Back Alley, also sometimes known as Back Alley Bridge, Back Street Bridge, or Blooper, is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships.
Back Alley originated as a non-partnership game played by members of the U.S. military during World War II. The version of the game described here developed later, most likely during the Vietnam War.
Object of Back Alley
The object of Back Alley is to take as many tricks as possible, as well as accurately bidding how many tricks you expect to take.
Back Alley is played with a 54-card deck, formed by augmenting a standard 52-card deck with two jokers. The two jokers must be different from one another, as one must serve as the big blooper and the other as the little blooper. Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill perfectly, since one of the jokers has a dragon (the big blooper) and the other a jester (the little blooper). It should be clearly stated to the players before the game begins which joker will represent which blooper.
You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper is what most people use for this, but you can use whatever’s convenient, such as a smartphone application developed for the purpose.
Determine partnerships through whatever means are convenient, such as high-card draw or mutual agreement. Each player should be seated opposite their partner, such that the turn of play alternates partnerships as it goes clockwise around the table.
Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. (This number will vary on subsequent hands, see below.) Turn the next card face up; this card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit. If the upcard is a joker, the hand is played with no trump, and the player who holds the other joker must discard it and take the last card of the deck to replace it. Otherwise, the last card in the deck remains face down and takes no part in game play.
Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high. The big blooper is the highest trump, with the lower blooper ranking just below it. Both bloopers outrank the ace of trumps.
Each player in turn, going clockwise around the table, gets one chance to bid. The player to the dealer’s left bids first, and bidding ends after the dealer’s bid. Players may make a bid that they will take any amount of tricks from one to twelve. They may also pass, which is essentially a bid of zero. If all four players pass, then the cards are shuffled and the same dealer deals new hands. Otherwise, each side adds their two bids together, and this number becomes the contract for the following hand.
In addition to these bids, one player may also make a bid of board. This is a bid to take all of the tricks. If a player wishes to bid board whenever someone has already bid it, they may bid double board. Subsequent players may likewise bid triple board or quadruple board, as appropriate. Such bids multiply the risk and reward of bidding board.
Play of the hand
The player who bid highest leads to the first trick. If multiple players are tied for high bid, the first one in the bidding order goes first. If multiple players bid board, the player who made the highest board bid goes first.
Each player, proceeding clockwise from the leader, plays one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if they can. Otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. They collect the cards and place them face-down in a won-trick pile that they share with their partner. (Since the number of tricks collected matters, it’s a good idea to place each trick at right angles to the previous one in order to make it easier to count them later.)
There are some special rules about leading trumps. Trumps cannot be led until trumps have been broken, that is, a trump has been played to a trick without being led to it. If the big blooper is led, every player must play the highest trump they hold in their hand. When the little blooper is led, each player is required to play the lowest trump that they hold. (The only way the little blooper can be defeated when led is if another player holds the big blooper as their only trump.)
After the players have exhausted their hands, the hand is scored. Each partnership counts the number of tricks that they won. If a team captured at least as many tricks as they bid, they have made their contract. They score five points for each trick bid, plus one trick for each additional trick collected. If a team fails to make their contract, they lose five points for each trick bid.
If a team bids board, they win or lose ten points per trick, depending on whether or not they collected all of the tricks or not. Teams bidding double, triple, or quadruple board score ±20, 30, or 40 points, respectively.
The second through 26th hands
The deal passes to the left. On the second hand, only twelve cards are dealt. The third hand is played with eleven cards, and so on, until the thirteenth hand, which consists of only one card. The fourteenth hand is also a one-card hand, after which the number of cards begin increasing again. The hand size again reaches thirteen cards on the 26th hand. The game ends after the 26th hand has been played. Whichever partnership has the higher score at that point wins the game.
Nine-Card Don, often known as simply Don, is a game in the All Fours family. It is played with four players in partnerships. The name Don most likely comes from Dom Pedro, an alternate name for Cinch. Dom Pedro was played in both the United States and Ireland, likely spreading from the latter country to Britain. Today, Nine-Card Don is played in Wales and northern England. A thirteen-card variant of Don is still played in Ireland.
Object of Nine-Card Don
The object of Nine-Card Don is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 121 points. Points are scored by collecting certain point-scoring cards in tricks.
Nine-Card Don is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. While any deck of cards will do, give your game that extra touch by choosing Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You also need some method of keeping score. Many players choose to keep score on a Cribbage board (see our article on Cribbage for more information on how to score using the Cribbage board). Twice around the Cribbage board equals the goal score of 121 points. If no Cribbage board is handy, you can keep score with pencil and paper or any other convenient method.
Determine partnerships through mutual agreement or by a random method such as high-card draw. Partners should sit opposite one another, with their opponents sitting in between. The turn of play should alternate partnerships as it progresses around the table.
The player to the dealer’s left is called the pitcher and is responsible for leading to the first trick. As being the pitcher is a fairly powerful position, the first pitcher should be determined randomly. Shuffle and have one person from each partnership draw a card. Whoever draws the higher card (aces are high) chooses the first pitcher, which will normally be that player or their partner.
Shuffle and deal nine cards to each player. Set aside the remaining sixteen cards, which take no part in game play. The pitcher’s partner may not look at their hand until a card is led to the first trick. This custom prevents the partner from cheating by signaling what card they’d like the partner to play.
The pitcher leads to the first trick. The suit of this card becomes the trump suit. Each player in turn then plays to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump.
After all four players have played to the trick, the person who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played, wins it. The player winning the trick takes the cards and places them in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them. The winner of the first trick then leads to the second one.
Scoring during the hand
As certain trumps are played to tricks, the partnership collecting them immediately scores for them. The point-scoring trumps are:
- 5: ten points.
- 9: nine points.
- Ace: four points.
- King: three points.
- Queen: two points.
- Jack: one point.
Additionally, any non-trump 5 captured scores five points for the partnership capturing it.
Scoring for game
When all nine tricks have been played, the hand is over. Now, the players need to determine who scores the points for game. Each team totals up the value of the cards in their won-tricks pile. Aces are worth four points apiece, kings are worth three, queens two, jacks one, and 10s are worth ten points each. No other cards have any value for game. The teams then compare their totals. Whichever team has the higher total scores eight points for game. If the two teams tie, neither team scores these points.
After the points for game have been scored, the deal passes to the left. The next dealer is the pitcher of the hand just concluded.
Ending the game
Play immediately ceases whenever one partnership reaches or exceeds a score of 121 or more points. That partnership wins the game.
Belote is a trick-taking game from the same family as Klaberjass. It is most commonly played with four players in partnerships, although variations for fewer players are out there. In the early 20th century, it knocked Bezique out of its position as the top card game in France, and still remains one of the country’s most popular games.
Belote is traditionally played counter-clockwise, with the deal and turn progressing to the right. This convention is often disregarded in recent years, however, in favor of a progression to the left as in most other card games. Our rules assume the turn passes to the left. If you prefer the turn passing to the right, simply switch “left” and “right” whenever they’re mentioned in the text.
Object of Belote
The object of Belote is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 1,000 points. Points are scored through declaring certain combinations in the hand and by taking points in tricks.
Belote is played with a 32-card deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the cards from 6 down to 2. You’ll be left with aces through 7s in each of the four suits. You should also have something to keep score with, like pencil and paper.
Determine partnerships somehow, such as high-card draw or even just mutual agreement. Partners should sit opposite one another, with their opponents sitting in between. The turn of play should alternate partnerships as it progresses around the table.
Traditionally, the cards are not shuffled in Belote. The player to the dealer’s right simply cuts the cards. Deal a batch of three cards to each player, then another batch of two cards. Turn the next card of the deck, the upcard, face-up in the center of the table. Set the deck aside, it will be used again later.
Belote uses a different card ranking than most other games. The 10 is ranked higher than the king, giving a full card ranking of (high) A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low).
In the trump suit, the jack and 9 are promoted to the top two ranks. That means in the trump suit, the full ranking is (high) J, 9, 10, K, Q, 8, 7 (low).
The player to the dealer’s left gets the first opportunity to take, that is, to accept the suit of the upcard as the trump suit. If they do not wish to, they may pass. When a player takes, there is no more bidding, and that player becomes the taker for the ensuing hand. By taking, a player commits their partnership to take more points than their opponents.
If all four players pass, the player to the dealer’s left may name a trump suit other than that of the upcard. If they do, that player becomes the taker and the bidding ends. Otherwise, they may pass, as before. If all four players pass, the cards are thrown in, the deal passes to the left, and new hands are dealt.
Regardless of whether the upcard’s suit became trump or not, the taker adds the upcard into their hand. The dealer deals three more cards to each player, except for the taker, who only receives two cards from the deck.
After the bidding has been resolved and the players have their full hands, they may make declarations about the contents of their hands. The valid declarations are:
- Four of a kind (Jacks, 9s, aces, 10s, kings, queens): Four jacks score 200 points, four nines score 150, and four of either aces, 10s, kings, or queens score 100 points. You cannot declare four of a kind in 8s or 7s. Ties are broken by the rank of the cards.
- Sequences: A run of three or more cards of the same suit, in sequence. For the purposes of sequences, cards rank in the order they do in most games, that is, (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). A run of five or more scores 100 points, a run of four scores 50 points, and a run of three scores 20 points. Longer sequences rank higher than shorter ones. Ties are broken by the rank of the highest card of the sequence. If there are two identical sequences and one is trump, the trump sequence ranks higher.
- Belote and rebelote: The king and queen of trump. Scores 20 points.
Belote and rebelote are always scored. However, only the team holding the highest declaration may score for the other declarations.
First, the player to the dealer’s left speaks, stating the type of the highest declaration they have (e.g. “a run of four”, “four of a kind”, etc.). If the next player has a higher type of declaration, they state its type. If they have one of the same type, the next player responds with “How high?”, upon which the first player states the rank of the highest card of their sequence or the rank of their four-of-a-kind. When a player cannot beat a declaration, they say “good”. This continues until the highest declaration amongst the four players has been determined. The value of the declarations are recorded, but are not immediately added to the score.
After the highest declaration has been determined, the opponents may request that any of the combinations declared be revealed.
Some players choose not to allow declarations, as doing so increases the amount of influence blind luck has on the game. Others allow only belote and rebelote to be declared. This should be established by mutual agreement before the game.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player to the left plays a card to the trick in turn. Players must follow suit, if possible. Otherwise, if one of their opponents is currently winning the trick, they must play a trump. If they cannot, or the player’s partner is winning the trick, they may play any card. If a trump was led or played to the trick, players are also required to play a higher trump than the others in the trick, if possible, as long as one of their opponents are winning the trick.
When all four players have played to the trick, it is awarded to the player that played the highest trump. If no trump was played, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. The cards making up won tricks are not added to the hand. Instead, they’re added to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of one of the partners. The player who wins each trick leads to the next one.
Play continues until the players run out of cards. The partnership that takes the last trick scores ten points for dix de der (ten for the last).
After the hand concludes, each partnership totals the values of the cards they collected in tricks. Cards score:
- The jack of trump: 20 points.
- The nine of trump: 14 points.
- Aces: 11 points each.
- 10s: 10 points each.
- Kings: 4 points each.
- Queens: 3 points each.
- Non-trump jacks: 2 points each.
Note that 8s and 7s, as well as 9s in non-trump suits, do not score anything. There are 152 possible points available through tricks, plus the ten for dix de der, which adds up to a maximum score of 162.
If the taking team scores more in tricks than their opponents, they have made their contract and both teams score all of the points they’ve earned through tricks, plus any points in declarations they may be entitled to. If the taking team fails to make their contract, their opponents score 162 points, plus their declarations, plus the taking team’s declarations!
When one side takes all of the tricks in the game, it is called a capot. If the taking side scores a capot, they score an additional 90 points, giving them a score of 252 for the hand, plus declarations. Likewise, if the taker’s opponents score a capot, they score 252, plus both sides’ declarations. In any case, whenever a team takes no tricks, the only declaration they may score for in that hand is belote and rebelote.
Scores are traditionally rounded to the nearest ten after each hand is scored. Game play ends when one team reaches a score of 1,000 points at the end of a hand. That partnership is the winner. If both teams exceed 1,000 points on the same hand, the game ends as a tie.
Malilla is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Players vie to take tricks that contain aces, 7s, and face cards, as those are the only cards worth any points!
Malilla originated in Spain, where it is called Manilla, and most likely derives from an earlier French game called Manille. From Spain, it crossed the Atlantic to Mexico, where it remains popular today.
Object of Malilla
The object of Malilla is to be the first partnership to score 35 or more points. This is achieved by winning tricks containing aces, 7s, and face cards.
Malilla is traditionally played with a 40-card Spanish deck. Outside of Spain, however, it is commonly replicated using a subset of the standard 52-card deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 10s, 9s, and 8s. This will yield a deck with ten cards in each of the four suits (aces, kings, queens, jacks, and 7s through 2s). You also need something to keep score with; pencil and paper works admirably.
Determine partnerships by whatever method is convenient, such as high-card draw or even just mutual agreement. Partners should sit opposite one another, with their opponents in between. The turn of play should alternate partnerships as it progresses clockwise around the table.
Shuffle and deal ten cards to each player. The first 39 cards should be dealt face down. The 40th and last card in the deck should be dealt face up to the dealer. This card indicates the trump suit for the hand. Once all players have seen it, the dealer can add it to their hand.
For the most part, the cards rank in their usual order in Malilla. However, the 7 is elevated to become the highest-ranking card, leading to a complete ranking of (high) 7, A, K, Q, J, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (low).
The card ranking influences the point values of each of the cards, as well. The 7 is also the most valuable card in the game. The point values of each card are:
- 7: five points.
- Ace: four points.
- King: three points.
- Queen: two points.
- Jack: one point.
- 6s through 2s: zero points.
If the dealer’s last (face-up) card is a point-scoring card, the dealer’s team scores that many points as a bonus. These points are, in most cases, scored immediately. The only exception to this is if the bonus would cause the dealer’s team to win the game. In that case, the bonus points are held in abeyance until the end of the hand, and are only scored after the results of the hand are scored.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. The other players, in turn, each contribute a card to the trick. When all four players have played, the person who contributed the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick.
There are a few restrictions on what can be played to a trick. As in most trick-taking games, in Malilla, you must follow suit. If you cannot follow suit, you may play almost any card, including a trump. The exception is that you cannot play a 7 of a non-trump suit that has not yet been led in that hand. (In the rare case that this is the only card available to play, this rule is waived.) Also, if an opponent has played the card that is winning the trick as of your turn, you must beat it if it would be legal for you to do so.
Once a player has won a trick, they collect the cards and place them in a won-tricks pile shared with their partner. For ease of scoring later, it may be a good idea to keep the point-scoring cards in a separate pile than the non-scoring cards. The winner of each trick leads to the next one. (Note that it is always OK to lead a 7—the restriction on them only applies to playing them when not following suit.)
After all ten tricks have been played, each partnership totals the value of the point-scoring cards they captured. Whichever partnership collected more points over the course of the hand wins it. They subtract their points collected from 35 and score the difference. If both partnerships tie, both collecting 35 points, neither partnership scores for that hand.
If a partnership captures all ten tricks, they will have collected 70 points, thereby scoring 35 points for the hand. This is sufficient to win the game, and is called a capote.
If neither side reaches a score of 35 after the hand is scored, then the deal passes to the left and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until one partnership ends the hand with a score of 35 or more. That partnership is the winner.
Malilla is unusually harsh on players who fail to play correctly. Any irregularity in dealing results in the errant dealer being forced to surrender the cards to the next dealer. If it is discovered that a player made an incorrect play to a trick, such as failing to follow suit when able, or not winning the trick when able, the partnership committing the foul loses the entire game.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Couillon is a Belgian trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. In Couillon, players try to collect the most points by capturing high-ranking cards in tricks. At the beginning of the hand, the players get the opportunity to select a trump suit. If they do, they risk incurring a penalty if they fail to capture as many points as their opponents. Several variations of the game are played throughout the Low Countries.
Object of Couillon
The object of Couillon is to collect the most points by winning tricks.
Couillon is played with a 32-card deck. Starting with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 6s through 2s. You’ll be left with a deck that has ace through 7 in each of the four suits.
You also need something to keep score with, preferably something that erases easily. A small chalkboard or dry erase board is ideal. Draw a vertical line in the middle of the board, with five horizontal lines crossing it, as shown at the right. Label each half of the board as belonging to one of the two teams.
Determine partners by any agreed-upon method, such as high card draw or even just mutual agreement. Partners should be seated across from each other, so that as the turn passes around the table, players of alternating partnerships will be taking their turns.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player, two at a time. Place the eight-card stub in the center of the table. Then, turn the top card of the stub face-up. The suit of this card (referred to here as the upcard) is a potential trump suit.
The first order of business is to decide on what the trump suit is. The player to the left of the dealer may either accept the suit of the upcard as trump or decline it. If they choose not to accept it, the turn passes to the left, and the dealer’s partner then has the right to accept or decline it.
If all four players reject the upcard as the trump suit, turn up the bottom card of the stub. This suit then becomes the trump suit.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn, going clockwise, contributes one card to the trick. A player may play a trump to any trick. If they do not have or don’t want to play a trump, they must play a card of suit led, if able. Only if they have no cards of the suit led may they play any non-trump card they wish.
The highest card of the suit led, or the highest trump if any were played, wins the trick. (Aces rank highest, and all other cards follow their usual order.) Won tricks are not added to the hand; instead, cards from won tricks are placed face-down in a pile. Both partners from a side share one pile.
After all four tricks have been played, both teams tally the point values of the cards in their won-trick pile. Aces are worth four points, kings are worth three, queens are worth two, and jacks are worth one. Tens and nines have no point value.
Whichever team collected more points wins the hand. They erase one of the lines from their half of the board to record this. If the side that accepted trumps lost, they add a mark to one of the lines. This line now counts double; to be erased, two wins are needed (one to remove the mark, and another to remove the line).
If the partnerships scored an equal amount of points, neither team scores for the hand. Instead, the next hand with a winner counts double.
The deal passes to the left, and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until one partnership erases all of their lines. That team wins the game.
Zetema plays like a weird mashup of Bezique and a rummy game. It can be played by two to six players. If four or six play, they play in two or three partnerships, respectively.
Zetema was most likely created by Walter Pelham, an employee of British card maker Joseph Hunt & Sons. Hunt & Sons published and marketed the game in the 1870s. Its rules were sold in a pack with (unnecessary) special cards and markers similar to those used to play Bezique. The rules were also published in a few card game books of the period, but it never really seemed to catch on, fading into obscurity shortly thereafter.
Zetema seems to have fascinated several card game experts, who appear to take its failure to achieve popularity as a bit of an affront. It was one of the many games that Sid Sackson plucked from obscurity in A Gamut of Games. Sackson overhauled the game, changing its rules and scoring with the aim of balancing it. David Parlett later took Sackson’s version of the rules and cleaned up its terminology before publishing it in several of his books, including The Penguin Book of Card Games. The rules we present here are those according to Parlett.
Object of Zetema
Zetema is played with a unique 65-card deck. Take one deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and add a complete thirteen-card suit from another deck with the same back design. Which suit is chosen doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all players. You will also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper, a dry-erase board, a smartphone application, or semaphore flags are all acceptable options.
If playing with four or six, determine the partnerships, either by some random method or by mutual agreement. Partners should be seated across from each other, so that as the turn goes around the table clockwise, it alternates partnerships (A, B, A, B in the four-player game, or A, B, C, A, B, C in the six-player game). Partners’ scores are added together, but otherwise the game functions as in the non-partnership game.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player, or five in the six-player game. Place the remainder of the pack in the center of the table, forming the stock.
Play of the hand
The player to the left of the dealer goes first. They draw one card from the stock. If they have any melds, they may show them (but do not lay them down on the table, as in most rummy games). Upon doing so, they immediately score for the meld. They then end their turn by discarding one card; if they declared a meld on that turn, the discard must be one of the cards of that meld.
Unlike in most other games, in Zetema there is not a single discard pile. In fact, there are fourteen of them! Thirteen of these are designated for each rank of card. The fourteenth discard pile is a general discard pile. When discarding at the end of the turn, a player always discards to the pile of the appropriate rank. (The use of the general discard pile will be explained later.)
After a player’s turn, the next player to the left may play, and so on.
Below are the possible melds in Zetema. Note that some of them refer to six cards; in the six-player game, these melds consist of five cards instead, as that is the maximum hand size when playing with six.
- Sequence—Six cards of consecutive rank, not of the same suit. Scores 20.
- Flush—Six cards of the same suit, not in sequence. Scores 30.
- Flush sequence—Both a flush and a sequence, i.e. six cards of the same suit of consecutive rank. Scores 50.
- Assembly—Five cards of the same rank. Scores differently according to the rank of the cards involved: kings or queens 130, jacks 120, aces or 5s 110, all other ranks 100.
Instead of a declaring a meld, a player can declare a marriage. A marriage is a king and queen of the same suit. A player can simply have both cards in their hand, usual. But if a player holds just one card of the marriage, and the other is in the discard pile of the appropriate rank, they can pull it out of the discards to score the marriage.
Multiple marriages may be scored at once, and in fact, they score more when declared in bulk. A single marriage scores 10 points, a double marriage 30 points, a triple 60, and a quadruple 100. A marriage in the duplicated suit is called an imperial marriage, and an extra 10 points is scored for each of these declared. If all five marriages are declared at once, the player scores 150 points!
When one or more marriages is declared, a player discards all of the relevant cards to the general wastepile, not the king and queen piles. Once placed here, they cannot be removed. The player then draws back up to six cards (five in the six-player game) and their turn ends. They do not make a discard to the per-rank piles.
A player holding a meld (such as a flush or sequence) involving a king and queen cannot declare the meld and sequence on the same turn. Instead, the meld must be declared first, and the marriage declared on a subsequent turn.
When a player discards the fifth card of one rank to that rank’s discard pile, they have formed a zetema. That player then scores according to the rank of the zetema. A zetema of jacks scores 20 points, of aces or 5s scores 15 points, and of any other rank 5 points. Zetemas of kings or queens theoretically score 50 points each, but these are rarely scored, since they cannot be scored if even one marriage is formed.
After scoring a zetema, the player forming it moves all five cards in the general discard pile.
Ending the hand
Game play continues as above until the stock is depleted, at which point players simply stop drawing. At this point, if a player runs out of cards, they drop out of the hand. The hand ends when the entire deck is in the general discard pile.
Another hand is then dealt, and game play continues until someone reaches the target score of 300 points (200 if four or more play). When this happens, the rest of the hand is not played—the game ends immediately. Whoever reached the target score is the winner.
Twenty-Nine is a game that is played in South Asia, predominately in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. A trick taking game for four players in partnerships, Twenty-Nine is unique in that the trump suit remains concealed from the time it’s decided to the first time it becomes relevant.
The game is one of a family of trick-taking games played throughout the Indian subcontinent where the jack and 9 are the two highest cards in each suit. Most likely, these are descendants of the European Jass family of games (which Klaberjass is a part of), which use the same card ranking. One of the Jass games was probably exported to the region by the Dutch, which in turn spawned the South Asian family of jack-9 games.
Object of Twenty-Nine
The object of Twenty-Nine is to be the first partnership to score six victory points. Teams score victory points by successfully fulfilling contracts, which is done by taking at least the number of card points bid.
Twenty-Nine is played with a 32-card deck. Starting with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s, leaving 7 through ace in each of the four suits.
The cards removed from the deck are traditionally used for scorekeeping and declaring trumps. Each side receives one black 6 and one red 6, which are used to indicate positive and negative points respectively. To indicate positive points, the red 6 is turned face-down and overlaps the black 6 in such a way that the number of pips visible equal the number of victory points the team has scored. Each player also receives one card of each suit for declaring which suit will be the trump suit.
The players divide into two partnerships, either by mutual agreement or through some random method. Partners should sit across from one another, such that each player’s opponents are sitting to their left and right.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will be used after the bidding round.
As mentioned above, the two highest cards in each suit are the jack and 9. The 10 also ranks out of the typical order, raking above the king. The full rank of cards in Twenty-Nine is (high) J, 9, A, 10, K, Q, 8, 7 (low).
For the purposes of determining the value of tricks taken, the cards score as follows: jacks score three points, 9s score two, aces and 10s score one. The other cards do not have any value at all.
The astute reader will notice that there are seven card points in each suit, or 28 altogether. The name of the game Twenty-Nine, derives from the 28 card points plus one extra point that was formerly awarded for taking the last trick. Even though scoring this twenty-ninth point has fallen out of favor, the name Twenty-Nine has stuck.
Choosing the trump suit
Before actual game play begins, there is a bidding round where the players vie for the right to name the trump suit. The player to the dealer’s left bids first, naming any number of points between 15 and 28. This bid is a commitment for that player’s partnership to take at least that many points if they win the bidding. If a player doesn’t wish to bid, they may pass. The next player to the left may then either bid (higher than the first bid, if any) or pass. This continues on around the table until all players have passed but one. That player wins the bidding. If the first three players pass, the dealer is compelled to make a bid of fifteen, and bidding immediately ceases.
The high bidder selects one of the four suits to be the trump suit. To indicate this, they place one of the out-of-play cards of the corresponding suit face-down in the middle of the table. The high bidder and their partner become the declarers, while their opponents become the defenders. The winning bid becomes the declarers’ contract. The dealer then deals the remainder of the deck out, giving an additional four cards to each player.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick, with each player to the left playing in turn. Players must follow suit if able. Whoever plays the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That player collects the cards played and puts them in a face-down won-tricks pile that they share with their partner.
The first time that a player is unable to follow suit, the high bidder must turn the card they used to declare trump face up for the other players to see. From this point forward, if one or more cards of the trump suit are played to a trick, the highest trump will take the trick. A player does not have to play a trump if they don’t want to.
The king and queen of trump is a special combination called the royals. If a player holds both of these cards, and the trump suit has been revealed, they may reveal the two cards immediately after their partnership wins a trick. If the declarers hold the royals, it reduces the value of their contract by four points. If they are shown by the defenders, it increases the declarers’ contract by four points. Note that both the king and queen must be in the player’s hand at the same time. If one or both of the cards have been played to a trick (most likely because trump hadn’t been revealed yet), they cannot be scored as the royals. The royals cannot reduce the contract below 15 points or increase it above 28.
The hand ends after the eighth trick has been played. The declarers count the number of points taken in tricks. If they successfully fulfilled their contract, they score one victory point. If they did not, they lose one victory point.
Game play continues until one team has scored six victory points. That team is the winner. On the other hand, it is possible for a team to reach −6 points; a team that does so loses.
Briscola (pronounced with all long vowels, like breeze-cola) is a simple Italian trick-taking game for two to four players. When four play the game, they play as two-player partnerships; in two- and three player games, each player plays for themselves.
Object of Briscola
The object of Briscola is to take tricks containing the most point-scoring cards as possible.
The composition of the deck in Briscola depends on the number of people playing. The two- or four-player game uses the same 40-card Italian pack used in Scopa. To prepare such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s through 8s, leaving ace through jack and 7 through 2 in each of the four suits. The three-player game uses a 39-card deck, prepared the same way, but removing one of the 2s (which one doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all of the players).
You’ll also need something to keep score with. Scoring is not too complicated in this game (at the most you’ll be playing three hands), so while pencil and paper will work, you can also use a smartphone application, a small dry-erase board, or even memory if you trust everyone not to fudge the numbers.
In the four-player game, the players should either mutually agree to partnerships, or else draw cards from a shuffled deck to determine who is on which partnership (the two players drawing higher cards play against the two drawing lower cards). Partners should sit opposite one another, such that when proceeding around the table, each player is from alternating partnerships.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Turn up the next card of the deck. This card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit for the hand. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will form the stock.
Briscola uses an idiosyncratic card ranking, elevating the 3 to the second-highest card, just below the ace. All other cards rank in their usual order. Therefore, the full card ranking is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).
The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding around the table to the left, then plays one of their cards to the trick. There is no obligation to follow suit; a player may play any card they please. The player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, if there is no trump, wins the trick. That player adds it to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them (in the four-player game, partnerships share a common won-tricks pile). There is no need to keep the tricks separated in the pile.
After each trick, the players each draw a card, starting with the player who won the trick, then proceeding clockwise. The player that won the trick then leads to the next one.
After the stock has been depleted, the next and final player to draw takes the upcard. In the four-player game, the players now briefly exchange hands with their partner, look at their partner’s last three cards, then switch back. Then, the last three tricks are played as usual.
When all of the tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Players turn up their won-trick piles and total up the number of points found in it according to the following list:
- Aces: eleven points.
- 3s: ten points.
- Kings: four points.
- Queens: three points.
- Jacks: two points.
- 7s–2s: zero points.
In the two- and four-player games, one more hand is played, with the deal passing to the left (to the first hand’s non-dealer in the two-player game). In the three-player game, each player deals one hand, for a total of three hands. Whichever player or partnership scored the most points across all of the hands is the winner (in the event of a tie, the winner of a tie-breaker hand wins the game).
Bacon is a simple trick-taking game for four players, in partnerships, that functions a lot like a simplified version of Euchre. Bacon originated in the United States in the early twentieth century. It makes an excellent introduction to the mechanics of trick-taking games, and especially those with trumps, for those who are unfamiliar with them.
Object of Bacon
The object of Bacon is to be the first partnership to reach ten points by collecting more tricks than the opponents.
Bacon uses a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. You could use any deck of cards…but choosing Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards makes your game that much more special. You will also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.
Players should determine who their partner is, either by mutual agreement or by some randomly-determined method. Players on the same partnership are seated across from one another, so that proceeding around the table in turn order, the partnerships alternate.
Shuffle and deal five cards face-down to each player, then one additional card, the upcard, face-up to the center of the table. The deck stub is set aside and, in most cases, takes no further part in game play.
Game play begins with the auction, which determines the trump suit, although it is not technically an auction in the strictest sense of the term. The player to the left of the dealer has the first chance at accepting the suit of the upcard as the trump suit. They may select this suit as trump by stating “pick it up”, or decline to do so by saying “pass”.
If the player passes, the next player to the left is offered the same options, and so on around to the dealer. Should the dealer pass, the upcard is discarded and a new upcard is drawn from the deck stub and the process repeats. If the fourth upcard is passed on by all four players, the hand is considered acquitted, the cards are thrown in, and a new hand is dealt by the same dealer.
When a player chooses to pick up a trump, they have the option to “go alone”. By doing so, the player is venturing that they will be able to win the majority of the tricks with their partner sitting out of the hand. If they are successful, their score for the hand will be doubled (see “Scoring” below). Of course, winning with only one partner will be more difficult, so this should be kept in mind before making the decision to go alone.
When a player picks up a trump or declares themselves a loner, their partner has veto power over each of these decisions. The veto is binding and results in the same effect as if the player passed, if they vetoed the pick-up, or if they never made the declaration to go alone. In practice, the veto is rarely exercised, but it can be an important option in situations where a player has reason to believe that their partner is greatly overestimating the strength of either of the partners’ hands.
The partnership that chose the trump suit is called the declarers, and their opponents the defenders. If there is only one declarer, because they decided to go alone, they are simply called the loner.
Play of the hand
Game play begins with the player to the left of the declarer who called “pick it up” taking the upcard into their hand and then discarding any card face-up. This player then leads to first trick. Turn order proceeds to the left, with each person playing a card of the same suit as the card led, if able; otherwise, they may play any card. When all four players have had a chance to play, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick, unless a card of the trump suit was played, in which case the highest trump wins the trick.
The cards in the trick are collected by the player who won them. Captured tricks are not added to the hand, but are kept face-down in a captured-tricks pile. Because the number of tricks captured is important to the outcome of the game, they should be kept separated somehow. Placing tricks at right angles to one another works well for this purpose.
This process repeats until five tricks are played and all players have depleted their hands.
Winning three or four tricks over the course of a hand is worth one point, and winning all five tricks is worth two points. These scores are doubled if they were achieved by a loner or the defenders (for a total of two points for three or four tricks and four points for a shutout). Game play continues until one partnership reaches ten points. That partnership is the winner.