Calypso

Calypso is a trick-taking game where each player has their own trump suit! It is a partnership game for four players. Each player has the goal of making thirteen-card runs in whichever suit is trump for them. The result is a game quite different from every other trick-taking game in the book.

R.W. Willis, of Trinidad, invented Calypso. On a vacation to England in October 1953, he shared his game with Bridge player Kenneth Konstam. Konstam helped Willis to simplify and balance the rules of the game, and quickly became one of its greatest proponents. With the help of the Bridge expert’s promotion, Calypso became the subject of several books. Card manufacturers released box sets of cards and props for running a Calypso game.

Unfortunately, Calypso’s fate was much like that of Zetema. For whatever reason, Calypso never achieved lasting acceptance among card players. David Parlett theorizes that it may have been a victim of Canasta’s tremendous popularity at the time, or possibly that its unusual rules were outside of players’ comfort zones.

Whatever the case may be, Calypso faded from public view only a few years after its big debut. As with Zetema, however, card game authors’ curiosity about Calypso has prevented it from being forgotten entirely.

Of all “invented” card games not invented by me, Calypso is the one I most enjoy, and most wish I had thought of first.” -David Parlett

Object of Calypso

The object of Calypso is to win tricks, using the cards contained within them to make calypsos. A calypso is a set of thirteen cards of the player’s trump suit (one of each rank).

Setup

Calypso uses a lot of cards: a 208-card pack. To form such a deck, take four decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards with the same back design and color and shuffle them together. You’ll also need something to keep score with, either a pencil and paper or an app on your smartphone.

Determine partnerships by any suitable method, such as by high-card draw or simply mutual agreement. Players should be seated so that their partner is seated across from them, with their opponents at their immediate right and left.

Each player also needs to determine which suit will be their trump suit before play begins. Again, if every player has a preference that doesn’t conflict with the other players’, or nobody really cares which suit they’re playing, mutual agreement will suffice. Otherwise, a high-card draw may be necessary. Customarily, the spade player’s partner will be the heart player and the diamond player’s partner will be the club player. However, there is no real reason this convention needs to be followed if anyone has strong feelings to the contrary.

Shuffle, using the multiple-deck shuffling method, if required. Deal thirteen cards, face down, to each player. Set the rest of the deck aside, face down; it will be used for subsequent deals.

Game play

The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. They may lead a card of any suit, including their trump suit. Each player in turn plays one card to the trick. They must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card they wish.

Because there are four trump suits, determining who wins each trick can be somewhat complex. The following rules decide the winner of a trick:

  • If the lead player led their own trump suit and was the only player to play a card from their trump suit, they win the trick. For example, if the diamond player led a diamond, and everyone played diamonds, the diamond player wins the trick, regardless of the rank of the cards played. If the diamond player led a diamond, and the only player not to play diamonds was the club player, who played a spade, the diamond player would still win the trick.
  • If the lead player led their trump suit, another player was unable to follow suit, and they played a card from their own trump suit, then whichever card is higher wins. For example, if the diamond player led the J♦, and the spade player played the Q♠, the spade player would win the trick.
  • If the lead player leads any of the three suits that are not trump for them, and everyone follows suit (or plays non-trump cards), the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. This happens even if it was not played by the player that suit belongs to. That is, if, say, hearts are led by the club player, the heart player does not “trump” and automatically win the trick. They can only win the trick by playing the highest heart without being trumped by the spade or diamond players.
  • If the lead player leads any of the three suits that are not trump for them, a player cannot follow suit, and they play a card of their own trump suit, that player wins the trick. For example, the spade player leads the 9♥. If the club player is out of hearts and instead plays the 4♣, the club player would win the trick.
  • If multiple players cannot follow suit to a non-trump lead and play their own trumps, the highest-ranked trump takes the trick. For example, the spade player leads the 9♥, which is followed by the 4♣ from the club player, and the 6♦ from the diamond player. The diamond player would win the trick.
  • If two cards tie for taking the trick, the one that was played first takes the trick. (This may happen if two identical cards are played, or two trumps of the same rank are played to a trick.)

Cards rank in their usual order. Aces are high. The winner of each trick leads to the next one.

Building calypsos

When a player wins a trick, they can use the cards in it toward a calypso. Each player will always have one calypso of their suit in progress. Incomplete calypsos are fanned out face-up in front the player they belong to. When a player gets cards from winning a trick, they place any cards of the opponents’ suits in a face-up won-tricks pile at their side. Then, they pass any cards of their partner’s suit that were in the trick across the table to them, for the partner’s use in their calypso. Finally, they add any needed cards to their own calypso.

A player can only have one calypso in progress at at time. If they or their partner happen to win a trick that contains a duplicate of a card already in their calypso, this card is simply added to the won-trick pile.

When a player has obtained one card of each rank in their trump suit, they have completed their calypso. They square up the cards into a pile and set it aside. The player may then use any unused cards in the last trick won to start a new calypso.

Scoring

After all thirteen tricks have been played, the deal passes to the left. The new dealer gives each player thirteen more cards from the undealt portion of the deck. Game play continues, with players continuing to build the calypsos they already have in progress.

When all of the cards dealt in the last batch of thirteen have been exhausted, the game ends. The scores are then calculated. Each partner first calculates the value of their calypsos: 500 for the first, 750 for the second, and 1000 each for the third and (almost impossible) fourth. Both partners’ scores are then combined. Each side adds to their calypso scores 10 points for each unused card in their won-tricks pile and 20 points for each card in their uncompleted calypsos to arrive at their final total. Whichever partnership has the higher score wins the game.

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