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.
Pitch (also known as Setback) is a trick-taking game played in the United States. In the Midwest and central parts of the United States, it is most commonly played as a partnership game. On the coasts, Pitch is more frequently played as a cutthroat, every-player-for-themselves game, often for money. The four-player partnership game is described here.
Pitch is essentially an American adaptation of the old English pub game All Fours. Pitch uses a more conventional bidding system to fix the trump suit, rather than the more complicated procedure found in All Fours.
Object of Pitch
The object of Pitch is to be the first team to score 21 or more points by successfully fulfilling bids.
Pitch is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Because you need a deck of cards that can stand up to whatever you throw at it, make sure you always use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.
Partnerships may be determined by any agreed-upon method, including mutual agreement or any sort of random process. Partners should sit across from each other, so as play proceeds clockwise, each player’s turn is followed by one of their opponents’ turns.
Shuffle and deal six cards to each player, in two batches of three. The stub is set aside and is not used for the rest of the hand.
Game play in Pitch revolves around scoring points for the following achievements:
- High—playing the highest trump in play during the hand,
- Low—capturing the lowest trump in play during the hand,
- Jack—capturing the jack of trumps,
- Game—accruing the highest total of cards captured during the hand, scoring as follows: ten for each 10, four for each ace, three for each king, two for each queen, and one for each jack. 9s and below do not count toward the game score. If the teams tie for game, the point is not scored.
Because not all of the cards are dealt on each hand, the trump scoring for High is not necessarily the ace, and the trump scoring for Low is not necessarily the two. Likewise, the point for Jack sometimes goes unscored, since the jack of trumps is not always in play.
The right to choose the trump suit is given to the player who makes the highest bid. Available bids in Pitch are two, three, four, and smudge. The first three of these bids represents a commitment to score at least that many points on the following hand. A bid of smudge, the highest bid, is a bid to score four points plus all the tricks. However, by bidding four or smudge, you may unknowingly get yourself into a situation where it is impossible to make your bid. The jack of trumps is not always dealt, and in hands where this is the case, the point for Jack is not scored, meaning the most you can score is three. Even if you take all six tricks, you will not make your contract.
Bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. They may either bid or pass. Bidding continues clockwise, with each player passing or making a higher bid than the players before them. The dealer makes the last bid, and has the right to bid the same as the player before them, called stealing the bid. If every player passes, the dealer is compelled to make a bid of two, called a force bid. There is only one round of bidding; the high bid stands after the dealer makes their bid. The player making the high bid is called the pitcher.
Play of the hand
The pitcher leads to the first trick. The suit of the card they lead off with becomes the trump suit. Each other player plays to the trick in turn, proceeding clockwise. Each player must follow suit, unless they are unable, in which case they may play any card. Additionally, playing a trump is always allowed, even if the player could follow suit. The player who plays the highest card of the suit led (aces rank high) collects the trick, unless a trump is played, in which case the highest trump played wins the trick. Collected tricks are not added to the player’s hand, but rather a score pile shared with their partner. The winner of each trick leads to the next one.
Ending the hand
When all six tricks have been played, the hands are scored. If the pitcher’s team makes at least as many points (as described above) as they bid, they score one point for each point made. When a bid of smudge is made, the pitcher’s team scores five points (the four points they scored, plus one for the smudge). If the pitcher’s team failed to make their bid, they are said to have been set. They are set back the amount of their bid instead, i.e., the value of their bid is deducted from their score. Regardless of if the pitcher’s team makes their bid or not, their opponents always score the number of points they made.
The deal passes to the left, the cards are shuffled, and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until a partnership reaches a score of 21 or more after having successfully made their bid. Note that it’s possible for a team to score above 21 while not being the high bidders. In this case, the team must remain above 21 points and successfully make a bid before they can win. (In some cases, the winning team may even have a lower score than their opponents, simply because they made a winning bid and crossed 21 before their opponents, already over 21, could.)
Pitch is one of those games with lots of variations—tell us how you like to play in the comments!
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.
Truco is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Versions of it are widely played in many South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Chile. Each of these countries its own unique variant of the game. Truco is one of the most popular games in Brazil, where three different versions of it are played; one of these is the version listed below.
In comparison to most Western card games, a game of Truco is quite rowdy. Many things that would be considered outright cheating are explicitly allowed in Truco, and a game often devolves into raucous (but good-natured) shouting as players attempt to bluff and intimidate one another.
Object of Truco
The object of Truco is to be the first partnership to score twelve points by taking at least two of the three tricks in each hand.
Truco is played with a special 40-card stripped deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s, leaving a deck of aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits.
You will also need some method of scoring. Brazilian players traditionally score the game with large, bean-like seeds called tentos. You will need at least 22 beans if you wish to keep score with this method. The tentos are placed in a bowl in the center of the table. One partner removes one tento from the bowl for each point scored, keeping them visible on the table in front of them. You can also score the game with the tried-and-true pencil and paper if you wish.
Players divide into two partnerships and seat themselves so that partners sit across from one another. Usually, partnerships are decided by mutual agreement; if some players are inexperienced at the game, they are often paired with a player that has more experience. Partnerships may also be decided by high-card draw, if desired.
Prior to the first hand, each partnership may retreat to a location where the other team will not overhear them and devise a system of signals to use throughout the game. These signals can communicate anything that the players desire, including the overall strength of their hand, the cards they hold, what they want their partner to play, and so on. Nothing’s off limits! However, verbal discussion of what is in your hand is absolutely prohibited. You can only communicate this information by signals.
Truco has a very particular shuffling and dealing procedure. Only a single riffle shuffle is allowed—the wash and strip shuffle used in the casino shuffling method is not allowed. The player to the dealer’s left performs one to three cuts, although they are required to cut the cards into exactly two stacks. Scarne cuts and other cuts that produce more than two piles of cards are not permissible. The player cutting the cards may then request that the cards be dealt from either the top or the bottom of the deck.
The dealer then deals three cards, face down, to the player to their right, who is called the mão. This player has the option to keep the cards, pass them to their partner, or reject them altogether. What happens next:
- If the mão chooses to keep the cards, the dealer deals three cards to the dealer’s partner, then the mão’s partner, and finally themselves.
- If the mão chooses to pass the cards to their partner, they are dealt another hand of three cards, which they may either keep or reject. The mão may not pass any more cards once their partner has a hand.
- If the mão rejects the cards, they are turned face up and will remain out of play for the remainder of the hand. They then receive another three-card hand, which they may keep, reject, or pass to their partner. The mão may not reject more than three potential hands per deal.
After the deal is complete, the dealer sets the deck stub aside, and it takes no further part in game play.
Truco uses a very unconventional card ranking. 3s, 2s, and aces rank higher than the face cards, and one card of each suit is elevated to rank even higher than the remainder of the pack. The cards rank as follows: (high) 4♣, 7♥, A♠, 7♦, 3, 2, A, K, J, Q, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).
Play of the hand
The mão leads to the first trick. The next player to the right plays the next card, and so on until all four players have played. Whoever played the highest card, irrespective of suit takes the trick. Players can play any card they wish; there is no requirement to follow suit or play higher than the other cards in the trick.
In the second or third tricks, a player may play their card face down if desired. Face-down cards are unable to win the trick and essentially discarded. This option is not available on the first trick of the hand.
The winner of a trick takes the four cards played to it and puts it face-down on their partnership’s won-tricks pile. They then lead to the next trick.
If two players on the same time tie for high card, that partnership wins the trick, and whichever of the two players played first is entitled to lead to the next trick. If two players on opposing teams tie for high card, the trick belongs to no one. When a trick is tied, whichever team won the first trick that hand is the winner of the entire hand. If it is necessary to play another trick to determine the hand, whichever of the tying players played first gets to lead to the next trick.
The hand ends after the three tricks are complete or the outcome of the hand has been determined. Whichever team wins the hand takes one tento.
Raising the stakes
Any player may call “truco” prior to winning a trick in order to raise the stakes for the current hand to three tentos. This player, the trucador, must then wait for their opponents to respond to the truco before playing a card. The opponents have three options:
- Run away. The opposing team rejects the raised stakes. The trucador’s team immediately wins the hand for one tento.
- Accept. The opposing team accepts a stake of three tentos.
- Raise (retruco). The opposing team wishes to raise the stake further, to six tentos. The trucador’s team then has the option to run away, accept the six-tento stake, or reraise to nine tentos. If they propose a stake of nine tentos, the opponents may then reraise to queda, i.e. a stake of twelve tentos, the amount necessary to win the entire game.
Either of the trucador’s opponents may give the answer to the truco, but whichever one speaks first is binding. The opponents may consult with each other verbally and/or through signals before giving a final answer.
You are not allowed to raise the stakes beyond that which would be required to win the game. If you have a score of six, you can truco (raising the stakes to three tentos, which would give you a score of nine if you won). If your opponent retrucos, raising to six, accepting this and winning would give you a score of twelve, enough to win the game. Therefore, you cannot raise again to nine, since accepting the six-tento stake is enough for the win.
If a truco is accepted, the trucador and any players after them play to the trick. Whichever team wins the trick wins the hand at the stake agreed upon.
A team gains one tento if their opponents violate any of the following rules:
- Shuffling, cutting, or dealing against the procedure described above.
- The mão attempts to reject cards when not allowed to do so.
- Disclosing the content of one’s hand, either by discussing it verbally or by showing cards. (Signals are okay.)
- Raising the stakes beyond the amount needed to win the game.
You cannot score your twelfth tento as a result of your opponents breaking the rules. Instead, they lose one tento and you remain at a score of eleven.
A score of eleven
When a team reaches a score of eleven, one less than needed to win the game, special rules apply to them. First, the dealer simply deals a hand of three cards to each player, and the mão is no longer permitted to pass or reject cards. Before actual game play starts, the players on the leading team pass their hands to one another, briefly look at them, and return them to their owners. They then have the option to run away (end the hand) at a cost of one tento, or play the game for a stake of three tentos. If they play the hand, neither team is allowed to truco. If the leading team wins this hand, they win the game.
Should both teams reach a score of eleven, an iron hand is played. The game considers teams in this situation to have only gotten there due to luck, since they apparently cannot pull off an indisputable win. The dealer deals three-card hands to each player, and they cannot look at their cards. The hand is played by turning cards up, one at a time, and awarding the tricks as appropriate. Therefore, the iron hand is determined entirely by luck. If an iron hand results in a tie, additional iron hands are played until the outcome of the game is determined.
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.
Hand and Foot is a North American variant of Canasta. Like its parent game, it is best for four players in partnerships. Hand and Foot adds a twist to the basic game of Canasta by introducing more cards—a lot more cards—and giving each player two hands to have to contend with. It gives a partnership more specific requirements to fulfill before going out.
Object of Hand and Foot
The object of Hand and Foot is to score more points than your opponents by forming melds of three or more cards and piles, which are melds of seven cards.
The players divide into two partnerships, sitting across from one another, so that the turn of play alters between partnerships when going clockwise. Set aside an area of the table for each partnership’s melds, and a neutral area accessible to all players for the stock and the discard pile.
Hand and Foot requires a 270-card deck consisting of five standard 52-card decks plus jokers, a truly impressive number of cards for a non-casino game. If you’ve got five sets of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, well, you’re one of our best customers and we love you. Shuffle the decks together (it might help to use the multiple-deck shuffling technique). Split the deck in two, forming the stocks, with a gap between the two halves of the deck for the discard pile.
Unlike in most games, in Hand and Foot, the players are responsible for dealing their own cards. Each player takes a small portion of one of the stocks and deals two piles of eleven cards face down in front of them. If a player managed to pull exactly 22 cards from the stock, they immediately score a 100-point bonus. Otherwise, any excess cards are returned to the stock. Each player selects one of the eleven-card piles as their hand, and the other eleven cards are passed to their right, forming that player’s foot. The foot is kept face-down in front of the player.
One card from one of the stocks is turned face-up and placed between them. This is the top card of the discard pile, otherwise known as the upcard. If the upcard is a joker, 2, or red 3, discard it face-down into one of the stocks and draw another card.
Card ranks and scoring
The following are the scores and special properties of all of the cards in the game:
- Red 3s: Red 3s serve as a bonus card and are simply laid in front of the player and a new card is drawn to replace them. 100 points.
- Jokers: Jokers are wild. 50 points.
- Twos: Twos are also wild. 20 points.
- Aces: 20 points.
- K–8s: 10 points.
- 7s–4s: 5 points.
- Black 3s: Cannot be melded. 5 points.
Other than the colors of the 3s, suits do not matter. Both jokers are likewise equal.
Play of the hand
Before game play actually kicks off, any red 3s the players hold in their hand are placed in the partnership’s melding area and new cards are drawn to replace them. Likewise, any red 3s encountered throughout the game are laid down and new cards drawn to replace them.
The player to the left of the dealer goes first. The flow of the turn is to draw, meld if able and willing, and end the turn by discarding.
A player begins their turn by drawing. They may draw either the top two cards of one of the stock piles or the top seven cards of the discard pile (or the whole pile if it contains less than seven cards). In order to draw from the discards, the player must be able to immediately meld the top card of the discard pile with two cards from their hand. (The other six cards are inaccessible to them until they demonstrate that they can legally meld the top card.) If this is the partnership’s first meld for the hand, additional cards from the hand may be melded alongside it in order to satisfy the opening-meld requirement. Because black 3s cannot be melded, a player may never draw from the discard pile if the upcard is a black 3. If the top card of the discard pile is a wild card, then the player can only draw from the discard pile if the player is holding two other cards of the same rank (e.g. if there is a joker on the discard pile, you need two other jokers to draw from it, you cannot substitute twos for the jokers).
After drawing, the player may meld, if able. A partnership’s first melds of the hand must meet a minimum value, depending on the round of the game:
- First round: 50 points
- Second round: 90 points
- Third round: 120 points
- Fourth round: 150 points
A meld consists of three to seven cards of the same rank (traditionally fanned out so that the indices of all of the cards in the meld are visible). A meld can contain no more than one wild card in a meld of three, four, or five cards and no more than two in a meld of six or seven. A player can also make a meld that consists of all wild cards.
After a meld has been laid down, further melding by that partnership on that hand is not subject to the minimums. When a meld has been laid down, it can be extended by either player in the partnership, either by adding more natural cards to it or by adding wild cards. Players cannot move cards between melds, or establish two separate incomplete melds of the same rank. Players cannot contribute to their opponents’ melds.
A meld of seven cards is called a pile, so called because it is traditionally denoted by squaring the meld up into a pile. A pile with no wilds, or a pile with only wilds, is called a clean pile, while a pile with a mix of natural cards and wilds is called a dirty pile. This distinction is important because clean piles score higher. The type of pile is traditionally indicated by its top card; clean piles are squared up with a red card on top, and dirty piles with a black card on top. A pile cannot contain more than seven cards; once a pile has been completed, a new meld of the same rank can be established.
Picking up the foot
When a player has exhausted their hand, they may then pick up their foot pile and play with it. If the player manages to run out of cards before discarding (i.e. through melding), they may simply pick up their foot at that time and continue their turn. If the player gets rid of their final card through discarding, they pick up the foot at the beginning of their next turn.
Depletion of the stock
In the uncommon event that the stock is depleted before someone goes out, the game simply continues without a stock; play continues with players drawing from the discard pile, melding if able, and discarding, until a player goes out as normal, or is unable or unwilling to draw from the discard pile, at which point the hand ends and is scored as outlined below.
If, however, the final card of the stock is a red 3, special rules apply. The player taking the 3 declares it as usual, then does any melding possible, after which play ceases. This player is not entitled to discard.
In order to go out, a partnership must meet the following conditions: they must have completed two clean piles, two dirty piles, and one wild pile, both players must have played at least part of one turn with their foot piles, and the player wishing to go out must have received permission to go out from their partner.
Permission to go out is received by simply asking the partner “May I go out?” This is done to ensure that the partner does not hold an unduly high total value of cards, which will be charged against the partnership at the end of the hand. The answer given is binding. The only answer permitted is “Yes” or “No”—if any further information is given, the opposing partnership is entitled to answer the question “May I go out?” for the offending partnership, and their answer is binding, often with disastrous results.
After a player has gone out, the hand is scored. Each team scores the value of the cards it has melded, and the value of cards held in hand is deducted against the partnership’s score. The following bonuses, if applicable, are also scored:
- Wild piles: 1500 points each.
- Clean piles: 500 points each.
- Dirty piles: 300 points each.
- Red threes: 100 points each.
- Going out: 100 points.
After all of the above has been accounted for, all cards are shuffled, and the deal passes to the left. The game ends after four hands have been played. The partnership with the highest score at that point is the winner.
Throughout the game, various penalties can occur, as set out below:
- Attempting to go out anyway when a partner says no: –100 points.
- Not being able to go out after having asked “May I go out?”: –100 points.
- Attempting to draw from the discard pile when unable to use the upcard: –50 points.