The game: Texas Showdown by Mark Major. This was originally self-published as Strife in 2015, then published by Amigo in 2018.
I bought this myself.
Elevator pitch: A Western-themed trick avoidance game for 4–6 players with couple of very clever twists.
What’s in the box? A standard Amigo card game box contains a 60-card deck and a slip of rules. The cards are illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel.
The deck has eight suits. At the bottom, there’s 11 black cards with numbers 0–10. Then comes 10 red cards, numbers 11–20, then 9 blue cards with numbers 21–29 and so on, until finally we have 4 gray cards with numbers 71–74.
What do you do in the game? Texas Showdown is a trick-taking game where the goal is to avoid tricks. The first twist is this: you have to follow suit, but if you can’t do that, you can play any card – and now the players after can follow either the original suit or the one you played.
The second twist is the winner of the trick: the trick goes to the player who played the highest card in the suit that was played most in the trick. If there’s a tie in the number of cards, as often there is, the highest card in the tied suits wins the trick.
This all means that reneging, which is usually something you want to do in trick-avoidance games, becomes very dangerous. You can’t just discard high cards that way, as that’s a sure-fire way to win some tricks.
It’s all very clever. The game is played until someone has 10–15 points, which takes at most four rounds. The player with the least points wins.
Lucky or skillful? There’s luck, as is usual in card games. Sometimes you’re dealt a better hand, sometimes you’ll take plenty of tricks. With larger players counts, the game also becomes chaotic. That’s fine: it’s still meaningful and interesting.
Abstract or thematic? The Western theme is just decoration, this is an abstract trick-taking game.
Solitaire or interactive? Plenty of interaction, as is usual for trick-taking games. There are plenty of good opportunities to pass tricks to someone else, and often you’ll be given a choice where to pass the trick – if there’s a 2–2 tie and you’re last and can play both tied colors, you can choose who gets the trick.
Players: 3–6. I just wouldn’t bother at all with three; there are plenty of good trick-taking games for three players. Four is fine, five gets more interesting and I don’t see why six wouldn’t be very good, too. The game shines with five or six, since those are more unusual numbers for trick-taking games.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 10+. It’s fine. The rules are very light, especially for someone who has a basic understanding of trick-taking games, but the nuances of playing well may be too much for children.
What’s to like: This is a fresh take on trick-avoidance and will surprise people. The surprise quickly turned into murmurs of approval as we played, and after the first hand was over, our game group was well into the game. The supported player count is unusual, which is always good.
What’s not to like: It’s just another trick-taking game. If you don’t like trick-taking, Texas Showdown won’t change your mind.
My verdict: It took me couple of visits to the game store and a bit of buzz before I caved in and bought a copy of Texas Showdown. I thought it might work, as our group generally likes trick-taking games and there are often five or six of us around, which is too much for our favourite game, Slovenian Tarokk.
I was quickly proven right, as the group really enjoyed this clever little trick-taker. It strikes a good balance: it’s fresh enough, while being really simple and easy to teach. All in all, I think Texas Showdown succeeds in creating something new and fresh and if you’re looking for a trick-taking game for five or six players, I very much recommend giving it a go.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Texas Showdown gets Suggest from me.