Last week, we shared the rules of Cassino with you. Scopa is a similar game, found in the same “fishing” family as Cassino, although it is much simpler than the latter game. Scopa, meaning sweep in Italian, was described by David Parlett in The Penguin Book of Card Games as “one of Italy’s major national card games”. Like Cassino, Scopa is best for two players.
Object of Scopa
The object of Scopa is to use the cards in your hand to capture cards on the table, with particular attention given to nabbing certain high-scoring cards.
Scopa requires a 40-card deck of playing cards. Traditionally, an Italian deck is used, with suits of swords in place of spades, batons instead of clubs, cups instead of hearts, and coins instead of diamonds. The Italian deck used for Scopa also has different face card ranks: re (king), cavall (knight), and fante (footsoldier). You can create an equivalent pack by taking a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and removing the 8s, 9s, and 10s; the English queen will substitute for the knight, and the jack for the footsoldier. It does not matter that the suits don’t match up; suits generally do not matter in Scopa, although diamonds take on the role of coins in the Italian game.
You will also need some form of scorekeeping apparatus, like pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player, then deal four more face up to the center of the table. The remainder of the deck forms the stock. If three or more of the four board cards are kings, it is customary to abandon the hand, throw in the cards, and deal again.
The non-dealer plays first. On their turn, a player may use any card in their hand to capture one or more of the board cards. The cards so captured, as well as the one played by the player, are placed face-down in a score pile in front of them.
Capturing is achieved in one of two ways. The first is by pairing a card from the hand with a card matching in rank. The card captures only one other card of that rank on the board. (This is unlike in Cassino, where one card may capture as many as three others of the same rank.)
The second way of capturing is by addition, wherein the player captures two or more other cards that total the value of the card being played. For the purposes of addition, aces count as one, numerical cards as their face value, jacks as eight, queens as nine, and kings as ten. If a card can perform a capture by both pairing or by addition, the pairing takes precedence and must be performed rather than performing an addition capture. It is possible to clear the entire board of cards, called a sweep or scopa; this is recorded by putting the card performing in the sweep face-up in the score pile.
If a player cannot make any other play on their turn, they must trail by discarding one card face-up to the board. A player may not simply trail if they are able to capture something with that card, however.
Every third turn, the players exhaust their hands; new three-card hands are dealt from the stock. The board does not receive any further cards, and the cards already on the board remain in play.
Ending the hand
Game play continues until both the stock and the players’ hands are exhausted. The last player to make a successful capture adds the remaining board cards to their score pile. This does not constitute a sweep, even if the player actually captured all of the cards on the board. The hand is then scored, with players awarded one point for each of the following, in order:
- collecting the most cards overall*
- collecting the most diamonds*
- capturing the sette bello (7♦)
- primiera (see below)
- 1 point for each sweep
*In the event that the players are tied for the most cards in these categories, neither player gets the point.
In order to be eligible for primiera, a player must have collected cards of all four suits. A player then finds the highest-scoring card in each suit according to the following list, and adds up the total of all four cards:
- a 7—21 points
- a 6—18 points
- an ace—16 points
- a 5—15 points
- a 4—14 points
- a 3—13 points
- a 2—12 points
- a face card—10 points
The player with the higher count by this reckoning scores the point for primiera.
The first player to score eleven points wins. Points should be added in the order listed above, and whenever the first player reaches eleven points, scoring ceases, with the remaining categories going unscored.
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