Card Games: Boston Group

The classic plain trick game of Whist, in which four players play in fixed partnerships with a trump suit determined at random, was fashionable throughout the Western world in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, from the end of the 18th century onwards it began to be displaced by games in which the play of the cards remained the same but the trump suit was determined by the players. The earliest game of this type was Boston Whist in which there is an auction for right to choose trumps.

The auction idea was very likely borrowed from Quadrille, a four-player game based on Hombre. In Boston, as in Quadrille, the four players no longer play in fixed partnerships, but are formed into two alliances - one player against three or two against two - according to the result of the auction. This idea proved successful and gave rise to a family of games based on Whist, which begin with an auction to decide the trump suit. Quite often the auction bids relate to the number of tricks the player will aim to take, and there are often special contracts in which the aim may be to lose trickls rather than to win them. According to the contract, the high bidder may play alone against a team consisting of all the other players, or may have an ally determined by the bidding , or may choose a partner by calling a card whose holder will be the bidder's ally.

This family of Whist-based alliance games with bidding is known here as the Boston Group.

During the 19th century, Whist-based games were developed in which an auction for trumps was added but the fixed partnership format was retained. Games of this Auction Whist Group (which includes Bridge and Spades) are listed on a separate page.

Alliance games of the Boston Group

  • Wiezen (Whist) and its more elaborate relative Kleurenwiezen (Whist à la Couleur) are popular in Belgium.
  • Rikken is a game of the same kind, played in the southern Netherlands and northern Belgium.
  • Solo Whist is a simplified form of Boston Whist, played in Britain.
  • Vira is an elaborate 3 player variation of Boston, with some elements from l'Hombre. It has been claimed to be the national card game of Sweden, though it seems to be much less popular there now than in the past.
  • Noms is a four-player game played in the British Royal Navy, in which the bidder chooses a partner by calling a card.
  • Amerikaner is a four-player Norwegian game in which the bidder chooses a partner by calling a card. A similar game Kani is played in Iceland.

Related games

Some games are on the borderline of this and other groups.

  • Russian Preference also incorporates bidding to take a number of tricks in exchange for the right to name trumps. In this game not only the bidder but also the defenders have a quota of tricks they must win to avoid penalty. While in the Russian game any number of tricks from 6 to 10 can be bid, in some other forms of Preference the bidder's objective is to take 6 tricks (or all or none).
This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 2001, 2004, 2013, 2018. Last updated: 22nd April 2018