Tichu, pronounced "teach-you," is a four-player partnership card game. Tichu was designed by Urs Hostettler and first published in Germany in 1991 and is currently available in North America from Rio Grande Games. To try to convey the great appeal of Tichu, I asked several players to help explain the zeal the game engenders. Derek Carver says, "To knock Bridge would be crazy. Yet Bridge is one of the only games I know where simply learning the rules doesn't allow you to play the game. It is the conventions that have been superimposed upon the game that have made it what it is. This means it's no use visiting friends and saying, 'Let's have a great evening at cards—I'll teach you Bridge!' Tichu, on the other hand, can certainly be taught in a normal gaming evening and will then simply depend upon your 'card sense' as to whether you play it well."
Tichu consists of a standard 52-card deck and four special cards: Mah Jong, Dog, Phoenix and Dragon. After receiving a hand of 14 cards, players select three cards to give to each of the other three players. Before playing their first card, players have the right to declare a small "Tichu." If he then wins the round, his team receives an extra 100 points—otherwise the team loses 100 points. The object of Tichu is to be the first to play all of your cards. A player may lead a card, or any of the following combinations of cards: a pair, a run of pairs of adjoining values (8,8,9,9,10,10, for example), three cards of the same value, a full house (triple and pair), or a straight of at least five cards. The next player may either pass or play a similar combination but of a higher value. The only exception to this rule is playing the "Bomb," which is a straight flush or four of a kind. It is legal for players to pass and then come back in again as long as some other player played in between.
If all four players pass consecutively, the player who last played takes the trick and starts play again. Play continues until three of the four players have played all of their cards. The one player remaining, who still has cards in his hand, gives any remaining cards in his hand to the opposing team and all the tricks he has won to the winner of the round (the player who was the first to play all his cards). The hand is now scored. Fives, Tens and Kings are worth points, and each hand worth 100 points (without bonuses). The first team to 1,000 points wins.
Jonathan Degann says, "What I like about the game is that it lets you look at your hand and create alternative strategies around playing it and organizing it. Every hand is a story, and you have to direct it to its full potential to determine if it has a happy or sad ending."
"I'm relatively new to Tichu" says Matthew Baldwin, "but hooked all the same. Perhaps my favorite aspect is that it feels like the best parts of a whole range of game genres packed into one package. The game is less huge helping of a single food and more a buffet."