Backhand

Backhand is a spinoff of Blackjack that removes one key element from the game—the ability to stand! In Backhand, the goal is not to be the closest to 21 without going over, as it is in Blackjack. Instead, the player must keep taking cards until they’re sure the next one is going to make them bust. If they’re right, only then do they win the hand!

Backhand was created by Louis Ginns in 2016 as a way of practicing Blackjack strategy. Ginns found himself focusing on guessing whether or not the next card to come was going to cause a bust, and soon abandoned Blackjack altogether in favor of developing a whole new game around this concept of predicting when a bust was going to happen. Ginns has since created an entire series of games based on the Backhand concept, introducing elements such as head-to-head play against a house dealer or another player.

Object of Backhand

The object of Backhand is to accurately predict when the next card to be dealt will send the value of the player’s hand over 21.

Setup

Backhand is played with one or more decks of playing cards, such as Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. One deck of cards is required for every two players in the game, so a three-player game would require two decks, a five-player game would require three decks, and so on.

Backhand can be played as either a betting game or simply to be the first to win a certain number of hands (or score a certain number of wins within a given number of hands). Ginns has also created a number of additional scoring systems to provide players with different challenges. If playing with betting, you’ll need something to bet with, like poker chips, and also to agree on maximum and minimum bets. Otherwise, you’ll need some way of keeping track of the number of hands each player has won. Pencil and paper works well for this purpose.

Players place the amount of their wagers in front of them (if playing with betting). Shuffle and deal two cards, face up, to each player. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

Before a player has the chance to act on their hand, any aces are discarded from the hand and replaced with a card from the stock. Aces are only discarded from the initial two cards dealt to the player; if an ace is dealt as a replacement card for a discarded ace, the newly dealt ace is retained. Players then evaluate the value of their hand. Aces are worth one point, face cards are worth ten, and all other cards their pip value.

The players act on their hands one at a time, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. When a player wins or loses their hand, their bet (if playing with them) is paid out at even money or collected by the dealer, respectively. Action then passes to the next player to the left.

Hits and backhands

If a player’s hand is valued at 11 or less, the player is dealt additional cards until they arrive at a score of 12 or higher. When a player has a score above 12, they may choose to hit or call backhand. Players choosing to hit receive one additional card. If the player’s new total exceeds 21, then they have busted, and the player loses. If the new total is 21 or less, the player has the option to hit again or call backhand, as before. Should a player hit to five cards without busting, they win the hand.

When a player calls backhand, one card is dealt face-up, but not added to the hand. (This card is not counted toward a possible five-card hand.) If this card would have made the player’s score higher than 21, the player wins the hand. Otherwise, the player loses.

Push hands

Special rules apply to hands with a score of 17 through 20 on the first two cards (after any aces have been replaced). These hands are called push hands. In this situation, a player cannot immediately call backhand. Instead, they have the option to either hit or push the hand away. (This is not to be confused with the meaning of push in Blackjack, which is to tie.)  If the player chooses the latter, the hand is discarded and two new cards are dealt. Any aces are replaced, as usual, and the hand proceeds as before. If the player is dealt another hand with a value between 17 and 20, they may push again, if desired.

A player may also choose to play the push, rather than push the hand. When playing the push, the player receives one additional card, as if hitting. If their combined total with this card remains at 21 or below, they win the hand. If they bust with this card, they lose the hand, as usual.

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Crash (Thirteen-Card Brag)

Crash, also known as Thirteen-Card Brag, is a more laid-back, social variant of Brag for two to four players. There are two main differences between Crash and Brag. First, in Crash, a player receives thirteen cards, and divides them into up to four three-card Brag hands. In essence, Crash does to Brag what Chinese Poker does to poker. Additionally, the usual Brag betting mechanic is stripped away in favor of a simple point scoring method. If money is involved, it is in the form of an agreed-upon payment from the losers to the winner.

Object of Crash

The object of Crash is to split the thirteen-card hand given to a player into four Brag hands in such a way that, ideally, each of the hands is stronger than their opponents’ hands.

Setup

To play Crash, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. We, of course, endorse choosing Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for your game. You’ll also want something to keep score with. Specialized scoreboards are available, but you can just use pencil and paper (or a mobile scorekeeping app) if that’s all you have handy.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. Any undealt cards are set aside and not used.

Game play

Each player looks at their hand and decides how to divide it into up to four three-card Brag hands. (If you’re not a Brag expert, here’s the rank of Brag hands). Each hand formed must be at least a pair or better. Players will have at least one card left over; they may have more if they cannot (or don’t want to) form at least a pair in all four possible hands. All unused cards are simply discarded. When a player has set their hand in a way they’re satisfied with, they place their three-card hands face down in front of them, with the highest-ranking hand the furthest to the left, the next-highest hand just to the right of it, and so on, with the lowest-ranked hand to the far right.

The showdown

After all players have set their hand, each player turns up their highest-ranked hand and compares them with each of their opponents. Whichever player has the highest hand scores one point. The players then turn up the second-highest hand, with the holder of highest scoring a point. This repeats for the third and fourth hands. A tie for highest hand is called a stick-up or stopper, and nobody scores for that particular hand.

Note that if a player did not form four hands, their highest ranked hand must still always be scored as hand #1, the second as #2, etc. A player with, say, only three hands simply does not compete for hand #4.

If, at any time, a player’s hands are found to have been placed out of order, this constitutes a foul. A player who fouls their hand automatically loses the game and takes no further part in game play.

If one player scores for all four points on a hand, it is called a crash. A player that scores a crash automatically wins the game.

Special combinations

There are a number of special combinations that can appear in a Crash game:

  • If a player has four of a kind and uses all four cards in their set hands (i.e. does not discard any of them), the player scores one extra point. Should multiple players hold four-of-a-kinds, only the highest-ranking four of a kind gets the bonus point. For the purposes of ranking four-of-a-kinds, 4s are the highest rank, then aces, then the rest of the ranks in their usual order.
  • If a player has six pairs, a player may, at their option, choose to declare this rather than setting their hand. In this event, the hand is void and the same dealer deals a new hand. (If the player would rather play the hand, often because it’s possible to form runs from the pairs, they may choose to do so instead.)
  • If a player has a thirteen-card straight, from ace down to 2, they may simply reveal their hand, which automatically wins the game.

Ending the game

After all four hands have been evaluated, the deal passes to the left, and new thirteen-card hands are dealt. Game play continues until one player reaches a score of seven points. That player immediately wins; no further hands are evaluated once a player reaches a score of seven.

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Porrazo

Porrazo (also sometimes called Porosso, Parosso, or Parear) is a fishing game of Mexican origin for two to five players. (Four players may play either in partnerships or singly.) Like the most well-known fishing game, Cassino, game play centers around playing cards to the table and then capturing them with cards from the hand of the same rank. However, in Porrazo, there are all manner of available bonuses for playing the right card at the right time.

Porrazo first appeared in American game books around the turn of the twentieth century. It experienced a couple of decades of popularity before being quietly dropped from the books and fading into obscurity in the 1920s.

Object of Porrazo

The object of Porrazo is to be the first player or partnership to score 61 points. Points are scored chiefly by forming pairs of cards between the cards on the table and the cards in your hand.

Setup

To play Porrazo, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Hopefully, you’ve got a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards you can press into service for the occasion. You’ll also need something to keep score with. Because of the frequent scoring and the target score of 61 points, using a Cribbage board for scoring is a natural fit (see how to keep score with a Cribbage board). If you don’t have a Cribbage board, or you’re playing with more than three individual players (since most Cribbage boards have three scoring tracks at most), you’ll probably have to use pencil and paper or something like that.

Shuffle and deal three cards, face down, to each player. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

Cards rank in their usual order, with aces low.

Rondas and rondines

Before any cards are played, the players look at their cards and may declare any pairs or three-of-a-kinds that they may have. A pair is declared as a ronda and a three-of-a-kind as a rondine. The ranks of the rondas and rondines are not declared. The hand is then played out, and the player with the highest ronda or rondine scores a bonus, as follows:

Rank Ronda Rondine
Kings 4 12
Queens 3 9
Jacks 2 6
10s–As 1 3

A rondine always outranks a ronda. That is, three aces, the lowest rondine, outranks a pair of kings, the highest ronda. Only the highest declaration scores a bonus; the others score nothing. Any ties go to whichever player is first in turn order, going clockwise from the dealer. The ronda/rondine bonus is not scored until the set of three cards is played out. This means it’s possible the game may end before the bonus is scored.

Play of the hand

After any declarations have been made, the player to the dealer’s left goes first. On their turn, a player must play one card, face-up, to the table. If there are any cards already on the table of the same rank, the player captures one card of that rank, and they place the captured card along with the card that they played in a face-down won-cards pile in front of them. (If there is a pair of cards on the board and a player holds a third card of that rank, they capture only one of the table cards, not both.)

A player can also capture a sequence of two or more consecutive cards if the card that they play to the table matches the lowest card of the sequence. For example, if a 7, 8, 9, and 10 are all on the table, a player may capture them all by playing a 7. For the purposes of sequences, aces are considered consecutive to kings, so if the table contained Q-K-A-2, it would be a sequence that could be captured by a jack.

If a player can make no captures, the card they play simply remains on the table. That card can then be captured by any player on a later turn. (Depending on the card being played, the card may score for being played in place, as described below.)

When the players have exhausted their hands, the dealer replenishes them by dealing three more cards to each player from the stock. Any cards already on the table stay there, and play continues.

Limpias

Occasionally, a player may be able to capture all of the cards off the table in one fell swoop. This is called a limpia. The simplest limpia occurs when there is one card on the table, and the player captures it by pairing. If there are more cards than that, the only way a limpia can happen is if they all form a sequence.

A player making a limpia immediately scores the same point value as a ronda of the last rank of the sequence captured in the limpia (or the rank of the card captured, if only one card was involved). Note that the last rank is not necessarily the highest rank. For example, if a sequence of K-A-2-3-4 is captured as a limpia, it would only score one point. This is because the 4 is the last rank in the sequence. The fact that a king is involved, despite its higher rank, is irrelevant.

Playing in place

If a player places an ace through 4 on the table without capturing anything, and the pip value of that card matches the number of cards on the table, that card is said to be played in place. That is, a card is played in place if it is an ace played to an empty table, a 2 as the second card on the table, a 3 as the third card on the table, or a 4 as the fourth card on the table. A 5 or above cannot be played in place. Playing a card in place scores the player the pip value of the card.

If a card could both be played in place or capture a card, a player can choose to forgo the capture in order to play it in place. This is the only situation in which a player is not compelled to take a capture.

The tendido

Once per hand, after dealing three cards to the players, the dealer may deal a tendido (layout). This can occur after the first three cards have been dealt, or after any time the dealer replenishes the player’s hands. When the dealer chooses to deal their tendido, they deal two pairs of cards, face up in a horizontal row, to the table. The two cards in each pair may be swapped, but cards cannot be crossed between the two pairs.

The dealer counts from left to right or right to left, as desired, to find any cards that appear in their “correct” places in the tendido: an ace in the first position, a 2 in the second, etc. If any cards have been so dealt, the dealer scores the pip value of the card. Also, if any pairs, three- or four-of-a-kinds have been formed within all of the cards now on the table, the dealer may score for them. The points scored equal the same as a ronda or rondine of the appropriate rank. Four-of-a-kinds score twice as much as a rondine of that rank.

The cards of the tendido remain on the table after being scored and can be captured just like any other card on the table.

Porrazos

If a player places a card on the table without capturing anything, and the next player in turn plays a card of the same rank, it is called a porrazo. If the next player plays a third card of this same rank, then this is a counter-porrazo. If a porrazo is allowed to stand, that player immediately scores the same value as a ronda of the appropriate rank and captures the card, as normal. Should a player counter-porrazo, the original porrazo does not score, the counter-porrazo scores the same value as a rondine of the appropriate rank, and the player captures both the non-capturing card and the card played for the porrazo.

After a counter-porrazo has been played, the next player may be able to play the fourth card of that rank. This is called a san benito and scores the player the entire game! Therefore, especially in a two-player game, it may be better to simply let a porrazo stand rather than countering it and risking the san benito. (One can sometimes use players’ ronda declarations to deduce whether a san benito may be possible.)

A porrazo (or a counter-porrazo or san benito) must take place with cards all from the same deal. That is, if the players run out of cards and new cards are dealt, it interrupts the sequence of play, and any porrazo cannot be declared using cards from before the hands were replenished.

Ending the hand

If playing with an even number of players, the deck will, at some point, be exhausted. If playing with an odd number of players, there will be three odd cards left in the deck. These three cards are placed face up on the table immediately after the last three-card hands are dealt to the players. They do not count as a tendido for the dealer.

After the players’ hands are exhausted, on the dealer’s last turn, they automatically capture all of the cards remaining on the table. This does not count as a limpia, even if they would have been able to legitimately capture it as one.

Each player or partnership counts the number of cards in their captured-cards pile. Whoever has the highest number of captured cards wins the hand. They score the difference between the number of cards they captured and that of their next-closest opponent.

The deal passes to the left, and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until one player or partnership reaches a score of 61 or more points. Play immediately ceases—even if it happens in the middle of a hand—and that player is the winner.

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Botifarra

Botifarra is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Unlike many trick-taking games, Botifarra includes a number of rules restricting which cards can be played when. As a result, players are able to deduce information about what their opponents may hold.

The game originates from the disputed region of Catalonia (currently a province in the northeast corner of Spain, but which declared its independence in October 2017). The game is popular enough that organized duplicate-style tournaments are played there.

In Catalonia, Botifarra is traditionally played counter-clockwise (all action proceeding to the right). The description below is written to follow the clockwise fashion most card games follow. If you wish to play it the traditional way, just reverse the directions.

Object of Botifarra

The object of Botifarra is to be the first partnership to reach 101 or more points. Points are scored by collecting face cards, aces and 9s in tricks.

Setup

Botifarra is typically played with a 48-card Spanish deck. To make an equivalent deck from the 52-card English deck, like a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove the 10s. You also need something to keep score with, such as paper and pencil.

Determine partnerships by whatever method is convenient, either randomly or by mutual agreement. (Players often choose to play three games per session, so that each player may play one game partnered with each of the other players.) As is typical, players should be seated across from their partner. This ensures that the turn of play alternates between partnerships as it proceeds around the table.

Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player (dealing out the entire pack).

Card ranking

In Botifarra, the highest card is the 9. All other cards rank in their usual order. The full rank of cards, therefore, is (high) 9, A, K, Q, J, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low).

Game play

Determining trumps and doubling

Unlike in most other trick-taking games with trumps, there is no bidding or random trump selection in Botifarra. The dealer simply chooses a trump suit for the hand, or botifarra, which is to select no trumps. The dealer may also elect to pass the right to choose to their partner. (They cannot then pass the decision back to the dealer.)

After a trump suit has been chosen, the dealer’s opponents may choose to double, thereby doubling the points scored by the winner of the hand. If the hand is doubled, the dealer’s partnership may redouble, multiplying the value of the hand by four. The opponents can then reredouble, increasing the multiplier to eight. (This is the highest multiplier possible.) Players get the opportunity to speak in turn order from the last player to make a declaration.

A botifarra bid automatically doubles the value of the game, so

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn then plays one card to the trick. Once all four players have played a card, the highest trump played, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick.

Botifarra has a number of unique restrictions on which card you can play. First, of course, you must always follow suit if you can. Secondly, you must head the trick if you are able. The only exception to this is when the trick is currently being won by your partner. When this is the case, subject to suit-following rules, you may play any card worth points (9s, aces, or face cards). If you wish to play a card worth no points, it must be the lowest card you hold of the suit you’re playing in. (Because of this rule, your opponents are able to determine that any other cards that you hold of that suit must be higher.)

Once a player wins a trick, they place it face-down in a shared won-tricks pile located in front of either them or their partner. Tricks should be kept distinct from one another somehow, such as by putting them at right angles to the previous trick. Whichever player won the trick leads to the next one.

Scoring

Once all twelve tricks have been played, the players count up the value of their tricks captured, as follows:

  • Tricks taken: 1 point each
  • 9s: 5 points each
  • Aces: 4 points each
  • Kings: 3 points each
  • Queens: 2 point each
  • Jacks: 1 point each

The maximum trick score possible on one hand is 72 points. Whichever partnership scores more subtracts 36 from the value of their tricks to arrive at their score for the hand. This score is multiplied as decided before the hand and recorded on the scoresheet. (If the partnerships tie at 36 points each, neither team scores.)

Game play continues until one partnership exceeds 101 points. That partnership is the winner.

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Totit

Totit is an extremely simple fishing game from the Indonesian island of Java. It can be played by two to six people. In Totit, it’s all about making pairs—while pairs of the same rank can be captured, only pairs of identical copies of the same card score!

Object of Totit

The object of Totit is to capture the most cards from the board by pairing them with the corresponding cards from your hand.

Setup

Totit uses a special 60-card deck. To build such a deck, start with two standard 52-card decks of the same back design and color—we always use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, naturally. From each deck, remove the aces through 10s of clubs. From the other three suits, remove the 10s and face cards. You’ll be left with two 30-card decks consisting of A–9♠, A–9♦, A–9♥, and J-Q-K♣. Shuffle these two 30-card decks together to form the full 60-card deck. (Note that this is the same deck used for Kowah, another Javanese card game.) You should also have something handy to keep score with.

Shuffle and deal eighteen cards face up to the table. Then, deal seven cards to each player, or eleven cards to each player in a two-player game. Set aside any unused cards; they will have no bearing on the game.

Game play

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. If they have any cards identical in rank and suit to any of the cards on the table, they may capture the table card by revealing the matching card in their hand. They then place both cards in a face-down captured-cards pile in front of them. A capture must always consist of one card from the hand and one from the table. Players can never capture a card with another one from the table. Players may only make one capture per turn. If a player cannot make a capture, they must trail one card of their choice face up to the table. The turn then passes to the left.

On the second and subsequent turns, a player may capture a card if they hold a card of the same rank as a card on the table, regardless of suit. All of the face cards and aces are considered to be equivalent to one another. The A♠ can be captured by the K♣ and vice versa, the J♣ and Q♣ can capture each other, and so on.

One special restriction occurs when two cards of the same rank and suit appear alongside one or more cards of that rank, but a different suit. In this case, any cards of the odd suit must be captured first. Only when the two identical cards are the only cards of that rank left on the table can one be captured.

Ending the hand

The hand ends when the players’ hands are depleted. Any cards remaining on the table are discarded. Each player scores one point for each pair of captured cards of the same rank and suit. (Note that they need not necessarily have been captured with each other. Both cards could have been on the table at the same time and captured one at a time by different cards, or the first one captured early on, and the second trailed by another player and then captured, for instance.)

The deal passes to the left, and game play continues. The game ends when every player has dealt once. Whichever player has the highest score at that point wins the game.

 

 

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Delphi

Delphi is a simplified version of Eleusis for three to seven players. As in Eleusis, the central premise of the game is discovering a secret rule created by the dealer. Accomplishing this goal is done by looking over the line of previously-played cards and attempting to spot a pattern. The main difference between Delphi and Eleusis is that in Delphi, each card played to the table is one randomly drawn from the deck, rather than intentionally placed by the players. Players are rewarded for correctly declaring which cards correctly fit the pattern and which do not.

Delphi is the creation of the American scientist and mathematician Martin David Kruskal. Dr. Kruskal published the game in 1962 while a professor of astronomy at Princeton University. Noted for his playfulness, Dr. Kruskal also devised the “Kruskal count”, a magic trick that could even stump other magicians because it was based on deep mathematical principals, rather than the usual sleight of hand.

Object of Delphi

The object of Delphi depends on whether you’re the dealer or just a player. For the players, the object is to figure out the dealer’s secret rule as quickly as possible. For the dealer, the object is to create a secret rule that’s neither too hard nor too easy to figure out (ideally, about half the players should be able to guess it).

Setup

For a game of Delphi, you’ll need one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Of course, we very much recommend using a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You also need pencil and paper (or something similar like a smartphone app) to keep score with, as well as some form of marker or token (like poker chips, beans or other counters) to keep track of the number of correct guesses a player has made on that hand. You should have around 25 tokens for each player (other than the dealer) in the game. If desired, you may also give a decision marker to each player, something that clearly indicates a yes or no response, such as a coin (heads being yes and tails being no) or simply an index card marked “YES” and “NO” on opposite sides.

Determine the first dealer, who is also referred to as the oracle. The oracle devises a secret rule and writes it down on a scrap of paper, keeping it concealed from the players. The rule dictates which cards will be considered “correct” throughout the play of the following hand. The rule must determine this based solely on the cards previously played, and not anything outside the game. (Further explanation and some example rules can be found in the Eleusis setup section.)

Give each player one token, keeping the rest as the oracle’s bank. Shuffle the deck and turn one card, face up, to serve as a starter. The rest of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

The oracle turns one card face up from the stock, placing the card where it can be easily seen by all of the players and announcing its rank and suit. The players then decide whether this is a “correct” play according to the dealer’s secret rule. Obviously, on the first turn of play, this is likely little more than a 50/50 guess, but as the game goes on players will become more confident in their knowledge of the rule and thus be able to decide more accurately.

Once players have reached a decision, they set their decision counter, if playing with one, to reflect this, keeping it concealed with their hand from the other players. If not playing with a decision counter, each player just takes a token or other small object in their hand, shuffles it from hand to hand under the table, and places their closed fist above the table. If they have something concealed in their hand, it indicates a “yes”, and if their hand is empty, it indicates a “no”.

Once all players have reached a decision on the card, on a signal from the oracle, they all reveal their decision. The oracle then declares whether the card was “correct”. If so, the card is placed to the right of the last card played, forming a continuous line of correct cards across the table. If the card is incorrect, it is placed below the last correct card played. The oracle then pays out one token to each player who guessed correctly and collects one token from those who did not. (If a player does not have a token to collect, no penalty is assessed.)

The next card is then drawn, and the process repeats until all 52 cards have been placed on the table.

Scoring

After the hand ends, each player counts the number of tokens they have. Their hand score is the difference between their own token count and that of each player who collected fewer tokens, added together, minus the total count the difference between their count and that of each player who collected more tokens.

For example, consider a game where Player A collected 29 tokens, B collected 26, C collected 19, D collected 11, E collected 9, and F collected 6. Player C’s hand score would be the difference between their count of 19 and that of D, E, and F, minus the difference between their count and that of A and B. Thus, their score would be (8 + 10 + 13) – (10 + 7) = 31 – 17 = 14. Note that it is possible to get a negative hand score, as F’s score would be 0 – (23 + 20 + 13 + 5 + 3) = –64.

The oracle’s score for the hand is the total of each player’s difference between their count and that of each player who collected more tokens. (That is, everything that is subtracted when each player calculates their score.) In the example above, Player A’s total difference is 0, B’s is 3, C’s is 17, D’s is 25, E’s is 27, and D’s is 64, so the oracle would score 136 points.

All of the tokens are then returned to the bank, and the next player to the oracle’s left becomes the new oracle. Game play continues until each player has been the oracle once.

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Triple Draw Lowball

Triple Draw Lowball (often called just Triple Draw) is a form of lowball poker for two to six players. It’s a fairly simple game, especially if you’re familiar with Five-Card Draw or other Draw Poker variants. However, having four chances to bet instead of one makes Triple Draw an exciting, competitive game with large pots and lots of betting action. Triple Draw has become popular in Las Vegas casinos, being included in many high-limit mixed game rotations.

Object of Triple Draw Lowball

The object of Triple Draw Lowball is to form the lowest-ranking poker hand after drawing new cards up to three times.

Setup

Triple Draw uses the same standard 52-card deck as most other poker games. We suggest that you give Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards a try if you haven’t yet. You’ll also need something to bet with, probably poker chips. The game is typically played with fixed limits (see “Betting in poker“), so all players should agree to what the limits will be.

The two players to the left of the dealer post their blinds (see “Blinds and antes“). Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The dealer retains the deck stub for later use.

Game play

Upon receiving their cards, players evaluate the strength of their hand. Triple Draw is most frequently played with deuce-to-seven lowball rules. In this version of lowball, straights and flushes are taken into consideration when ranking hands, and aces count high. That means the lowest possible hand is 2-3-4-5-7 (because 2-3-4-5-6 forms a straight). The first betting round then begins, with the player to the left of the big blind (the player under the gun) starting the betting. Betting follows the typical rules of betting in poker.

After the first round of betting is resolved, the first draw occurs, starting with the player to the left of the dealer (the small blind). This player discards any number of cards, from zero to five, face down in front of them. The dealer then deals them the appropriate number of replacement cards from the stub. This continues, clockwise, until all active players have had a chance to swap cards. The dealer then collects the discards and sets them aside.

When the first draw finishes, the second betting round begins, starting this time with the small blind player. This is followed by a second draw (conducted the same way as the first), then the third betting round, then the third draw, then the fourth and final betting round. Betting limits are typically doubled on the third and fourth betting rounds. If there are at least two active players left at the end of the fourth betting round, they reveal their hands. Whoever has the lowest-ranked poker hand wins the pot.

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Khanhoo

Khanhoo is a rummy game for two to four players. It was originally from China, though it experienced a period of popularity in England at the end of the nineteenth century. Khanhoo may be one of the earliest rummy games ever to be played. It seems likely that it at least influenced Conquian, considered to be the ancestor of most rummy games.

Object of Khanhoo

The object of Khanhoo is to be the first player to form their entire hand into combinations called melds.

Setup

A special 61-card deck is needed to play Khanhoo. To make one, take two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all of the 10s. Then, take out the face cards in hearts, spades, and diamonds, and all of the remaining number cards from the clubs. Shuffle these two decks together, and add one joker, and you’ll have your Khanhoo deck. It will contain the joker, two each of the J-Q-K♣, and two each of aces through 9s in the other three suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with.

Shuffle and deal fifteen cards to each player. Then deal a sixteenth card to the player to the dealer’s left. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. (In a four-player game, the entire deck will be dealt out, so there will be no stock.)

Game play

Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left choosing one card to discard. This starts a discard pile, usually placed to one side of the stock. The turn then passes to the left. This player draws one card, either from the stock or the discard pile, and then discards one card. Turns continue in this manner, with a draw and a discard by each player in turn.

If the stock runs out, its top card is set aside, the discards are flipped over, and then shuffled to form a new stock. The old top card then forms the new discard pile.

As the entire deck is used in the four-player game, there is no stock. Instead, each player simply draws the card that was discarded by the player to their left.

Melding

The players’ goal is to form their hands into melds. The valid melds, and their point values, are as follows:

  • Sequence (1 point): Three or more cards of the same suit in consecutive order, e.g. 6-7-8♥. Note that sequences will never include face cards or clubs, as the only “sequence” that can be formed using them is actually the more valuable royal assembly (see below). Aces are considered low in sequences (just below the 2). Note that the point value does not increase if more cards are added.
  • Aces (1 point): Three aces of any suit (duplicates are allowed).
  • Triplet (2 points): Three number cards of the same rank and of three different suits (no duplicates allowed).
  • Royal assembly (3 points): J-Q-K♣.
  • Court melds (4 points each): K♣-9♥-9♥, Q♣-8♠-8♠, or J♣-7♦-7♦.
  • Khanhoo (5 points): A♥-2♠-3♦.
  • Double aces (10 points): Six aces of any suit.
  • Double triplet (10 points): Two triplet melds of the same rank. That is, six number cards of the same rank, with each suit appearing exactly twice.
  • Double royal (10 points): J-J-Q-Q-K-K♣.
  • Double khanhoo (15 points): A-A♥-2-2♠-3-3♦.

As players form melds, they keep them in their hand (that is, they do not lay them out on the table). Thus, the players can rearrange and expand or split melds at will. The joker is wild, substituting for any other card in a meld without restriction.

Bumping

In a three- or four-player game, after a player discards, another player may intervene by claiming the discard before the next player can draw it. They may only do this, however, if they can immediately use the card in a meld other than a sequence. Taking the discard out of turn in this way is called bumping. When a player bumps, they must place the meld that the discard is part of face-up in front of them. They may then no longer alter the meld in any way (e.g. by making it from a khanhoo to a double khanhoo). They then discard as normal and play passes to the left, with the intervening players skipped.

If the player who would have normally had the right to the bumped discard (i.e. the player to the left of the player who discarded it) also wants the card, they may challenge the bump. Both players must then declare the type of meld they wish to use the discard for. If the player that wishes to bump can form a higher meld, they get the right to the discard. If the other player can make a meld of equal or higher value to the bumping player, then no bump happens, and play proceeds as normal.

Ending the hand

When a player has formed their entire hand into melds, they make one final discard and announce that they are out. Each player then reveals their hand, placing it on the table with each meld broken out. Each player then scores the value of their melds, with the player that went out also getting a five-point bonus.

The deal passes to the left, and a new hand is dealt. Game play begins until one or more players reaches a score of 50 points or more. Whichever player has the highest score at that point is the winner.

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Game design, mechanics, and game balance: What makes a good game?

With so many games out there to choose from, a prospective gamer might start thinking about what makes a game cross the line from just a way to pass the time to a truly great experience. What elements does a good game have? Or does that question have a different answer depending on who you ask? To find out, Scott Nazelrod of Denexa Games sat down with two gaming experts.

Jack Claxton and DC Bueller are two of the five founders of Loot & XP, a board game café established in 2015 here in Norman, Oklahoma. Loot & XP is home to a massive library of games, about 750 titles at last count, and always growing. Part of the staff’s responsibility at the café is to teach games to their customers and answer any questions that they may have, from what kind of game they might want to try, all the way to answering queries about some of the games’ more obscure and arcane rules. To arm themselves with that knowledge, they’ve played a lot of games. If there’s anyone to ask about games, it’s these guys.

Read on for some insight into the world of games—card games, board games, even video games—and all of the ingredients that go into an enjoyable gaming session.

SCOTT
So, I guess what we should start off with is, since you guys focus mostly on board games, and we focus more on card games at Denexa—what do you think they have in common? Does a good card game and a good board game have a lot of things in common? Or do you think there’s a little bit of a difference between those?
JACK
Obviously, I think there’s a difference in style. But I think, kind of as an answer to both of those questions, as to what makes a good game for either of them, and to what they have in common…is interesting decisions. If there are decisions that matter, and that can be taken in a number of different ways, and are entertaining—you know, it is fulfilling to have some sort of options in front of you, and have it really matter what you go with. So, if you like more strategic games, and I think most card games fall into that, that’s very much something they share in common. You’ll also find, that DC and I have very different tastes in games—
DC
[laughter]
JACK
—and I think that will be very helpful, since we’re coming from almost both sides of the spectrum here.
DC
I like randomness. And I think cards help that, because you always have to shuffle and make random things happen. I also feel like, as long as a game is enjoyable and can create a memorable experience—I think that’s the most important part. Just like, thinking back to when we played XYZ game, like—for example, today on Facebook, [fellow Loot & XP founder] Rachelle shared a memory from two years ago of a Codenames game we played. I was absolutely awful. We totally lost. And everything was just horrible. She did not like me giving the clues. But, the thing is, everyone remembers that game. Everyone remembers that session of Codenames, because it was just so…entertainingly horrible.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
So I think that’s the main thing. Yeah, you can have options, but I think, the mix of people, and the mix of ideas and personalities, can also help make a game that would normally be kind of like “ehh, you know, I could do this or this” into “oh my gosh, what are you doing?”
SCOTT
So what you’re saying is, you can have fun with an absolutely horrible game, if you have the right people involved!
DC
You can! I still think it would be more of a one-off experience, instead of, like, coming back to the game again and again.
SCOTT
“We don’t want to play that horrible thing again! Although it was fun the one time.”
DC
For example, CrossTalk. Some people have more fun with it than others—
JACK
I still think it’s good…
DC
I liked it! Some people think it’s the worst thing ever.
SCOTT
And I know you guys have opinions on Monopoly that aren’t necessarily shared by a lot of the populace…
JACK
I would hope they’re shared by a lot of the populace! But apparently not. I don’t know, I think a lot of people dislike Monopoly, but I would almost say for the wrong reasons. But I want to touch real fast on game versus people you’re playing with. I would agree, if I had to choose between a good game, and a good group of people, I would choose a good group of people. You really can have a lot of fun with bad games. Now, it works together if you have a good game and good people. But it’s very much true, at least in most of the games we’re used to playing, but I think in a lot of card games too. If you’re very serious about playing poker or playing for money and everything, it’s a very individual experience, and it’s very strategy-based. But I think for most people playing almost any type of game, it’s to enjoy it and have fun, and people are pretty integral to that.
SCOTT
And definitely, with poker in particular, it’s a very different game when you’re playing with people who are very good at it, versus people who are just there to enjoy the experience, and maybe not care so much about how well they do.
JACK
Yeah. That’s a funny point, too, because a lot of poker players get their reads on people, and they assume that the other players also have certain assumptions. And they’re strategizing in certain ways. But if someone doesn’t care they can really mess up a skilled poker player, because they expect them to act in certain ways!
SCOTT
Right, you can’t expect them to act rationally! And if you’re assuming your opponent is going to be acting rationally and they’re not, that can really throw a wrench in your strategies.
JACK
Definitely.
SCOTT
So, do you think—keeping in mind, everyone has different preferences on games—is there anything you can universally point to and say, “That makes a good game”? Or is it just kind of hopelessly attached to your personal preferences?
JACK
I think there’s a few things I could say, but I do think it’s attached to personal preference. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have such a variety of games that are enjoyed by people. Like I said before, I do enjoy things that have interesting decisions. But that’s not all I like. I like games with good social dynamics, or interesting and novel mechanics you don’t find in other games. I’m sure there are things that more people like than don’t, but I don’t think you can just pin it down.
DC
I think 100% personal preference, because the #1 game on BoardGameGeek, Pandemic Legacy—I hate that kind of game.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
I hate it with a passion, and I was actually talking with our distributor, and they’re saying, “Yeah, we want to make this game—we want to make the new Season 2 topple Season 1!” And I’m like, “That’s great! That’s wonderful!… That’s…cool…” And he was like, “What did you think when you played it?” And I was like, “Yeah! Good!”
JACK
“It caused me physical pain!”
SCOTT
Why do you hate it so much?
DC
Because I believe, in essence, that a game should be able to be played over and over and over. Just as many times as you want.
SCOTT
Replay value.
DC
Yeah. And whenever you play a Legacy game, the replay value is going to end at the end of your campaign. Whereas, with say, roleplaying games and things like that, I mean, yeah, there’s going to be an end; there’s going to be a physical and permanent end—
SCOTT
But once you buy a Dungeons & Dragons book, you can just reuse it for however many campaigns.
DC
Yeah. Exactly. With a Legacy game, you’re manipulating it and shaping it into a specific way where—and I think maybe the appeal is making those permanent changes, and then it becomes your own personal copy, that no one else is going to have. It’s a game that you and your group made together. And that’s kind of a bonding experience that those kind of people like, and I am not those kind of people.
JACK
I do like Legacy games. But that said, I wouldn’t like every game to be like that. Mostly, I’m on the same page as DC. I think it should be replayable, and that’s one of the strengths of tabletop games, no matter what the type, is each playthrough is going to be different, because of all of the variables. Having a game you can only go through once is bizarre and strange.
SCOTT
[laughter]
JACK
So I like it for the novelty, but I’m glad that it’s a minority kind of niche in the hobby.
SCOTT
And, of course, for replay value, nothing really beats a deck of cards, because you can play any number of games with the same deck.
JACK
Absolutely.
SCOTT
Of course, the downside to that is that a deck of cards doesn’t really have a theme to it, whereas a lot of board games do. Do you think that, for most people, a good theme on a game can save what would be an otherwise bad game? Or, turning it around, do you think that a really good game can save a horribly ugly theme?
JACK
I think a lot of people play games for themes. Myself included. And yeah, they can very much help an otherwise-weaker game. There’s a number of games that I like because of the presentation, and the general narrative, even if it doesn’t factor in a whole lot. But I think if the game is strong enough, and you can get people to sit down and play it, and it’s really fun, the theme does not matter. If playing the game itself is very fun, then that can stand up by itself.
DC
I think a lot of Euro games are like that, where they have some mechanics, and the game play is very solid, but the theme is, like, “Oh, we should make a theme for this mechanic we just did.” I do feel like I have played many games where the game play was like, uggggh, but the theme made me want to play it again and again and again.
JACK
Like, Terrene Odyssey was a game that we both were a little excited about, because it touched on things we liked. And some of it was theme-wise, and some of it was mechanics-wise. But it kind of looks to things that we’re a fan of. And I think DC tried it a bit more than I did, and it just didn’t stand up as much. Now, that’s an example where we gave it more of an opportunity, but we still kind of gave up on it a little bit. You know, it’s like any other media. You’ll watch trash TV shows or movies that you enjoy, for whatever reason, even if you kind of know deep down it’s not very good.
DC
Yeah, like Star Trek.
SCOTT
[laughter]
DC
I JK! But I’ll say this. Scott Pilgrim. That is a really awesome theme. And I will still play it, but I think the mechanics are wonky.
JACK
They are a little. That’s the thing, that particular game—it’s not a bad game, I think. It’s a little strange, but it’s not a great game either. So, at the very least, the theme helps, a lot, an otherwise weak game. And you’re right, with standard card games, unless you are very much trying to put a theme in there, it’s a little difficult to do that with a standard deck.
SCOTT
So a standard-deck card game tends to rely a lot more heavily on the mechanics than, like, a proprietary card game or a board game would. Going into mechanics a little bit more—you hear the term “game balance” a lot. What exactly do you feel like game balance is?
JACK
At its core, it’s when everyone has the same opportunities in a given game. Now, if everyone has the same opportunity to get, you know, the best hand, and that’s a one in one thousand shot, and there’s not that much else but just the luck of the draw, then that’s probably not an appealing game for most people, because, while it’s fair, it’s also extremely random. Now, you heard DC say earlier he really likes random games, but I think part of game balance too is giving people the same agency. So, they have access to the same resources and powers, and they also have the same abilities and decisions that they can make. So if something doesn’t go your way, a lot of times it is your fault. You might have not foreseen something, or you took a risk and it didn’t pan out the way you thought. But I feel like most people like a balance between purely strategy games—something along the lines of chess—and purely random games—something like roulette.
DC
[laughter]
SCOTT
And obviously roulette makes a ton of money every year.
JACK
Indeed. So obviously people do enjoy that. But I think it may be different types. Or at least, scratching a different itch. But so long as there’s a little bit of luck, and a little bit of strategy, that seems to be a happy medium for most. And I think game balance is intrinsically tied into that concept.
DC
I would say two games I feel deal with that fairly well: Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Lords of Waterdeep. Because, with Valeria: Card Kingdoms, you have the dice that get rolled so people are going to get different resources. You don’t get as resource-screwed as you would be in Catan because you take the numbers on each of the dice and the sum. And in Lords of Waterdeep, it’s much more strategic based, but it’s also a little bit of luck with what quests might get drawn, or what lord you get in the beginning, or the Intrigue cards you might get, or things like that. To me, though, I will play a game that’s unbalanced—more heavily toward luck than strategy, because with luck, anyone can win. With strategy, only Jack wins.
JACK
[laughter] Dirty lies! Well, here’s an important part of that too—I do like being competitive, or forming strategies. But if I play almost a completely luck-based game, and that’s just kind of obvious right there—it takes that load off. And sometimes I want something different, and I want to just, like, “Let’s just see what happens”. And I can lose, and it’s no fault of my own, and that’s a lot nicer—
SCOTT
It’s very freeing!
JACK
Yeah, instead of like, “three turns ago, if I would have done that, I would have absolutely won, but now I’m in last place”—that hurts a little bit more! So I think there’s absolutely room for both, both random and not, as well as balanced and not. Though I definitely, for the most part, when I do play traditional card games, I think I do prefer a little more balance and strategy in that style. Because it is, once again, more mechanics-heavy.
SCOTT
One last thing: what sort of advice would you have to offer for someone who is trying to make a new game, whether it be a board game or a card game?
JACK
That is a difficult question. Because ten or fifteen years ago, the market was incredibly smaller than it is now. Don’t go in expecting to get rich, because you could make an absolutely wonderful game, but sadly, a huge part of it is making yourself visible, and marketing yourself, and that’s just honestly what it is. There’s too many games in the market. Now, that said, make a game that you enjoy. You know, everyone has their own personal tastes. And if you do that, and it’s honestly good, and everyone around you likes it, you’d have a much higher chance, I’d argue, of breaking through and maybe making a livelihood out of it, or at least distributing it.
DC
Basically, there’s not that many games that have that long-term shelf visibility. Like, basically, it’s out for a season, it’s the hotness of the month or two, and unless you’re like a Catan or a Lords of Waterdeep, or at the very, very least a Lanterns, you’re just forgotten. And Lanterns is kind of a “ehhh” sort of thing. You just forget it, because there is just a huge flood of games. But there is something to be said about making a game that you like. But if you want to make a game that you want to have sell, that you want to have make you money, then look at things like Scythe or look at things like Exploding Kittens. Part of it is, yeah, the mechanics—say, for Scythe, the mechanics are very solid, and it had a lot of replayability, because of the different mats and strategies that each faction would have based on the play method they got. But also, say, for Exploding Kittens, that’s all about marketing. So you can either market your game to heck, and just make it off the marketing strategy, or come up with something that is really, really solid. But, of course, [Scythe author Jamey] Stegmaier, he’s had a long list of games before that that were very successful, but I think that Scythe was the break out, a little bit.
SCOTT
And I think that kind of underscores, maybe, one of the differences between a traditional card game and a board game, because with board games you obviously have to get a lot more into the business side of things, and worry about things like marketing and that sort of thing, whereas with a traditional card game, it’s all memetic. You just have to make something that’s good enough that other people want to start playing it.
JACK
Yeah. And if you were to make a new card game—and this is run into a whole lot with non-traditional card games and board games as well—it’s a lot easier to sell something that’s a lot lighter. Like a party game, and something that’s very social. And so, if it’s the sort of game that everyone can approach, and you can bring it out at a party, just, by that nature, it will spread a lot easier. Now, that doesn’t make it a better game, but it’s a harder sell, regardless of the game type, if it’s a little bit heavier. If you’ve got to explain the rules for 20 or 30 minutes, then it could be the best game, but it’s hard to put legs on it.
SCOTT
Which, with traditional card games, you do run into that. There’s games like Skat, which are considered to the best games ever created, but the rules for them fill up six pages. And you can spend your whole lifetime mastering that one game.
JACK
Yeah, it’s kind of a shame, but that’s something you have to be aware of if you’re making any type of game, I feel.
SCOTT
Well, thank you guys for sharing your opinions!
DC
You’re very welcome!
JACK
Thank you!
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Solo

Solo is a trick-taking game for four players.  Rather than higher bids simply increasing the number of tricks to be taken, as is common in trick-taking games, in Solo, the bids also affect whether or not a player will have a partner for that hand.

Solo is an offshoot of the French game Manille. It is sometimes referred to as Spanish Solo due to its former popularity in Spain and Latin America. This also helps distinguish it from the similarly-named Solo Whist and Six-Bid Solo, the latter of which is more similar to Skat. It is also sometimes referred to as Ombre.

Object of Solo

The object of Solo is to accurately judge the strength of your hand, and use this information to secure a contract which you can then fulfill.

Setup

Solo is played with a 32-card deck. To create such a thing, set aside all the 2s through 6s from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll be left with 7s through aces in each of the four suits. You’ll also want something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.

Prior to the first hand, everyone should mutually agree on one suit that serves as the color. This suit is usually clubs, but it is essentially arbitrary, and it makes no real difference which suit is color. Bids made committing to make this suit trump will be ranked higher than an equivalent bid in one of the other suits.

Shuffle and deal out the entire pack. Each player will receive eight cards.

Card ranking

Solo uses a somewhat idiosyncratic card ranking for the trump suit. First, the two black queens are always trumps, regardless of what the actual trump suit is. The Q♣ is the highest trump, and the Q♠ the third-highest trump. Wedged between the two queens is the 7 of trumps. The rest of the cards rank in their usual order, with the ace just below the Q♠. Therefore, the full ranking of a red trump suit is (high) Q♣, 7, Q♠, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 (low). A black trump suit ranks exactly the same, although since its queen is elevated above its usual position, there is no queen that ranks between the king and jack.

Non-trump suits rank in their usual order, including the 7 in its typical position as the lowest-ranking card of the suit. For a red non-trump suit, the full ranking is (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). In a black non-trump suit, the queen is missing (having been moved instead to the trump suit), and thus ranks as (high) A, K, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

Types of games

Before a hand can be played, the players must decide which type of game to play. This is done through a bidding process, with the winner becoming the declarer and selecting which type of game is to be played. The types of games that are available, ranked from lowest to highest, are:

  1. Simple game in suit (2 points): The declarer names one of the three suits that are not in color as the trump suit. They then name any one of the four aces. Whoever holds that ace becomes the declarer’s partner for that hand. (Note that the partner does not immediately reveal themselves; they do so by simply playing the ace at an appropriate time during the hand.) The partners commit to capturing at least five tricks between the two of them.
  2. Simple game in color (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except the trump suit is the suit that is in color.
  3. Solo in suit (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except there is no partner. The declarer must collect five or more tricks all by themselves.
  4. Solo in color (8 points): The same as a solo in suit, but with the suit in color as trump.
  5. Tout in suit (16 points): The declarer names as trump one of the three suits not in color. They must collect all eight tricks without the assistance of a partner.
  6. Tout in color (32 points): The same as a tout in suit, but the suit in color is trump.

Bidding

Solo uses a similar one-on-one bidding style to that of Skat. Bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. If they do not wish to bid, they may pass. If they have a bid they want to make, they say “I ask.” The player to their left can then “bid” against them by inquiring as to the first player’s bid. As the lowest bid is a simple game in suit, the player is assumed to have bid at least this high, so the second player asks “Is it in color?” If the first player responds that it is, the second may then ask “Is it a solo?” If the first player responds in the affirmative, they continue with “Is it a solo in color?” and so on.

When the first player does not want to keep bidding higher, or should it become evident that they are willing to bid higher than the second player is comfortable with going, either player may pass. If the second player passed, then the third player may continue the questioning where the second left off. If the first player passes, the second player is committed to making a bid of at least the same rank that the first player passed on, and they are questioned about it by the third player. Bidding concludes with the surviving player bidding against the dealer. Whichever player emerges from this bid victorious becomes the declarer. They may name any game and trump they like, so long as it ranked at least as high as their winning bid (i.e. they may name a higher game than they bid).

Additional rules on bidding

If all four players pass, the player holding the Q♣ must reveal it, and immediately becomes the declarer in a simple game. They must then choose a trump suit (with the suit they choose of course deciding whether the game is in color or not).

A player holding both black queens can never pass. Instead, they must always make a bid of at least solo in suit.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, contributes one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; if they cannot, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever plays the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. That player then leads to the next trick.

It should be noted that the black queens are part of the trump suit and not part of the suit printed on the card. That means that if diamonds are trump, someone leads clubs, and you have the Q♣ in addition to some other clubs, you cannot play the queen! Instead, you have to play one of your other clubs. Playing the Q♣ would be playing a trump card, the same as playing a diamond. That can only be done if you hold no other cards of the suit led.

Once all eight tricks are played, the hand is scored. If the declarer successfully won the required number of tricks required, they score the point value of the game. If they did not, the point value of the game is deducted from their score. In a simple game, the declarer’s partner scores the same amount that the declarer does.

Game play continues until a previously-agreed-to number of hands is played, or one or more players exceeds a certain point threshold. Whoever has the highest score at that point is the winner.

See also

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