By Joe Andrews, author of "The Complete Win At Spades"

Other columns by Joe Andrews:

If you're into playing card games, then you'd better watch out -- witches and magicians are about to infiltrate your deck. HeartSwitch, by U.S. Games Systems, is a twist on the classic game of Hearts that adds additional bonuses and penalties, as well as some new strategies, to spice up the game.
Game Play
First, a bit about Hearts. Hearts is a "trick-taking" game, meaning that play consists of a series of rounds in which each player plays a card to the table and the player who "wins" the trick collects all of the played cards. Basically, the starting player plays a card of any suit and the other players play a card of the same suit (unless they don't have one, in which case they can choose any other card). The card with the highest rank wins the trick.

In Hearts, players try to avoid taking any Hearts or the Queen of Spades, since these cards are worth penalty points — the lower the player's score, the better. Points are scored after all of the cards have been played. Hearts are worth one point each, the Queen of Spades is worth 13 points, and all other cards are worth zero points. If a player has managed to gather all of the Hearts and the Queen of Spades, this is known as "Shooting the Moon". In this case, the player scores zero points and all other players score 26 penalty points. The game continues over several rounds, until one player exceeds a pre-determined score. The player with the lowest score wins.

HeartSwitch operates on the same basic premise as Hearts. It contains a standard 52-card deck of playing cards, with 8 new cards added: 4 Witches and 4 Magicians. The Witch of Spades increases your score for the round by 5 points, the Witch of Hearts doubles the number of penalty points each Heart is worth (up to 15 maximum), the Witch of Diamonds reduces your score for the round by 5 points, and the Witch of Clubs cancels out the effects of the Queen and/or Witch of Spades. The Magicians are placeholder cards that simply allow a player to cop out of a bad situation (such as when he would otherwise be forced to win a bad trick).

There are a few other minor variations to the original rules of Hearts, such as multiple ways to Shoot the Moon. Each one requires gathering all of the Hearts, but the number of penalty points differs depending on if the player has the Witch of Spades, the Queen of Spades, or both.
HeartSwitch is a fun twist on Hearts that adds some more options to change up the strategies a bit. If you're a Hearts player and you're getting a bit tired of the same old thing, I would suggest this game as an improvement over the original. That being said, it is close enough to the original game that it doesn't feel that "new" — just a classic game that is a bit spiced up for variety.

The game components are fine, and the pad of scoresheets is nice to have. However, we found that the rules seem to be optimized for players who already know how to play Hearts. One of the players in our test group, who had never played Hearts, attempted to read through the rules and was very confused. For this reason, I would recommend that new players learn and try out a few rounds of the classic game before tackling HeartSwitch.

Heartswitch improves upon the original game of Hearts by offering new options and strategies.

Try it - you'll like it !
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