Skat Program Evaluation

Table of Contents

1 Skat Program Evaluation

This is a work in progress and may contain incomplete and at times inaccurate information. Please bring errors to my attention at skatprograms@bobnewell.net. Vielen Dank und gut Blatt!

Introduction

Note: I use the terms “program” and “application” or “app” interchangeably.

Methodology

What’s Included

In this study, I look at a wide variety of Skat programs and applications for PC/Windows, Linux, and Android. Most if not all of these can still be obtained with a little Internet searching.

There is a surprisingly large number of computer Skat programs out there, and there’s no way to obtain or evaluate them all. Some of them I simply couldn’t get my hands on (such as those that are only available in the German market). Others simply cost more than I wanted to spend for evaluation purposes (Skat 3000 being a notably egregious example).

What’s Not Included

I’m unable to evaluate Skat programs for any of the Apple platforms, such as ioS, as I don’t have any Apple hardware.

Also, applications and programs which do no more than give access to on-line playing sites are not within the scope of this study, with the sole exception of the International Skat Server, due to the presence there of very strong computer opponents.

Programs

Heinlein Skat 9.5

Platform

Skat 9.5 runs on any Windows platform from XP up. (There is an updated version in the Windows Store for Windows 10 but it doesn’t seem to be available in North America.) Skat 9.5 also runs perfectly under Wine on Linux systems, if certain special steps are taken (contact me for details if interested).

Availability

Skat 9.5 is easily located online for download.

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound

The graphics are good enough. You can select from a small number of background images. In all but one of them you play against two mice, which is rather bizarre, but you can replace the images of the mice with anything of your own choosing if you have enough patience to work with the built-in editor. There is a typical selection of card types, allowing play with French, German, or Tournament decks.

Sound is more than adequate, and the amount of sound is selectable. You can have the mice make various comments like “Schneider sind auch Leute.” When you are the Alleinspieler and you lose, they are happy to make snide remarks. Shuffling and card play sounds are sharp and realistic.

Interface

The interface is completely mouse driven, with single clicks effectuating most actions such as playing a card. The layout is clean and easy to understand. It’s definitely a pleasant program to use. Both English and German play is available.

Features

Save and restore are provided. There is also a replay feature (non-scored). There are a large number of rule options including most Kneipenskat variants. Current score is prominently displayed and you can always access the scorecard (list). Very good long-term statistics are kept.

Playing Strength

Playing strength and style can be set separately for each computer player. Strength is weak, average, or strong; aggressiveness is cautious, normal, or aggressive.

Skat 9.5 plays a pretty reasonable game, with the occasional incredibly boneheaded error, bad enough that I can even catch it. Even on the “average” aggressiveness setting, bidding is quite forthright and if you’re the least bit of a Maurer you won’t be getting many bids.

Certainly the program plays at a decent club level. I’d have to say it falls short of expert level, but it makes for a nice computer opponent, one against which an average player has half a chance. The play style seems more “human” than in some other programs.

Overall
Bottom Line

The free evaluation version is adequate, it just has some annoying wait times. The registered version, at $20 TK, gives good value for the money. Skat 9.5 is a nice entry and falls in my personal top three, just behind Rasche’s Skat and ISS/Muppets.

Royal Skat

Platform

Royal Skat runs on Windows and with no trouble at all, and no special workarounds, with Wine under Linux.

Availability

Royal Skat can easily be located and downloaded from online sources.

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound

Graphics, if nothing special, are certainly good enough. Sound is not as crisp as in some other programs, but it’s intelligible and useful. In addition to bidding, there are some comments, although they don’t add a whole lot (telling you, for instance, “Omablatt” when you have a very strong hand.

Interface

The mouse-driven interface is easy to use and convenient.

Features

There is a good selection of Kneipenskat rules. Save and restore is available. Repeat play and post-game options are present. Network play, on the Royal Skat server, is available and seems to have enough participation to be useful. Beyond the trial period, you’ll have to buy the full version to keep participating. Play is all in German.

Stats

Statistics are excellent and tell you everything you need to know.

Playing Strength

This gets a little subjective, but I think play is below Skat 9.5, though by how much I can’t say. It certainly doesn’t seem as good as Rasche or the other better playing programs. I think it’s good enough to be fun and still give an average player reasonable chances of winning sometimes.

Overall

This is a solid entry. At 20 Euros it comes at the same price as Skat 9.5, while not playing as well. So I would only choose this one if I wanted network play (in which case there are better, free online options) or if I didn’t want an overly strong opponent.

Rasche’s Skat 8 Premium

Platform

I evaluated the Windows version, which runs on XP upward, and flawlessly with Wine on Linux. There is a Mac version that has some additional features, but I didn’t evaluate this as I don’t have Mac hardware.

Availability

You can get this easily from Rasche’s website, which has both German and English versons (the content of the German version is broader).

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound

Graphics are okay, if no more than that. It comes with a few cardsets, but the traditional ASS sets (like Altenburger ASS) costs a small additional fee, supposedly for licensing (though some other programs include these without extra cost).

Sound is a little choppy but it’s adequate. There is bidding, card shuffling and play sounds, and so on, and a few remarks from the players here and there (like “alter Maurer” when you don’t bid in eingepasste Spiele). There are some very annoying sounds for start-up and won and lost games. Some but not all can be turned off.

Interface

The interface is mouse-driven and easy enough to use, although between hands you have to do some clicking around to see the play status. There are a few small quirks but by and large the interface is smooth.

Features

This one has a feature found almost nowhere else. In addition to normal play at a table, you can play in “story” mode where you had better win money because you have to pay to eat and drink every so often. This may sound like it’s lots of fun but it’s not. Every time I try it I get annoyed very quickly and switch back to regular mode. Make your own decision, but I’ll bet you’ll agree.

There are plenty of Kneipenskat rules and various scoring methods. There are also options for tournament and league play, neither of which seemed to quite work right when I tried them.

You can also choose among all sorts of opponents, graded by skill and aggressiveness. I find it’s best to play against the “profi” set at “normal” aggressiveness, but if you want an easier game, you can go right down the line to beginners.

Stats

There are brief summary stats but nothing like the detail available in some other programs. The program gives you, as a player, an overall rating. There is no description of what this is based on, but I’ve found that if you take about 1/3 of the bids (difficult against the aggressive player options), win about 80% as Alleinspieler and 20% as Gegenspieler, you’ll come out at a rating of 100, which Rasche considers to be something like “par.”

Playing Strength

I don’t think Rasche is as strong as Siegfried, but it plays a lot more naturally (see the Siegfried evaluation). Rasche’s opponents, at least at the higher levels, have a human-like style for both bidding and cardplay, and don’t seem to make many silly mistakes. Of course, ISS/Muppets wins out in this category by some margin.

Overall

The evaluation version has some delays and annoyances, but it’s good enough to give a sense of how the program plays.

This is the one I play against the most often. It combines relatively strong play with a more or less natural playing style. There are many options and the interface is adequate if not spectacular.

What may hold you back is price. You’ll spend quite a bit of money to buy the full Premium version (and maybe the Altenburger card set, which is a separately priced add-on).

But it’s still my overall first choice.

Siegfried Skat

Platform

Siegfried runs on Windows and perfectly with Wine under Linux.

Availability

Siegfried can easily be obtained from its website. The evaluation version is pretty useless and the full version, at 32 Euros, is a bit of an investment but probably not unfairly priced.

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound

Graphics are sharp and clear and the one available cardset is nice. There are some card animations that actually add something to play enjoyment. Sounds are basic; bids, cardplay, etc. There are no wisecracks or player commentaries.

Interface

The interface is completely mouse-driven. It’s quite good enough with one annoying “feature”: to gather up a played trick, you must click the mouse, and you have to move the mouse onto one of the played cards for the click to take effect. This means you are constantly shuffling the mouse up and down between the cardplay area and your own hand.

Features

Siefried has very few features. Almost nothing important can be changed except the size of the cards, the names of the players, and the number of hands in a List.

There are no saved games; the program starts a new List every time you run it, so you have to finish a List in one sitting.

The program provides no means to print out the scorecard, so you’re reduced to taking screenshots, but the scorecard window size is fixed and won’t display more than 9 deals at a time, so you’d have to scroll up and down and take multiple screen shots.

No long-term statistics are kept.

I don’t know if an English version is available; the website is completely in German and doesn’t mention one.

There are no rules variants. There is no option to replay a hand. Actually, there isn’t much at all.

Playing Strength

This is where things get really interesting. Siegfried is wickedly strong at card play, and especially wicked as a defender. This means that a few things happen.

First, the cardplay is not necessarily natural and certainly not based overall on traditional Skat principles and maxims. Siegfried does concrete analysis and calculates outcomes. This (as is the case with many of the better chess and checker programs) means that certain card plays won’t look natural and in fact may seem bizarre (some 10 leads really caught me by surprise, for instance). But the play is optimal rather than natural.

Now, let’s digress for a moment into bidding. Siegfried won’t bid on a contract it doesn’t have a very good chance to win; it’s practically a Maurer, and the number of passed-out deals is staggeringly higher than in human play (typically, an unbelievable 6 to 12 in a List of 36 hands).

Put these things together: very conservative bidding and very strong card play, particularly on defense, and what have you got?

A most unnaturally conservative overall List, that’s what. Will you, as a human, go out on a limb with a bid against a merciless defensive machine? Numerous contracts like those I’ve won on-line against humans, or against Skat 9 or even Rasche 8 have proven to be sheer death against Siegfried.

But Siegfried doesn’t go out on a limb either. So what happens? Lots of passed out hands, and a List of maurering from start to finish.

It’s great to play against a really strong opponent. And Siegfried is terrific at calculating the odds. But I wonder how it would do against an aggressive top-level human player? I’d love to see Siegfried play a List or two against Ron Link, for instance.

I wanted Siegfried to use as a learning tool. But what you learn isn’t what you need to play against typical human experts (or even club-level players). With Siegfried you’ll learn to just about wait for Omablatt before bidding. That isn’t natural and won’t go over well in human company.

Overall

The evaluation version doesn’t allow you to bid above 20. This cripples the program so much that the evaluation version is next to useless. Furthermore, since bidding is the oddest thing about Siegfried, you won’t get wind of that from the evaluation version.

The full version is expensive at 32E, though not nearly as expensive as Rasche’s Skat (or Skat 3000, which I didn’t evaluate). But what do you get for that money? You get a program that is strong in cardplay, bids in a seemingly very conservative manner, makes you keenly aware that you’re playing against a computer and not a human expert, and offers almost no playing conveniences or options.

Bottom Line

I can’t go with this one. While it plays a very strong game, it plays in too inhuman a manner to be a true learning tool, and the utter lack of features (not even basic statistics) makes it hard and ultimately somewhat unpleasant to use. I think if you want to play very strong opponents (who bid aggressively), get on ISS and play against the Muppets.

Heinlein Skat 4

Platform

Skat 4 is a Windows program that runs perfectly with Wine under Linux.

Availability

You might have to look around a little, but you can still find Skat 4 on the internet.

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound

Graphics are pretty basic. There is a small, relatively static display with very few options. There are some animations for cutting the cards and dealing. Audio consists of bidding, shuffling, and cardplay sounds, and a few comments by the players (“Der geht auf die Dörfer” for instance). Sound is a little staticky but certainly acceptable.

Interface

The interface is largely mouse driven, although there are keyboard options (something many programs don’t offer). It’s easy enough to use although you must (1) click to remove a played trick and (2) click right in the center of boxes (like “Passe”). It’s annoying at first but you get used to it quickly enough.

Features

There are few features. The rules are fixed ISPA rules, with the odd feature that a List is always 48 hands (not 36, and no other options are possible). Save and restore is possible but not automatic. As far as I can tell the program is only in German.

Stats

There are no long-term stats. The List is the usual, and you can save it, but that’s it.

Playing Strength

This is quite obviously one of the older programs in Heinlein’s series, and playing strength isn’t all that great. I offer as evidence that I usually do pretty well against this program, while I do very much less well against Skat 9.5, get run over by Rasche 8, and haven’t a prayer against Siegfried or the Muppets.

There is a “learning” option in Skat 4 but I haven’t quite figured out how to use it. I just play with the default logic supplied with the program.

Computer bidding seems to fall in the risky category; the computer loses more times as Alleinspieler than I would expect. Card play isn’t bad although defensive play seems not especially strong. I’ve been able to win as Alleinspieler a number of times when I really should have lost.

Bottom Line

This is a fast moving and fun implementation that is fairly minimal but still interesting. Just don’t expect high-end graphics, in-depth features, or expert play.

Skat XXL

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Skat Special K

Platform

Available for Windows and plays with no problems or special needs with Wine under Linux.

Availability

You can find this online if you look a little.

Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall

I’ve got to give this one a resounding “no.” It’s annoying to use and doesn’t play very well.

CK Skat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

NetSkat 7

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

DOS Skat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

This is surprisingly good and runs under DosBox on a whole host of systems. Playing strength is surprising, ease of use is better than expected for an old DOS program, and there are some rules options and a couple of basic features. Of course, don’t look for much in the way of graphics, and just about nothing but speaker bleeps in the way of sound. It’s shareware, of course now impossible to register, but it seems to not be lacking any features or have much in the way of “nags.”

PC Skat

Go with DOS Skat instead.

Skat 2000+

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

It’s free and it offers a lot for that price. There are a few usability quirks but by and large, well worth a try.

XSkat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

ISS/Muppets

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall

You’ve got to learn to deal with the interface, which takes some time (I haven’t really ever grown completely comfortable with it). But if you want the best possible computer play, this is it. Unless you’re well into the expert level, the Muppets will kick your butt and eat your lunch. They are aggressive bidders and skilled card players. Even worse, the one Muppet, theCount, watches how you bid and learns how to best bid against you.

There are a few human players on ISS who have garnered higher ratings than the Muppets. I suspect these are all top-level players, true “profis” though I don’t know for sure. Ron Link, are you one of them?

Skat HD

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Absolut Skat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Skat Beta

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Skatroid

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Skatmeister

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Scheißskat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Club Skat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Pirate Skat

Platform
Availability
Evaluation
Graphics/Sound
Interface
Features
Stats
Playing Strength
Overall
Bottom Line

Conclusions

Author: Bob Newell

Email: bobnewell@bobnewell.net

Created: 2018-03-07 Wed 14:03

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