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Eleven Point Black Tile

Introduction

This game is an adaptation of the Hearts family of card games. It is a trick taking game with negative point scoring (i.e. the lower your score is the better) based on a special suit having value and no trumps. There are also variants with 21 points and 30 points.

Equipment

The game uses a double six domino set and needs three or four players.

The Deal

The size of the hands varies with the number of players.

  • Three players get 9 tiles each, and one tile remains face down on the table..
  • Four players get 7 tiles each.

The first player for the first round is chosen by drawing dominoes from the boneyard. The highest total of pips plays first; ties are settled by drawing for highest total again. The lead and play both then rotates to the left.

The Play

After the tiles have been dealt, each player looks at their hand, picks three tiles from it and sets them face down on the table to their left, from where it will be picked up by the player's left-hand opponent. Each player must select their discards and place them face down before picking up the tiles passed by the player to their right.

The first player has a choice, and may either lead to the first trick or direct the player to the left to led. If the lead is passed to the left, the player to the left of the first player has no choice but to place the first tile of the first trick.

There are eight suits of seven tiles, and each tile belongs two of these suits.

  • The number suits 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 consist of the tiles with that number on one or both ends. The double of the suit ranks highest, followed by the other six tiles in order of the number of spots on the other end of the tile. For example the tiles of the 2's suit rank from high to low 2-2, 2-6, 2-5, 2-4, 2-3, 2-1, 2-0.
  • The doubles suit consists of all the doubles ranked by pip count, from high to low 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, 1-1, 0-0.

The player leading the trick places a tile on the table and chooses which of the two possible suits is to be played. In the case of a double the leader nominates either 'doubles' or the number, and for other tiles nominates one of the two numbers on the tile

A trick consists of one tile from each player. Players must follow suit when possible - that is, they must play a tile of the suit nominated by the person who led to the trick. In particular, this means playing a double if possible if the suit was doubles. A player not able to follow suit must still play a tile - they discard any tile of their choice and cannot win the trick.

The highest tile in the suit that was led takes the trick. If there are three players, the winner of the first trick exposes the undealt tile for all to see and takes it along with the trick.

The winner of each trick leads to the next trick - playing the first tile and specifying which of the two possible suits it belongs to. The game continues until all tiles have been played.

Scoring

Points are scored for taking tricks that contain special tiles known as "counters" or "count dominoes". The counters and their values are:

  • The double 0, worth 4 points
  • All seven tiles of the 3 suit, worth 1 point each.

The game takes it name from the fact that the total number of points to be scored in each deal is 11. However, if one player "shoots the moon" by taking all 11 points, that player scores 0 points and the other players each get 22 points.

The game ends when one or more players reaches a score of 61 or more points, which makes it easy to score with a cribbage board.

Comments & Strategy

Joe Celko suggests painting the pips of the tiles of the 3-suit a different color from the rest of the set - for example red, like hearts in a deck of playing cards - so that they are immediately visible as penalty tiles.

At first sight it seems that the basic strategy should be the same as in the card game Hearts, but in fact this game feels very different from Hearts. Successful moon shots are far more frequent, partly because of the smaller deck with fewer penalty cards and partly because every tile belongs to two suits.

The 0-0 can be a very useful tile. The player who leads it can guarantee to win the trick by nominating it as a blank, or guarantee to lose the trick by nominating it as a double (provided that at least one other double is still in the hand of some other player).

Just as in Hearts players may lead low spades to try to force out the Queen if she is not well protected, the same may be done in this game with blanks. For example a player who holds 6-0, 5-0, 2-0 could lead them as blanks with a good chance of forcing the 0-0 to win a trick, but would run the risk of helping the holder of the 0-0 to shoot the moon. It is hard to be sure of defending against a moon-shot. The 3-3 as the top card of the penalty 3-suit may be useful, but it could fall to a higher double if doubles are led. The second card of the suit, the 3-6, might fall to a higher card of the 6-suit, and so on.

When passing tiles, it is tempting to get rid of doubles and tiles with many spots like the 6-5 and 6-4 because they may take tricks with penalty points, but passing on such tiles can be dangerous as they help your left-hand neighbour's moon-shot. Holding onto all your doubles and penalty tiles, though at first counter-intuitive, may turn out to be the best tactic.

Variants

In The Domino Book, Frederick Berndt gives the target score as 110 rather than 61. The first lead does not rotate. Rather, in the second and subsequent deals it is the player who has the highest cumulative score of penalty points who leads in the next hand. In case of a tie, tiles are drawn again before the deal.

Berndt also describes a variant for four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. Partners add their penalty points together for a team score. Shooting the moon only requires the partnership to win all the scoring tiles, not necessarily one individual player: the opposing team is given 22 points.

21 Point Black Tile

This variant is described in The Domino Book by Frederick Berndt. The equipment, deal and play are the same as in 11-point Black Tile but the penalty tiles are different. One point is scored for each tile with a total of 5, 6 or 7 pips. There are ten of these: [6-0], [6-1], [5-0], [5-1], [5-2], [4-1], [4-2], [4-3], [3-2], [3-3]. In addition the double blank [0-0] is worth 11 points for a total of 21. The target score for the game is 210 points. It is not stated, but presumably when a player shoots the moon, the other players should be given 42 points each rather than 22.

30 Point Black Tile

In this variant, reported by Howard Fosdick, again the equipment, deal and play are the same as in 11-point Black Tile. As in the 21-point game, all tiles with 5, 6 or 7 pips are worth 1 point and the [0-0] is worth 11 points. In addition to these, the [1-1] is worth 9 points, for a total of 30. However, the target score for the game is still 210. We are not sure about the score for shooting the moon: since the target score is 210, maybe shooting the moon should be worth 42 points as in the 21-point game - or it could be increased to 60 (twice the number of points in the game).

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This page was contributed by Joe Celko (jcelko212@earthlink.net) and is maintained by John McLeod (john@pagat.com).   © Joe Celko, John McLeod 2001, 2011, 2020. Last updated: 2nd October 2020

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