In high school, two friends and I played a lot of cards: in cafeterias, on debate trips, in the back of calculus class, and so on. We played Hearts and Spades, but it was often just the three of us. So we devised a trick-taking game suitable for exactly three players.

We called it Bastard, and we went on to invent a series of variants with colorful names. The names and rules given below are my best recollection, written down many years after the fact.

Basic Bastard

Dealing and bidding: Shuffle a standard 52-card deck. Deal 16 cards to each of the three players. Set aside the four remaining cards without looking at them; they'll be needed in a moment.

Beginning with the player on the dealer's left and going around clockwise, each player bids the number of tricks that they think they will be able to take.

Determining trump: After bids are recorded, take the four cards that were set aside and flip over the first three of them. If all three cards are of the same suit, then there is no trump for the hand. Otherwise, the suit of the first card flipped over is the trump suit.

Game play: The player to the dealer's left leads by choosing and playing a card. (I think that the first player can lead trump without waiting for trumps to be broken. My memory is fuzzy on this point, however.)

Going clockwise around the table, each player plays a card. They must match the suit of the card that was led, if they can. Otherwise, they may play any card from their hand.

If anyone played a trump, the highest trump played wins the trick; otherwise, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick.

The winner of the trick leads the next trick. And so on, until 16 tricks have been played.

Scoring: After all the tricks have been resolved, each player gets a chance to guess the rank and suit of the fourth card that was set aside at the beginning of the hand. The player on the dealer's left guesses first, guessing goes around clockwise, and no player may repeat the guess of a previous player. If a player guesses correctly, they score 5 bonus points. (Since players have seen all of the cards, anyone who can count cards perfectly would be remembering rather than actually guessing. We couldn't count cards perfectly.)

If a player won fewer tricks than they bid, then they lose 10 points multiplied by their bid. If they won at least as many tricks as they bid, then they gain 10 points multiplied by their bid plus 1 for each additional trick. (We also played with sandbags sometimes.)

Mega Bastard

Dealing and bidding: Deal 13 cards to each player and 13 cards into a separate stack for the Bastard. Players bid as in Basic Bastard.

Game play: Before a trick is led, the top card of the Bastard is flipped over. The suit of that card is trump for that trick. This is done for every trick, so the trump suit changes from trick to trick.

In other respects game play follows Basic Bastard.

Scoring: There is no guess card, but scoring is otherwise as in Basic Bastard.

Ultra Bastard

The Bastard and each players' hands are 13 cards, as in Mega Bastard.

Before the first trick is led, the top card of the Bastard is flipped over. The suit of that card is trump for the rest of the hand.

Before subsequent tricks, flip over a Bastard card. The rank of that card is higher than Ace for that trick. For example, if the Bastard card is a 7, then all 7s are the highest cards in their suits for that trick.

In other respects, game play and scoring are just as in Mega Bastard.

Demon Bastard

This plays just like Ultra Bastard, except that (in the second and subsequent tricks) the rank of the Bastard card is lower than a deuce for that trick. For example, if the Bastard card is a King, then all Kings are the lowest cards in their suits for that trick.

Nuisance Bastard

In Nuisance Bastard, the Bastard hand can win tricks. The deal and first trick are as in Mega Bastard, except that the Bastard hand occupies a specific seat: The Bastard is seated to the left of the dealer.

In the second and subsequent trick, when play comes around to the Bastard, flip over the top card. If the Bastard card wins the trick, then no player does; in that case, flip over the next Bastard card to lead the next trick.

Back End Bastard

The Back End variant plays just like Mega (or Ultra or Demon) Bastard, except that the Bastard card is flipped over after the trick - after all players have put down a card, but before determining who takes the trick.

Ultimate Bastard

Once we had the basic idea behind Mega, Ultra, Demon, Back End, and Nuisance bastard, we started to call crazy combinations. In Ultra Mega Bastard, there was a different trump suit and high rank for every trick. Back End Ultra Mega Nuisance Bastard was not for the faint of heart. (The only combination that is flatly impossible is Ultra and Demon; a rank can't be both high and low.)

In the end, we devised a more tame variant that preserved some of the craziness but still left room for strategy. As I recall, this was devised after high school when the three of us were in college but all in town for the holidays.

Game play follows Basic Bastard except that the first three cards, flipped over after bidding, are handled in this way: The suit of the first card is the trump suit. (This is just like Basic Bastard. If the suit of all three cards is the same, there's no trump.) The rank of the second card becomes high. (This is like Ultra Bastard, but lasting for the whole hand.) The rank of the third card becomes low. (Like Demon Bastard.)