My family are originally from Scotland, which I guess is where the red hair comes from, and possibly the drinking. When I was a wee tot, I can remember listening to bagpipe music at my great grandmother’s house.
No matter how badly maligned it might be, the sound of those pipes still makes me feel a little tight somewhere deep in my chest.
So you’d think I’d be better at Schotten Totten, a game which is essentially about my ancestors quarrelling over the standing stones that mark the border between villages. It’s kind of a gamified version of the feud I have with my over-the-back-fence neighbour, except in Schotten Totten you win using card combinations instead of loud parties, smoky barbecues, and getting up to whipper snipper the back yard super early on Sunday.
In Schotten Totten the players start with a line of nine stones between them, representing the border between their villages. Players take turns placing a card from their hand against one of the nine stones in order to form combinations of cards. These card combinations are pretty reminiscent of poker hands and, like poker, combinations are ranked in order of seniority so a flush (all one colour) beats a straight, three of a kind beats a flush, and a straight flush beats everything.
Once both you and your opponent have placed three cards against a standing stone, if your combination beats your opponent’s you get to claim the stone by moving it to your side of your combination of cards. If you claim five of the nine stones, or three stones in a row, you win the game.
The genius thing about Schotten Totten though is that if you can prove, using only the cards which are already in play (not ones in your hand), that your opponents couldn’t possibly beat your card combination, you don’t have to wait for them to finish their combination. You can just claim that stone, as is your right, then and there.
At first glance, that rule might not seem that important, but trust me, it’s huge. It means your opponent can’t just avoid playing cards against your strong combinations whilst trying to seize victory elsewhere along the line. It also means that there are times when you’ll play a card somewhere because it’s the missing piece which proves your opponent can’t beat you somewhere else. Similarly, sometimes you’ll hold on to a card, knowing that playing it will allow your opponent to complete the proof which will lose you the game. Stymying that proof buys you time whilst you try and seize victory from the jaws of defeat.
So there’s strategy there, there’s depth that comes from planning your moves whilst at the same time crunching the “what do I need to prove X” logic problem. There’s a lot to love about Schotten Totten, but I think the best part is that it’s quick to set up, it plays in under twenty minutes, and you can have someone who hasn’t played before up and running in something like five.
It’s a great game.
It’s also super portable, so you can safely take it with you whenever you go out and it won’t matter if you don’t get a chance to play it. It’s also pretty pub proof, all you have to do is sleeve the cards and replace the cardboard stone tokens with something more durable (we use some hydrostone pieces we had lying around, but you could just as easily us pebbles or glass beads) and the game is as pub proof as anything you’re likely to see.
So, if you’re looking for a pocket sized two player game to take to the pub with you, you’ll have a hard time doing better than Schotten Totten. Even if you do manage to find a game you prefer, I guarantee it’ll have 100% less bagpipes.