Pilatch Card Games

Origin Story

Back in the day, Pilatch was spawned from fiction, and the number three.

I had been working on a novel. A sprawling plot so self-confused that I repeatedly had to start over. I wrote a pivotal event. The beginning of a story. A prologue to better establish the cast. Finally I delved another twenty years into the past of the protagonist, and then enjoyed a writing spurt — about forty pages. I knew where the story was going, what potential it had for twists, the motivations of each character. Even the events of book one's final chapter were complete, though only in my mind.

Ah, the inevitable tangent. A few chapters in, there was a tournament, with a big prize for the winner. My fictional people played a card game called "Pilatch." Nevermind the etymology. Pilatch was like poker, but different somehow. It was imaginary, after all.

I kept writing past that point, and was satisfied with the results, but there was an itch. Mind you, I'm a gamer. I began to wonder, what is this game they're playing? If my writing is going to be realistic, then I should probably test this game out, or at least come up with some rough rules, just so I know how it works.

I took a poker deck and removed a suit, and the aces. Something about the strange numbers in a poker deck bothered me: four and thirteen. Instead, with three suits, and twelve ranks per suit, (also a multiple of three), the numbers were more pleasing. This left a thirty-six card deck, which felt mystical.

To fit the time period I was writing for, I assigned three archaic-sounding suits: Swords, Tomes, and Torches. These suits may have represented different factions such as the military, clergy, and peasants, respectively. Furthermore, there was a cyclical relationship between these such that the church issued orders to soldiers, who in turn kept the populace in line, but in times of revolt the overwhelming numbers of the lowest class would rise up and topple those in power. To summarize, Tomes instruct Swords. Swords cleave Torches. Torches burn Tomes. Sidenote — the relative power of Aces in a deck of standard playing cards is attributed to the French Revolution.

Returning to the numbers, the deck revolved around three. So I created a game where each player is dealt three cards, and has three community cards to bet on, and since I wanted three threes, I threw in three other, face-down cards into the middle of the play area. Maybe there was some mechanism for betting on either of those sets of cards in the middle.

Most poker games value five-card hands. Since the best-five-of-six only gave you one extra card of wiggle room to make your hand, that did not sound as saucy as modern poker games that give you a buffer of two cards to make your hand. These are games like Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and Seven-card Stud. That said, I did not want to add more community cards to my new game because that would limit the number of players. As it was, the game could support exactly ten players per deck. Adding another community card to each set would bring that number down, and I wanted a game that could support a large number of players per table for big tournaments, like the one my fictional characters were participating in.

My solution was to reduce the valued hand size from five to four. Each player would make a best-four-of-six card hand. This eliminated Full House as a possible hand, just as lowering the number of suits to three eliminated Quads. The reduction in the number of valued hands seemed like a boon because it reduced the amount of stuff a new player would have to remember, while the complexity was increased in having two sets of community cards to bet on.

Speaking of hands to remember, apparently I had to derive which hands were now more rare than others. Obviously, Flush was less rare than it is in poker because there is one fewer suit, but exactly how rare? And what about the other hands? Is Triples the most rare because there are only three of any given rank? These were questions that took me a long time to have confident answers to, and will be the subject of another blog post.

Finally, I invited my friend Albert to help me test this new game I had created. He thought it was fun, looked forward to playing more, and thought others may enjoy it as well. The structure of that game has remained unchanged since then. You can play it with your friends if you like — Original Pilatch.

Game Design