Mar 30, 2007


[Bill Taylor 1993 post @ r.g.a] Though this games is played with cards, and is (very vaguely) one of the trick-taking family of games, it still belongs here in It is as much a strategy game as sprouts, chess and Go, being a 2-player game of complete information with no element of chance (apart from the starting layout, and even this is symmetric between the players).

Long ago, I played a (more complex) version of this game, for a while. The original game was a 4-suit game, each player having his own trump suit. However this 2-suit version seems just as skillful, as much fun, and "cleaner". It is even possible to play a one-suit version !!  No other changes in the rules are needed, except that the starting layout can no longer be symmetric. But the two-suit version seems neatest.

I post it here because...

(i) it deserves to be far better known than it is;
(ii) it seems to be essentially unique of its kind;
(iii) I would eventually be keen to start an email game or two.

The game has been around a fair while, but doesn't seem to have a name of its own. It was first introduced to me as "Besicovitch's game", but such a name is hardly descriptive. We sometimes used to call it "Finchley Central" as a small in-joke, indicative of the hair-trigger timing needed to decide when to strike your main blow. The game usually see-saws one way then the other, as every advance tends to leave one weaker. Thus it might fairly be called "See-Saw" or "Negative Feedback".  Until a concensus is reached, I shall call it "Beat It Or Eat It"; being descriptive of the mechanics of play.

One nice thing about the game is its almost complete freedom from *arbitrary* rules, once the basic logic of play is set. The main exception is the length of the suits.  13 is the obvious length, and feels about right. Shorter would be good for practice games, and longer (up to 26) would be possible, with one "red" suit and one "black" suit.

The core idea of the play is:- taking the lead in turns, one player leads and the other follows, until someone gets rid of all his cards, thus winning.

"BEAT IT OR EAT IT"  (Full rules)

1. Two players play with a deck of 13 hearts and 13 spades. Aces count high.

2. The initial layout is symmetric, and obtained thus:-  One player shuffles, and deals 13 cards to the other, who keeps only the red cards. The blacks are returned to the undealt cards, and the dealer gives himself black cards identical to his opponent's reds. Then each gets the remainder of the other color. The "leader", (player of the 1st card), is chosen at random.

3. The leader plays any card onto the table. The follower EITHER picks it up,  OR (if he can, & wishes to), beats it by playing a higher card of the same suit. These cards stay on the table, and the follower becomes the leader for the next play.   Continue with (3) again.

4. On any play, the follower may, if he desires, (& must, if unable to beat the card led), pick up all the cards on the table, and add them to his hand. The leader then remains as leader for the next play.  Continue with (3).

5. Whoever first plays the last card left in his hand, is the winner.
  (It is immaterial whether this occurs as a lead or a follow.)

So, the idea is to get rid of all your cards. But it is essential along the way to sometimes (voluntarily) pick up all the tabled cards, to get some of the high ones there, (even though this hinders your main goal, of course).

And often, (especially if the opponent is close to winning, or has too few low cards for comfort), you will have to lead a high card that he CAN'T beat, forcing him to pick up all the junk on the table.

Remember, all played cards, leaders and beaters, stay on the table (face up), until one player chooses to or is forced to "eat" them, i.e. pick them all up, and suffer being follower again for the start of the next series of plays. As long as no-one "eats" the stuff on the table, the lead alternates.

So there it is. It is a great game; and as I say, one of complete information. In fact it is standard for both players to keep their hands face up on the table in front of them, for convenience; (these hands are only on the physical table of course, not the "logical" table).  If you try it out, you will quickly notice the negative feedback element mentioned above.

It is usually an advantage to start, but by no means always; it depends on the nature of the starting layout, and perhaps on the parity of the suit length.

I warmly recommend everyone to give it a try.

To indicate the nature of the play, here is a sample game, with a 7-suit pack.

Initial layout: (LEFT has the opening lead)

LEFT: hearts A Q T 9 8      RIGHT: hearts K J
      spades K J                   spades A Q T 9 8

8h, Jh. 8s, Js. 9h, Kh. 9s, LEFT eats all (by choice).

Layout now:  (RIGHT is on lead)

LEFT: hearts A K Q J T 9 8     RIGHT: hearts -
      spades K J 9 8                  spades A Q T

Ts, Js. 8h, RIGHT must eat. 9h (R must eat). Th (R must eat).

Layout now:  (LEFT is still on lead)

LEFT: hearts A K Q J      RIGHT: hearts T 9 8
      spades K 9 8               spades A Q J T

8s, Ts. 8h, Jh. 9s, Js. 9h, Qh. Kh, RIGHT must eat all.

Layout now:  (LEFT is still on lead)

LEFT: hearts A       RIGHT: hearts K Q J T 9 8
      spades K              spades A Q J T 9 8

Ah (right must eat);  Ks and LEFT WINS.

This game hardly showed much ability on either part.   RIGHT should have
struggled more actively in the last phase of play, e.g. when he led the 9h, which led to an immediate simple forced loss. But it was probably too late by then anyway. There was a very clear-cut error earlier. When RIGHT led the ten from his 3-card hand of AQT hearts, it would clearly have been uniformly better to lead the queen. (However he was probably lost anyway.)

LEFT also made a blunder in the very first round; he could have beaten the 9s with the Ks, led back the Th (compulsory eat), the Ah (ditto) & Qh (winning). (Suit length of 7 is not really enough to give the full flavor of the game.)


kensson said...

Hi - I stumbled on your blog (nice work, by the way) looking for the rules to Challenge, a game I remember reading about once but forgetting before I ever played it. I recalled there being something about being able to play your own suit to trump your opponent, but I may be misremembering. Any thoughts?

sLx said...

Sorry, I don't know that specific game. I'm not very interested in card games in general. I just place this one here since it's an abstract game (ie, no hidden info, no randomness)

Anonymous said...

I'm sure "Challenge" is the game you have described in your post. It was published under that name in the journal "Eureka" by Besicovitch himself.