Setback is a pretty old European game—also known as "Pitch" in Europe, some version of this game has been played since at least the 1600s in France.
Setback is a game of strategy and scheming with many similarities to Whist, Spades and Hearts.
The point of the game of Setback is to make your bid or to stop your opponents from making their bid.
The deck is a standard American deck of fifty-two cards, ace high. The game is usually for four players in two teams, partners sitting across from each other. The game is played clockwise.
Variation: We have played with three teams of two or two teams of three at times.
Each player receives six cards, dealt three at a time. The turn to deal rotates clockwise after each hand.
There is one round of bidding. The possible bids are two, three, four and smudge (smudge is really a bid of five). Each player in turn either passes or bids higher than the previous bid if any, except for the dealer, who, having last bid, may "steal the bid" by bidding the same as the highest bid. The final bidder becomes the pitcher, and has the right to name trump and lead to the first trick.
If the first three players pass, the dealer must bid at least the minimum bid of two. This is called a "force bid".
Variation: When bidding returns the dealer, he has to bid one point higher than the last bid or give the highest bidder the first turn.
Variation: If other players have bid 2 or 3, but no one has bid 4, the dealer may "steal the bid" by bidding the same as the current high bid.
The bids represent how many of the following four items will be won when the tricks of the game are played out:
- High: awarded to the team which holds the highest card in the trump suit in play, i.e. the ace if it has been dealt;
- Low: awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the lowest trump card in play, i.e. the two if it has been dealt. If the two is not dealt in play, the three may be low. If the three was not dealt either, the four, and so on;
- Jack: awarded to the team which wins the trick containing the jack of trumps. If the jack of trumps was not dealt no one gets this point;
- Game: awarded to the team which has the higher total value of cards in its tricks. Card values are as follows: ace = 4, king = 3, queen = 2, jack = 1, and ten = 10. The total value of all the cards in the deck is 80, and whichever side has the higher total in its tricks gets the point for game. In case of a tie, no one gets this point.
- Smudge: The bid of smudge requires all six tricks to be won by the declaring side, in addition to the four items listed above. (Sometimes a team can win all the tricks, but if the jack of trumps was not dealt, that is not sufficient to win a smudge bid.)
After trump is declared, players discard any cards they don't want face down, and the dealer replenishes their hands to six cards from the undealt portion of the deck. It is illegal to discard trump, and normally, players will discard all their non-trump cards in the hope of replacing them with trump. This makes it more likely that the ace, two, and jack will end up in play.
Variation: Players may choose up to three cards to discard.
Variation: Players may discard four cards if they posses an ace in their hand that they retain.
The pitcher leads a card to the first trick, and the suit of this card becomes the trump suit. The winner of each trick leads the next, and may lead any card.
A player who has a card of the suit led must either follow suit or trump. Players may play trump on any trick, even if they can follow suit.
A player who has no cards of the suit led can play anything—either a trump or a card of another suit.
Each trick is won by the highest trump card played, or if there are no trumps in it then by the highest card in the suit led.
Each of the items High, Low, Jack and Game is worth one point. If you bid and make your bid, you get the number of points you make (in other words, if you bid two and make four, your team scores four points). However, to score five points (smudge), you need to actually bid smudge—if you bid four, and actually win all the tricks, including the jack of trump, you still only score four. The opposing team makes whatever number of points they earn. For example if the declarer's team bid two, but the opponents capture the 2 of trump, the opponents score one for Low.
If a team fails to make its bid it is said to be set. It loses (or is set back) the value of the bid, while the other team again scores whatever points it makes.
Note that if a side that bids smudge loses a trick, the bid has failed and they will be set back 5 points no matter what happens after that. However, the play must be continued to the end to give the other side a chance to score points.
A cumulative score is kept for each team. A team's score can be negative.
Variation: A team who makes their bid receives only the number of points bid— for a bid of three the team wins three points.
Winning the Game
In order to win, a team needs at least 21 points, but they can only win at the end of a hand in which they made their bid. A team which reaches 21 or more on a hand where they are against the declarer does not win— nor do they win if they bid and lose a contract, but still have 21 or more points.
It is therefore possible for the winning team to have fewer points than the losing team. For example, suppose that we have 18 points and they have 24, but they have not yet won because they acquired their last 4 points playing against our bids. If we now bid 3 and make it, and they take 1 point, we win, even though we have just 21 points while they have 25.
Variation: Game play continues until a team has reached eleven points. If the opposing team has zero or fewer points, the team with eleven points wins the game. Otherwise, play continues until twenty-one points.