“Pfeffer” (Pronounced Fef-Her) Is German for Pepper, a fun card game of German origin that utilizes a modified deck. It is a trick-taking card game and can be played with two or four players.
In the 4 Player version, which will be described below, there should be two partnerships of two Players, with Players in the same partnership sitting opposite from each other, rather than next to each other.
How to Play Pepper?
The game utilizes a modified version of the German 32-card Skat deck, or the Anglo-American 52-card deck. In either case, all cards but the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, 10s, and 9s should be removed from the deck, leaving a total of 24 cards.
The new modified Pfefferkarten, or Pfeffer Cards, should then be shuffled once more. The Dealer, chosen randomly by whatever means the Players find appropriate, must then deal cards one at a time to each Player, starting with the Player to the Dealer’s immediate clockwise.
Once the entire deck has been dealt out and each Player has 6 cards in their hand, gameplay may begin.
Gameplay begins with the bidding phase, with the Player immediately clockwise to the Dealer making the first bid. Similar to other contract-making trick-taking games such as the American Spades card game, a “bid” in Pepper is merely the number of tricks a Player believes their partnership can win in a single round.
A new bid must be higher than the previous bid, for example:
- Player 1 bids 2 tricks
- Player 2 bids 3 tricks
As there are only 6 tricks in a round, the minimum bid is one trick. Players may pass, or raise the bid. The bidding phase ends when a Player has bid they will win all 6 tricks in a round, or when all remaining Players choose to pass and do not raise the bid further, if able.
The Player who wins the contract is allowed to determine the Trump Suit for the round. The Contract Winner is also permitted, if they so choose, to declare that there are no Trump cards in this round.
Once the Trump suit is determined, or omitted, the trick-taking phase may begin, with the Contract Winner leading the first trick.
Tricks are “pots” of cards in the middle of the table, with each Player taking turns to contributing one card to the trick. Once all four cards have been placed in the trick, it is time to determine who “takes” the trick.
Tricks are won by playing the highest-ranking, suit-following card. In order to follow suit, a card must match the suit of the leading card played first in the trick.
A Player must follow suit if they are able, and if they are not, a Player may play any card from their hand. However, a card that does not follow suit cannot take the trick, even if it is a higher rank than the leading card.
Trump cards do not have to follow suit, and a Trump card always beats a non-trump card, even if the Trump is a lower rank than the non-trump card. The only thing that can beat a Trump is a Trump card of higher value.
Jack of Trump
Uniquely to the Pepper card game, the Jack of the Trump suit is the highest-ranking Trump card. Furthermore, the Jack of the same color as the Trump Jack becomes the second-highest Trump card. For example, if the Trump suit is ♥, the J♥ becomes the highest-ranking Trump card, and the J♦ becomes the second-highest-ranking Trump card.
Once all 6 tricks have been played in a round, scores are tabulated and the deck is reshuffled, with the new Dealer following the same procedure as the first.
Rounds continue until one of the teams accumulates a total of 30 or more Points.
Rules in Short
- The Jacks of the same color, Red or Black, are the highest ranking Trump cards in the game.
- A Contract Winner may choose to have no Trump cards in the game, if they desire.
Scoring & Points in Pepper
Players are awarded a single point for each taken trick in a round. Partnerships combine their scores, meaning if Player 1 won 2 tricks, and Player 3 won 2 tricks, they are awarded 4 points.
Contracts are also cumulative, which means a contract of 4 points could be met by the above conditions.
The Partnership which wins the Contract only wins the trick-points they are owed if they are able to meet their contract minimum. If they do not, 6 points are deducted from their total points.
The partnerships which did not win the contract are always awarded the full amount of trick-points they are owed.
The game ends when one partnership accumulates at least 30 points.
Strategy & Tips
- In Trick-taking games with Trump suits, having a diverse hand is actually somewhat of a burden. The best possible hands in trick-taking games with Trump suits have as many Trump cards in their hand as possible. If you have a hand with many different suits, but all with high ranks, it may be beneficial to declare that there are no Trumps in this round, if you are able.
- Try not to raise the bid too much. A team that does not meet their contract bid always loses 6 points, regardless if they missed their contract by a single trick or not. There are negative scores in Pepper, which means missing a contract bid at the start of the game creates an instant deficit that needs to be rectified before a team can begin scoring properly.
- Non-Contracted Players always receive points equal to the number of tricks taken, but do not get to determine the Trump suit of the hand. It’s a tradeoff between safety and risk that makes Pepper such an exciting game.
Imagine the following scenario:
- Player 1 leads the trick with a 10 of non-trump
- Player 2 follows suit with a 9
- Player 3 does not follow suit, Playing a 9
- Player 4 plays a 9 of Trump.
Player 1 leads the trick, and although Player 2 follows suit, their card is a lower rank than Player 1 and so they do not win the trick.
Player 3 does not have a card to follow suit, and so is allowed to Play whatever card they want. Player 3 does have a Trump, and could have played a trump card, but as Player 1 was already winning the trick, Player 3 did not want to waste their trump card on a trick their partner was already winning.
This turned out to be a mistake in retrospect, however! Player 4 manages to Play their own trump card, and even though their card is of a lower rank than Player 1’s non-trump, they win due to Playing a Trump without being bested by another, higher ranking Trump card.
What is the difference between Pepper and Hasenpfeffer?
Hasenpfeffer is essentially the same game as Pepper, however, it includes a 25th card, one of the Jokers. The Joker acts as the highest-ranking card of the game, and can be considered better than the Jack of Trumps.
What is the difference between Euchre and Pepper?
Pepper is a form of Euchre, specifically a version of Bid Euchre, which marries together the trick-taking gameplay from Euchre with the contracting systems of Pepper.
Sometimes, Bid Euchre is used interchangeably with the name Pepper, although there are some rule differentiations that make the games distinct from one another, particularly Pepper’s use of only 24 cards.
Can I play Pepper/Pfeffer online?
Unfortunately, there do not seem to be any reputable websites that offer a multiplayer version of the Pepper card game for free online. Don’t be discouraged! This just means that it is time to break out that pack of cards and play a live game with friends or family!