‘Pikoko’: Pretty Tricky Plumage

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Pikoko cover

The preening peacocks in Pikoko hide your hand while you take tricks.

What Is Pikoko?

Pikoko is a trick-taking game designed by Adam Porter for 3 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 30 to 45 minutes to play. It’s available in stores and online now, with a retail price of $29.99.

Pikoko components
Pikoko components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Pikoko Components

  • 5 Peacock card-holders
  • 30 Confidence cards (6 each in 5 colors)
  • 45 Betting tokens (9 each in 5 colors)
  • 47 Feather cards
  • Start Player token
  • Scorepad
Pikoko card holder peacocks
The peacock card-holders, without cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The star of the show, component-wise, is definitely the peacock card-holders, and while you could conceivably play this game without them, they’re definitely fun and add a lot of visual flair to the game. The peacocks are made of plastic, and slot together easily. The tail portion is double-layered so that you can slide cards into it. These pair with the feather cards, which have the feathers printed off-center: if you overlap the cards so that you can see the green feathers in the back, then the numbered feathers on the fronts of the cards will also be visible.

Pikoko feather cards
Regular feather cards have a single color and a number. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Most of the feather cards have a number and a single color—the five colors match the five peacocks, though there’s no specific tie between players and the card suits. The values range from 1 to 11, though depending on the player count you may remove certain numbers from the game. Since there are no other marks to distinguish the different suits other than color, color blind players may find it impossible to play—the photo above shows all five colors (in good lighting), so if you can’t tell those apart easily, then you may need to mark the cards somehow in order to play.

Pikoko wild feather cards
Multi-suit feather cards have three colors each. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There are four multi-suit cards, which each have three colors represented, and take the place of the three single-suited cards of that value. For instance, the 4 has blue, white, and yellow, so while the deck still has a purple 4 and a red 4, there are no individual 4 cards in blue, white, and yellow.

The primary complaint about these cards is that, depending on the lighting, it can be difficult to distinguish the purple and the blue on these multi-suit cards because the backgrounds are darkened—and that’s with players who don’t have color vision issues.

Pikoko confidence cards
Confidence cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each player has a set of confidence cards—the background matches your own peacock, but the fronts show the whole set of five peacocks, plus one more card that shows just your tail. The bidding tokens are tiny cardboard disks that just have your color and the peacock feather pattern on them—again, you can only tell these apart by color.

Pikoko box insert
The box insert is patterned with peacock feathers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box for Pikoko is fairly large considering what’s inside—it just has a simple cardboard insert, but the box could easily have been about half the size or smaller and still held everything just fine. In a pinch, you could play this game with just the cards, though the peacocks are definitely fun to have.

Pikoko card holder peacocks
Peacock card-holders showing off their plumage. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play Pikoko

You can download a copy of the rulebook here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to score the most points by correctly predicting how many tricks each player will take over three rounds of play.

Pikoko setup
Ready to play Pikoko! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Setup

Give each player a peacock, bidding tokens, and confidence cards in their color. If you have fewer than 5 players, you’ll also remove some of the feather cards from the deck.

The game will take 3 rounds. At the beginning of each round, shuffle the deck and deal 8 cards to each player. Each player should pick up their cards and place them into their peacocks facing the other players, being careful not to look at the faces of the cards themselves. You should be able to see everyone else’s cards but not your own. Then, flip over the top card of the deck: this card indicates the trump suit for the round. If it is a multi-suit feather card, there is no trump this round. Choose a starting player and give them the starting player token.

Pikoko bidding tokens
The bidding tokens show how many tricks each player thinks the yellow player will take with this hand. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Gameplay

Everyone should look around at all the cards they can see. Then, players will bid on how many tricks they think each player will take. Starting with the first player’s hand, each player (except the player being bid on) will secretly choose a number of their bidding tokens, and then reveal simultaneously. These bid tokens are placed in front of the player that was bid on. (We placed them in front of the peacocks so that it was easy for everyone to see how many bids each player made.) Once everyone has been bid on, everyone bids simultaneously on how many tricks they think their own hand will take, placing those bid tokens in front of themselves. Note that you have 9 bidding tokens but there are a total of 8 tricks per round, so if you don’t use exactly 8 bid tokens, at least one of your bids will be incorrect.

Then, each player will choose one of their confidence cards to play face-down in front of them. This card indicates which of their bids they are the most confident about. For instance, if you bid 2 tricks on the blue peacock and you’re really sure of it, you would play your blue peacock confidence card. If you’re not sure of any of your bids, you can play your “no confidence” card instead, which shows your tail instead of a peacock face.

Then the trick-taking phase begins. Each player will play cards from the hand of the player to their left, beginning with the starting player (using a card from their left-hand neighbor).

The game follows the usual trick-taking rules:

  • For each trick, each player will play one card from the hand to their left.
  • You must play a card of the suit that started the trick if possible.
  • If there is no card of the starting suit, you may play any card.
  • The winner is the hand that played the highest trump card; if no trumps were played, the winner is the hand that played the highest card of the starting suit. The cards from the trick are set next to the hand that won it, so you can see how many tricks each hand has won.
  • The next trick will be led from the hand that won the previous trick.

For Pikoko, there are a few special rules regarding the multi-suit cards. If they match the starting suit, then they count as that suit for that trick, even if one of the other colors is the trump suit. If you play a multi-suit card and it does not match the starting suit, you may declare which suit it is.

Pikoko game in progress
The view from here… what’s in my hand? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After all 8 tricks are played, compare the number of tricks each player won with the number that you bid on them, including yourself. If you were exactly correct on a bid, you get 2 points; if you were off by 1 trick, you get 1 point; if you were off by 2 or more you get 0 points. Reveal your confidence card: if the peacock you played got exactly the number of tricks that you bid on that player, you get 3 points; otherwise, you lose 1 point. If you played the “no confidence” card, you get 1 point regardless of any of your bids.

Shuffle all the cards and start a new round. Give the starting token to the player with the fewest points.

Game End

The game ends after the end of the third round. Total up the scores—the highest score wins, with ties going to the player who has the highest single-round score.

Why You Should Play Pikoko

I used to play a lot of Hearts and Spades when I was a kid, though I never learned some of the other classics like Euchre or Bridge. I like the challenge of bidding in Spades, trying to predict how many cards I could slough so that I could use some low trumps to take tricks, and then having to adjust my approach when somebody tried to flush out all the spades. It feels like trick-taking games are making a comeback, with several titles over the past couple of years that use trick-taking in new ways.

Pikoko game in progress
The bids are out—let’s find out who was right! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Pikoko is pretty straightforward as far as the trick-taking portion goes (other than those multi-suit cards), but what’s new is the twist of holding your cards face-out, reminiscent of games like Hanabi. Since you never deal out all of the cards in the deck, you have imperfect information. You can look around and see what everyone else has, but you don’t know if you’re sitting on a hand full of trumps or trash.

That’s where the bidding comes in. You’ll have to make your best guess about all the other players, based on having seen most of the hands. But when you bid on yourself, you’ll know how much everyone else bid on you, and you can try to figure out whose judgment you trust the most. I also like the confidence cards—they award you even more for making the right bid. In many instances, people played the confidence card for the player to their left, because that’s the hand you have the most control over, and you can trump or slough to react to the situation at hand. Still, it also gives you a chance to score some extra points if you match somebody else’s bid somewhere and you’re pretty sure they’ll be able to pull it off—kind of like Wits & Wagers, where it’s just as important to know who has the right answer as it is knowing the answer itself.

I’m really digging Pikoko—I’d thought it might just be gimmicky (and, hey, the peacocks are a little gimmicky), but I really enjoy the challenge of bidding based on what everyone else has instead of what I have in my own hand. Add to that the fact that the scoring is just based on the accuracy of your bids, not how many tricks your hand wins, and it means that the luck of the deal doesn’t matter quite so much. You can score just as much with a terrible deal as you can with a fantastic deal.

Pikoko Game in progress
Choosing a card to play. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There’s also an element of bluffing, though it can be harder to pull off. You can intentionally mislead players about how you plan to play a hand, and if you can convince them enough that they play the corresponding confidence card, you could cost them points. Granted, that also means you won’t score the maximum for that bid either, but Pikoko is a game where a couple points here and there could make the difference in the end.

The multi-suit cards are a little strange to me, particularly because it means the suits aren’t all totally equivalent—close, but not quite. And it’s not easy to remember which suit has which numbers, which can be a factor when making your bids and considering what cards may be out there. They do give some interesting flexibility when playing out the tricks, because of the way you could decide whether to use a card as a trump or not depending on your bid, but they can also be frustrating when you misread the color. There are only four of them, though, so it’s not a huge factor, but they’re not my favorite feature of the game.

The bidding process can be a little tough for those unfamiliar with trick-taking games, but the rules are simple enough that it doesn’t usually take long to pick up on how it all works. It can suffer from analysis paralysis, which can greatly extend the game beyond the estimated 30-minute play time, but that should speed up with experience. The card-holders are clever and cute, and the flipped cards make classic trick-taking feel fresh and novel. It’s a game that I would also feel comfortable teaching to friends and family who are more accustomed to traditional card games than modern tabletop games. If you enjoy trick-taking games, Pikoko is definitely worth a peek(ock).


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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