In addition to being perhaps the most prolific, successful and innovative game designers in history, Sid Sackson was arguably the most prolific, successful and innovative game journalist in history. He wrote reviews and other articles for numerous magazines, including Games and Gamers Alliance, published books of his designs and searched the world for interesting games. One result of his efforts is Card Games Around the World, a collection of 63 game playable using variations on a standard deck of cards.
While collections of card games are common, the most striking feature of Sackson's book is the organization he brings to the subject, eschewing the more common division by mechanics in favor of sorting by continent of origin. After a brief introduction explaining that the lack of African games results from the lack of interest in cards in that region, Sackson spends a chapter explaining the terms used throughout the book.
The first chapter with games covers those from Asia. Seven different games are covered, none of which were familiar to me and, to be honest, none of which were of great interest to me; only Cha Kau Tsz' (a trick taking card game with some similarities to Tichu) and Khanhoo (a rummy game which would be hard to introduce to players without a good cheat sheet) might eventually convince me to play them. The prevalence of gambling games in Asia is definitely part of the issue, but Sackson's exclusion of card games with specialty decks also limits the chapter. I was introduced to Hanafuda by Sheila Davis a few years back, and would love to have seen Sackson's thoughts on the game. I can understand the decision to limit the book to games playable with standard card decks, but I wish it had taken on a wider charter.
Europe is covered over the next two chapters of the book, with a chapter full of sixteen games with a specific country of origin, and another containing thirteen games of unknown European origin. I found the games here far more familiar; for example, the chapter containing games of generic European origin includes War, Old Maid, Authors, Hearts, Fan Tan, Crazy Eights, and a few familiar solitaire variants. Even the games I'm less familiar with are ones I've looked into playing, such as Skat, or closely related to common games. A good example of the latter is Vint, a Russian game that bears more than a vague similarity to Bridge.
Even after two chapters of European games, Sackson still has ten to go, filling the next chapter with games from the British Isles. Again, the games are familiar to my American card game background, including such classics as Whist, Cribbage, and Casino. I found the rules for All Fours of particular interest, showing significant similarities to Pitch—one of a few notable games not to appear in the book.
The shortest chapter in the book covers just five games of Latin American origin; at that, it's really just three games, the last two games (Samba and Bolivia) being variants of Canasta. The other games covered are Conquian, a simple rummy game, and Pif Paf, a gambling game; the only real standout of the chapter is the familiar Canasta. (I'm not the right person to review a book on Canasta, so I will just note here that the game was sufficiently popular after World War II for noted Bridge author Charles Goren to write a book Goren's Canasta Up-To-Date, including two different methods for setting up a Canasta tournament.)
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me in Card Games Around the World is the seventh chapter, Games From the United States. Only eight games are covered—two Poker variants, four Gin/Rummy variants, Pinochle, and Contract Bridge. Besides the aforementioned Pitch, I was looking for such classics as Euchre, Spades, and 500 and was disappointed not to see them. However, Sackson somewhat atones for their absence by including four original games in the eighth and final chapter—Ronald Corn's Buried Treasure, Claude Soucie's Divide and Conquer, and Sackson's own Card Football and Card Stock Market. I don't know if Frank Nestel was aware of Divide and Conquer when he designed Pico, but the similarities are interesting—if unsurprising, given the very limited size of the games. Card Stock Market is probably the best known of these games, having been later republished as Black Monday by Hexagames. On the whole, these games are fine additions, if not as strong as many of the traditional games included.
Card Games Around the World is a worthwhile addition to any gamer's library, offering many choices unavailable in a typical book of game rules. It's not a replacement for those books though and it does not have nearly the amount of historical data I would have preferred—almost none, in fact, after the introduction. Still, even if it's not the book I'd like it to be, it's a very good book, well researched and offering plenty of interesting games for anyone with a deck or two of cards.
- Joe Huber