Publisher: Valley Games
Bargain Hunter is a reprint of Uwe Rosenberg’s trick-taking card game call Schnappchen Jagd first published in 1989. Jagd came at the heels of Rosenberg’s famous bean game known as Bohnanza and was pretty much overshadowed by the popular release. Bohnanza has since won critical acclaim with many Euro gamers even though the game is very light and nowhere near the heavy Rosenberg releases post-Agricola. In fact, looking at Rosenberg’s ludography, Schnappchen Jagd sits comfortably in between other card games including Mamma Mia, Klunker, Babel, etc. I think many people have forgotten that Rosenberg earned his strips early on by publishing simple card games. So, is Bargain Hunter any good and how does it compare to Bohnanza? A disclaimer: I am not a huge fan of trick-taking card games though I have warmed up to it considerably in the past few years. Nonetheless, I am far from being an expert and certainly don’t play like one. However, I feel I have played enough trick taking games to get a feel of what I like and look for.
For starters, Bargain Hunter has quite an elaborate scoring criteria each round. Players try to win tricks to score positive points by collecting cards that match a “bargain” card which they have designated before the start of round 1. Each trick consists of a single round of cards played by each player and the winner of the trick collects all cards and put aside cards that match the bargain item being collected. However, cards that are not designated as a bargain item, which usually means the majority of cards in each trick, are placed in a junk pile. Cards in the junk pile earn one negative point per card at the end of the game. As you can imagine, the junk pile can be quite enormous and much of the game is about managing the size of this discard pile. Herein lies the twist for the game: After each round (of 8 tricks), players get to perform spring cleaning to designate an additional bargain item to be placed in the score pile. All items must be of the same type and after discarding a set number of cards depending on the number of players, the remainder of the cards are placed into the score pile as positive points and will also serve as the new bargain item to collect in subsequent rounds. This way, players get to reduce the number of negative points in the junk pile at the end of each round. However, care must be taken to accumulate only similar types of cards and to discard those that are unwanted. At the end of the game after a set number of rounds which is dependent on the number of players, players score the number of cards in their “bargain pile”, subtracted by the negative points from the remaining cards in their “junk pile” after the final spring cleaning.
Bargain Hunter is a trick taking game and like other trick taking games, there are tactical strategies for good card play that will tip the balance in your favor. For starters, not all cards are created equal and high cards are better than low cards and the timing of when to play these cards also greatly depends on whether it is early or late in the round. Players who are skillful can also look around the table and force the winner of each trick to pick up more junk cards. As mentioned, the game is won not only by how many tricks you win or how many cards you collect in your score pile, but also how many junk cards you make other players take when they win their trick. I imagine Bargain Hunter can be won by taking minimal number of tricks, but being highly selective about which trick to win. Our scores of +1, +3, +3 and +5 (winner), certainly supports this notion. Like all good trick taking games, this one probably shine with repeated plays.
As compared to other trick-taking games, I have to profess that I enjoyed Tichu, Bottle Imp or even Chimera much more for my first few plays. For those games, the scoring is more straight foward and I feel I can better grasp what it takes to win. Here, for the first play, I do not feel I am in control. Frequently, I am forced to discard cards even though I am trying to keep them for later use. This prevents any ability to plan even though I suspect I am just not good enough in trick-taking games to spot the opportunities. This game obviously has room to shine but I wonder if Tichu and its ilk will simply continue to steal the trick-taking spotlight every time we reach for this genre. Nevertheless, I must commend the now-defunct Valley Games for reprinting this oft-forgotten Rosenberg game even though it is now mostly consigned to the bargain pile (pun fully intended!).
Initial impressions: Average