Monday, July 26, 2010

How to succeed at Phase 10 without really trying

Fair warning, this post may be unreadable to plenty of reasonable people. But if you want a solution in case you ever find yourself in a Vietnamesque game of Phase 10, or if you just appreciate a good "Eureka!" moment, read on. If you don't like the advice, well, find another person to help you out who has, you know, won a game of Phase 10. 

Now, for those who don't know what Phase 10 is, it's a card game, apparently named for an old Naval term meaning "unfinishable," but in a nutshell: each card has a color and a number, you seek to work through 10 separate phases (ex. two sets of three, seven in a row, etc.), you can only get one phase per hand, hands end when someone gets rid of all their cards, and you get penalized for the cards you have left in your hands when someone else gets rid of all their cards. The game includes Skip and Wild cards to spice things up. First to 10 phases wins, tiebreakers are decided by whoever has fewer "penalty" points for cards left in hand. 

Okay, housekeeping out of the way, now on to how to win, because this must clearly sound like a game that demands winning and competitive excellence. So here are three easy steps for how to win: 

(Disclaimer: I have now played a whopping two games of Phase 10. I was in the running for the win in the first, but the game broke apart after hours of stalemate. With several players, the game can drag out into Isner-Mahut absurdity. The second game, I had a horrendous start, figured out the below keys to success, and rallied, although I was unable to come all the way back, partially because I had to learn the below pearls of "wisdom" the hard way: through relentless failure. So yes, I'm 0-1-1 all time in Phase 10. Take this with about three or four grains of salt.) 

1. Build your sets and runs around high-numbered cards. Yes, you are penalized 10 pts. for cards numbered 10 or higher that you have left at the end of a hand, and 5 pts for cards 1-9, but at the end of each "play" a player must discard. Now players usually discard 10s, 11s and 12s to avoid the higher point penalty, so when you put yourself in a position to need cards 10-12 to finish your phase, the other players have motivation to discard the specific cards you need, which you have the option to pick up. The game is all about phases; worrying about penalty points accumulated is like extra points in football: they are on rare occasions the difference, but it's all about the touchdowns. 

2. After phasing, strive to end the hand as soon as possible. I made the ludicrously stupid decision to play a Skip card on another player who only had one card left, even though I had already phased, hoping I could get rid of my cards first. Shockingly, I couldn't get rid of mine, and another player (the eventual winner) phased as well. Again, having cards when the hand ends and getting penalty points isn't that important. The game is all about phasing while having the fewest number of other people get a phase. Everything else is window dressing. Obvious? Perhaps, but this discovery was a light-bulb moment for me. 

3. Be careful about when and on whom you play Skip cards. Don't mess with the soft-spoken girl playing next to you. She will bury you. 

And quite possibly say "Screw you" in the process. 

(I should have an actual sports blog up soon, for those of you who are taken aback by the ridiculousness of the above "writing.") 

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