge card, then they can fake a miss to gain the sum ability and thereby discard two cards (particularly high ones) instead of one, gaining them more points. If the player is wrong in believing that no other players can play a single bridge card, then they will be in a worse position than if they had just played the card themselves. It is easy with two players but with a large group it gets harder to figure out whether anyone else has their bridge card. A player must also consider that other players may previously have faked a miss and may therefore hold cards that they appeared not to have.
  2. If playing their bridge card or cards would create a complete curdle, which may end the game, a player might want to keep the game going if they are not currently winning. They can do this by "faking a miss", hoping to take the lead before the game ends in another way. The player is, however, risking the possibility that they might lose even more points, considering they are missing their chance to discard a card. This depends on whether the player's priority is gaining points or simply winning.

To make this tactic even more risky, a rule can be introduced whereby if a player spots that another player is playing a card that they previously claimed to not possess, then they can shout "liar!" and claim points. Although, being a grass can cause a player to be a target for revenge - making it hard to "fake a miss" themselves.

Possible Variation

The number of banks that you play with can be independent of the number of players, so long as the number of banks (which must be greater than one) is a factor of the number of players or vice versa. Considering this, players can play in teams (suit points would be shared), or just share banks and score independently. For instance, four players can play with two banks (one between two) and eight players can play with four banks (one between two) or two banks (one between four). Or each player can have two banks or more. Either way, the turn to play would have to pass clockwise from bank to bank (not player to player).

 
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Last updated 8th October 2008