The USS Quad Damage

Unrolling the Rules

How we ended a game of Bartog based on the core rules

I learnt of a card game named Bartog at work, and I decided I hated my high school friends enough that I’d teach them. Luckily, the Wikipedia page has been edited recently1 so I don’t have to explain the rules again. The point here is that there were a bunch of technicalities I failed to explain at the beginning of the game. Most of these were easily resolved, like how at work, despite the fact that we have a dealer, anyone is allowed to play the first card2, so we introduced this rule in the following game.

In fact, you could say that we had reached a concensus to introduce that rule.

However, as the game progressed I found something was niggling me, and it was the way the penalties were applied. The way it’s described in Wikipedia, and the way we play at work, seems clear enough at first glance:

A penalty of one card is awarded for a number of illegal actions in Bartok. Anyone may award penalties in Bartok, although only one penalty may be awarded to a player for any given action, so if two people simultaneously accuse player X of the same action, only one of the penalties holds. Penalties do not end a player’s turn. For example, if awarded a Too Slow penalty the player must still either play or pick up. Below is a complete list of penalties. In italics is the appropriate accusation that should accompany each one.

Generally, at work this means:

  • If you break a rule, you roll-back your move, and (if it’s your turn) make a legal move. You also pick up a card for the penalty. Yesterday I was arguing that you should pick up the card after the roll-back but before making the legal move, but I now think it should be done after playing the legal move.

This works on out-of-turn moves in that because it’s not your move, and you didn’t make a legal move, when you roll-back the move, everyone else has an equal right to play a legal move. It also works on in-turn moves because legal cards can be (conceptually, not physically) “rolled-back” then immediately played, and illegal cards were rolled back, and a legal card had to be played. If a legal card couldn’t be played, the player would have to pick up two cards (one for not being able to play a legal card, and one for the penalty).

However, the way we were playing was:

  • If it’s your turn and you play a legal card, but do something else that attracts a penalty (like not say Bartog), then the legal card remains, but you pick up a card (this is consistent with the rule above).
  • If it’s your turn and you play an illegal card, then you take back your card, pick up a card, and lose your turn.

I argued that this was inconsistent, but couldn’t get through to my opposition (about half of the players). They argued that an illegal play was different to a “call”, and therefore the player should be penalised “more”. I was arguing that those rules were just implicit and made-up, it just so happened that most players had the same implicit rules in their head.

They also argued (correctly) that if they picked up for their penalty before replaying their move, they get an advantage of having an extra card. I should’ve noticed this was wrong. In any case, our game of Bartog ended there. Amazingly, despite the fact that this was well into the game, the arguement consisted purely of the core rules, and could’ve occured at the first round.

I still have no idea why it was so passionately fought. Perhaps it was all the fake alcohol we had.

1 I looked up Bartog before and it only mentioned some specific house rules, and they weren’t the same as the ones I’d learnt.

2 This generally introduces some amount of anticipation into the first rule, and so makes the game more exciting from the get-go.