North Star Games sent me a review copy of Clubs earlier this year and I'm finally getting around to writing a review. We've played it off and on since the spring, including taking it on our trip to Greece, and I'm happy to say this is a keeper and works quite well with a range of player counts.
I expected Clubs to be a trick taking spinoff of Hearts or Spades but it bears little resemblance to those games. It sits squarely in the family of climbing games along with Tichu and The Great Dalmuti. In contrast to trick-taking games, in climbing games each player can keep playing card(s) until the play is won or everyone passes.
If you've played Tichu, the easiest way to describe Clubs is that it is a simpler version of Tichu with a bit more chaos. It is simpler because players are very limited in what they can play. If the lead player plays a pair, you can only climb over that play with a higher pair. There are no bombs, no dragons, no phoenix. Clubs is more chaotic because the entire deck is not always dealt out -- only 10 cards per player per hand.
Players are trying to balance two goals: going out first (meaning emptying your hand) and accumulating scoring cards (clubs) by winning plays. Going out first (or just early) is critical because you score more points for going out earlier and zero points if you go out last -- you don't even score points for any scoring cards you may have won! Usually these two goals are mutually supporting but there are times you may avoid taking scoring cards to hold onto a card or two that can help you go out.
The game comes in an easy to pack box and has very simple rules. The cards are easy to read and I like how they including scoring cards that scale with the number of players. The cards are very good quality, I think with a linen finish, and are very easy to shuffle. There's nothing else in the box besides cards and two riles pamphlets.
My Concluding Thoughts
This is a very solid, light card game that is easy to learn and can be played in short 30 minute sessions. I wonder how easy the game is to learn from the rules for someone not familiar with climbing games, but I can't comment as it was easy for me (and my family) to pick up. We've taught it to non-gamers with good success and I think the higher level of chaos might help keep this more of a casual game. Card counting won't really help you out in this game - you just need to manage your hand as best you can and hope for the best.