Écarté

Écarté (pronounced \e.kaʁ.te\ or roughly ay-car-tay) is a French trick-taking game for two players. A novel feature of the game is that rather than the traditional bidding round prior to trick-play, the players shape their hands into their final form by discarding and drawing cards. The winner might well be decided before the first card is played!

Écarté was at its height in the 19th century. It was mentioned in several works of fiction of the day, such as The Count of Monte Cristo (where it was noted as being preferred over Whist by the French) and the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilles. The game gradually lost its popularity, however, and is now relatively obscure.

Object of Écarté

The object of Écarté is to form a hand capable of taking the majority of the five tricks, and then doing so.

Setup

Écarté uses the same deck as Piquet. If you don’t happen to keep a Piquet deck laying around, just grab your trusty deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and take out all of the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck having aces through 7s in each of the four suits, for 32 cards in all. You’ll also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works, as well as the Card Caddy Connector, or chips or other tokens (you’ll only need nine of them).

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up and set it aside. The suit of this card, the upcard, determines the trump suit. If the upcard is a king, the dealer scores one point.

Card ranking

The cards rank a little out of their usual order in Écarté. The ace ranks between the face cards and the number cards. This makes the full rank of cards (high) K, Q, J, A, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

The exchange

The non-dealer decides whether or not they wish to play with their hand, as dealt. They can either play with what they’ve got by saying “I play”, or propose an exchange by saying “I propose.” If the non-dealer proposes, the dealer has veto power—if they decline, then the play proceeds without an exchange.

If the exchange is accepted, the non-dealer discards any number of cards they wish, then draws back up to five cards. The dealer then has the opportunity to do the same thing. The non-dealer may then propose again or start the actual play of the hand, and the dealer may refuse the proposal, as before.

Should there be less than ten cards left in the stock and exchanging still going on, the non-dealer always has the first priority in taking the number of cards they want, even if that doesn’t leave enough for the dealer to make their desired exchange. When the stock is depleted, there’s no further exchanging—the hand immediately begins. (Neither player can ever draw the upcard, no matter how bad they might want to.)

After the exchange, if either player ended up with the king of trumps, they can show it to their opponent. Doing so scores one point.

Vulnerability

If either player prevents an exchange at all, whichever one turned it down (the non-dealer if they call “I play”, or the non-dealer if they reject the proposal) is said to be vulnerable. A vulnerable player’s opponent can score extra points if they win the hand, so it’s important not to be too overconfident with your hand.

Note that it is possible to avoid vulnerability by starting an exchange and then discarding no cards. This allows your opponent a chance to improve their hand, however.

After the first exchange has taken place, neither player becomes vulnerable by turning down the opportunity for an exchange.

Play of the hand

The non-dealer leads to the first trick. The dealer then plays a card in response, following suit and heading the trick if possible. That means that if they have a card of the suit led, they must play it, playing a higher card if possible. Otherwise, they must trump, if they can. Only if they cannot do either of those are they free to play any other card.

Whoever played the higher trump, or the higher card of the suit led if neither player played a trump, wins the trick. They take the cards and put them in a won-tricks pile on the table in front of them. (It may be helpful to put each pair of cards crosswise, so the number of tricks taken is easily counted.) That player then leads to the next trick.

Scoring

After all five tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Whichever player takes the majority of the tricks (i.e. three or more) scores one point. If they took all five tricks, they score an additional point. One more point is scored if the opponent was vulnerable on that hand.

Further hands are played until someone reaches a score of five points. That player is the winner. (If the winning point is scored prior to the actual play of the hand due to the king of trumps, the hand is not played out.)

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Comet

Comet, also known as Commit, is a game in the Stops family for four to about eight players. As in Pope Joan, the players know about one of the game’s “stops”—the 8♦ is removed from play. Unlike in that game, though the 9♦, called the comet, is much easier to play—it functions as a wild card!

Comet is supposedly named after the 1758 pass-by of Halley’s Comet, having been invented in France around that time period. The name Commit circulated just as early, however, leading to some question as to whether it was the original name and which, if either, is a corruption in spelling for the other.

Object of Comet

The object of Comet is to be the first to score 100 points. Players score points by being the first to run out of cards on each hand.

Setup

Comet is typically played with a deck composed of 51 cards or fewer. You can make such a 51-card deck by removing the 8♦ from any standard deck, like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You will also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.

There are two methods to dealing the game. One is to simply deal out the cards as far as they will go, then simply set aside the stub. The unknown cards in the stub will be the “stops” that halt progress in the game, which players will have to discover as they play. The other method is to simply remove additional 8s (and 7s if necessary) until the deck is evenly divisible by the number of players. This has the effect of allowing players to know the stops ahead of time and adjust their strategy.

Game play

In Comet, cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They may play any card they wish, face up, to the table in front of them. Whoever holds the next higher card of the same suit then plays their card, then the next higher, and so on. Ideally, this continues until someone plays the king of that suit. Sometimes, however, it will be because the next card in the sequence would be one of the cards in the stub or the 8♦. As the game progresses, sequences may also stop due to previously-played cards. If the sequence is broken for any reason, the last person to play a card is free to play any card they desire, and the chain begins anew.

The role of the 9♦

The player holding the 9♦ (the comet) is free to play it at any time, even out of turn in an existing sequence. They may play it immediately after playing an in-sequence card, or after another player. When the 9♦ is played, normal play stops. The player to the left of the one who played the 9♦ must either play the 10♦ or the next card in the previous sequence, if any. If the player is unable to play either card, the next player to the left has the same option, and so on. Play proceeds normally after that.

For example, say a sequence begins with the A♣ and continues normally through the 6♣. Someone then plays the 9♦. The person to that player’s left must then play either the 10♦ or the 7♣. If they cannot, the next person to their left must play one of the two cards, if able, and so on.

Scoring

The player that runs out of cards first wins the hand. They score one point for winning the hand, another point for every card in their opponents’ hands, and two points for each king that was not played. If a player holds the 9♦, unplayed, at the end of the hand, they lose one point.

Pass the deal to the left, shuffle, and deal a new hand. Game play continues until one player reaches a score of 100 or more points. That player wins the game.

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Mus

Mus is a betting game for four players in partnerships. Players draw and discard until they reach a hand they’re happy with, and then the betting begins. But there’s not just one “best” hand—there’s four rounds of betting, each with wildly different criteria for how the best hand is determined, and one hand can’t be the best in all four categories!

Mus most likely originated in the Basque country, a region spanning the border between France and Spain. From there, the game spread throughout both of those countries. From Spain, Mus was carried to other Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world.

Object of Mus

The object of Mus is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 40 points. This is done by, through drawing, forming hands that compete well in a number of different categories.

Setup

Mus is traditionally played with a Spanish deck of 40 cards. To recreate such a deck from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 8s, 9s, and 10s. This will leave you with a 40-card deck consisting of face cards, 7s–2s, and aces in each of the four suits.

To keep score, you will need 22 counters of some kind, such as stones, beads, beans, marbles, or poker chips. These counters are kept in a pool in the center of the table. Uniquely, the value of each counter differs depending on who holds it! When a point is scored, one of the partners designated to do so draws a counter from the central pool. Upon reaching a score of five, this player returns four counters to the pool and passes the fifth to their partner. Thus, each counter this second player holds represents five points. When the second player has seven counters (representing a score of 35), they declare this and return them to the pool, putting their opponents on notice that they only need to score five more points to win.

Mus is traditionally played with a series of signals that players can use to indicate their holdings to their partner. These signals are the same for both teams. Part of the skill of the game is to figure out how to pass the signals to your partner without the opponents intercepting them. Which signals mean what, and what signals are allowed, should be discussed prior to game play.

As is usual with partnership games, partners should be seated across from one another, with an opponent on either side. The turn should alternate between partnerships as it passes around the table.

Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

Mus is most widely played “with eight aces and eight kings”. To achieve this, the 3s are considered equivalent to kings, and the 2s are considered equal to aces. They are treated exactly the same as if they were the same rank (to the point that K-3 is considered a pair). Cards otherwise rank in their usual order, with aces low.

Unlike in most games, game play is always conducted to the right.

Mus or no mus

The player to the dealer’s right goes first. They examine their hand and determine if they would like to exchange some of their cards for new ones for the stock. If they do, they say “mus”. The next player to the right must then make the same determination, and so on.

If all four players agree to a mus, then they discard one to four cards, face down, and the dealer gives them replacements from the stock. Then, another round of declaring “mus” or “no mus” takes place. (If the stock is depleted, shuffle the discards to form a new stock.) This continues until a player calls “no mus”. The game then proceeds to the betting rounds.

Betting

There are four rounds of betting, each of which has different criteria for winning. The betting rounds are always conducted in the same order, and follow the same procedure. Betting in each round begins with the player to the dealer’s right. They may make an opening bid of at least two counters, or pass. If they pass, the next player to the right has the same option, and so on. Once a player makes an opening bid, the opponent to their right may:

  • See: agree to the bid, the amount of which will be won by whoever has the best cards for the category bid on.
  • Raise: accept the opening bid and propose an increased bet.
  • Fold. decline the proposed opening bid. The side that didn’t fold immediately collects the previously-accepted bid amount, regardless of who actually has the better cards.

If all players fold to an opening bid, the “previously accepted” bid is only one counter. If all four players pass with no opening bid being made, the round is contested with a stake of one counter going to the partnership with better cards.

There is one additional, special bid called órdago. If your opponent accepts a bid of órdago, the entire game is decided by the outcome of the current round of betting. The hands are immediately revealed, and whoever has the best cards for that round wins the entire game.

It is important to note that all bids are for the partnership, not the players. You may well have an awful hand, but find yourself betting a high number of counters because you know, either through previous bidding or signals, that your partner is a lock to win the round.

After each round of betting, the players proceed to the next one. The hands are kept concealed until all four rounds are concluded (except when a bid of órdago is accepted).

The rounds

The four rounds of betting are, in order:

  • Grande: Betting on who has the highest hand. Hands are compared by their highest card. If there is a tie, the second-highest is used to break it, then the third-highest, and finally the lowest.
  • Chica: Betting on who has the lowest hand. Hands are compared the same as in Grande, but comparing by the lowest card, then second-lowest, etc.
  • Pares: Betting on who has the best pairs. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they even have any pairs. If at least one person answers yes, the betting round takes place. Unlike the previous two rounds, the player with the best combination is entitled to a bonus, in addition to the agreed-upon stake. Possible combinations, from highest to lowest, are:
    • Duples: Two pair, like K-3-4-4 or 7-7-2-2. Duples are compared by their higher pair, then their lower one. Three-counter bonus.
    • Medias: Three of a kind, with one unmatched card, like 5-5-5-Q or A-A-2-6. The rank of the three-of-a-kind is compared first, then the kicker. Two-counter bonus.
    • Par simple: One pair, like K-3-7-A or J-J-6-4. The rank of the pair is compared first, then the higher kicker, then the lower kicker. One-counter bonus.
  • Juego: Each player totals the value of their hand, with aces (including 2s) worth one, face cards (including 3s) worth ten, and all other cards worth their face value. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they have a hand worth 31 or more points. If at least one does, the hands will be compared for best juego. A hand value of 31 is the best, and entitles its holder to a 3-counter bonus if it wins. Second is a value of 32, then 40, and then in descending order down to 33 (all of which are worth a 2-counter bonus if it wins).
  • Punto: Only if nobody holds a juego is the Punto round played. This is simply betting on the highest hand value (30 being best, since 31 and above would be a juego, and 4 being worst). The holder of the best hand scores a one-counter bonus on top of the agreed-upon bet.

In any case, if two hands are exactly identical, whoever comes first in turn order wins.

Resolution

After all four rounds of betting take place, the hands are revealed and compared. Payouts on rounds where betting actually occurred (or all four players passed) are done in exactly the same order as the betting rounds (Grande, Chica, Pares, Juego/punto).

If a partnership reaches a score of 40, stop immediately—they win the game, even if one of the other rounds would have allowed their opponents to surpass them. If nobody has a score of 40 after all four rounds have been scored, the deal passes to the right and another hand is played.

 

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Bezique

Bezique is a two-player trick-taking game. Unlike in most trick-taking games, however, most of the tricks don’t affect the score at all! Instead, winning tricks gets you the right to form melds, which is where all the points are scored.

Bezique originated in France, probably deriving from Piquet and Sixty-Six. It reached its peak of popularity in France around 1840 or so, but spread across the English Channel and enjoyed a run of popularity in England until about the turn of the 20th century. Bezique is also the ancestor of Pinochle—in fact, its two-handed version plays nearly identically to two-handed Pinochle. Therefore, we’ve included the variant Six-Pack Bezique here. Six-Pack Bezique was said to be Winston Churchill’s favorite game, and he was well-regarded as one of the game’s earliest experts.

Object of Bezique

The object of Bezique is to score the most points by forming melds and taking the last trick of the game.

Setup

A single Bezique pack comprises 32 cards, from ace down to 7 in each of the four suits. Such a pack can be made by taking a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and removing all of the 2s through 6s. Six-Pack Bezique, as the name implies, uses six such packs, for a total of 192 cards. You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as paper and pencil.

Determine the first dealer through some random method. The dealer cuts as close to 24 cards as possible off the pack. The non-dealer estimates how many cards were cut and states their guess. The dealer then deals twelve cards to each player. If they had exactly 24 cards (exactly enough for the deal), they immediately score 250 points. If the non-dealer was exactly right in their guess, they score 150 points. The remaining cards become the stock, and are toppled over in a pseudo-fan in the center of the table to make it easier to draw from them.

Card ranking

Bezique uses the same ranking used by Sixty-Six and Pinochle. Tens rank higher than face cards, so the full ranking of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

Before any game play begins, a player holding no face cards in their hand, only number cards, may show their hand to their opponent and score 250 points for carte blanche. Thereafter, if they draw another card that is not a face card, they may show this card before putting it in their hand and score another 250 points for another carte blanche. They may do this as many times as they both continue to draw number cards and show them. When they draw a face card, or they stop revealing their draws, they may no longer score for carte blanche.

Play of the hand

The non-dealer leads to the first trick. The dealer may play any card in response to this, and is not obliged to follow suit. However, only a higher card of the suit led can win the trick.

The winner of the trick is then allowed (but is not required) to declare and/or score any valid melds, as described below. The player that won the trick then draws a card from the stock, followed by the other player. Then, the player who won the first trick leads to the second trick. Cards from past tricks are simply left in the middle of the table and take no further part in game play.

The suit of the first sequence or marriage melded becomes the trump suit. Once the trump suit has been established, any trump can defeat a lead of a non-trump suit, regardless of rank. (If a trump is led, a higher trump is still needed to defeat it, of course.)

Melds

These are the melds that are possible in Bezique:

  • Class A
    • Sequence— A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. In trumps, worth 250 points, in any other suit, 150 points.
  • Class B
    • Marriage—K-Q of the same suit. In trumps, worth 40 points, in any other suit, 20 points.
  • Class C
    • Any four aces—100 points.
    • Any four kings—80 points.
    • Any four queens—60 points.
    • Any four jacks—40 points.
    • Four aces of trumps—1,000 points.
    • Four 10s of trumps—900 points.
    • Four kings of trumps—800 points.
    • Four queens of trumps—600 points.
    • Four jacks of trumps—400 points.
  • Class D
    • Bezique—Q♠-J♦. 40 points.
    • Double bezique—Two beziques, e.g. Q♠-Q♠-J♦-J♦. 500 points.
    • Triple bezique—Three beziques. 1,500 points.
    • Quadruple bezique—Four beziques. 4,500 points.

Melding is done by playing any valid meld, as described in the list above, face-up to the table. A player may play multiple melds to the table at once, but they may immediately score the value of only one of the melds so declared. The player may score another declared meld each time they win another trick. Melded cards are still considered part of the hand, and they can be played on later tricks. If a meld is declared but not scored, it must remain intact on the table to be scored on a subsequent trick win.

A player can reuse previously-melded cards for another meld, but only if the new meld is of another class. For example, a Q♠ cannot be moved from a bezique to a different J♦ to form another bezique (both Class D). It could, however, be moved to form a marriage (Class B) with a K♠. There are two exceptions. One is when an existing meld is augmented with more cards: a player may play Q♠-J♦ to score a 40-point bezique, then, on a later turn, add another Q♠-J♦ to score 500 more points for a double bezique. A player may also break up a meld by playing one card to a trick, and then restore it with a card from the hand to score again for that type of meld.

When the stock is depleted

Once the last two cards of the stock have been drawn, no more melds can be made. Each player picks up all of their melds from the table, which should restore their hand to twelve cards. The final twelve tricks are then played. The second person to play to each trick must now follow suit if able. They must also win the trick if able to do so.

The player that wins the last trick scores 250 points for doing so.

Ending the game

After the hand ends, the final scores are tallied. The player with the higher score earns an additional 1,000 points for winning the game. However, if the loser failed to score at least 3,000 points (an act which is known as crossing the Rubicon), regardless of whether the winner did the same, the winner also scores a bonus equal to the loser’s score. For example, if a player won 3,500 to 2,800, the winning player’s final score would be 3,500 + 1,000 + 2,800, or 7,300 points.

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