Draft Poker Variant

August 17, 2013

When you spend all summer house hunting, buying and selling homes and moving it goes much too quickly. And when writing about game playing usually only occurs after playing games, well, not much has happened. All that said, I have had a chance to enjoy a couple of new games this summer. And the one I’m most excited about happens to be a poker variant.

I play a cash poker game on a monthly basis with a group of friends. It’s just for fun, but the few (literally) dollars ahead or behind at the end of the night keeps things interesting. We play dealer’s choice for each hand so the games are varied. To keep things fresh we actively look for new games to try out or modifications to existing games. Some work and some fail miserably. Here’s one that has quickly become one of my favorites:

This is a 7 card stud variant. Each player starts with 2 cards face-down and 1 card face-up. After a round of betting, the dealer places N cards face-up on the table (where N is equal to the number of players). The players then select their next card from the middle with the player with the lowest current hand showing going first and the player with the best current hand going last. (We break ties with first person to the left of the dealer going first.) This is repeated 2 more times with betting between each round. At the end one more card is dealt face-down and another bet. Best 5 card hand wins.

It’s a simple variant but I love the strategy the game adds. For example: I have a 5 face-up and my choice of cards on the table include another 5. Do I take the 5 and get a pair? If I do, the odds of me now showing the best hand are pretty high. That means for the next rounds I will likely be selecting last. This means no choice in my next two cards – I’ll get whatever is left. But a pair can lead to a winning hand of 2 pair, 3-of-a-kind or better.

It’s also important to keep your eye on the other player’s cards. Do you select a card that won’t help you just to prevent the next player who will benefit from getting it? Or do you pick the card that keeps your possibilities open?

Ideally you get to pick a card that pairs one of your down cards. This keeps your opponents guessing while still getting a good draft position for the next round. Either way you play it, This variant adds an element of a Euro board game to an otherwise normal game of poker. I think it scratches that board game strategy itch in the midst of a fun evening of poker where randomness and bluffing dominate.

Anyone else play this poker variant? Or have any other poker/betting games that mix-in just the right amount of strategic choices? I’d love to try to them out.

Lord of the Rings Living Card Game: Thorongil Deck

August 13, 2013
Recently I won a contest over at Tales from the Cards with this Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game deck. If anything, playing with this deck over the last few weeks has shown me the powerful combination that LotR: LCG offers to a player; excellent mechanics married to a deep sense of theme. Kudos to the designers for making such a great game that a deck like the one below can hold its own in play while remaining entirely faithful to Tolkien’s legendarium.
Thorongil Deck
Aragorn II went by many names. In Rivendell he was Estel because he was the hope of his people. In Bree he was Strider due to his long gait, and at the close of the Third Age he was Elessar, the Elfstone. But from T.A. 2957-2980, he was known throughout Gondor as Thorongil, the Eagle of the Star. He rode with Thengel, Theoden’s father, in Rohan for a time, and served under Steward Ecthelion II of Gondor with a star embroidered on his cloak. During this time, he was beloved of the people of Minas Tirith, which caused resentment on the part of Denethor II, the steward’s son.
This deck is intended to represent Aragorn’s time serving in Gondor. From his childhood in Rivendell, he brings with him the Ring of Barahir and the broken sword Narsil, both of which he keeps in secret in his belongings. He also has brought his skills as a Ranger (Dunedain Mark) and two minstrels, who record his deeds for posterity. From his time in Rohan he brings a small contingent of Snowbourn Scouts. Most importantly, he carries in his mind Elrond’s Counsel, and in his heart he carries the thoughts of Arwen, his one true love. Rallying around the future king is a vast array of Gondorian soldiers and nobles to aid in the fight against evil.
For an added thematic challenge, Denethor may not exhaust to take the same type of action as Aragorn or Gandalf. Thus, if Aragorn is questing, Denethor must do something else that round, etc. This represents young Denethor’s growing resentment of Thorongil and the wizard Mithrandir. Give yourself a pat on the back if Denethor ends up with the Horn of Gondor because he is the steward’s son and Aragorn gets Steward of Gondor to represent the trust Ecthelion has placed in him.
This is a solo deck created for thematic purposes, though it plays quite well. Certain artifacts, such as Celebrian’s Stone, are not included because they were not in Aragorn’s possession at this point in his life, and certain characters do not make an appearance because they were not born yet (e.g. Faramir). Eleanor is included because we frankly have no idea when she was born! Many theme-appropriate changes may be made based on the quest. For instance, young Gleowine for extra card draw, Northern Trackers from the Dunedain for location management, the Lore of Imladris for healing, or any non-unique Gondorian or Outlands cards for various purposes.
For more information about this time in Aragorn’s life, please see the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, “Gondor and the Heris of Anarion,” “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen,” and “The Tale of Years”.
Heroes (3)
Aragorn (Core) x1
Denethor (Core) x1
Eleanor (Core) x1
Ally (24)
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Defender of Rammas (HON) x2
Envoy of Pelargir (HON) x3
Errand-rider (HON) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Gondorian Spearman (Core) x2
Guard of the Citadel (Core) x3
Rivendell Minstrel (THFG) x2
Snowbourn Scout (Core) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Attachment (12)
Dunedain Mark (THfG) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Ring of Barahir (TSF) x2
Song of Battle (TDM) x1
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Event (16)
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
For Gondor! (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Gondorian Discipline (EaAD) x2
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Starting threat = 27
Cards in deck: 52
Leadership cards: 20 (avg. cost = 1.6 resources)
Lore cards: 8 (avg. cost = 1.5 resources)
Neutral cards: 6 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 2.8 resources)
Spirit cards: 10 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 0.9 resources)
Tactics cards: 8 (avg. cost = (avg. cost = 1.3 resources)