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Punk


Notice: This edition of the Rules for Punk is copyrighted by Mike Church (churchm@carleton.edu) © 2003. You may freely use and distribute these rules as you wish, but commercial use of this game or these rules without his permission is forbidden. Non-commercial use and distribution of Punk and its rules, however, is encouraged.


Introduction

I developed Punk in August 2003 in Princeton, New Jersey. The essentials of play - how to participate in a "trick" - can be taught in 30 seconds. This is an excellent game for any occasion - at a party, in a pub, or as a way of passing time between classes.

Basic Information

Number of players: 3+, plays best with 4-5. The 6 (or more) player variants have not been extensively tested. Play time is roughly fifteen minutes.

A 2-player variant of this game also exists.

Terminology

Cache
A player’s cache is a section of the table that is used to keep track of his/her score; his/her score is the sum of the face values of each card in his/her cache. When a player wins a trick, the winning card is placed, face-up in his/her cache; the others in the trick go into the pot.
Neutral Cache
This is where cards removed from the game but not scored by any player are kept, also face up.
Hand
The set of cards a player has available for play during a trick. These are not revealed to other players.
Pot
A central region of the table where the non-winning cards of each trick are stored. At the end of each round, these cards are shuffled and redistributed to the players. Cards in the pot are face-up.
Round
A predetermined number of tricks. In a four-player game, there are six rounds consisting of 18 total tricks.
Trick
The basic unit of play. Each player selects one card from his/her hand for use in the trick, but does not reveal it until all players have chosen. The lowest unique card of the trick wins.

The Deck

The composition of the deck varies, depending upon the number of players.

The specific suit of a card is entirely irrelevant in this game. By "3 suits" in reference to 3-player play, I only mean that three cards of each rank must be present. Therefore, the use of more than four suits in a 5- or more player game is not an issue, so long as you have more than one deck of cards.

The Object

The first player to score 21 points is the winner. (In 5- or more player games, the target score is 28.) Points are scored by taking tricks.

Essentials of Play: The Trick

The basic unit of play is the trick. During a trick, all players select one card from their hands simultaneously. That is, each selects a card, and sets it aside face-down, before knowing what the other players have chosen. The cards are revealed once all players have selected.

The lowest unique card played in the trick wins. So, for example:

When a player wins a trick, s/he scores a number of points equal to the rank of the card s/he played (aces count as 1). Note, then, that aces, the most powerful cards in trick-taking, score the fewest points. Whereas the cards least powerful in trick-taking are worth the most points when they win.

To keep track of his/her score, s/he places the winning card face-up in his/her cache. A player’s score is the sum of the face-values of the cards in his/her cache. Cards in a cache are removed from the game and will not be re-dealt in future rounds. If the trick is won by no one, one of the lower cards (for ex., a 2 in a 2-2-5-5 trick) is removed from the game, but nobody scores points for it - it is placed in a neutral cache. Suit being irrelevant, it does not matter which of the lower cards is removed.

The remaining cards in the trick (those which were not played) are placed face-up in the pot, which should be in the center of the table. It is a good idea to keep the cards in the pot organized by rank and visible to all players. After the round is complete, these cards will be re-dealt to the players.

Dealing and Play (4 Players)

At the beginning of the game, the dealer deals to each player until the deck is exhausted. In four-player play, this means each player will have a hand of seven cards.

One trick per player is played (with 4 players, four tricks) and all players must participate in each trick. This completes the first round. At the end of this round, each player has three cards remaining in his/her hand. S/he may keep any subset (including none or all) of these cards for use in subsequent rounds, and discards the rest face-down.

The cards in the pot are shuffled together with the discarded cards and re-dealt to the players, so that each player has one card fewer than in the round before. Therefore, after the first round of a four-player game, a player who discards all three cards of his remaining hand will be dealt six new cards; a player who discards none will only receive three new cards.

Subsequent rounds are similar. Tricks are played until the number of tricks played equals the number of players, or each player has one card in his/her hand, whichever comes first. Therefore, players have at least one card at the end of each round to keep or discard.

In the example of a four-player game:

Winning

The object of the game is to score 21 points (with five or more players, 28). If any player achieves this target score, s/he wins and the game is, therefore, immediately over.

If play exhausts with no player having reached the target score, the player with the highest score is the winner.

Breaking ties: If two players finish the game with the same score, preference is given to the player with the highest individual cards. For example:

If this does not break the tie (two players have the same score, and the same partition thereof) the game might as well be declared an outright tie.

The following are variants and optional rules. It is not necessary to read them in order to play Punk.

Two-Player Variant: The Dummy

For a two-player game, it is necessary to introduce a third, non-human, player called the Dummy. The Dummy is treated like another player in dealing, and the game is treated as a 3-player game.

The Dummy plays randomly (top card of his hand) for each trick. At the end of each round, when the keep-or-discard decision is to be made, he always discards everything in his hand.

The Dummy operates, in almost all senses, like another player, except for the fact that his score is ignored. Play continues even should he achieve the target score of 21, and he cannot be declared the winner.

Variant: Dice Punk

A Punk-like game can be played using dice of a predetermined number of sides (normally 6). Scoring and play are the same. At the beginning of a round, players roll their dice and hide the outcomes. Analogous to the "keep or discard" decision is a "keep or re-roll" decision players face with their remaining dice at the end of the round.

While the essentials of a trick are unchanged in Dice Punk, play is very different. I tried it with two friends, and not once did a "4" or higher win - by contrast this is common in Punk, especially late in the game.

Also, with only six possible faces on a standard die, the probability of "collisions" (ties) among four or more players is relatively high.

Finally, Dice Punk should probably not be played for money, or in any environment that is too serious. It’s remarkably easy to cheat.

Variant: Play-Again

One aspect of Punk that might be considered a drawback is the fact that, if no player reaches the target score of 21, the outcome of the endgame can come down purely to the luck of the deal. For example, just before the last round, the four player’s scores are all between 13 and 16, and the lowest card still in play is a single 4. Whichever player receives the four will be the winner of the match, and this comes down only to the luck of the deal.

This variant is for those who find the possibility of such an endgame unsatisfying.

If no one has achieved the target score of 21 (/28) at the end of the sixth round, retrieve all the cards in the pack. Keep track of each player’s score either on paper or using some sort of token. Shuffle the deck and begin a new game of Punk, with one alteration: A new target score. In the rare event that the leading player’s score is 10 or more points less than the target score, leave the target score unchanged. Otherwise, the new target is 10 more than the score of the leading player. Thus, if the scores at the end of one game were 19, 17, 17, and 13, the new target score would be 29. The leading player would need to score ten points in the next game of Punk to win; the trailing player, sixteen.

Variant: Fixed Opening

An untested Punk variant involves a "fixed opening" regarding the first hand each player is dealt before the first round begins. Instead of receiving the first hand randomly, each player begins the game with one card of each rank. In essence, then, each player starts with the same hand.

Feedback/Questions

Feel free to email me, with questions or comments, at churchm@carleton.edu. I hope that you have enjoyed Punk, will send me feedback on the game, and will recommend it to friends.


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Last updated 17th November 2003