The Last Card doesn't come with flashy bits, only a simple four suited deck of 64 cards numbered 1 to 16 in each suit. The rules specify precisely what action each player may take at every turn, thus allowing for new players to easily participate. However this game is far from being that simple! It is a great game that rewards well planned stategy (and it even rewards the occassional card shark that will count cards!)
Before going into the details about the game let me state I am a bridge player. There is no card game (or board game for that matter) that I would play over finding a session of bridge to sit in on. However, life isn't that simple and variety is nice so I do have a closet full of various games. The Last Card gets pulled out more often than most. While trick taking games are my favorite, I will generally sample many card games since I like the medium. My other favorites include Wizard and Die Sieben Siegel. What makes The Last Card fun and worthy is that it offers something unique not found in other card games...its scoring system.
Description of Play and Rules
To start the game the deck is adjusted based upon the number of players: With 3 players the deck contains 40 cards (1 - 10 in each of the 4 suits), With 4 players the deck contains 52 cards (1 - 13), and
With 5 players the entire 64 cards (1 - 16) are used. The suits are color coded and shaped (Purple Stars, Green Squares, Blue Circles, Red/Orange Triangles. The color of the triangles is probably a poor selection as it is very hard to categorize.)
The deck is shuffled and each player gets 12 cards which leaves 4 cards undealt. These 4 cards get set aside with the top one turned face up. The suit of this faced card sets the trump suit for the hand.
The goal or object of the game game is to score the most points after a fixed number of hands or to reach a specific number of points (I have played both ways. It doesn't have an impact on the enjoyment.)
As is the standard in all trick taking games, each player will contribute one card to each trick according to the rules of play. After all the tricks for the hand are played, the hand will be scored; and the next hand will be dealt. The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. The player that wins a trick gets to lead to the next.
Rules for playing to a trick
Any card may be played to start a trick.
All Players must follow these rules when adding a card to a trick
i) Follow Suit - if you can you must!
ii) Trump - if you can not follow suit, but have trump you must!
iii) If a player can neither follow suit nor trump there is no further restriction regarding which suit to play
HOWEVER there is an additional condition
Once you have determined which of the above rules apply another condition must be followed.
A player must play a card of higher value (numeric) than the highest card already played to the trick if possible. Otherwise ANY number may be played.
For example - The card 8 Blue Circle is lead. The next player has three blue circle cards in their hand, 4 Blue Circle, 9 Blue Circle, and 10 Blue Circle. By Rule i above one of these three cards must be played. Then by the additional condition, only the 9 Blue Circle or 10 Blue Circle can be legally played.
Suppose the 9 Blue Circle is played. The next player has no blue circle card in her hand. But she has trump (say Green Squares for this example), the 5 Green Square. By Rule ii above this card must be played. Note - If she had more trump she would be required to play one higher than the 9 if she had one.
The next player has neither a blue circle, nor green square so rule iii applies. However before 'any' card can be selected the additional condition must be met. Specifically, and card of value greater than a 9. The cards remaining in his hand include 10 Purple Star, and 12 Orange Triangle. Those are the only ones of higher value so one of these MUST be contributed to this trick.
Tricks are won by the highest valued card of the suit led, unles a trump has been played. If a trump has been played the highest valued trump card wins the trick. (standard - included for those that may not be familar)
Even though each player is dealt 12 cards a hand ends after the 11th trick is played. Scoring occurs while each player holds one card...Their LAST CARD.
At the end of each hand scoring takes place. A player's score is the product (multiplication) of the number of tricks a player has won and the value of his LAST CARD. So a player that has won zero (0) tricks scores 0 regardless of what card is still in his hand. Players scoring an equal number of tricks will get a different score if their last cards are different.
The rules may seem to make playing cards seem mechanical, but that is only at the beginning to the new player. PLayers will quickly learn a few things about the game while playing, such as; It is easier to get rid of a 1 when leading, trying to hold the 16 of trump is near impossible, and the 'power' of a long suit.
While one can't control what other players do with their hands I have found a player has a lot of control. Before the first trick I can usually recognize which one of 2 cards will be my last card and play accordingly.
The fact that players must play higher and trump means there is a lot of strategy as to what to lead. If you lead a 6 the other players can not discard cards with a lower value. If players are out of a suit you can lead it and 'pull' their trump.
Further there are sometimes hands that contain an interesting trade off in strategy. One strategy may bring you 6 or 7 tricks but leave you with a 2(last card) providing 12 or 14 pts. However played differently you could get 3 tricks and likely retain an 8 (last card) yiedling 24 pts which is certainly better. BUT if you are taking 3 tricks there are more tricks for the other players. If you have 7 there is likely to be a player with none and scoring 0.
There are definitely times when you get dealt a hand with no high cards and you are destined for a very low score, but these are balanced out in the long run as everyone gets their share of great hands where you will have all of the high cards and take most of the 11 tricks.
Given the random deal it is rare that there is a runaway leader but it can happen since a seasoned veteran will be able to manipulate inexperienced players.
Since this description may not be making clear that there is a strategy let me share a few:
A good score can be achieved with a 'relatively high' card at the end. Trying to keep your highest card is usually not a good strategy and won't work anyway. You need your highest cards to win tricks.
When leading will you dump your 1, giving the person next to you a 'free' chance to unload a 2 or will you carefully have realized that your 8 will force out the 15 in the suit and likely pull another players trump?
Once most of the trump have been played, what number to play is vital. While you may have the 7, 8, and 9 of a suit, leading the 7 isn't necessarily the best move. The player next to you may have a 4, 8 and 14 left. If you lead the 7 and she can't follow suit they will play the 8. BUT if you lead the 8, they must play the 14. This has an effect all the way around the table. Of course once someone has to play one of those high cards the rest of the players will be able to play any card once they can't top it. But since the lead will move the pressure of pulling out those high cards shifts around the table.
I find this game to be very fun, simple enough so it plays quickly yet complex enough that it is not based upon luck. I wouldn't recommend it for people that dont like card games. For those players stick to games like Category 5, games that will put cards in their hand but have simultaneous action. Or perhaps a game like Frank's Zoo, an escalating trick mechanic.
The scoring trade-off make this game great and I don't hesitate to suggest this if card players are available. If you enjoy games like hearts or pinochle, wizard, you will love this game. If you think it 'sounds' interesting go for it, you will enjoy it!