When I was younger, my grandfather came to visit us and he taught me how to play Bridge, since they needed a fourth player. I was taught the basic mechanics, and a bit about bidding. I never really learned the whole aspect about the conventions where you learn to signal your partner and read his signals to figure out what you both have in your hands. That part of the game always seemed a little dumb to me. If everyone knows how to signal the same way, then everyone would end up knowing where all the cards are. However, I did really like the trick taking portion of the game, and so I enjoy playing Was Sticht?.
Was Sticht? takes the trick taking idea and adds a few interesting spins. First of all you play alone, rather than with a partner. Secondly, you choose your own cards. Third, everyone chooses their own goals for each hand. It's these goals that are the heart of Was Sticht?.
The game comes with a deck of cards (4 suits of 9 cards), a deck for determining trump (which contains a set for number and a set for color), a turn marker and a set of chits to designate the different tasks.
After a first dealer is determined, the player to the dealers left gets the turn marker and begins by choosing one task. Players take chits in turn until everyone has five tasks. Tasks are numbered by difficulty and represent things like: Take no tricks, Take 2 tricks, Take no blue cards, Take the last trick, Take the least tricks, etc. There are 24 chits (of 9 different types), so 4 will not be chosen.
Once everyone has their task chits, the cards are dealt out in a grid of four by nine. The dealer shuffles the two sets of trump cards and looks at the bottom card of each stack to find out what the trump will be for that hand. The two stacks also contain a card designating none for that trait (number or color).
The player to the dealer's left begins by selecting a card from the first set of four, and then each player chooses from the remaining cards. After all four cards have been taken, the dealer declares which card would take the trick if the trick had been played in that way (i.e. the first player had led the card they chose, the next player played the card they chose, and so on). The other three players use this information to try to determine what is the trump. Which card wins the trick is determined in this sequence: The card matching both trump number and color, first card played matching the trump number, highest card of the trump color, highest card of the suit led.
After the winning card is declared, the turn marker passes and the next player chooses the first card from the next row. This continues until all the cards are taken and everyone has a hand of nine cards. The trump is now revealed, so that those who couldn't figure it out know what it is.
Each player (aside from the dealer) now secretly chooses one task out of their set that they will try to accomplish for that round given the hand that they have and what the trump is. All tasks are revealed and the player to the dealer's left now leads to the first trick. The nine tricks are played out with the winner of the previous trick leading to the next. The led suit must be followed, if possible, but you aren't required to beat the trick. Trump can be played any time (aside from the restriction about following suit).
Once all nine tricks are completed, the tasks chits are examined. If a player successfully completed their task, they can put that chit aside. If they did not complete their task, their chit goes back to their pool. If the dealer is able to perform one of the player's tasks that the player did not complete, the dealer can discard a chit of their choice from their pool. The first player who is able to discard all five of their chits, wins the game. In the event of a tie, the difficulty of the tasks performed breaks the tie. The deal then shifts to the left and the process begins all over again.
One of the nicest things about Was Sticht? is that you can tailor the game sto your style of play. If you're someone who's good at sloughing cards, and avoiding tricks, then you can choose those kinds of tasks (e.g. take no tricks, take the least tricks). If you are someone who is better at taking tricks, you can choose different tasks.
The game is well balanced since each player gets a chance to draw a card first, be the dealer, etc. I also like the fact that the dealer doesn't choose a task. This would be a strong advantage since the dealer knows the trump from the beginning. It adds a nicely balanced twist to make the dealer have to do somebody else's task instead.
Was Sticht? is one of the finest trick taking games I've played for just this kind of strategic play & balance. The interplay of different people trying to do different things simultaneously makes the game rich in variation from game to game.
The one complaint that I've heard from people is that the portion of the game where hands are assembled is difficult for the people who have a hard time figuring out the trump. It is a bit tricky (especially when a none comes up for one or both of the traits), but it doesn't break you if you can't figure it out. Since you decide the task after you have cards and know the trump, you can still compensate for not knowing when you chose your cards. It is an advantage to be able to determine the trump when you're down to one or two chits, however, since you can ensure that the cards you're taking will allow you to do your task, but I don't think that it's something that destroys the balance of the game.