Publisher: Indie Board & Cards
We have been on a tear lately, playing loads of trick-taking games. Haggis was a game I picked up a few years back in anticipation of luring my spouse to play more card games of this genre. In truth, it was probably more for me than for her since I wanted to rekindle my relationship with trick-taking games. We subsequently played Haggis half a dozen times before moving on to other games. It’s not that we hated Haggis, quite the contrary. We enjoyed our initial plays but we never turned the corner for trick taking. During the interim years, our group played other trick-taking games on and off including Bottle Imp, Chimera, Bargain Hunter, The Crew among others. They were all quite pleasant, but nothing stuck. It did however dampen my distaste for trick-taking. Long story short, Haggis sat unloved in our cabinet for a while until we started playing more Tichu. I am glad I didn’t get rid of it.
I have documented elsewhere that Tichu finally broke the wall down for me. After years of avoiding trick-taking, I have joined the bandwagon. However, Tichu requires exactly 4 players and we were curious if Haggis captured Tichu’s magic with 2 players. Suffice to say, Haggis is not Tichu, but then it really shouldn’t be. What Haggis provides is a pretty close approximation of Tichu with 2 players. It has a roughly similar feel but does not scratch the same itch.
In 2 player Haggis, there are 3 suits of cards ranging from 1-10. Each player also gets 3 face cards (JQK) that are placed faced up in front of each player. These face cards J, Q and K retain their own values but also act as wild cards. So, each player will have 3 wild cards per round and it is obviously open information since you can see them in front of each player. Since Haggis is also a ladder climbing, trick taking game, the best trick with the highest rank wins each hand. Like Tichu, The first person to shed all the cards in their hand wins the round. Also like Tichu, you are able to place a bet before you play your first trick. A small bet is worth 15 and a big bet is worth 30. If you empty your hands first, then you can collect on the bet. At the end of each round, the player that exits gets all the remaining cards from the loser’s hand including any unplayed face cards in front of them. Each of these cards are worth 5 points. In addition, some of the regular cards that you collect from winning tricks are worth 1 point each. I believe the odd-numbered cards are the ones worth 1 point each. The winner for each round also gets the “Haggis” which is essentially the leftover cards that are not dealt. Tally up the scores for the round and you play as many rounds as you want. You can also play to a set number of points ala Tichu.
Haggis is clever in that it creates tension by allowing the face cards to be wild cards and making those cards public. The wild cards are quite multi-functional. If you pair any two face up cards, they function as bombs and you get to lead the next hand. However, the trick with all the scoring cards are given to your opponent. In essence, you could lose a lot of points playing a bomb and should only be used sparingly if you want to regain the lead next trick. The threat of being able to play a bomb though, is always there. Since you can see the face cards, you know your opponent can just play a bomb on any combination you play. This is unless of course, you have an even better ranking bomb at your disposal. It’s just a cool mind game at that point. Therefore, keeping wild cards around as a deterrent can be very enticing only if you aren’t caught with your pants down and your opponents clear their hand while you still have unplayed face cards. These face cards, like your hand cards also count as 5 points for your opponent during scoring.
Playing tricks is similar to Tichu, but perhaps slightly more frustrating in a way. There is no full house and sequences all have to be in the same suit. This makes it harder to form complete sets though having wild card allows for some crazy combinations. I find it slightly more frustrating because it is more often that I find a need to break up combinations and get stuck with a bunch of random cards. It is tempting to dip into the wild cards to rescue your fragmented hand, but you can’t be too cavalier with using those face cards. I suspect that with 2 players, certain combinations just won’t work and thus, the tricks are slightly different from Tichu. There are also no special cards in Haggis.
It’s clear to me that the game is won or lost by how quickly you empty your hand and exit the round. Getting stuck with a whole bunch of cards is bad as each is worth 5 points for your opponent. This also means holding back your cards in hopes of getting a lead and then emptying your entire hand just may not work as well because bombs aren’t hard to make. If your opponent have at least two face up cards, then maintaining the lead for each trick as you try to empty your hand will be challenging as they will play a bomb if they suspect you can empty your hand. I find it is acceptable for your opponent to empty their hand and exit first so long as you have no more than one or two cards left in your losing hand. Depending on the tricks you have played, the point differential won’t be too huge. I have even won more points than my opponent despite losing the round. So, you can afford to lose a handful of points here and there as long as you have a couple of big rounds where you exit first and catch your opponent off-guard with a lot of cards left in their hands. As I said, the bets are probably important, but I cannot tell how how to play them just yet as there are no special cards which I can benchmark my hand with.
Overall, we like Haggis as a 2 player climbing/shedding game. It does a darn good job at simulating the Tichu experience for 2 players without really being Tichu. As I said before, Haggis does not scratch the Tichu itch as the major feature of Tichu, which is partnership play, is not possible with Haggis. I also don’t know too many 2 player trick-taking games. We recently purchased Fox in the Forest and it also does not resemble either Tichu or Haggis. With Fox in the Forest, there is no ladder climbing, just trick-taking. Even then, it feels more like playing a version of War than anything else. The scoring in Fox is also very different than Haggis, but it is the scoring that makes the game. Fox in the Forest is a good game, just different. I do like Haggis better. Having said that, there is now a 2 player co-op version of Fox in the Forest called Duet. I am keen to try that.
I recommend Haggis for folks who like Tichu. It is similar yet different. The best analogy I can give is that you eat a home-cooked meal which reminds you of home. While it may feel familiar and comforting, you still probably yearn for the original experience and the unique qualities that makes it special in the first place.
Initial impressions: Good