Flower & Scorpion

This is a variation of Bergen for two to four players using a double six set of dominoes (28 tiles). As in Bergen, players score for making the free ends of the layout equal. In addition, two pairs of dice are thrown before each hand to determine the flower, which gives a bonus when the ends of the layout match it, and the scorpion, which gives a penalty when it is matched. The dice can also be used to determine the lead in the first hand if you wish. Joe Celko was told the game came from the Middle East or Morocco, where some local conventions were added to Bergen when the Germans and French occupied North Africa. The dice supposedly came from Backgammon sets which were common in bars in the region.

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set and two pairs of dice. The two pairs of dice are distinguished from each other by color, say red for the Scorpion and green for the Flower. The important point is to have the color retain their meaning for the entire game. The game is usually played with a small shallow bowl of small chips or match sticks for scoring.

The Deal

The games is for 2, 3 or 4 players

  • 2 players get six tile each, leaving a boneyard of 16 tiles.
  • 3 players get six tile each, leaving a boneyard of 10 tiles.
  • 4 players get five tiles each, leaving a boneyard of 8 tiles.
The boneyard is called the oasis in this game.One player is picked in some manner, such as tossing dice, to be the first lead or the caravan master. The hands are then dealt. The caravan master tosses all four dice at the same time; a dice cup is handy for this. The pair on the red dice is the Scorpion and the pair on the green dice is the Flower. The dice are set on the table and are not touched for the rest of this round.

The caravan master leads this round and is in charge of making the payoffs from the supply of chips. The player to his left will be the caravan master for the next round and the dice and bowl of chips will pass to him.

The Play

The leading player starts a caravan, or line of tiles which would be called a train in other games, with any tile he wishes. Other players have to add to either end of the caravan if they are able by matching ends in the usual manner. Doubles are played across, but are not spinners.

A player not able to add onto the caravan must draw new tiles from the oasis until he can play or until the oasis is empty. If a player can neither play nor draw from the oasis, he passes his turn.

Play continues until someone dominoes or the game blocks.

Scoring

The basic idea of scoring is to look at the two, three or four exposed ends of the caravan and try to make all possible pairs from the exposed halves. When some of those pairs are doubles, flowers or scorpions, the player scores or loses points.

For example, given two ends on a caravan, there is only one pair to inspect. Given a double and a single tile on the caravan, [a1, a2] and [?, b], the three possible pairs are [a1, a2], [a1, b] and [a2, b]. Given two doubles on the ends of the caravans [a1, a2] and [b1, b2], there are [a1, a2], [b1, b2], [a1, b2], and [b1, a2].

If a player sets a tile that makes the exposed ends of the layout equal, the player takes two chips. This is called a "double header" in Bergen; the term in this game is a "dual" instead.

A player takes three chips from the bowl when his play makes a triplet from the exposed ends of the caravan. This is called a "triple header" in Bergen; the term in this game is a "plural" instead.

If the Flower and Scorpion are identical, then they cancel each other out and no special scoring is done in this round. They can, however, determine the winner of a blocked round.

If the Flower and Scorpion are different, the more likely case, then every possible pairing that results in a Flower gains one chip and every possible pairing that results in a Scorpion loses one chip.

When a player plays the tile with the same two faces as the pair of dice in the Flower, he takes a chip. This is the short Flower. Flowers built from the end of the caravan are called a long Flower.

When a player plays the tile whose ends match the Scorpion, he puts one chip into the bowl. This is the small Scorpion. A pair built from the exposed ends which makes a Scorpion is called a large Scorpion.

If the Flower is a double, then it is counted as both a dual and a Flower when played. For example, if the Flower is [6-6] and a player sets a train which leaves two sixes exposed, he scores 3 points: 2 for the dual and 1 for the long flower. If the next player adds the [6-6], leaving three 6's exposed, then the score is 6: three for the triple 6's, one for the Flower tile and one for each of the two long Flower pairs.

If the Scorpion is a double, then it is not counted as a dual or a plural when played. For example, if the Scorpion is [6-6] and a player sets this tile to form a train which leaves three 6's exposed, then the player loses three chips (one short and two long Scorpions) and gets no credit for the triplet.

A player cannot go below zero chips and owe the bowl.

Play stops when someone dominoes or when a round is blocked. A round is blocked when nobody can play and there are at least two dominoes in the oasis. The winner of the round is determined by applying these rules in this order:

  1. The player who dominoes.
  2. When the round is blocked, player who has the Flower tile in his hand wins.
  3. When the round is blocked and nobody has the Flower tile, the player who has the Scorpion tile in his hand wins.
  4. When the round is blocked and nobody has either the Flower or the Scorpion tile, the player with lowest double in his hand wins.
  5. Otherwise, there is no winner and no points are awarded.

The winner takes two chips from the bowl; there is no bonus or penalty for the Flower or the Scorpion at this point, since they were not played.

The game is won by the first player to get 20 or more chips.

Comments & Strategy

Do not get so attached to the Flower and Scorpion that you forget to play a good game of Bergen. Notice that blanks cannot ever be part of the Flower or the Scorpion because dice do not have blanks.

Doubles are still important in this variation, so you should hold them as long as possible to get a plural.

Holding the Flower tile is a strong advantage for the player who has almost won the game because, unlike dual and plural points, it is always worth one point. It also guarantees two points if the round is blocked.

Holding the Scorpion tile is risky. You might be forced to play the Scorpion tile during the game. You might avoid getting the penalty points by having it left in your hand when someone else dominoes. But it can be an advantage if the game blocks because it might give you the win for the hand if the Flower has been played.

Be aware of chances to score a Flower on the ends of the caravan and get a quick single point.

If you can keep track of the tiles, you can force another player to make a Scorpion on the ends of the caravan. This is easier if one end of the caravan has frozen. That is, if the suit at one end of the caravan has been completely played on the table (i.e. it occurs eight times in the caravan), so players have to add new tiles to the other end.

It can be to your advantage to force a blocked round if you think that you can get the two chips for winning while preventing the other players from further scoring.