With the whole world looking at Germany during the final stage of the soccer World Cup, it is a good opportunity to have a look at one of Germany's favorite games. XSkat is an open source implementation of Skat, a card game played with a deck of 32.
Skat is a trick-taking game for three players. In each round, one player plays against the two others, in most cases trying to score more than half of the card points. Which player has to play alone is determined by the bidding process, which precedes the actual gameplay of each round. Since game points can only be won (or lost) as the soloist usually the player with the best cards wins the bidding process. After the bidding process the soloist declares the trump suit and playing begins. When all 10 tricks have been played, the sum of the card points is calculated to determine who has won. If the soloist scored at least 61 card points, he has won and is awarded game points according to the value of the game. If he has lost, he loses twice the amount of game points. The player who scores most game points at the end of the evening is the winner. There are many additional rules and small details in Skat which are beyond the scope of this review.
The bidding phase in XSkat
On the first sight, XSkat looks a bit pale, but it has everything that is needed for playing Skat. Upon launch it starts with the bidding process of the first game. Bidding is done by clicking on buttons, and cards are played by simply clicking on them.
XSkat is highly customizable. The default ruleset is that of the International Skat Players Association, but there are many common variants like saying "Contra" to double the game value if you believe the soloist will lose. XSkat allows you to optionally enable many of these rules. When playing with "Bock" and "Ramsch" rounds it is even possible to choose the events after which these rounds occur.
Although XSkat allows to set the playing strength of the computer players, there is hardly a noticeable change in their playing style. Even on the hardest level, it is too easy for a moderately skilled player to beat the computer opponents. If you find the computer players too weak, you may play against other human players via the multi-player mode.
Generally speaking, XSkat is a fun game and is especially suitable to learn Skat or improve your playing. But nothing beats playing with some friends at a real table and drinking lots of beer.