Two cuttlefish

Cuttle is a two-player game that likely dates back to the 1970s. Characterized as one of the earliest “combat card games”, Cuttle has been cited as similar to Magic: The Gathering and similar proprietary card games. Cuttle has the interesting mechanic of most cards being able to be played with two different effects, depending on the context in which they’re played in.

Object of Cuttle

The object of Cuttle is to be the first player to have 21 points in point-scoring cards on your side of the table.


Cuttle is played with one 52-card deck of playing cards. Despite the photo we chose for this post, Cuttle does not seem to have anything to do with cuttlefish, but if you insist on getting some involved in your game, you should probably use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, since they’re waterproof.

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player, then one extra to the dealer. The deck stub is placed down in the center of the table, forming the stock. The area immediately next to it is reserved for discarded cards, referred to in Cuttle as the scrap pile.

Card ranking

The ranks of cards are not of great importance in Cuttle, but they do come up when scuttling cards (see below). Numerical cards rank in their usual order, with the ace low; i.e. (high) 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low). Face cards do not take part in any plays where rank is relevant. Suits break ties when cards have the same rank. Suits rank in the following order: (high) spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs (low).

Game play

On a player’s turn, they have the option of playing any one card or drawing one card from the stock. Thereafter, the turn passes to the other player.

Aces through tens can be played as a point card by simply placing them face-up in front of you. This scores points toward the 21 points required to win the game. Cards are worth their face value; aces are worth one point. They may also be played as a scuttle, which results in one of the opponent’s discards being placed in the scrap pile. To scuttle a card, you must play a card of higher rank (or of the same rank but higher suit), and as a result, both the scuttled card and the card played to scuttle it are scrapped.

Most cards may also be played as effect cards, with each rank of card having a unique ability (the 10 cannot be played as an effect card). Most of these are “one-off” abilities, taking effect, and then being scrapped. However, the abilities of the 8, jack, queen, and king are persistent, with the card remaining on the table until they are removed through the use of some other effect card, or the game ends.

The abilities of each effect card are as follows:

  • Ace: All point cards on the table—yes, yours too—are scrapped.
  • 2: The 2 has two different abilities:
    • Scrap any persistent effect card (8, jack, queen, king) anywhere on the table. (Note that the 8 must be used as an effect card and not as a point card.)
    • When an effect card other than an 8, jack, queen, or king is played by your opponent, you may play a two out of turn to block the effect.
  • 3: Look through the discard pile and add any card of your choosing to your hand (other than the 3 that was played to trigger this effect).
  • 4: Your opponent reveals two cards of their choice from their hand and scraps them.
  • 5: Draw two cards.
  • 6: Scrap all persistent effect cards (8, jack, queen, king) anywhere on the table. (Note that the 8 must be used as an effect card and not as a point card.)
  • 7: Draw one card and play it immediately. (Even if the only legal play helps your opponent!) If there is no legal play for the card, it is scrapped.
  • 8 (persistent effect): To signify that this card is being played as an effect card, it is placed at right angles to the other cards on the table (this is sometimes called a glasses 8, since a sideways 8 looks somewhat like a pair of eyeglasses). The opponent must expose their entire hand and leave it visible as long as the 8 is on the table.
  • 9: Return any one persistent effect card to the player’s hand.
  • 10: No effect.
  • Jack (persistent effect): The jack is attached to any point card, and both cards are moved to the opposite side of the table (from your opponent to you or vice-versa). Each time a jack is added to or removed from a card, it switches sides again. Jacks are scrapped if the card they are attached to is also scrapped.
  • Queen (persistent effect): Your opponent’s 2s, 9s, and jacks have no effect as long as this card remains on the table. 2s and 9s can be still be used against this card or any other queens, however.
  • King (persistent effect): Your threshold for winning is reduced according to the number of kings in front of you:
    • One king: 14 points.
    • Two kings: 10 points.
    • Three kings: 7 points.
    • Four kings: 5 points.

Game play continues until one player reaches 21 points (or whatever lowered threshold they are required to reach, due to kings in front of them) at the end of their turn. That player is the winner.

In the event that the stock is depleted before the game has been decided, players have the option to pass. If three consecutive turns are passed, the game ends as a draw.


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