A trick-taking game where players take risks based on the strength of their hand, form temporary partnerships, and try to out-score the opposition.
Sheepshead is an American version of the German game known as Schafkopf.
The main goal of Sheepshead is to capture tricks and earn at least 61 points during the round.
Winning players/teams earn points accumulated between rounds. Whoever has the most at the end of the game wins.
Sheepshead is best played with either 3 or 5 players. 4 players is possible, but not generally recommended.
Use a standard deck of cards (no Jokers) with all suits 2-6 removed, leaving only 32 cards in the deck (7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A).
Choose a dealer at random, then deal as much of the deck as possible to all players, making sure each one receives the same number of cards. For a 3 player game, each person would receive 10 cards; 4 players get 7 cards; 5 players get 6 cards.
Place the remaining cards (two or four) face-down on the table. These are the blind cards.
The person to the dealer's left traditionally goes first, and play proceeds clockwise.
Playing the Game
For their first turn, each player will have the option to pick up the blind cards and place them in their hand. Doing so names them as the picker. Slide the "picker" puck beneath that player's seat to indicate this.
After taking the blind cards, the picker will discard two cards from their hand.
Next, the picker will name a partner whose cards will be scored with theirs as a team at the end of the round. Picking a partner is done in one of two ways:
The picker states that whoever holds the Jack of Diamonds is their partner. This is the most common method.
The picker may name the Ace of Hearts, Ace of Clubs, or Ace of Spades and whoever holds this card becomes their partner.
Note that partners are not revealed publicly, so players shouldn't share when they're chosen as a partner. The remaining players become an opposing team for the round.
Of course, players may pass on taking the blind cards. If every player has a chance to take them but no one does, players set aside the blind cards and vote to play the game as a leaster or a doubler:
Leaster - The person who scores the fewest points wins. There is no picker and no partners.
Doubler - All of the cards are reshuffled and new hands are dealt to all players. There is no picker and no partners. Points lost and gained at the end of this round are doubled.
Once partners are set, play continues clockwise from the picker. The next person plays the first card (the lead).
Sheepshead divides the entire deck into trump cards and fail cards. There are 14 designated trump cards. They are are, in order of highest to lowest:
Queen of Clubs, Queen of Spades, Queen of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds
Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds
Diamond-suited cards A, 10, K, 9, 8, 7
The remaining fail cards (18 in all) are ranked slightly differently than what most players will be familiar with. From highest to lowest:
Ace of Clubs, Ace of Spades, Ace of Hearts
Ten of Clubs, Ten of Spades, Ten of Hearts
King of Clubs, King of Spades, King of Hearts
Nine of Clubs, Nine of Spades, Nine of Hearts
Eight of Clubs, Eight of Spades, Eight of Hearts
Seven of Clubs, Seven of Spades, Seven of Hearts
On each turn, players will play a card to the center of the table, following the previous card's suit if possible. Note that trumps count as a suit in and of themselves, so if player one plays a trump suit, the following player can play any trump.
After everyone plays a card, the person with the highest-value card takes the trick.
Tricks continue until all hands are empty. Players then score their taken tricks and teams gain/lose player points (see Scoring section below for details).
The cards are shuffled and dealt again. Players are given a chance to take the blind cards or to pass. The player who won the previous trick then begins the new trick.
Taking a Turn
Play a card onto the trick pile, matching the previously played suit if possible.
When all players have added a card, the player who placed the highest-value card takes the trick.
The goal in Sheepshead is for a team to win 61 out of a maximum possible 120 points. Pickers and their partners are scored a team, and everyone else is a team.
Add the value of each player's taken tricks by consulting the chart below. This sum will be recorded on the Card Points counter.
Ace - 11 points
Ten - 10 points
King - 4 points
Queen 3 points
Jack - 2 points
9, 8, 7 - no points
Combine the scores of the picker and their partner, then the scores of the other players.
If the picking team gets 61 or more card points, the picker earns 2 points and their partner earns 1. All other players lose 1 point. Indicate this on the Player Points counter.
If the picking team earns less than 60 card points, the picker loses 2 points and their partner loses 1. All other players will gain 1 point.
If the picking team wins and the other team doesn't earn more than 30 card points, double the points each player wins or loses in this round.
If the non-picking team wins and the picking team doesn't earn more than 30 points, double the points each player wins or loses in this round.
If the picking team takes all of the tricks and earns the full 120 points, they earn three times the usual points for the round, and the other team loses three times the usual points.
If the non-picking team takes all of the tricks, the picker loses three times the usual points and the winning team earns three times the usual points. Note that the picker's partner receives no penalty in this scenario.
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