A card game for three
By Thorin N. Tatge
INTRODUCTION: Contractor is a trick-taking game for three players. It represents a combination of the creator’s favorite elements from various trick-taking games, and also features a novel twist. In Contractor, the players are encouraged to customize the contracts they bid for by assigning themselves various challenging conditions. The players can be seen as braggarts competing over what feats they can perform, or as politicians making promises on the stump. The best players will triumph by reading the other players and creatively making use of every available option.
SETUP: From an ordinary deck of cards, create a 33 card deck by removing the 2’s through 6’s and leaving in one joker. Assign someone to keep score. Decide before beginning how many hands you will play: it should be a multiple of three, to ensure all players will deal an equal number of times.
To begin each hand, each player is dealt ten cards and the remaining three cards are placed face down in the middle. They are known as the kitty.
SUMMARY OF PLAY: In this game, each player competes to win contracts and score points by fulfilling them. A contract consists of a strain and a set of conditions adding to the difficulty of fulfilling it. The strain can be any one of the four trump suits, or it can be one of three special strains described below. The combination of strain and conditions determines the value of the contract, which is a number 5 or greater.
The basic contract, with no additional conditions, is to win at least five out of ten tricks in the given strain, after taking any cards desired from the kitty.
BIDDING: Starting with the player left of the dealer and proceeding clockwise, each player in turn either passes, challenges, or bids. A bid consists of a strain and a set of conditions from the lists below. Together these determine the value of the bid. Each bid must have a greater value than the previous bid.
Each strain has a base value and each condition adds at least one point to that value. A player who bids to play in clubs, for example, while foregoing two cards from the kitty and with her hand exposed, is making a bid with a value of 10. If the next player wishes to bid, he must formulate a bid with a value of 11 or greater.
Once a player passes, he or she may not bid again that hand. Bidding continues until two players pass, at which point the third player becomes the contractor. (Exception: if the bidding begins with two passes, the third player gets a chance to bid and become the contractor; if he or she decides to pass instead, the hand is redealt.) The last bid made by the contractor is the contract for the hand.
Instead of bidding or passing, a player may challenge the previous bid. If the third player has not yet passed, he or she may bid again, but the player whose bid was challenged may not bid again unless this occurs. If the challenged bid does not become the contract, the player who challenged may bid again. If it does become the contract, the result is a side wager on the result of the hand between the challenger and the contractor. The winner gains three points and the loser loses three points when the hand is over.
PLAY: The following is a description of the play of a hand where the contract is a simple trump strain—either Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs or Spades—with no conditions. The strain in which the contract is played is called the trump suit.
The contractor starts by picking up the kitty, examining it, and then discarding back down to ten cards. The cards he or she chooses to discard are not seen by the other players, and may include cards picked up in the kitty.
Play then begins, with the contractor leading first. The cards are played in ten tricks, each trick consisting of three cards, one from each player, played clockwise in turn. The first card in a trick is called the lead. The other two players must each play a card of the same suit as the lead if they have any cards of that suit. If not, they may play any card. The highest card of the suit led wins the trick unless a trump is played, in which case the trick is won by the highest trump played. The player whose card won the trick gathers the trick in and leads to the next trick. When all ten tricks are played, each player will have won a certain number of tricks. The contractor must take at least five tricks in order to make his or her contract. If successful, he or she will score a number of points equal to the value of the contract. If not, he or she will lose that many points.
The joker is a special card. It can be played on any trick, and if it is led, the player leading it must declare what suit it belongs to. However, unlike in other games, the joker counts as the lowest card in the suit it belongs to. It cannot be used as a trump to win a trick if a trump was not led. The only way it can win a trick is if it is led and neither of the opponents either follow suit or play a trump.
If the contract is played in Diamonds, Hearts, Spades or Clubs, then that suit is trump during play. In addition, the players have three special strains to choose from during bidding.
No-Trump: In No-Trump, there is no trump suit. In addition, this is the only strain in which the contractor does not make the first lead: It is made instead by the player to the contractor’s left.
Crazytrump: If the contract is played in Crazytrump, then the trump suit is determined after bidding is concluded by revealing the top card of the kitty. The declarer then takes that card into his or her hand as normal, since it is part of the kitty. If the card revealed is the joker, then there is no trump suit, but the contractor leads first as normal.
Nil: In Nil, as in No-trump, there is no trump suit. In addition, the contractor’s objective is radically different from in any other strain. When playing a Nil contract, the contractor’s objective is not to take at least five tricks, but to avoid winning any. If the contractor takes any tricks, he or she is unsuccessful.
What follows are descriptions of the various conditions that players may include in their contracts in order to increase their value. Note that the word "point" refers here to the value of bids, and is not to be confused with the points that players are awarded after each hand and which determine the winner of the game.
Extra trick: The contractor may pledge to take more than the minimum of five tricks. Each extra trick pledged increases the value of the contractor’s bid by 2 points. This condition cannot be used in a Nil contract.
Card foregone from kitty: The contractor may forego one or more cards from the kitty at a value of 1 point each. The contractor does not get to look at these foregone cards. If the strain is Crazytrump, then the revealed card is the first card contractor takes from the kitty; thus the contractor gets that card unless he or she has pledged to forego the entire kitty.
Sour Trumps: If the Sour Trumps condition is bid, then the contractor may not lead a trump until one of the other players has played a trump. The only exception is if the contractor is on lead with nothing but trumps in hand, and even then if he or she has the joker it must be led as something other than a trump. This condition is worth 1 point.
Exposed: If the Exposed condition is bid, the contractor lays down his or her hand face-up after taking the kitty and discarding down to ten. Cards discarded in this fashion remain concealed. The contractor’s cards remain face-up throughout the hand. This condition is worth 2 points.
Absolutely Sure: If the Absolutely Sure condition is bid, the contractor will lose twice as many points for failing to make the contract. This condition is worth 1 point.
Nil without joker: This condition can only be used in a Nil contract. The contractor pledges not to use the joker during the hand. If a contractor who adopts this condition either holds the joker or gets it in the kitty, he or she must discard it as one of the cards needed to discard down to ten after taking the kitty. If the contractor forgets to do so, then the joker automatically wins the trick it is played in, guaranteeing that the contractor’s Nil bid will fail. This condition is worth 2 points.
Thievery: If the Thievery condition is adopted, then after the kitty has been taken and the contractor has discarded back down to 10, each of the other players takes one card at random from the contractor’s hand and then gives the contractor one card of his or her choice. It is permitted to return the card taken from the contractor. The player to the contractor’s left does this first, followed by the other player. This condition is worth 3 points.
Dealer’s bonus: All bids made by the dealer are automatically worth an extra point.
SCORING: At the end of each hand, the contractor either gains or loses a number of points equal to the value of his or her bid, depending on whether he or she made or failed to make the contract. Furthermore, each opponent gains one point for each trick he or she took during the hand (unless it was played in Nil, in which case each opponent gains one point for each trick the contractor took, if any). In addition, if the contract was challenged and made successfully, the contractor gains three points and the challenging player loses three points. If the contract was challenged and failed to make, the contractor loses three points and the challenging player gains three points. Finally, if the contractor played with the Absolutely Sure condition and failed to make it, the number of points he or she loses is doubled.
After the agreed-upon number of hands have been played, the player with the highest score is the winner.