Mexican Standoff – Journal Entry #12

Mexican Standoff

At the beginning of this year, I won my first ever giveaway and the prize was Mexican Standoff, a card game that I’ve never heard of. At that moment, I was both happy and curious about it. I couldn’t wait to get it faster and show it to my friends during our next game night!

Mexican Standoff is a trick-taking card game designed by Péter Szöllősi, a Hungarian designer that has many other titles under his name. It’s been published by Vagabund in Hungary and then reimplemented this year as Santa Fe by White Goblin Games. The game introduces trick-taking and set collection mechanics, with a slight push your luck aspect.

Players aim to take as many tricks as possible during the 7 rounds of the game, trying to collect as many points as possible. It has a nice twist on how the cards are valued and there is a really interesting combat system (duels) involved. I really enjoy playing it with my friends, as it often hits the table when we get together!

How to play Mexican Standoff

Inside the box you will find a deck of 55 cards, and two tokens, one for the first player and one for the Sheriff. The cards are numbered from 1 to 10, and come in sets of the same amount (10 cards valued 10, 9 cards valued 9 and so on). Unlike in other games, in Mexican Standoff the cards with the lower value are stronger (you will find out later what this means). Each card represents a character, some of which have special rules when played, as follows:

  • Old Man Sheriff: If a player is dealt the Sheriff card at the beginning of a round, they can choose to play as a courageous or coward Sheriff:
    • The courageous Sheriff has to announce this loudly before the round start by shouting “I’m the law!”. This way, he agrees to double the points he earns at the and of the round, whether it is a positive or a negative value; he can also win the game immediately if he wins all the tricks during this round;
    • The coward Sheriff remains silent and does not inform the other players of having the Sheriff card in his hand. If he chooses to do so, he will get earn an extra 75 points at the end of the round if he manages to win the last trick using the Sheriff card.
  • The First Deputy: There are 5 cards of this type in the deck. This card is normally worth 5 points, but if played as the last trick of the round, its value becomes 0 instead of 5, becoming the strongest card of the deck. At the end of the round, if a player has all 5 of them, he earns an extra 100 points; otherwise, he loses points equal to 10 time the number of deputies he’s holding.
  • Bandits: They are worth 10 points each at the end of the round
  • Dynamite Frank Wolf: He’s also a Bandit, but he’s worth 25 points instead of 10 at the end of the round

The game plays over the span of 7 rounds. At the beginning of each round, the players are dealt 11 cards each. The remaining cards are then put aside and the players can look at their cards. Each player has to choose a card from his hand and pass it to the player on his left. The card passed can not be a bandit (valued 10). The round can now begin.

Mexican Standoff setup
Setup for a game of 3 players

On his turn, a player can do one of three actions: play a card from his hand, start a duel as a response to a played card/ enter a duel or pass (and lose the trick):

  • Playing a card:  Every turn, the player must play at least one single card in front of himself; this is called the base card, and it can have any value. The player whose card has the lowest value takes the trick and takes all the cards in front of him; in case several cards of the same value have been played during a turn, the winner is the one who played that card last
  • Starting/entering a duel: Instead of playing just one card, a player can choose to start a duel by playing a base card and two additional cards on top of it; these two cards are called duel cards and have to be of the same value and can not be of the same value as the base cards; Bandits can not be played as duel cards; If a player has started a duel before your turn, you can choose to enter the duel or pass (but still play a base card)
  • Passing: If there is an ongoing duel and the active player decides to pass, he will turn his base card 90 degrees and loses the current turn; At the end of the ongoing duel, he will have to discard as many cards face up as the winner of the duel did play as duel cards
Mexican Standoff gameplay
Player on the right side wins because he played 3 duel cards

Duels have some special rules:

  • duel cards (regardless of their number) always triumph over single base cards; 
  • in case of the same amount of duel cards the smaller value cards triumph over the higher ones
  • in case of the same amount and same value of duel cards the cards that were played last will triumph over the formerly played ones
  • higher amount of duel cards triumph over the smaller amounts 

At the end of each round when every player run out of cards, scoring takes place. To calculate the number of taken tricks each player counts the number of cards he collected and divides them by the number of players. Players score points based on the number of taken tricks based on a scoring table. Then you score the special characters and write down the final score of the round. At the end of the 7th round, the player with most points is the winner!

Mexican Standoff scoring reference card
Both sides of the scoring reference cards

My thoughts on Mexican Standoff

I was so happy when I heard that I won my first giveaway ever and that the prize was Mexican Standoff! I had no trick-taking game in my collection before (and I still don’t, but I’m really thinking about going for The Crew), so it was a really great addition to my shelf!

During my first match, I was amazed by how high the scores go! I mean, I was used to play game where your score can go up to 150-200 points at most, so my first thought was that we understood some rules wrongly. That was not the case, actually. Turns out, if you plan your tricks well, you can actually end the game with over 1000 points pretty easy! I ended up losing the match, but I was left with a great impression of the game. I really enjoyed learning about a new mechanic.

During my next few games, I tried a few different strategies, some successful, others shamefully bad. The game really got me. For me, it was not just a card game. It was more than this. It became a mind game, My sole purpose was to find the best mind tricks to play on my opponents and fool them in my favor.

Always try and use the special characters to your own advantage

I consider the Sheriff to be the most interesting card in the whole deck: you see, as the rules say, the Sheriff has some special rules. If you are dealt this card at the beginning of the round, you can choose to be either a courageous or a coward Sheriff. When people were dealt this card, they used to go for the courageous Sheriff strategy. Why? Because it allows you to win the game immediately, if you’re lucky with your tricks. It also doubles your score at the end of the round, letting you earn more points.

Sounds good, right? Well, that’s a very risky strategy, because it comes with a twist: you can only win the game immediately if you win ALL THE TRICKS during that round. So if you lose one trick, this is gone. However, you’re left with the double points at the end of the round. That’s helpful, right? Well, yeah, it sounds really good, as you can earn tons of points if you won many tricks.

But you see, this is a double-edged sword: the points are doubled, whether their value is positive or negative. Yeah, that’s right. So if you do not win at least 2 tricks or you have less than 5 deputies collected at the end of the round, you may actually lose a lot of points. And that can fire back pretty easy, if the other players decide to work together against you on this turn so your score will suffer.

I found out that playing as a coward Sheriff is much safer. It’s actually a good strategy to make sure that you get some nice points at the end of the round, even if you didn’t manage to win that many tricks. As a coward Sheriff, you earn an extra 75 points if you manage to win the last trick using this card. So if you are lucky to do so, you earn a total of 150 points on your last trick: 50 from taking the last trick, 25 points for acquiring the Sheriff and 75 for winning using the Sheriff card. If you manage to win at least 4-5 other tricks and also gather some Bandits, you may end up increasing your score by at least 200 points at the end of the round.

However, my opponents soon discovered my tactic and start using it against me, so everything became a ticking bomb. You never knew who’s got the Sheriff, people kept bluffing as if they had it, and the atmosphere was always tense when we got down to our last tricks! It’s a really nice experience!

The Promo Pack contains 3 cards that add new scoring rules

The Promo Pack comes with some really great ways of scoring points. The Indian Ten Wolves is a really nice trap to pull on your opponents, as the one who ends up with him in his collection loses 10 points at the end of the round. He’s like a hot potato, you don’t want to keep him or you’ll get burnt!

The new Sheriff is even more powerful than the old one, as it now takes points from your opponents and gives them to you, if you manage to win the last trick using this card! That’s another big boost in points if you use the coward Sheriff strategy!

Jefe Escorpion is also a nice boost in points if you manage to end with him in your collection at the end, as he rewards you an extra 25 points for holding him. It’s even better if you stole him from someone else, as that player will now lose 25 points! Sometimes this can be a real game changer when scores are tight and you need just a few more points to get the first place!

I can say that Mexican Standoff really deserves it’s place in my collection and I’m glad that I had the chance to win it. It’s a great trick-taking game that has a really nice theme that fits the gameplay really well and that will keep you on your toes all the time! It will make you feel like you’re in a real mexican standoff situation with your opponents!

Useful info

Designer: Péter Szöllősi

Publisher: Vagabund

Players: 3-5

Time: 30 min

Times played: 14

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