Card Games with Tricks and Ladder Climbing

As mentioned (and maybe coined?) in my last review of Thrones of Valeria, we are in the middle of a great deception. There was an absolute boom in games based on the primary mechanics of “taking tricks” or the adjacent mechanics of “climbing stairs”.”If you are interested in why this might be the matter, there is an excellent article by Chris Wray, who deals with this question in The Stubborn Gamers and explains the phenomenon superior than I do.

Before we continue, let’s define some terms. The trick shot is the easiest to define of both, since versions of this game have been populating our free time since childhood. If you’ve ever played bridge, hearts, spades or Euchre, you’ve played a game of tricks. Otherwise, the central concept is simple: a player “leads” with a card of a certain suit, and subsequent player have to “follow”, that is, play a higher card of the same suit if they expect to win the hand. A suit can be called a “trump” suit, which means that it trumps or smacks a card of another suit. A card played by each player gives a “trick”, and whoever wins it “takes” it, therefore, tricks.

Top 10 Trick-Taking and Ladder-Climbing Card Games


Haggis is a classic stair climbing/stair climbing game developed by Sean Ross for two player, almost an archetypal game of the genre. It was originally released by Indie Boards & Cards in 2010. Similar to Tichu, each player takes turns playing higher versions of a merge, with certain cards worth points while other are worth nothing. Each player starts with three open wilds, which he can use at any time to complete a combination or even play as a “bomb” (a certain combination that usually ends the hand, unless a higher bomb is played). The game has an excellent push-your-luck element, where player bid a certain number of points at the middle of each hand, earn those points if they lose first, or give those points to their opponent if they don’t.

While the standalone version of Boards & Cards is out of print, a new version is in the works from cheat lovers Portland Game Collective, who recently released the excellent Five Three Five and Bridge City Poker. The community that PGC has built around its Discord channel feels like the epicenter of the trickery in the US and even abroad.

Ambiente Abissal/Planet etuC

There are many great stair climbing games from the Taiki Shinzawa stair trick/goat (think of him as the Pure Knizia of Japanese cheaters/climbers). Maskmen is an available game published by the beautiful Oink Games that could have easily made this list. But I have never played a game that is as clean in its execution, charming in its art and easy to explain as Shinzawa’s environmental abyss.

The main hook of Abyssal Environment (or its soon-to-be-released ETUC reimplementation planet) is that player can choose to play cards that rise by numerical rank or by suit. If the straight has not yet been set as a rank-based or flush-based straight, the next player can choose. It’s a really cool concept that seems incredibly simple, but makes for a really rewarding gaming experience. Honestly, I would say that this is the best climbing game I have ever played. The original Japanese version was never easy to find, even if it was “available”, but now it is almost impossible. Fortunately, it receives the reimplementation of the CES of this planet. Although this is also a Japanese publication, it should be more accessible through certain specialized stores, such as Tanuki Games in Austin or Big Cat Games in San Francisco.