Rams is a trick-taking game for three to five players, related to Bourré and the English game Loo. The game’s main distinguishing feature is that, unlike most trick-taking games, you can choose to drop out of the hand rather than risk playing with a poor hand.
Object of Rams
The object of Rams is to accurately gauge whether your hand is likely or not to be a winner, and if so, to capture as many of the five tricks in the game as possible.
Rams is played with a stripped deck of only 32 cards. Starting from a standard 52-card pack of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s, leaving ace through 7 in each of the four suits.
Scoring in Rams is done with counters, so you will also need something to serve that purpose. Poker chips work well, but you can use practically anything, such as matchsticks, bottle caps, marbles, or whatever else is handy. If a betting game is desired, each counter may be purchased with and represent some arbitrary amount of real-world money, or may be simply left as a token with no value other than that which the game ascribes to it. Talk it over with your players and decide before playing. If the counters are not to represent a monetary value, distribute an equal number to each player.
Determine who is the first dealer by some means like a high-card draw. The first dealer antes five counters to the pot. Shuffle and deal five cards to each player, as well as to an extra face-down hand, which is called the widow. Turn the next undealt card face-up; the suit of this card fixes the trump suit. All other undealt cards are set aside and take no further part in game play.
Determining pass or play
The first order of business is for each player to establish whether or not they will be playing the hand they were dealt. First action goes to the player at the dealer’s left, who has the following options:
- Play. Electing to play means the player is accepting their hand as-is, and is committing to win at least one trick with it.
- Switch with the widow. The player may discard their hand and replace it with the widow. The player is not allowed to look at the widow before doing so, and upon making the switch is compelled to play with the new hand (i.e. they cannot pass). Only one player may do this per hand; a later player cannot discard their hand to take up the discarded hand of the player who took the widow.
- Pass. Sit out of the hand, and thus have no obligation to take any tricks. A player may only pass if the pot contains more than five counters.
- Declare Rams. A bid of Rams is a bid to take all five tricks. When this declaration is made, all players are obliged to play, whether or not they previously declared that they were passing. Bidding immediately ceases when a Rams bid is made, although subsequent players still have to option to claim the widow if it has not yet been taken.
In the event that all players pass except for the dealer, the player to the dealer’s right pays five units to the dealer and a new hand is dealt. If one other player stays in and all others pass, the dealer is not permitted to pass, but is entitled to discard any card and put the face-up trump card into their hand.
Play of the hand
The next active player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. If able to follow suit, a player must do so. If they are unable to, they must play a trump, if able; otherwise, they may play any card. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump was played to that trick, in which case the highest trump wins the trick.
A player must always play a card that will take the trick, if they have one, while also abiding by the rules of following suit. If a player can play the highest card so far of the suit led, they must, unless a played trump renders it moot, in which case they can play a lower card of the suit led. If a player cannot follow suit but can trump, they must, and they must play the highest trump so far if able.
Collected tricks are not added to the hand, but rather kept in a won-tricks pile in front of the player. Since it is important to keep track of the number of tricks captured, it’s a good idea to make sure the tricks can be easily separated after the hand by placing each one onto the pile at right angles to the one before it. The player that won the trick leads to the next one.
End of hand
In a hand where someone declared Rams, play immediately ceases when someone other than the declarer takes a trick. At that point, the declarer must double the size of the pot (e.g. if it contained 30 chips, add 30 more chips to the pot) and pay each opponent five counters. If the declarer wins all five tricks, on the other hand, each of their opponents must pay them five counters, and they collect the entire pot.
For all other hands, the hand ends after all five tricks have been played. Each player takes one-fifth of the pot for each trick that they won. If a player chose to play but failed to take any tricks, they contribute five counters to the pot, to be played for during the next hand.