1. Game Basics
Before we take up the specific details of Sheepshead, we want discuss the basics of the game in order to give you an overview of what happens.
Bavarian Sheepshead is played by exactly four players. The card pack consists of 48 cards and contains the suits, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs. Each suit consists of the cards 9, 10, J, Q, K, and Ace.
As in most card games, a hand begins with the shuffling of the cards. The dealer changes from hand to hand in a clockwise rotation. The cards are distributed to each player in two batches of four cards each. Thus, each player holds eight cards at the beginning of the hand. The individual players hold their cards in such a way that they are concealed from the other players.
We now consider the main differences between Bavarian Sheepshead and the American version.
According to the American rules ...
partners may be determined one of two ways. Either the players sitting opposite each other are permanent partners or, similar to Doppelkopf, the players holding two particular Queens are partners. In certain cases, a Solo game is played in which one player opposes the other three.
In Bavarian Sheepshead ...
The players examine their cards and a bidding process begins. This is not bidding in the normal sense, but is designed to determine whether a normal "partnership" game will be played or if someone wants to reserve the right to play an alternative game type such as a "solo" game. When one would select which option will be explained more fully below.
Beginning with the player to the left of the dealer, the players say either, "Reservation" or "Ready (Pass)." Saying, "Reservation" gives one the option to play solo. If two or more players announce, "Reservation" the one who has preference is determined by a series of questions. In addition to the official rules, players sometimes distinguish between "required" or "forced" and "voluntary" solos. As suggested by the name, "forced," each player must play a solo hand within a specified number of games. Players who have not yet played this required solo, have preference when two or more both wish to play solo. Beyond that, additional questions are asked that determine the ranking and the soloist is determined.
The play of the cards always takes place in clockwise rotation and the first card is played by the player to the dealer's left. An exception to this is during a required solo in which case the soloist plays the first card.
In the diagram above, suppose that Miller dealt the cards. Schmidt then lays the first card face up on the table followed by Meyer and Rasche. These four cards constitute a trick that is won by the player who played the highest card according to the rules. This person collects the four cards, places them face down next to him or her and then leads the first card to the next trick. This process continues until all eight tricks have been played out at which point the hand is over.
What happens now? Each side puts their cards together and counts up their card points. The winning side is then determined after which the score is recorded by the computer on the score sheet. The next player then deals the cards of a new game in rotation. In the event that a required solo is played, the same person must sometimes deal twice (see below). The new game begins again with the "bidding."
We end our discussion of the basics at this point. As a beginner, you must still have many questions, but at this point our goal is simply to identify the phases and basic options of the game. The details follow in the next chapters.