So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The past couple of chess years have been a little rough.  In reality, I am not a natural grade school teacher.  As a result, we adopted a chess curriculum for the club a few years ago.  This is the year we try again with another.

I am not going to mention the name of the curriculum the school previously purchased.  I don’t want to give the impression that it’s bad, because it isn’t.  It really is several different courses.  One focuses on openings, one on end games and the like.  However, to take kids who have never played at all before and bring them along requires a little bit of everything.  There is a plan for that in the material, but it requires physically reordering the lessons.  It’s a little like taking my wife to a restaurant.  Rather than missing out on something good, we cut up a little from everyone’s plate to spread around.  It makes for a fantastic experience, but there is some work involved.

So, while I am more than happy to take a few minutes to divide up a meal, I just don’t have the time to do the same sort of thing with the chess curriculum.  I have looked at several, but I ended up finding one right under my nose.

At the end of last year, I tried to get the kids to use the children’s online chess site  We had started late, and I wanted to keep them going over the summer.  As I thought, not a single game was actually completed, and only a couple of them actually even tried the site.  However, while exploring the site I found their scholastic lesson plans.  The goods folks there have broken things up into 20 lessons in five sections, plus an introduction which is largely aimed at parents and teacher-coaches.  Things are organized largely the way I would order them, though the middle few sections (endgame, openings, and tactics) could probably be done in any order desired.

Actually, the larger worry is probably how my schedule will work.  Once I land my next job, it may force a change in our chess club time.  We’ll have to deal with that if it comes to pass.

We will be starting to play chess in just a few weeks.  I’m told the 4th graders are chomping at the bit.

It’s Your Move!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Goin' Clubbin' - A Review of Clubs

[Sorry I have been away for a while folks.  I have been laid off for nearly two months now, and online networking, job hunting and applying have left me pretty burnt out on the web.   I have played a few more games, but more of the heavier, two-player variety I don't often cover here!]

I am not a huge fan of card games.  Generally speaking, that's because they don't have the Awesomeness Factor that a board game can have.  And, with the one exception of Oh Hell! (aka Up the River, Down the River or Blackout), I am particularly bad at trick taking games.  That was until recently, when I had a chance to play Clubs after our monthly gaming session.

[Full dislosure: Clubs was sent to me by the publisher, North Star Games, to review.  Other companies have done this in the past.  Those games were not reviewed, because my father told me not to say anything if you can't say something nice.  I am reviewing this game; I guess that gives this away.]

Promotional Image from North Star Games
Clubs is a great game.  I found it much more enjoyable than most trick taking games for several reasons.  The result of all this goodness is a game with the strategy of a trick taking game that has a lower barrier to entry.

In the box there are four suits of 15 cards, as well as six bonus cards and the rules.  The cards are great quality - the quality we repeatedly see in North Star Games products.

The gameplay is simple.  One player will play the lead.  In most trick taking games, this is one card of a suit. Going around the table, all other players will toss in a card of the same suit (following suit) if they can, changing suits only if they can't play the suit led.  This leads to one of the issues with a traditional trick taking game.  If someone doesn't understand the concept of following suit, the game starts to unravel.  Often the error is caught to late to save the hand.

Cards of the various suits. Note that the clubs have coloring
that designates them as scoring cards. Photo by Mike Hulsebus.
In Clubs, the lead player plays at least one card, possibly more, either of the same value or in sequence. This is referred to as a meld. The suit of the card(s) only matters in that clubs earn points, and the other suits do not.  Each subsequent player in the hand must play a meld of higher value: either as a play in value or in sequence.  In other words, a lead of a pair of 5s must be beat with at least a pair of 6s.  A sequence of 2-3-4 must be beat with at least a sequence of 3-4-5.  This ramps up, making this more of a ladder game with trick taking elements.  Players may pass, and actually have to pass if they don't have the cards to beat what's on the table.  Like other ladder games, and unlike trick taking games, the meld doesn't go just once around the table.  The play continues until no one can beat what is on the table or a 15 appears.  That wins the meld.  In addition to points for taking clubs, there are also points awarded for going out.  More points are awarded for going out first, with a decreasing amount as more players go out.  In fact, the final person left gets no points at all, not even from the clubs they took!

The strategic balance comes from needing to hold cards to win melds, versus the need to play cards to take the bonus for going out. This gives the game some fun decision points which are just right for a 30 minute game. I would be tempted to call this a solid filler, but the simple fact is that it's a game that could easily be enjoyed several times in a row for a great evening amongst friends. Most fillers aren't that satisfying.

Let me put it this way. If Clubs were an hors d'oeuvre, it would be loaded potato skins. Eat a few and you're good for the evening. Most fillers are like cucumber sandwiches; they leave you filling like it's time to get some real food.

Some of North Star Games' titles can be found at mass market stores, and I was hoping that Clubs would be too.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet.  So far, it is limited to specialty game stores, as well as Amazon and B&N.  Shop around though; I have seen this game going from anywhere from $7 to &18.  I would probably be willing to pay $18 for this game, but why pay more? 

  • 2-6 players (but it should probably be 3-6)
  • 30 minutes
  • ages 8+
It's Your Move!