Have I mentioned lately that I love trick-taking card games? I’m sure you can tell based on how many I’ve reviewed in the past. Well, today I’ve got another one for you. This one is called Court, A Royally Clever Card Game which recently funded on Kickstarter.
Court offers up some very unique twists to traditional trick-taking card games. Things like having only three suits, face cards with special abilities, golf style scoring and perfect information after the first hand.
Read on to see how this all works together…
Disclosure: Thank you to B5 Productions for sending us a review copy of this new card game. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Court the card game all about?
This is very much a passion product from a new designer using Kickstarter as it was originally intended to be used. Court was designed by Christopher Bouthner and features artwork from Samhypewaltz. It was successfully funded through Kickstarter in a campaign that launched at the end of May 2022 and was shipped in December 2022. The game was published through Christopher’s own company, B5 Productions.
This trick taking card game plays three to five players with games taking under an hour and getting quicker the more often you play. This card game is listed as suitable for players ages eight and up, which seems about right.
You can currently get a copy of Court through Gamefound where it costs $15. It should also soon be in retail and online stores with an MSRP of $25.
In Court, players compete to have the lowest score by winning tricks using a special deck with only three suits. After winning a trick you distribute the cards you won to each player, including yourself. Those cards are added to each player’s court. At the end of each hand, all players score points equal to the total value of the cards in their court. After three rounds the player with the least points wins.
There are also rules involving the odd numbered cards and character cards which each have special powers. Each player gets one character card dealt to them at the start of the game.
To get a look at the cards, crowns, and other bits you get with Court, check out our Court Unboxing Video on YouTube.
If you take a look at the video you will see that the game comes with some pretty traditional looking standard cards, plus the character cards, which are based on traditional playing card face cards, and the objective cards, which I haven’t really mentioned yet. The box also includes black wooden crowns, a score pad and pencil, and a set of small but clear instructions.
The component quality is good here, but there are some graphic design choices that we found to hinder the game and there’s at least one misprinted card (details in my final thoughts below).
The card quality in particular is excellent, with these feeling like standard traditional playing cards, and I really appreciated that the majority of the cards were fully reversible, with you being able to read them no matter when way you held them in your hand.
How do you play Court?
Start a game of Court by pulling out all of the character cards from the main deck and selecting one of each rank to use for this game. When playing with four or five players you also randomly select one or two ten cards and put those in with your chosen character cards.
Shuffle the rest of the deck and deal the cards out evenly between the players. At some player counts there will be a leftover card. If that’s the case, put that card into the box without looking at it. Then deal each character a random card from the character cards you put aside.
Next, shuffle the objective cards and flip two face up in the center of the table and place the wooden crowns within easy reach of the players.
The start player is determined randomly and has the lead.
For each trick, the lead player plays one card to the center of the table. Going clockwise around the table each other player plays one card. The suit of all following cards must match the lead card’s suit if possible. If a player can’t follow suit they can throw an off suit card.
The player who played the highest card of the matching suit wins the trick and takes one crown token. Then you find the lowest played card in the trick. If that card has a power on it, it activates for the player who played it.
Only odd numbered cards have powers and these range from swapping cards in your hand and your court, swapping cards between courts, getting to choose the card you win from a trick even if you didn’t win a trick, causing a player to discard crowns and stealing a crown from an opponent.
If you play an off suit card it counts as a zero in regards to setting off powers and the lowest off suit card is the one that activates, in the case of two or more players playing off suit. If there’s still a tie the last card played is the one to go off.
Note that it’s always the lowest card overall that goes off, not the lowest odd numbered card. This is easy to forget. Even numbered cards, in this case, have a power that activates which is that they do nothing.
Character cards mess with things even more. A character card is considered the highest card when played into a trick but counts as the lowest card when setting off abilities. If multiple character cards are played in one trick, then the character card matching the suit lead has precedence with the last card played winning and going off if the suit is not matched.
The powers on character cards are much more powerful than the abilities of the odd numbered cards.
The winner of the trick then divides up the cards in that trick to the players, one card per player. These cards are placed face up in front of the players forming their court. When dividing cards up you cannot give yourself a character card, they must be passed to another player.
The last thing I need to mention is the objective cards. If at any time you match the requirements of a face up objective card you claim it, putting it below your court. Each completed objective is worth -5 points at the end of the game.
The player who won the trick gets the next lead.
The round continues until every card is played and all tricks are taken.
Players then calculate their end of round scores by adding up the value of the cards in their court (remember characters are worth zero in a court) and subtracting two for each crown earned. If any objective cards were claimed replacements are drawn from the deck.
Everyone then returns all of their crown tokens to the table and picks up the cards in their court, which then become their new hand, as play continues to the next round. The player with the most points gets the lead for the new hand.
You do this for three rounds. At the end of the game, players total their points for each round and subtract points for any objective cards they have claimed. The player with the least points wins.
In addition to these rules, when playing with exactly four players, you can also play Court in teams. When playing this way a team only scores points for the player with the highest total.
Court does some very different things with Trick-Taking.
When I learned about Court I knew I had to check it out.
As you’ve surely noticed we love trick-taking games here at The Tabletop Bellhop. We’ve reviewed a number of them in the past, most recently Thrones of Valeria from Daily Magic Games, but also Macaron from Sunrise Tornado, Gorus Maxiumus from Inside Up games and The Crew from Kosmos. We also love games doing something new and are always on the look for unique games. Court, A Royally Clever Card game fits in with both of these things.
Of all of the trick-taking games we’ve talked about in the past Court is probably the most unique. It offers up quite a few differences from traditional card games, like Spades or Hearts, upon which it was built. This includes the fact there are only three suits, the way face cards are used, the objective cards the entire court tableau system, the fact odd cards have powers and the entire lowest score wins victory condition.
This is a lot of changes in one game and that, I think, is going to be a deciding factor on whether or not this game is right for your group.
Personally, I like all of it, and find it all works rather well together, though it did take a bit to pick up and grok all of these changes. As an experienced gamer, I’ve seen all of these things before, just never all together in a trick-taking card game.
I worry that a traditional card game player, or even more so someone who isn’t even familiar with trick-taking, is going to find all of these overlapping rules to be overwhelming and confusing.
The other problem you get when combining so many different game mechanics is potential game unbalance and I think this is a problem in Court. There are some character cards that are just better than others, and others that combo poorly (or way too well) with certain objective cards.
There is one Jack character card that has you “guess” what cards are in the other player’s hands. Well in this game, after the first hand, you know what’s in everyone’s hand for the next round. If you’ve got this Jack in your court at the end of the round you just need to memorize at least one card from each of the other player’s courts and then play your Jack on hand one. That’s pretty much a free crown per opponent, plus one for winning the trick if your Jack goes through.
Another example of this is the character card that reverses the rules for the next trick so that the lowest card wins the trick and the highest card’s power goes off. When you combo this with the objective that has you trying to win a trick with a four or lower, you are pretty much guaranteed -5 points.
These interactions felt like they could have used some more development and playtesting to me. At this point, we’ve just chosen to not use those specific cards.
On a similar note, there are some inconsistencies between the cards, rules, and powers. The rules talk about Royals and Characters in the same paragraph, obviously talking about the face cards, and one Objective card references “your workshop”, a term that isn’t used anywhere else. Both of these make me think this game may have been based on another theme at one point.
We also ran into a few ambiguities that weren’t clarified in the rules. For example, one of the objectives is to win three crowns in a row. Do these have to be won as part of tricks? What about the Joker card I mentioned earlier where you get crowns for guessing cards or the one Queen card that gives you two crowns for one trick?
While it’s pretty easy for your group to have a short chat and decide how you want to play, it would have been nice to find some official clarification.
This problem was exacerbated when playing in teams with four players. The four player rules are just one short paragraph in the rulebook with no adjustments to play except for scoring. Once we began playing though we started to have questions like, “Can I give my partner a character card?”. For this specific example, the rules specify that you can’t keep a character but it doesn’t say you can’t give them to a partner or that you have to give them to an opponent. This is just one example of the ambiguities we found when playing in teams.
The biggest problem with Court though is the graphic design. There are a number of minor issues here that all add up. For one they chose the three suit colours to be red, green and black. These are terrible colour choices when looking at vision issues, specifically red green colourblindness. For people with this issue, the red and green suits will both look yellow.
Now to be fair each suit does have a different symbol, which does make up for this, but I still wish they had just gone with more colorblind friendly colours for each suit.
Next, you have the card text which is super tiny. Both on the cards as well as on the reference cards. There’s text on each of the odd numbered cards and half the people I played this game with had to either grab their reading glasses or a magnifying glass to be able to read the cards. This is a case where some clear iconography would have been much better suited to actual words on the cards.
The worst case of this is on the character cards. I’m not sure what they actually did but these cards look like someone typed up the abilities, photocopied them, cut them out into strips, placed them over the cards, and then scanned them. They look hand cut and the black card text over the blotchy grey background was completely unreadable to one player I played the game with.
With all of these problems, we were still able to play the game. It didn’t take long to learn what each of the card powers were so we didn’t have to read the cards, and we just gave the character cards to the kids who have much better eyesight than us and read off what the powers were at the start of each game.
We’ve tried it at all player counts and found that this game works best with three.
With three players the entire deck is in play and there’s something about three suits for three players that just feels right. At this player count you have enough cards in your hand that it’s not often you have no cards in a suit, something that, to me, makes trick-taking games more fun and interesting.
Looking at just the gameplay I’m very impressed by Court. I really like what it’s doing here. My favourite part is the way players split up the cards at the end of a trick. This is a very cool mechanic with surprising depth.
At first, you would think you want to collect all of the low cards, that way you get the least points, but by doing so you end up messing up your hand for the next round. Those low cards probably aren’t going to win you a lot of tricks. Then you also have planning around what card powers you have. You don’t mind taking a ten if you’ve got a one you can use later to put it back into your hand to win a future trick while swapping it for a low card from your hand. This adds a huge amount of strategy to the game, more than I’ve seen in any other trick-taker.
Another thing to note, which I mentioned in passing before, is that all players in this game have perfect information as soon as the first round is done. At that point, you will have not only seen every card in play but also exactly which cards will be in which player’s hands for the next round. This makes this game extremely tactical and really rewards card counting.
Together this level of strategy and tactics is a mixed blessing. Not everyone who plays card games enjoys counting cards. Some people just want to focus on what’s in their hand and play more casually and that doesn’t work well in Court. If you can’t be bothered to count cards and keep track of what’s been played and what hasn’t and who has what, you won’t do well against another player who is doing this extra work.
As for my personal game groups, this game has had a mixed reception. For my youngest daughter, the multiple mechanics, various card abilities, and things you have to think about all at once, were just too much for her. On the other hand, my oldest daughter loved it and has been asking to play more often.
My wife didn’t love it the first time we played but grew to enjoy it more the more we played and in the end thinks favourably of the game though she hated the teams version and is the one that had the most issues with the graphic design.
My trick taking loving friends enjoyed the game quite a bit as did my mother in law. Personally, I enjoy it and plan on keeping it in my collection. I’m not sure it would be my first choice if someone asked me to sit down and play a card game with them, but it would definitely be considered.
Overall I dig Court. It feels like a traditional trick-taking game with a bunch of additional mechanics. It’s got a “trick-taking for hobby gamers” vibe going on with the mechanics and I only wish that was backed up with hobby card game production values.
What I would personally love is to see this game do well enough to get a second printing and then have that second printing improve on the existing problems. Give me a nice clear reference card listing all of the card powers, toss some iconography on the cards, swap to more colour blind friendly colours, and clear up any rule ambiguities. As it is we still enjoyed Court but it could be better.
If you enjoy traditional trick-taking card games, especially Spades, you may want to check out Court. This is especially true if you often find yourself with only three players. While most traditional card games require four I find Court plays best with three.
If you are a card gamer who loves card counting and playing against opponents who do the same, where the skill is in reading the other players and playing through your hand in the right order and not the luck of the draw, you are going to love Court.
This card game is a card counters’ dream due to the fact that after the first round everyone has perfect information. My dad was this kind of player and he would have adored this game, especially if we were playing a penny a point.
If you haven’t played a trick-taking game before, or are still pretty new to this style of card game, I would say you should probably stay away from Court. There are a lot of additional mechanics tossed on top of the whole “I lead, you follow” mechanics found in the typical trick-taker.
Personally, I’m looking forward to trying this game out with more people and perhaps bringing it out to a public play event.
There you have it, yet another trick-taking card game review. I hope people aren’t getting sick of these as this is a mechanic I really enjoy and I’m always looking for new games that use it in different ways.
Do you know of any trick-taking card games that I may not have tried? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.