Pit is a loud and raucous card game for three to eight players. It is fast-paced and frantic. Its card-swapping mechanism ensures that every player must be fully involved in the gameplay. Everyone plays, talks and swaps cards at the same time.
Pit is an old game, but do not let that put you off. First developed in Victorian times, it recreates the atmosphere of the trading floor of the stock exchange. Gamers are aiming to be the first to complete a set of nine commodity cards. There are up to eight goods to be traded. This includes gold, wheat, wool and corn. Each commodity has its own intrinsic value.
At the start, several complete commodities sets are chosen, equal to the number of players. Cards are shuffled and a hand of nine dealt to each player. The game starts by the dealer (or current leader) ringing the bell and announcing that the pit is open. This indicates that trading can commence.
Simultaneously players swap cards between each other. Only commodity cards of the same type may be passed. Any number of cards may be swapped with each transaction, but the type of goods is not revealed. Players call out in a loud voice how many cards they need to swap. If another gamer wishes, then an exchange occurs and cards are passed across face-down.
With time players build their hand of cards in the hope of completing a set of valuable commodities. The game gets louder as each player is calling out “one, one, one” or “three, three, three” for example. As soon as a hand is finished the player hits the bell and wins that round. They score points equal to the value of the commodity.
The overall winner of Pit is the first player to 500 points, or with the highest score after a fixed number of turns.
The concept of Pit is very simple. As an open, trading game, even children younger than seven years can learn to complete a hand of commodities. Indeed, while the standard game requires a hand of nine cards, for younger players this can be reduced to six or seven to make the game simpler (and easier to hold). Pit is definitely an ice-breaker game. The calling mechanism means that all are fully engaged from the start. It is very quick paced. Each turn lasts a few minutes. At the end of each round as others reveal their cards there is opportunity to see who was holding onto the commodity cards that you might have needed.
At the start of the game, once the cards are dealt, you might have an idea which commodity should be collected. However, during a game there are a few less popular commodities that seem to be exchanged frequently. This gives players a dilemma. Should one stick to the high value sets that other might also be collecting. Alternatively, should one change tack and start collecting the cards that are “doing the rounds”. However, to do this would mean relinquishing the high-value cards that another player might need.
Strategy and tactics will ebb and flow during even a short game. When others are beaten to the bell and the round is won, this will bring a sense of relief, not satisfaction. There can be nothing more frustrating that constantly being “pipped at the post” by another player completing their set before you.
The Pit cards are of standard playing card size and feel. Their robustness ensures they can withstand plenty of handling with repeated games. The cards are colourful. Their designs are clear and easily distinguished. Their value and type are also written in a clear bold font ensuring there can be no confusion during play. The cards are held in a sturdy plastic container that has the bell built into its lid. This is a nice touch.
Pit can play reasonably well for three to eight players. However, with three, the games are extremely short and not infrequently all players complete all nine cards at the same time. There is then a race to the bell. With seven or eight players the game can drag. It is more difficult to complete a set of commodities as cards are more widely spread. Also, it takes considerably longer to reach the desired 500 points total. For these reasons Pit has a “sweet spot” of five or six players. Games are sufficiently varied and quick enough to complete easily.
Games of Pit are quite luck driven. Winning a round is dependent on the cards that are exchanged and there is no time for analysis of who might be collecting what. Unless all the players fully engage with the swapping of the cards, then each round can become a real labour rather than fun and frantic.
The Bull and the Bear
The standard game of Pit is fabulous but for an added challenge two wild cards can be added. The Bull and the Bear can be traded alone (as a “one”) or in combination with any other sets of commodity cards. These two cards are shuffled into the deck and dealt meaning that two players will have 10 cards each. Even with 10 cards, you only need nine of commodity to ring the bell.
Using the Bull as a wild card means that you only need eight of a kind to win the round and score the points. If you have all nine goods and the Bull, you will score double that commodity. The Bull might sound like one to keep but if you are holding the bull when someone else rings the bell first, you will lose points.
The Bear is not good news. Nobody likes a bear market. If you hold the bear in your hand at the end of the game, you will lose points. Even if you complete the set of cards, and have the Bear, you cannot ring the bell.
These two additional cards can add to the intensity of Pit. Holding onto them raises the stakes. I would suggest losing the Bear as soon as possible and consider swapping the Bull if you believe someone is about to win.
Final Thoughts on Pit
Pit is a very easy game to teach, pick up and play. Families can adapt it to ensure young children can play too. Pit is a timeless game that I have played with other nationalities and in a variety of languages. It only requires the ability to count to about five. It is a super little game that is sure to provide plenty of entertainment for at least another hundred years.