Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pit (1903)

by Parker Brothers, for 3-8 players (10 in some editions)

If the title means nothing to you now, it should. Pit should be as well-stocked as Scrabble.

Up to eight players participate in this game of rapid trading. For each player, there's one "suit" of a commodity, such as rice, coffee or corn. Each suit contains nine cards. Also joining the mix are a Bull card and a Bear card. The deck is dealt as evenly as possible (two players will always have 10 cards instead of 9). When the dealer says so, the market opens. Each player is trying to trade cards away so they can corner the market with all 9 of a particular commodity.

How do you do it? Suppose you have four of one commodity in your hand, and only pairs of the others. You shout out "two!" repeatedly, indicating you have a pair to trade away. You'll hear the shouts of another player with the same number, lock eyes with them, and hastily switch cards in secret. You continue like this until one player excitedly ends trading, having collected all nine of their desired suit. That player collects the point value on the card. The Bull is a wild card. As such, if you have 8 matching cards, plus the Bull, you win. The Bear subtracts from your score no matter what. But you can trade it with any like set of cards. So three corn and the bear can be traded with a shout of "four! four!"
Whoever reaches a pre-determined point total is the winner.

Just think of an entire Thanksgiving dinner party shouting numbers at each other after the food's clear. It's a riot.
Pit is virtually the definition of pick-up-and-play. And I heartily recommend the "deluxe version" which comes with the tap bell seen on service counters. Couple spirited yelling with the clanging of the bell, and you have a recipe that will make anyone not playing take notice. Any age can play. Any intoxication can play. I've found six players to be the right amount of chaos. With eight, it's hard to trade beyond the players nearest to you.


I know I once made a derisive remark about games where you trade wheat. I wasn't coming close to talking about a game like this. Pit is raucous, easy to learn, and unlike fluffy getting-to-know-you games that practically TELL you the scorekeeping is for naught, Pit is fun whether you score five points or five million. Try it once, and you'll want to play it again.

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