Samba

Samba is an expansion upon Canasta that adds more cards and more melds! In Samba, you can meld sequences of the same suit, a feature found in most rummy games but absent in Canasta. The number of cards available is bigger in Samba, too—it’s played with a triple deck, compared to the double deck used in Canasta! Like Canasta, it is a partnership game for four players.

Samba was borne of the Canasta craze of the early 1950s, and, for a time, was a fad itself. Some playing card manufacturers cashed in on the trend by selling prepackaged triple decks of cards, marketed for use in Samba.

Object of Samba

The object of Samba is to be the first partnership to reach the lofty score of 10,000 points. Points are scored by forming melds: combinations of three or more cards of the same rank, or three or more cards of the same suit in sequence. Special attention is given to expanding these melds to their maximum size of seven cards.

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Setup

Samba uses a gargantuan deck of cards for a non-casino game: 162 cards in all. To form this monster, shuffle together three decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards with the same back design, being sure to include the jokers. You’ll also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works well, but anything that can accommodate a five-digit score should work.

Figure out who’s partners with who by whatever method you want. Each player should sit across from their partner, so that as the turn of play progresses clockwise around the table, it alternates between teams.

Shuffle and deal fifteen cards to each player. Place the deck in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up and place it next to the stock. This turned-up card is the first card in the discard pile.

Game play

Card ranks and scoring

The following are the scores and special properties of all of the cards in the game:

  • Red 3s: Red 3s serve as bonus cards. When a player gets one, they simply lay them out in front of them, and a new card is drawn to replace the 3. 100 points each. If you collect all six, they score 1,000 for the whole set. If a partnership fails to form two seven-card melds of any type before the end of the hand, however, red 3s score negative instead of positive.
  • Jokers: Jokers are wild. 50 points each.
  • 2s: 2s are also wild. 20 points each.
  • Aces: 20 points each.
  • Ks–8s: 10 points each.
  • 7s–4s: 5 points each.
  • Black 3s: Can only be melded at the end of the hand, and prevent the discard pile from being taken when one is the upcard. 5 points.

Other than the colors of the 3s, suits do not matter. Both jokers are likewise equal.

Play of the hand

The player on the dealer’s left goes first. A player begins their turn by drawing. They always have the option of drawing one card from the stock. However, if the top card of the discard pile can, by itself, be legally added to a meld that the player’s team already holds, or they hold two other natural cards of the same rank to form a new meld with, they can take the entire discard pile into their hand. (There is one caveat to this, explained below in “Freezing the discard pile”.) Note that you cannot take just the top card or any portion of the discard pile—it’s gotta be the whole thing. While this seems like an odd choice to make in a game where you’re trying to eventually run out of cards, a big discard pile usually has ample opportunities for forming and expanding melds.

After a player has drawn, they may meld as much as they are able and want to. (If a player takes the discard pile, they must immediately meld the top card of that discard pile.) In general, a player can lay down new melds, as well as add to existing ones. There are a few restrictions on melding, though, as described below. When a player is satisfied with their melds for that turn, they discard one card, and the turn passes to their opponent on the left.

Melding

There are two types of meld in Samba, the set and the sequence, the latter of which is also called an escalera (Spanish for ladder). A set consists of three to seven cards of the same rank. An escalera is made up of three to seven cards of the same suit, in consecutive order. For the purposes of escaleras, aces rank high, and the cards proceed in their usual order down to the 4. (Black 3s cannot be used in escaleras.)

Note that the discard pile cannot be taken in order to form a new escalera. The discard pile can be taken if its top card would be able to extend the escalera without any other cards from the hand being used.

When a player forms a meld, they may play it on their turn, placing it face up on the table. Melds should be kept fanned out, and clearly separate from each other. Each partnership shares melds, and each player can add to their partner’s melds as well as those they’ve already played. A partnership can have multiple sets of the same rank, or multiple escaleras of the same suit. A player may combine two existing sets into one big set, although they cannot divide a larger set into smaller ones. (Escaleras may not be merged or split.)

Jokers and 2s are both wild cards, and can substitute for any other card in a set. Any given set may not contain more than two wild cards. Wild cards can only be used in sets; they are prohibited in escaleras. A meld that contains no wilds is said to be natural or clean, while one containing at least one wild is mixed or dirty.

The initial meld

Players are required to meet a point threshold the first time their partnership melds, depending on their score at the beginning of the hand. The player may use as many melds as they need to in order to exceed this threshold. Once a partnership has made their initial meld, they are no longer subject to any minimum meld value.

The initial meld values are:

Score Minimum
Below 0 15*
0–1,499 50
1,500–2,999 90
3,000–6,999 120
7,000–9,999 160

*A minimum of 15 exists only by virtue of no valid meld having a score below this.

Canastas and sambas

Melds are capped at a maximum size of seven cards. A set reaching this size is called a canasta, and a seven-card escalera is called a samba. To indicate this, the meld is squared up into a pile. Natural canastas are indicated with a red card on top, mixed canastas with a black card on top, and sambas are turned face down. No more cards can be added to a canasta or samba.

Freezing the discard pile

Should a red 3 or wild card end up in the discard pile, either by being the initial upcard, or (in the case of wild cards) by being intentionally discarded there, the discard pile is considered frozen. The offending card is placed at right angles to the pile, causing it to stick out when further cards are placed on top of it. When the discard pile is frozen, it may only be taken if its top card can be used to form a new meld with two or more natural cards of the same rank from the hand (i.e. you cannot take a frozen discard pile to add to an existing meld). A discard pile topped by a wild card can never be taken.

Depletion of the stock

It is rare that the stock is depleted before someone goes out. Nevertheless, if it does happen, the game simply continues without a stock; play continues with players taking the discard pile, melding if able, and discarding, until a player goes out as normal, or is unable to take the discard pile, at which point the hand ends and is scored as usual.

If, however, the final card of the stock is a red 3, special rules apply. The player taking the 3 declares it as usual, then does any melding possible, after which play stops. This player is not entitled to discard.

Going out

In order to go out, a partnership must have formed at least two seven-card melds (canastas or sambas). At this point, a player may go out by disposing of their remaining cards, either by forming new melds, adding to existing ones, or discarding.

Before going out, a player may ask their partner “May I go out?” This is done to avoid having a high total value of cards held by the partner charged against the partnership at the end of the hand. The answer the partner gives is binding. The only answer permitted is “Yes” or “No”—if any further information is given, the opposing partnership is entitled to answer the question “May I go out?” for the offending partnership. In that case, their answer is binding, with results that can end up being pretty hilarious.

Scoring

After a player has gone out, the hand is scored. Each team scores the value of the cards it has melded, and the value of cards held in hand is deducted against the partnership’s score (except for any undeclared red 3s, which are handled as discussed in “Penalties” below). The following bonuses, if applicable, are also scored:

  • Natural canastas and sambas: 500 points each.
  • Mixed canastas and sambas: 300 points each.
  • Red 3s: 100 points each, unless all six are held, in which case they are 166⅔ points each (for a total of 1,000). If a partnership has not completed at least two seven-card melds, they score –100 for each red 3, or –1,000 for all six.
  • Going out: 200 points.

After all of the above has been accounted for, if neither partnership has reached 10,000 points, all cards are shuffled, and the deal passes to the left. If one or both partnerships has exceeded a score of 10,000, the partnership with the higher score at that point wins the game.

Penalties

Throughout the game, various penalties can occur, as set out below:

  • Undeclared red 3s at end of hand: –500 points each.
  • Attempting to go out anyway when a partner says no: –100 points.
  • Not being able to go out after having asked “May I go out?”: –100 points.
  • Taking the upcard when unable to use it: –50 points.
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