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The Perfect Number

24 September, 2010 (10:44) | Social Commentary

I don’t like being that guy. You know the one. The one who has four tickets and five friends. The one who has to choose who goes and who doesn’t. It’s not just that I dislike the role; I fucking hate being that guy.

A Little Background

A few years ago, I was introduced to a four player game called Tichu. Like bridge or spades, Tichu is played with two sets of partners. There are variant rules for three to seven players in a single game, but every opinion I’ve seen (including my own) decries these foul variants as inherently improper.

Three of my friends and I started getting together regularly for Tichu. Unlike our normal game night, where anything and everything comes out as a possibility and enough games to accommodate everyone come out, even if it means not playing their top choice or having seven or eight at one table. Tichu, however, only works with factors of four. Unlike bridge, there’s no dummy, so playing two games among seven players isn’t viable.

There’s No I in Team

It seemed for a while that our regular foursome just jibed well. We all had a passion and enjoyment of the game, and our evenings were something I came to really look forward to.

Of course, there were going to be nights where not everyone in our regular foursome could make it, so we augmented with some other fans of the game. That brought our total number of players up to six. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a group of Tichu players, but “the regulars” and “the alternates.”

SIDE NOTE: I hate this designation, but I can’t avoid using it. Every player is a friend of mine–a good friend–and I feel guilty and shameful every time someone from the email list says, “I can’t make it, but you should find a fourth,” because it means I’m the one to send out the next email the majority of the time and I’m the one who decides who to invite first. The wife of one of “the regulars,” after hearing us talk about Thor filling in for a game, asked, “How does he feel about being an alternate?” None of the answers around the table were committal, and every one tried to escape the designation. “It’s not like that.” “He’s not really an alternate, as much as another player.” “He can organize a game as easily as any of us can.” But the writing was on the wall for me.

Since then, we’ve taught the game to several other people. In my mind, the hope was to reach eight players, so we could get two games going on any given night, trading teams and partners between them. No one would have to sit out or be excluded. Unfortunately, the game isn’t for everyone, and we still haven’t found a regular seventh, let alone an eighth.

The Conundrum

Invites to Tichu nights usually go out by email. Rarely am I the one who starts the email these days, but it’s often left up to me to finish it.

I hate the idea of emailing more than four people and having some excluded by a first come/first serve show of hands. At another event, where five of the six of us were sitting around chatting, one of the others suggested a game and I bowed out right away because I didn’t want to be the guy to snag the last seat and exclude someone else.

I also hate the idea of not inviting everyone. I don’t want to be the person who decides whom to ask first and who gets prioritized.

Last night, one of my friends complained about not being invited to the latest game, scheduled for tonight. I owned up to the decision, as it was my choice. My logic was as follows:

  1. We’re gamers, and therefore not the most socially adept people. Of us, the friend I didn’t ask is the most likely to have plans with other friends on the weekend.
  2. The fourth we got has only played once and that night was a tutorial night. He deserves a chance to play without someone hovering over his shoulder.
  3. If I can continue to grow our numbers, we will have eight soon. Then our only problem will be getting everyone available on the same night.

I can rationalize it any way I want, but even if my logic is sound it sucks to have to exclude someone and it seems inevitable that someone’s feelings get hurt no matter how I go about things.

How do you deal with limited seats and excessive numbers?



  • Ty

    If you own the tickets by all means you have the right to give them to anyone you want. Similarly with a party the host invites – or excludes – who they want.

    At games night I trust people to sort it out rather than taking all of the responsibility for myself, I’ve never made games-night invitation only. The numbers will balance out themselves – just like at board games night when everyone decides what to play and how many seats a game will hold. It’s fluid and dynamic, people figure it out, everyone is happy, and most importantly everyone is included in the process. With Tichu night, you could do that by e-mail ahead of the evening and I guarantee just like in your example of when you bowed out during the in-person organizing event some players will do the same ahead of time over e-mail. Did you know there was a game of Twilight Imperium I organized once and 12 people wanted to play? There are a maximum of 8 seats for that game with the expansion, and even then 8 players can be ‘too much’ sometimes. But we worked it out ahead of time over e-mail, 7 people ended up playing and the other 5 bowed out voluntarily. Both TI and Tichu – it’s social and not a tournament, you’re asking too much of yourself to logically select who to invite. That’s like using logic to identify who you best friend is (and probably as gamers we have attempted that at one point but that doesn’t mean it’s correct).

    Trust in your guests/players/friends to figure it out amongst themselves. Or as the host or owner or whatever authority you have, assign yourself the executor role with that ‘exclusionary’ impact. Either way I think you can slowly grow to 8 guests, players, friends or whatever your target number is, but if you are executor I think you are just as likely to start losing guests, players, friends.

  • Ty

    You can also make it first come first serve, have a rotating list, have a ‘last played’ reverse-priority system… you could even make it tournament style and go by points or have rankings!

    That’s if your looking for ‘fair’ alternatives. But make sure you let the group decide, because otherwise you run the risk of the same problem hehe.

  • Anonymous

    I really like that idea, actually, but I think I’m just going to set up a yahoo group like we have for game night. If I’m trying to put together a tichu night, I’ll email the list. What other people want to do, they’re going to do and I’m not taking responsibility for their actions, however exclusionary.

  • I suppose I should respond to Laura’s question: It’s not that big a deal. I learned long ago that I’m not the center of the universe, and that my friends will have fun without me. I’m glad to be able to join in, but don’t need to be part of the core.