Stars and Stripes

A while ago I had the idea for a card game where each card is a square representing both halves of a domino piece simultaneously. That is, each card is decorated with one to six symbols of one kind (say stars), and one to six symbols of another kind (say stripes). Cards could be placed next to each other if they followed the matching rule that requires them to have the same number of stripes or stars. Here is a chain of eight cards, all following the matching rule:

Matching 01

I liked the idea (and I am sure others must have had it before me), but I also had a hard time coming up with a game worthy of this set of cards. Recent developments triggered the much needed idea.

Stars and Stripes is played on a 7 x 7 board. In the initial setup, the 36 cards are shuffled. Each of the 2-4 players draws a card randomly and places it face up into the corner nearest to him or her to mark home. The middle square of the board is occupied by a special card, called the Trump. You can make and decorate it yourself as you see fit, I have kept it gray and empty. Here is how the setup could look like with four players.

Setup 01

The remaining cards are dealt out to all players. If you play with 2, 3 or 4 players, each gets 17, 11 or 8 cards.

The primary purpose of the game is to gather the largest number of followers. A follower is a card on the board that is connected to the player’s home corner through other cards, who are then followers as well.

The players take turns. At each turn, the player must perform exactly one of the following three actions:

  • Place a card from the hand on an empty square of the board that is surrounded in all 9 directions by empty squares or by the border of the board. This card is then called an independent. Placing a card like this can be used to prevent other players to expand their fellowship, or to prepare one’s own future expansion.
  • Place a card from the hand on an empty square of the board so that it borders one or more follower cards of the player, but to no follower card of another player. Cards may border independent cards and/or possibly the Trump.
    Cards must be placed following the matching rule for all neighbors with which they share an edge. This means that the placed card must have the same number of stars or the same number of stripes as each neighbor in the four directions north, east, west, or south. The matching rule is not applied for the Trump. A card placed this way will automatically become a follower of the player, as do all independents this card possibly connects to.
  • Exchange one card randomly with another player. This is done as follows: Both players spread out their cards face down, and both players select simultaneously a card from the other player.

Let’s look at an example. After a few turns, the board might look like this:

Example 01

Player NW (upper left corner) has five followers, NE and SE four, and SW five. There are three independents. NE is blocked by an independent with one star and four stripes. The only way out of it is to play a card with four stripes and six stars or a card with three stripes and one star. This would also convert the independent into a follower.

Let’s suppose it is SW’s turn, and he or she would like to play the card that I placed next to the board. There are only three possible spots left for this card, marked by roman numerals.

By playing in spot I, SW will gain the independent with two stars and stripes as a follower. Playing in spot II just adds the card as a follower, and playing in spot III connects to the Trump.

Only one player can connect with the Trump, and the Trump does not count as a follower. However, by being connected to the Trump, the player is now allowed to break the matching rule:
Whenever he or she wants to place a new card, this card still must be either isolated or only border the player’s own followers and possibly independents, but the card does not need to match in the number of stars or stripes. In other words, the player connected to the Trump has it much easier to increase the number of followers.

The game ends when after a round, a player has run out of cards or no new card has been placed during that round. The winner is the player with the most followers.

For increased fun, this game can be played also on larger boards with several decks of cards.

You can download a pdf file with cards to print and cut out here.
Get it now, while the game is still legal to play.

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