Not Chess, Mr. Spock, Poker.

In Fleet & Federation, Tri-D Poker is the go-to game of the twenty-third century for casual gamblers and Fleet officers stuck on guard-duty along a vacant frontier. Furthermore, a single hand of Tri-D Poker has beaten out the coin-toss, rock-paper-scissors and a round of pool for settling matters of casual justice, e.g. determining who gets the choice slice of cake, or first play on the cute new ensign.

A standard Tri-D deck is a useful item to have available when traveling the Galaxy, whether on Fleet duty or at leisure.

Tri-D Poker came to mind as a parody Tri-D Chess in the original Star Trek (Called Tri-D Chess in the Star Fleet Technical Manual. I continue to call it that so as to differentiate it from several other three-dimensional chess variants.) Because brains work this way, I shoved Tri-D Chess up against Kirk’s eureka moment in The Carbomite Maneuver in the back of my mind, and Tri-D Poker was born.

The design of Tri-D Chess was was constructed on available game materials and meant to look futuristic and alien on television. There were no rules for the game, and indeed Mr. Spock beats Charlie in a couple of moves in Charlie X. As Star Trek fans include many who double as chess, math and game-design enthusiasts, in time, actual rules were made, remade and revised into something actually playable. There are even leagues and computer games.

So what does Tri-D Poker look like? Is it as pretty as Tri-D Chess? Is it played on tiered tables? Does it look like a house of cards?

My brain is such that I can’t leave well enough alone, and enjoy the spoof. No, I have to wonder if Tri-D poker is actually feasible as a game. To be fair, I don’t know, in that I’m not sure the game is either playable or if so would be interesting enough to have a following, but it’s certainly possible to build a Tri-D deck.

To answer the questions, Tri-D poker looks like most other poker games, which is to say there are cards in hand and on the table, and chips or some other currency being bet. And no, and no: The extra dimension is in the cards. Tri-D cards would have numbers and suits and colors. And a combination of four, four and four would make a handsome and manageable deck of 64 cards.

Poker would work as per common games of stud, draw or Community-card variants (e.g. Texas Hold ’em, Omaha or Pineapple). Only the best combination of four cards would be considered (rather than five) aiming ideally for a perfect run of double-matches.

I totally should make this deck and see how it plays.

I know a lot of TOS episodes by name and by what happened in them (contrast: the one where Kirk is forced to fight in gladiator battles with silly rules because three brains liked to gamble for quatloosThe Gamesters of Triskellion), but it’s less a product of being a driven fan of the shows and more that I studied the series to make a tight parody game of it. The game idea for Fleet & Federation came first and it seemed to parallel the A-Team structure of The Next Generation And so I studied the crap out of the old episodes. (Said design would also neatly fit Firefly or Harry Potter pretty durned well, and off-and-on I ponder variations based on those fictions.)

In Chess it’s possible to lose in two moves intentionally, called the Fool’s Mate. The Scholar’s Mate is a more well known short game, and is accomplished in four moves. Other than that, even a poorly played chess game against a master is going to take a while. But dramatic liberties are often taken in fictional chess. Surprise Checkmates, rare in real-life chess games, are epidemic in fiction. Even Commander Data is taken by surprise in a Tri-D Chess game versus Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi in the TNG episode Conundrum.

This is the Cubical Deck which makes allows games that focus on sets of any sort with single or double matching qualities. There’s also a Block Deck with three suits, three colors and numbers one through six. The Block Deck makes for a tidy fifty-four-cards deck that is indistinguishable from the archaic fifty-two-card deck of playing cards. Also, shape of the block deck’s schedule and greater focus on the values will give it a more classical feel.

A Tri-D deck would serve for any other game that uses standard card play mechanics. For instance:
Rummy games would favor double-matching runs much like poker.
Shedding games would (probably) require each play to double-match the previously played card. Aces (ones) can be followed by single matches. In a game called Blue Aces, the blue aces are wild and can follow any card.
Trick-taking games would force the play of double matches (called perfect matches) when possible, and single matches (broken matches) when the player has no double matches in hand (and then anything else). If there are perfect matches in a trick, the highest value among them takes. Without perfect matches, the highest-value broken match takes unless that value is tied. In that case the lead takes even if he wasn’t part of the tie.

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