Friday, May 30, 2014

Do you know this card game?

My grade school graduation trip was to the lovely Argentine province of Córdoba.  On the last day, we were waiting to get on the bus back to Buenos Aires, and I noted a couple playing a card game in the hotel's galeria.  I watched them play for a while but didn't recognize the game, so I asked them about it.  The couple explained they were playing a game called Desesperación (Desperation), and taught me the rules in a few minutes.  Soon after, we had to leave.  I'm glad I asked when I had a chance, because now I can't find references to the game nor the rules...

Anyway, perhaps you know the game with a different name?  Here's how 2 players play.  Take two poker decks, shuffle, and make a 20-card pile for each player (the pile size can vary, see more below).  The top pile card faces up, the others face down.  Any remaining cards become the drawing pile.  The goal of the game is to play all the cards in one's pile first.  A playing turn goes like this:

1.  Draw enough cards from the drawing pile to hold 5 cards.

2.  Any aces must be played to the aces section (which at first is empty).  In addition to aces held in hand, aces on top of a player's pile also have to be played.

When a pile's top card is played, the next card is flipped so it's facing up.  If an ace comes up, it also has to be played.

3.  Now a player can play onto ace piles by number sequence from 2 to K (color and suit don't matter).  When an ace pile reaches K, it is placed on a temporary recycling pile.  When the drawing pile is exhausted, the recycling pile is shuffled and becomes the new drawing pile.

Held cards can also be played onto 3 staging columns growing towards each player.  Column cards can only be played onto aces, and only the bottom card of a column can be played.  The idea is to use held cards and the staging columns to help play the pile cards.  However, columns cannot be rearranged.  Note the tension between wanting to play all "useless" cards onto the columns (to draw 5 cards in the next turn), and wanting to keep columns in reasonably playable (staggered) order.  Properly managing the staging columns is critical to winning the game.

In summary, held cards can be played onto aces or staging columns, while cards in columns and player piles can only be played onto ace piles.

Jokers can substitute for any card, including aces.

4.  If a player plays all 5 cards onto the aces section, the player can draw 5 more cards and keep playing.  Otherwise, it's the next player's turn.

It's common to get in a rut and repeatedly fail to get the card combination needed to play pile cards, hence the name of the game.  Desesperación scales to N players given a reasonable number of decks and sensible pile sizes.  Larger piles tend to make certain cards scarce, and as a result the game becomes more challenging and interesting.  However, keep in mind that excessively large piles (e.g. 40 card piles for 2 players with 2 decks), the game will get stuck due to unavailable cards.

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