- For ages 10 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 30 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Cooperative & Team Play
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- The traditional card game of Spades, but with a new and engaging twist!
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Card games continue to be not only one of the first games we are taught as a child (who here hasn’t played War, Old Maid, or Slap Jack?), and a constant in our society regardless if you are a casual player of game enthusiast. It’s little wonder that we continue to return again and again to our oldest games and dust them off for a new generation. So deeply rooted are they in our culture we cannot help but play that which we love and introduce it to the next generation who will continue the tradition. In this game, the traditional rule of Spades is updated to provide gamers of all kinds with a new and exciting approach to an old classic.
Pocket Spades, published by T-Boyz Table Games, is comprised of 60 cards. The cards are thicker and of higher quality than your standard playing card. Seriously, these cards are lovely. Glossed and slightly embossed, each card feels good between your fingers and looks brilliant on the gaming table. Excellent. Not included with the game but necessary to play is a pen or pencil and some paper to help calculate scores.
Setting Up the Game
To set up the game for four players, complete the following steps. The game setup for three and two-player games is slightly different and summarized in the Game Variants section of this review.
First, separate your groups into two teams (two gamers per team). Have team members sit across from each. If playing on a rectangular, circular, or oval table, ensure that the sequence order of the players continuously alternates between one team and the other.
Second, take all the cards and shuffle them together. Deal one card to each player. The player with the highest card value (in this game, that’s an Ace) is the First Player for the round.
Third, the player to the right of the First Player is the Dealer. The Dealer now takes back all the cards, shuffles them again, and deals 15 cards to each player, face-down. This is the player’s hand. They should look at their cards but keep them secret until played to the table.
That’s it for game setup. Time to play some Pocket Spades!
Quick Introduction to New Cards
Like the traditional game of Spades, the deck of cards does not contain any Jokers.
Unlike a traditional deck of cards, Pocket Spades introduces two new cards to each of the four traditional suits (Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs). These are the “One” and the “Princess” (usually noted with just a “P”). These two cards contribute to the suit’s total number of cards, have different values when taking tricks, and score different points when counting Sandbags (all of which is explained later in this review). For quick reference:
- “One” of any suit is the least valued card when taking a trick and scores four points for a Sandbag in the Pocket.
- “Princess” of any suit is valued between the “Jack” and the “Queen” when taking a trick and scores four points for a Sandbag in the Pocket.
Admittedly, the terms “Sandbag” and “Pocket” are meaningless to you now. Read on and educate yourself, fool!
Playing the Game
Pocket Spades is played in turns with no set number of turns per round (although I’m sure you could figure out precisely the number of turns based on the number of cards in the game – which I refuse to do because I’m a lazy, lazy man). A player’s turn is summarized here.
Note that there is a penalty for players who do not play the following phases correctly using the allowed cards. If they are caught doing so or correctly acknowledge their fault to the other players once they discover it, the fault is resolved by taking three “Books” previously collected by the team at fault and moving them out of play. These removed “Books” do not count during the end-of-round scoring.
Phase One: Play to the Pocket
The Pocket is a small area in front of the player that is reserved for their cards.
- On the player’s first turn, they must play one card to their Pocket face-down. This face-down card is referred to as the player’s “Stash.”
- On the players’ second turn, they must play one card to their Pocket on top of their Stash but play the selected card face-up. This face-up card is the player’s “Live card.”
It’s worth noting that cards played to the Pocket will never return to the player’s hand. However, cards played to the Pocket take on a life of their own, and a good deal of the game is played manipulating the Pocket.
On the player’s third and subsequent turns, they can take the following actions when completing the Pocket phase.
Play to the Stash
Place any additional card, face-down, under the Live card, adding to the cards in the player’s Stash.
Swap to the Stash
Place the current Live card in the player’s Stash. The player must now play a new Live card from their hand. The played card must be of a higher value than the previous Live card but may be of any suit.
Complete a Run
If the player’s Live card is of a higher value and of the same suit as opponents or a Spade of any value (but only if Spades have been “broken”), they may choose to complete one of two actions.
- Replace their opponent’s Live card with their Live card. The player then takes the opponent’s previous Live card and places it in their Stash.
- Replace their opponent’s Live card with their Live card. The player then looks through their opponent’s Stash and selects a card to put in their Stash, replacing it with their opponent’s previous Live card.
- Look through their opponent’s Stash, select one card to take, and place it in their Stash. The player’s Live card is then placed in their opponent’s Stash.
- Look through their opponent’s Stash and select one card to take and replace their opponent’s Live card. The opponent’s previous Live card is placed in the player’s Stash. The player’s current Live card is placed in the opponent’s Stash.
Don’t get confused here. The rules provided with the game do a great job of showing examples.
Phase Two: Play to the Table
The player must now play one card from their hand to the table. The table is a shared space for all the players.
If the player is playing the first card to the Table (meaning there are no other cards currently visible on the table except those in the Pockets), the player may lead with any card value or suit they like except for Spades. A player may only lead or play a Spade if the following conditions apply:
- They cannot play to the led suit (the first suit played to the Table this turn) and decide to play a Spade. At this point, Spades are considered “broken” for the game’s duration.
- They have no suits in their hand and must lead with a Spade to the Table. At this point, Spades are considered “broken” for the game’s duration.
If the Table has visible cards, the player must play to the suit that led. For example, if the led suit is a “Two of Hearts,” the player must play any Heart suit card in their hand. Spade rules apply.
After all the players have played one card to the Table, the player with the highest valued card of the same suit wins the trick. The one exception is if any Spades were played. In this case, the player who played the Spade with the highest value wins the trick.
The one exception to the above rule is if the “Ace of Spades” is played as a Live card. At which point, any “Four” of any suit can beat the led card. Following that, any suit of a higher value and the same suit can beat the “Four” card as usual.
If the player wins the cards at the Table, they collect the played cards and put them in a pile to create a “Book.” Keep each collected “Book” separate for easy counting during end-of-round scoring.
After the “Book” is collected. The game continues with the First Player starting their turn again with the Pocket Phase.
Ending the Game
The game ends when all players have played their last card to the Pocket. Teams now calculate their score.
Calculating points earned for collected Books is easy. Teams score 10 points per Book.
Calculating points earned in the Pocket is a bit more complicated but by no means complex. What players are looking to do is create “Sandbags” using cards in their Stash and their Live card. A Sandbag is made by combining cards in the Pocket to create four points. One Sandbag is worth the same value as one Book (10 points). Players evaluate the cards based on their face value to calculate the total number of Sandbags in the Pocket. It’s helpful to note that there is a number value on each card to help with this effort.
- The “One” card is worth four points each
- The “P” (Princess) card is worth four points each
- The “Two” card is worth three points each
- The “Three” card is worth two points each
- The “Four” card through “Ten” card is worth one point each
- The “Jack,” “Queen,” “King,” and “Ace” are worth minus one point each
The easiest way to quickly calculate your points is to add up all the points earned in the Pocket and divide by four (this is why the paper with a pen or pencil is handy). For every four, add one point to the team’s total score.
The team with the highest score wins the round! Start the next round by taking all the cards and setting up the game, as noted above. Keep all scored points recorded. The first team to score 500 or more points at the end of the round wins the game!
For a two and three-player game, the number of cards dealt to each player is different (listed in the rule book). Players are also on their own team, meaning all the players compete against each other.
If the game’s action is not enough, you can introduce a bidding element to the gameplay. This is done at the start of the game after each player has been dealt their hand. Teams determine how many Books they will collect (both at the Table and in the Pocket). This bid is recorded and kept to the side. At the end of the round, the teams determine if they met their bid. If they did, their score for the round would be doubled. If they did not, there is no penalty, regardless if they were over or under their bid.
A traditional full game of Pocket Spades is completed after a team scores 500 or more points at the end of the round. If that goal takes too long, you can reduce the total needed number of points, consequently reducing the game’s total time.
To learn more about Pocket Spades, visit the game’s web page.
The Child Geeks quickly learned how to play the game, with those Child Geeks who already knew how to play Spades picking up on the news rules like they were already well understood. The only complexity the Child Geeks had was keeping track of what cards they had in their Pocket and what they thought their opponents had in their Pocket. According to one Child Geek, “The game is no different than other trick-taking card games I have played, but the Pocket makes it a different game. I like how you can store your cards for later, and you can steal cards from the other players, too. Stinks when they steal your cards, though.” Another Child Geek said, “I didn’t know how to play the game until after we played it for one round. After that, I won the next round! I like it!” All the Child Geeks took a vote and approved Pocket Spades without hesitation.
The Parent Geeks also enjoyed the game a great deal, find it to be casual and engaging fun with their family and friends. Like the Child Geeks, those Parent Geeks who were already familiar with Spades immediately jumped into the action with those Parent Geeks note familiar with the traditional game from which Pocket Spades is derived, taking only a single round of gameplay to “get it.” As one Parent Geek put it, “If you are new to the game or any card game, I don’t think you’ll have any problem learning how to play it. The rules were easy to follow, with the only real complexity of the gameplay focused on how best to manage your Pocket and your opponent’s Pocket. I enjoyed myself.” Another Parent Geek said, “A great game of manipulating your scores and moving ever closer to the winner circle by shuffle cards around the table. I enjoyed myself and highly recommend players use the bidding game variant. Made this great game even better!” When all the votes were in, we were unsurprised to see that the Parent Geeks fully approved Pocket Spades.
We were surprised with how much fun the Gamer Geeks – our elitist gamers with a penchant for being picky about what they put on their table – enjoyed themselves. According to one Gamer Geek, “This is a solid game. It plays just like Spades which is both not a surprise and uninteresting. What was interesting was the Pocket and all the fun it provided via strategies each round and the depth of play tactically with my opponents’ Pockets. I had a lot of fun.” Another Gamer Geek said, “A game rooted in a traditional card game and expanded to encompass much more of what gamers want these days. Namely, interaction, depth, and a high level of replay. I was very surprised by the game and would recommend it to anyone looking for a solid filler or an easy-going game night with friends, a couple of beers, and a lot of laughs.” The Gamer Geeks voted to approve Pocket Spades, which was a delight to see and to report.
There are more versions and derivatives of Spades than I care to count. Take a look at Pagat.com for an incredibly long and thorough list of the many, many, many card games you can play around the world using nothing more than a traditional deck of cards. Of particular note are the different variants of Spades listed by the same website. I mention this only to make this point: Pocket Spades is unique. It has taken the traditional rules of Spades and found an exciting and engaging way to make an old game (popularly believed to have been invited in the 1930s) feel very new and fresh for a new generation of gamers looking for casual gameplay with friends at the table.
To which I must say, Pocket Spades nailed it.
Games with trick-taking elements are a dime-a-dozen, as the saying goes. This is to say, there are many out there, and they all do the same thing: play a card to get the pot. No big surprises there, and it’s a solid game mechanic that is widely used, adopted, and adapted. The Pocket and Sandbags, concepts introduced in other games, we’re a genuine and solid contribution to the game that took it to a new level of fun and engagement. I never felt my turn was a waste of my time or meaningless, and I always had multiple levels to consider.
But I speak, of course, from a Gamer Geek’s perspective.
Those not of my ilk found the game to be just as engaging as I without going into great depth about the game’s subtle mechanics and approach. At no time did any of our players, regardless of their experience, ever feel that too much was being put upon them or that the game was outside their means to comprehend and compete. A true testament to what a game should be and why I am most pleased to award Pocket Spades the Father Geek Seal of Approval. This game truly is for everyone, as the endorsements show.
Do try Pocket Spades the next chance you get. You’ll enjoy the old-school feel with a new twist that brightens up the game and opens it up to new ways to engage this classic.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.