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Frequently Asked Questions about Tichu

If you have any question which isn't answered on this page, or just want to drop me a line, please don't hesitate to send me email at

Q: Why does Tichu keep crashing when it logs into Game Center?

A: Some people who are still using iOS 4.1 have reported crashes right after the app logs into Game Center. There are two ways you can deal with the problem:

  • Upgrade to the latest iOS version. (You really should anyway as it's the only version of iOS that developers can effectively support any more.)
  • Turn on airplane mode when you want to play Tichu.

More details:

The problem is related to Game Center functionality and, to my knowledge, it only affects iPhones. (At least I couldn't reproduce it on an iPod touch running iOS 4.1.)

Unfortunately, Apple no longer is supporting iOS 4.1 and none of the several devices at my disposal are using that version. Since Apple, in its wisdom, doesn't give developers any way to install unsupported versions of iOS, my hands are rather tied.

Q: I've played four games. How do I play a fifth?

A: Tichu has enough saved game slots to track up to four games at once. If you choose the slot that holds your current game from the games list you will be asked if you want to start a new game in that slot.

Q: Why is Tichu so slow on my device?

A: While Tichu isn't a terribly difficult game to understand, there is a large number of potential plays on any given turn. As if that weren't enough, players are free to play a bomb at almost any time so the computer has to account for that as well. On any given turn, the computer can easily analyze over a million different positions. A player's first lead of a hand is particularly troublesome because, not only does a player have a lot more potential moves with a full hand, the player also needs to decide whether or not to call Tichu, and that requires additional analysis.

In fact, I almost didn't even begin this project because I was so worried that the iPhone wouldn't be powerful enough for the job. I'm honestly quite thrilled that the game plays as quickly as it does.

My target platform for Tichu was an iPhone 3GS. It will play fine on older devices but it may be slower than you would like.

If you find that you are spending too much time waiting, play the game at the "Normal" skill setting (or even below). Think time goes up dramatically on the "Better" setting and, truth be told, the game doesn't really play all that much better at that setting.

Q: Why does my partner play the way she does? How can I get a challenging game that isn't full of risky or strange plays?

A: The AI's play style can vary quite a bit based upon the difficulty setting. It is important to understand what each setting means. The settings are documented in the "How to Play" section of the game's documentation but I find that a lot of people are jumping straight to the "Best" setting without really understanding what that means. That is a big mistake. You need to read and understand the following so you know exactly what you are getting into.

The Play Style setting primarily affects Tichu calls:

Conservative At this setting, the player will be much less inclined to call Tichu.
Normal At this setting, the player will call Tichu whenever it thinks it has a good chance of going out first.
Aggressive At this setting, the player will tend to call Tichu more frequently.

The Skill setting primarily determines how adept the player is at card play. There are five skill settings to choose from:

Worst At this setting, the player makes mostly random choices. It will follow the rules of the game but beyond that it is unpredictable.
Poor At this setting, the player tries to make intelligent decisions about what to play but it doesn't fully take into account cards beyond those in its own hand and it makes pretty simplistic and selfish choices. It's at least smart enough to avoid some of the most common blunders; for instance, it will at least try to avoid going out first if its partner has called "Tichu".
Normal At this setting, the player analyzes the current conditions and looks ahead beyond the current trick. It has a perfect memory of every card it has seen and it should provide a somewhat competent opponent or partner.
Better This setting is much like the Normal setting except that the player spends more time analyzing the trick before settling on a card to play and it's a little more sophisticated in the way it evaluates tricks. Be advised that this additional analysis may result in a slowdown in play, particularly on older devices. If you find that you are waiting too long at this setting, you should try a different one.
Best To put it bluntly, at this setting the computer cheats. It knows exactly what cards each player is holding and it tries to use that information to determine which cards to play (although it doesn't use that information when deciding which cards to pass; that would be a little too nasty). Despite that, it will not play perfectly and it can be beaten. Tichu is a very complicated game and there just isn't enough horsepower to completely analyze every hand. It still has to work with the cards it has and it can't think far enough ahead to correctly predict the outcome of every situation. Furthermore, it can't predict exactly which cards you will play, only which cards you could play. Often that is enough of a difference.

One thing to keep in mind about the AI is that at all but the simplest skill setting, it has a perfect memory. This means that whenever there are two players left in the game, the computer knows all the cards. It also means that if a bomb is no longer possible, the computer will know that too. This can sometimes lead the computer to make moves that most human players might consider risky, or perhaps a little strange.

If you are looking for a challenging game with a human-like partner, I recommend that you set both of your opponents to the "Best" skill setting but that you set your partner no higher than the "Better" setting. That way your partner won't assume that you know what cards everyone is holding and your partner will make plays based upon the same information that you have. It will tend to play more like you would expect a human partner to play.

If you get frustrated that your partner seems to be calling Tichu and failing too often, then I suggest that you set your partner to the "Conservative" play style but leave the others at "Normal".

Q: How can I play the Phoenix as the low card in a set?

A: Usually when you play the Phoenix, it's obvious which card it represents, but every so often a situation will arise where you have a choice between either a low card or a high one. For instance, if you play the Phoenix with a pair of 3s and a pair of Kings, the Phoenix could be used as either a 3 or a King. It's very rare that you would intend to play the Phoenix as the low card in this situation so the game will normally assume that you meant to play the Phoenix high. In the rare case that you want to play the Phoenix as the low card, all you have to do is pick it up and drag it to the left of the cards you are playing. The game will realize that the Phoenix is in the lowest position and it will treat it as the low card in the set.

Q: Can I still listen to my own music while I play?

Absolutely. Beginning with Tichu version 1.3, just start your music before you start Tichu. Tichu will notice that you're already listening to music and the game's music will be silenced.

If you're still using version 1.2, then it's a little more complicated. You'll first need to turn off the game's music in the settings. If the music is turned off, then the game won't disable whatever audio you might already be listening to when the game starts. So to listen to your own music with Tichu version 1.2, follow these steps:

  1. Start Tichu and go to the settings screen.
  2. Drag the music slider all the way to the left.
  3. Press the home button and start the iPod app.
  4. Start your playlist.
  5. Switch back to Tichu.

Since the game's music volume is all the way down, the game will know to leave your music running.

Q: Can more than one person play on the same device? (Does the game support Pass-N-Play?)

A: Tichu does not support Pass-N-Play. I felt that there really wouldn't be any acceptable way to implement passing cards, calling Tichu out of turn, or playing bombs out of turn if the players were forced to constantly pass the device from player to player. Could it be done? Probably. Would it work well? Probably not. Instead I chose to focus on a solid networked multiplayer experience.

Q: Can I play with my friends over the internet?

A: Yes! Beginning with version 1.3, Tichu now supports internet play over Game Center. You need to be using a device that supports Game Center, which means an iPhone 3GS or later iPhone, an iPad, or a 2nd generation or later iPod touch. You also must be running iOS version 4.1 or later. Consult Apple's web site for precise details of what is supported but basically, if your device has a Game Center icon on it like the one at the right, then you should be able to play.

Furthermore, you need to be logged in with your Game Center account. Game Center accounts are free so there is really no reason not to get one. If don't already have a Game Center account then you will be prompted to create one when you first run Tichu. Again, if you have any other questions about whether your device supports Game Center or how to get an account, consult Apple's web site.

Q: I'm having difficulty connecting over Game Center. What can I do?

A: Other than consulting Apple's web site, here are a few things to try.

  • Make sure that you have notifications enabled for Tichu, otherwise you will never receive game invites.
  • Make sure that your iDevice's clock is set to the correct time. I have noticed that if the clock is off, often it will be difficult to establish a connection.
  • Make sure that your device can connect to the internet and that it is actually capable of connecting to Game Center. Older devices don't support it. Consult Apple's web site if you have any doubt about whether your device supports it or not.

Q: Why doesn't Tichu respect the mute switch when I play a linked game over Game Center?

A: You may not know this but that mute switch isn't actually a mute switch. It's actually called a Ring/Silent switch and it only mutes audio in certain specific circumstances. When an app such as Tichu requests the use of the system's microphone (required for supporting Voice Chat) Apple's operating system assumes that you must also want to hear the person you are talking to and so it disregards the position of the Ring/Silent switch. This is not something that apps have any control over. Furthermore, the system provides no reliable way for an app to detect the position of this switch, otherwise I'd have been happy to mute the game audio for you when the switch was set to silent. (At least the system does automatically reduce the volume of all audio that isn't on the Voice Chat channel but it does that no matter how this switch is set.)

If you want your game's audio to remain silent when you play on line, you will have to go into the game's settings and turn the volume down yourself, or else you could use the volume rocker on your device to lower the system volume but that would also lower the volume of the Voice Chat channel.

Q: I can join a game but I can't seem to use Voice Chat. Either I can't get Voice Chat working at all or I can't keep the connection working. What can I do?

A: Voice Chat requires a fast internet connection (think WiFi) in order to work, and it isn't supported by all devices. (This is Apple's limitation, not Tichu's.) Even then, if the connection speed begins to slow too much, the Voice Chat channel may be dropped. This is a bandwidth saving measure implemented by Apple to make sure that the overall game connection can continue uninterrupted. If your Voice Chat channel has been dropped you can try to reestablish the connection by toggling the microphone on and off. (The microphone is on when the microphone button is red.) Often that will be enough to reestablish the connection.

It's usually best to keep the microphone off unless you actually have something to say. Broadcasting always requires more bandwidth and so the act of using the voice channel can, unfortunately, sometimes contribute to the problem.

Note that text chat is always available and does not use significantly more bandwidth than other game functions.

Q: What changed in version 1.6?

A: The following is a list of changes in version 1.6:

  • Some AI "tells" were removed by ensuring that the AI now pauses a reasonable amount of time in situations where even though it can't play, the other players couldn't know that. Care was taken to avoid pausing in most cases where it should be obvious that the AI can't play (for instance, when the AI doesn't hold enough cards to cover the play) and when there are no human players still holding cards. The length of these pauses is carefully calculated so as to make it indistinguishable from cases where the AI could have played and merely chose not to.
  • Fixed a bug where, in certain rare instances, the AI might treat a Phoenix as the low card in a full house even when it clearly wasn't.

Q: What changed in version 1.5?

A: The following is a list of changes in version 1.5:

  • Fixed some animation issues that appeared in iOS 5.
  • Fixed an intermittent crash in the stats screen.
  • Fixed a bug that caused the game to fail to properly award a couple of achievements in some rare circumstances.
  • Fixed a bug that (rarely) allowed the AI to play the dog even though it could fulfill an active wish (a rules violation).
  • Minor AI improvements.

Q: What changed in version 1.4?

A: The following is a list of changes in version 1.4:

  • Fixed a bug where the AI might not realize that it was required to fulfill an active wish after a singleton phoenix was played as the very first card of a trick.
  • The AI is a little more likely to dog to a partner who has called Tichu than previously.
  • The AI is very slightly more conservative about calling Tichu at the normal agression setting.
  • The wish picker can now be cancelled.
  • The version number is now (very faintly) shown on the credits title bar.
  • Other minor AI improvements.
  • Minor stability improvements (mostly relating to Game Center).

Q: What changed in version 1.3?

A: The following is a relatively complete list of all of the changes in version 1.3:

  • New matchmaking screen that makes it easier to configure a new game.
  • Game Center support for:
    • achievements
    • leaderboards
    • wide area networked play
    • Voice Chat
    • Text-based Chat
  • Improvements to Bluetooth linked play:
    • enhanced stability
    • Text-based Chat
  • Significantly improved AI Tichu calling algorithms (at all skill levels).
  • Somewhat improved AI card play (at all skill levels). Although that was not the primary focus of this release. Don't expect perfection.
  • BSW-style game logging. (You can email a game log from the end game summary screen.)
  • Improved behavior when a user's music is playing.
  • Visual indicators added to the player badges so you can tell at a glance how the AI opponents are configured.
  • Visual indicator added to cards that were received in the pass.
  • Enhanced end of game summary screen, including a "New Game" button and an "Email Log" button.
  • Elo-style rating that adjusts to reflect your overall performance.
  • Various anti-cheating measures (although I certainly won't promise that people won't figure out ways to cheat).

Q: What changed in version 1.2?

A: There were quite a few changes; too many to list in the app store. Here's a more complete list:

  • music and sound effects
  • the ability to track up to four games at once (via saved game "slots")
  • warning text was added to the settings page to make it very clear that the computer peeks into hands when set on the "Best" skill setting
  • the ability to specify how the cards sort: high cards to the right (the default) or high cards to the left
  • moved the Dog's sorting order so it is now sorted below the Mah Jong (it used to be sorted with the Phoenix and the Dragon at the high side of the hand)
  • faster end of trick countdown when it's obvious that there is no longer any possibility of a bomb
  • changes to minimize dropped connections during linked play
  • the "pass" button now appears only when no cards are selected (it used to appear whenever there was no legal play selected, provided it was legal to pass)
  • lots of AI improvements including (but not limited to):
    • general improvement to all skill levels, but particularly at skill level "Poor" and above
    • now even the "Poor" skill level gets a little bit of look-ahead (resulting in significantly better play at that setting without sacrificing much think time)
    • improved "wish" logic when playing the Mah Jong
    • many adjustments designed to encourage conserving strength for later in the hand
    • many adjustments to encourage better timing of bombs
    • fixed several difficult to reproduce bugs in various AI subsystems
    • toned down the AI's threshold of what it considered an acceptable Tichu call when it was very behind in the score (it's now less likely to call Tichu out of desperation)

Q: What does BSW-style game logging mean?

A: BSW stands for, which is a wildly popular German web site where players from all over the world have been able to play Tichu (and other games) on line against other human opponents for many years. For some time now, BrettspielWelt has had the ability to log Tichu games played over its service. These logs contain a complete record of every card drawn, passed, or played during a game. From these logs, a complete game can be reconstructed and analyzed. Some enterprising people have even written software tools to analyze them and/or replay them.

The iOS version of Tichu, beginning with version 1.3, now keeps a log of its games using the exact same format used by BSW. At the end of each game you have the opportunity to email your game's log to yourself or to anyone else you like.

BSW's Tichu logs are in German (as is fitting for a German web site). So are the logs kept by Tichu on the iDevice but the default behavior for players who are playing the game in English is for these logs to be translated into English before they are exported. If you want to use your logs with a program designed to work with BSW's logs, you will probably want to make use of the switch in the settings screen which lets you export the log in German instead of English. (German speakers can use the same switch to export the log in English if they so desire.)

Q: How does the new rating system work?

A: The rating system assigns each player a numeric rating which is displayed in the statistics screen. Your rating is also displayed after each game and it is shown on the primary Game Center leaderboard.

Your initial rating starts at 600 (which is quite low) and is adjusted after each game. The amount by which your rating is adjusted depends upon several factors, including the average rating of your partnership, the average rating of your opponents, and the game's point spread. The precise formula is a secret but it is a modified Elo system, similar to those used to rank chess players and other competitive games. The important thing to keep in mind is that if you are battling a stronger opponent, you don't actually need to win the game for your score to improve, and vice versa. Whether you win or lose isn't so important; what is important is that you do at least as well as the system expects.

You may also be interested to to know that over your first few games your score will be adjusted quite a bit but the more games you play, the less your score will be adjusted. The idea is to get you close to your appropriate rating as quickly as possible. After you have a few games under your belt, you should find that your score begins to settle and that it only continues to go up as your skill improves.

You should also notice that the ratings for the computer opponents is fixed. This is because the AI does not learn over repeated games like a human does. The AI, when set at a particular setting, will always play the same way.

Eventually, you may find that you need to seek out matches with highly rated opponents to attain a higher rating.

Q: What happens to my rating if I (or my opponent) abandons a game in progress?

A: If the game hasn't progressed very far, nothing. There is no penalty for abandoning and restarting a game that has only progressed a very short way. (Read: generally less than a full hand.)

Ratings are only adjusted when a game is scored. Games are generally only scored when a game is played to completion HOWEVER if a game has progressed beyond a certain point (which is deliberately NOT fixed to discourage people from gaming the system) the game may be scored as if the game had been played to completion. If you are losing, you can expect that you will have passed this "point of no return" much sooner than if you were winning. So abandoning a game because you are losing is much more likely to hurt your rating than abandoning a game because you are winning is likely to help you. In other words, be a good sport and play your games to completion whenever possible. You will almost always be better off for it.

Obviously, there will be times when someone will have to leave a game in progress. If this happens, the best thing to do is to try and arrange a time when the game can be continued at a later date. If that isn't possible then you may find that it is best to continue the game to completion by allowing the computer to take over. Abandoned games are only scored if a new game is started in their same slot, so as long as you come back and finish your game later, your rating shouldn't be harmed.

Q: Why does the leaderboard only show my highest rating instead of showing my current rating?

A: Game Center leaderboards are implemented by Apple in such a way as to only show your highest score over a given interval of time. They don't offer any way of correctly dealing with a player rating that rises and falls. This is an unfortunate limitation of Game Center which has been brought to Apple's attention. Hopefully at some point they will correct it. Until then, we are left with leaderboards that really only show a "high water mark".

One way to partially work around this limitation is to go to the leaderboard section of the Game Center application and ask it to show you only those ratings that have been recorded over the last day. This will still only measure your highest rating on that day against the highest ratings of other players who played on that same day, but it's still pretty close to what you would really like to know, which is: how do you currently measure up against all the other Tichu players out there?

Q: I think someone is cheating. What can be done?

A: Unfortunately, very little. Apple has not given me any way to ban players or to remove scores from the leaderboards. You could email Apple support and report someone who you suspect of cheating but there is very little likelihood that anything will be done. For this reason, it's probably best to take any very high ranking you see on the leaderboards with a grain of salt and just take things in stride. After all, this isn't a tournament and there is no money on the line so it's best to just try to ignore the cheaters and enjoy yourself as much as possible.

Q: How can I reset my scores on the leaderboards?

A: You can't. There is no way for you (or me) to erase leaderboard scores. Apple doesn't allow it. The only thing you can do is create a new Game Center account. Since your scores and stats are tied to your Game Center account, creating a new account is basically the same as starting over.

Q: What future plans do you have for Tichu?

A: As my schedule permits, I hope to continue improving the AI. It is clear to me that, despite vast improvement over the last couple of updates, the AI still has a lot of weaknesses and, while improving it is greatly hampered by the CPU power available, I do plan to make improvements where I can. This is an ongoing priority for me.

Q: What is your next project?

A: I recently brought Ted Alspach's Start Player to iOS. What'll be next? I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. I'm sure I'll think of something. Feel free to email me your suggestions so long as you'll be understanding if I don't choose to do them.

Q: The cards have all disappeared! How can I get them back?

A: I am aware that on very rare occasions, usually when returning from one of the auxiliary screens, the cards can disappear. I believe it is the result of a low memory condition but I haven't been able to reliably reproduce the problem. If this happens, exiting the game and restarting it should clear the problem up.

NOTE that if you are using iOS4, due to the multi-tasking support, just switching to another application is not enough. You need to actually force Tichu to shut down completely. Here's how you can do that:

  • Press the home button to switch to the desktop.
  • Press the home button twice in succession to bring up the "running applications" tray.
  • TAP and HOLD the Tichu icon on that tray. The icons will eventually wiggle and you'll see a little dash in a red circle appear on each icon.
  • Click on the dash in the red circle on the Tichu icon to force Tichu to close.
  • Press the home button again to stop the icons from wiggling.
  • Now restart Tichu and the cards should be visible again. (You should not lose any progress in your game.)