Calabrasella

Calabrasella is a trick-taking game for three players. Playing much like a simplified form of Solo, Calabrasella features a lone player against their two opponents, trying to capture the most point-scoring cards in tricks. Because the solo player is at an inherent disadvantage to their two opponents, the game counteracts this by granting certain liberties to the soloist, namely the ability to take a high-ranking card from one of their opponents, and the opportunity to exchange up to four cards with those in the widow.

The name Calabrasella seems to indicate an origin in Calabria, the province on the peninsula that makes up the “toe” of Italy. In any case, by 1870 it had spread throughout Italy, to the extent that it was considered the national game.

Object of Calabrasella

The object of Calabrasella is to capture as many scoring cards in tricks as possible. The scoring cards are the aces, 2s, 3s, and face cards.

Setup

Calabrasella is played with a 40-card Italian deck. To create such a deck from a 52-card English deck, like a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove all the 10s, 9s, and 8s. You’ll be left with aces through 7s, plus the face cards, in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with. The game is traditionally scored with hard scoring, so you’ll want some form of counters handy, like poker chips. If desired, each chip can represent an agreed-upon amount of real-world money.

Distribute the chips equally (or have players buy them). Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player. The four remaining cards are placed face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.

Card ranking

For the most part, the cards rank in their usual order in Calabrasella, with aces high. However, both the 2 and the 3 are elevated from their usual positions to become the highest-ranking cards, above the ace. The full card ranking is thus (high) 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).

Game play

Bidding and exchanging cards

Each hand begins with an extremely straightforward bidding round. The player to the left of the dealer has the option to pass or play. If they pass, the next player to the left (that to the dealer’s right) has the option, and then finally the dealer. Should all three players pass, the cards are collected, shuffled, and the next player to the left deals a new hand. When a player elects to play, the bidding ceases immediately, with that player becoming the declarer. The other two players become the defenders.

The declarer names the suit of any 3 that they do not hold (or, if they hold all four 3s, the suit of a 2 they do not hold). The player holding that card must pass it to the declarer, who exchanges it for any unwanted card in their hand. (This unwanted card is kept concealed from the third, uninvolved player.) If no player holds the card the declarer named (because it is in the widow), then they simply lose out.

The declarer then discards at least one but as many as four cards from their hand. They then turn the widow face up on the table. The declarer then selects the same number of cards as they discarded from the widow, taking them into their hand. The unused widow cards and the discards are then set aside, taking no further part in game play.

Play of the hand

The player to the declarer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card. When all three players have contributed to the trick, the person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That player then leads to the next tricks. Cards won in tricks are stored in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them; the defenders share one common pile.

Scoring

After all twelve tricks are played, the hand scores are tallied up, with the defenders’ scores being added together and the declarer’s scored separately. The player taking the last trick scores a three-point bonus. Each ace is worth three points, and each 3, 2, and face card is worth one point.

If the declarer scored higher than the defenders did, each defender pays the declarer the difference between the scores. If the declarer scored lower than the defenders, the declarer must pay each defender the difference. For example, if the declarer scored 19 points and the declarers 16, each defender would pay the declarer three chips. On the other hand, if the declarer scored only 11 points and the defenders 24 points, the declarer would pay 26 chips in all: 13 to each defender.

In the event that one side scores 35–0, the payouts are doubled—each payment made is 70 chips.

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Dou Dizhu

Dou Dizhu (斗地主), which roughly translates into English as Fight the Landlord, is a Chinese climbing game for three players. In Dou Dizhu, one player takes on the role of “landlord”, fighting to be the first to run out of cards. The other two players team up to try to dispense with their cards before the landlord does!

Dou Dizhu is a fascinating example of a climbing game because of the great flexibility the game affords players in choosing combinations of cards. This allows players to form complex strategies in planning their next moves. Because of this, the game is said to be easy to learn but hard to master.

Object of Dou Dizhu

The object of Dou Dizhu is to be the first player to run out of cards. (If playing with a partner, your partner being the first out is just fine too.)

Setup

To play Dou Dizhu, you need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards, with two jokers that are different from each other somehow. Happily, Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill wonderfully. One joker should be designated as the higher joker. (On Denexa cards, we recommend this to be the red joker, the one with the dragon.) You’ll also need some way of keeping score. A hard-score method, using counters like poker chips, works the best, but you can also keep score with pencil and paper or similar.

Shuffle the deck. Take the top card and flip it face-up, randomly inserting it somewhere into the middle of the deck. Each player in turn draws a card from the deck until each have seventeen cards in their hand. Note which player takes the face-up card. The remaining three cards become a widow and are left face-down in the center of the table.

Card ranking

As with many Asian climbing games, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high, but with the 2 ranked even higher than that. The jokers rank even higher than the 2, with one joker (the red joker) outranking the other (the black joker). Thus, the full rank of cards is (high) , ★, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 (low). Suits are not relevant to game play.

Game play

The auction

The player who drew the face-up card in the deck bids first in the auction. They can choose to bid one, two, or three, or pass. The next player to their left then bids, and must bid higher than the first player or pass. A player can make a bid after initially passing. Bidding continues until either there are two consecutive passes or someone bids three. Once a winner has been established, they become the landlord. The landlord takes the widow into their hand, giving them a 20-card hand.

Combinations

Play of the hand in Dou Dizhu revolves around different combinations of cards. The valid combinations in Dou Dizhu are:

  • Single card
  • Pairs
  • Trips (three of a kind)
  • Straights (five or more cards in sequence, e.g. 3-4-5-6-7)
  • Quads (four of a kind)—but see restriction below
  • Consecutive pairs (three or more pairs in sequence, e.g. 3-3-4-4-5-5)
  • Consecutive trips (two or more trips in sequence, e.g. 3-3-3-4-4-4)

There are some restrictions on when the high-ranking 2s and jokers can be used. They can appear as single cards, or in pairs or trips. They cannot be used in straights or consecutive pairs or trips.

In addition, extra cards called kickers may also be attached to trips and consecutive trips. A kicker can be either a single card or a pair. For example, 7-7-7-5 and 7-7-7-5-5 are both valid combinations. When attaching kickers to consecutive trips, there must be one kicker or kicker pair for each triplet, each of which must be a different rank. For instance, 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-J and 4-4-4-8-8-8-7-7-Q-Q are both valid, but 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-9 is not (as this is one pair kicker for two triplets, not one single card for each triplet). Both 2s and jokers can be used as kickers, but not both jokers at the same time.

Quads must always be played with kickers to be used as a regular play. This can take the form of two single cards (5-5-5-5-8-K) or two pairs (5-5-5-5-8-8-K-K). Quads played without kickers are a special combination called a bomb (described below in “Bombs and rockets”).

Play of the hand

The landlord plays first. They may play any combination of cards they wish. The next player to the left then must play a higher-ranking instance of the same combination. To be considered the same combination, the same number of cards must be played: straights must be of the same length, consecutive pairs must have the same number of pairs, the same number of kickers must be played, etc. Combinations are ranked by the highest card present, with any kickers disregarded. For example, 7-7-7-5 is higher than 4-4-4-A (because the ace is a kicker and is thus not counted toward the rank of the combination). If a player cannot or does not want to play higher, they may pass.

This continues, with play continuing around the table, each player playing higher and higher combinations. Players may jump back into game play, even after passing, on their next turn. After two consecutive players have passed, the remaining player is free to play whatever combination of cards they choose (i.e. they are not compelled to play the same type of combination as before). As before, play continues to to the left, with the next player following up on the most recently played combination with a higher one of the same type.

Bombs and rockets

There are two special combinations in the game. These are the bomb, four of a kind with no kickers, and the rocket, which is a pair of jokers. Bombs and rockets may be played at any time, regardless of the combination being played. A bomb can only be beaten by a higher-ranked bomb or a rocket, and a rocket is unbeatable.

Ending the hand

Game play continues until one player runs out of cards. If that player is the landlord, each of their opponents pays them the amount bid (one, two, or three chips). If the landlord did not go out, the landlord must pay each opponent the amount bid. The payout is doubled for each time a bomb or rocket was played over the course of the hand.

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Khanhoo

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

Object of Khanhoo

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

Setup

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

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

Game play

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

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

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

Melding

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

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

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

Bumping

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

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

Ending the hand

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

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

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Schafkopf

Schafkopf is a trick-taking game for three players. Sometimes called the national game of Bavaria, it has been played throughout southern Germany for at least 200 years. Schafkopf is one of the ancestors of Skat, and the two share quite a lot in common.

There are two theories for why the game is named Schafkopf, which translates to “sheep’s head”. One is that originally the score was kept by making tally marks on a sheet of paper in such a way that, when the game was finished, the marks made the outline of a sheep’s head. Another is that the name is really a corruption of Schaffkopf, meaning the top of a barrel. A barrel often made a convenient card table in the early days of the game.

Because Schafkopf has been in play for such a long time, dozens of variations of it have been developed over time. Many of these rival Skat in complexity and capacity for skillful play. We’ve chosen one of the simpler variants to describe here.

Object of Schafkopf

The object of Schafkopf for the declarer is to collect at least 61 points in tricks. For the defenders, the object is to stop the declarer from doing so.

Setup

Schafkopf uses the 32-card deck common to German card games. To make an equivalent deck from the international standard 52-card deck, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all of the 2s through 6s. What will remain is a deck with aces through 7s in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with, like the venerable pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal out the whole pack according to the following order: a set of three cards to each player, two face down to the center of the table, a set of four cards to each player, then a set of three cards to each player. Each player will have ten cards, with the two-face down cards forming a widow. (This is the same dealing procedure used in Skat, by the way.)

Card ranking

Schafkopf uses a highly unorthodox card ranking. First off, 10s are ranked above the king, just below the ace. Secondly, all queens and jacks are not considered to be part of their own suit, but are considered trumps! Queens and jacks rank in the following order: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low). Lastly, all of the diamonds are considered trumps, too, ranking in order just below the J♦.

Taken altogether, that means that the rank of cards in spades, hearts, and clubs is (high) A, 10, K, 9, 8, 7 (low). The full rank of the trump suit is (high) Q♣, Q♠, Q♥, Q♦, J♣, J♠, J♥, J♦, A♦, 10♦, K♦, 9♦, 8♦, 7♦ (low). Got all that?

Game play

Picking up the widow

The first order of business is determining who will take the widow. The player to the dealer’s left has the first opportunity to do so, or they may pass. If the first player passes, the next player to the left can choose to pick it up. If they, too, refuse, the dealer gets the last chance at picking up the widow. Should the dealer decline to take the widow, the hand is played “least“, as described in “Playing least” below.

If a player does decide to take the widow, they become the declarer, and their two opponents become the defenders. The declarer adds the two cards from the widow to their hand, then discards two cards, face down. This restores their hand to ten cards.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick, until all three have played. Players follow suit if they are able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump. Whichever player played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. They collect the cards from the trick, placing them in a won-tricks pile in front of them. They then lead to the next trick.

It is important to remember that the queens and jacks are trumps and not part of the suit printed on the card. For example, if a spade is led, playing the Q♠ is not following suit, it is trumping!

Scoring

After all ten tricks have been played, the declarer totals up the value of the cards they took in tricks, as follows:

  • Aces: eleven points each
  • 10s: ten points each
  • Kings: four points each
  • Queens: three points each
  • Jacks: two points each

None of the other cards have any value.

If the declarer successfully captured at least 61 points in tricks, they win the hand, and score two victory points. Should the declarer have collected 91 or more points, this is called a schneider, and they score four victory points. If they successfully captured all 120 points available, i.e. they captured every trick, it is called a schwarz, and they score six victory points.

Likewise, if the declarer collects 60 points or less, they lose two victory points. If they are schneidered (capture 30 points or less), they lose four victory points, and if they are schwarzed (capture 0 points), they lose six victory points.

Playing least

If all three players pass on taking the widow, the hand is played least. All three players play alone, with a goal of taking the fewest points possible. Whichever player takes the fewest points scores two victory points. If they captured 0 points, they score four victory points.

If two players tie, whichever one less recently took a trick wins and gets the two points. In a three-way tie, the dealer wins. In the event that one player takes all 120 points (meaning the other two tie at 0), that player loses four victory points and the other players do not score.

Ending the game

The game ends when a pre-specified number of deals take place. (For the sake of fairness, every player should have dealt an equal number of times.) Whoever has the highest score at this point is the winner.

See also

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Tyzicha

Tyzicha is a Russian card game for three players. In this trick-taking game, the trump suit changes every time a player reveals a king and queen of the same suit. That means which suit is trump can change several times over the course of a hand!

Object of Tyzicha

The object of Tyzicha is to be the first player to reach a score of 1,001 points. Points are scored by accurately bidding on the number of points that can be made on each hand and proceeding to collect those points.

Setup

Tyzicha is played with a 24-card deck. To obtain one, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Remove all of the 8s through 2s, leaving 9s through aces in each of the four suits. It’s a good idea to hold on to a full rank of the discarded cards (such as all the 2s) to serve as trump markers. You’ll also need pencil and paper for scoring.

Shuffle and deal seven cards to each player. Place the remaining three cards face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.

Card ranking

The cards rank slightly out of their usual order in Tyzicha. The 10 is ranked just below the ace, but above the face cards. That means the full order of card ranking is (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9 (low).

Game play

Bidding

Before the hand actually starts, the bid for the ensuing hand must be determined. The player to the dealer’s right bids first. They may either make an opening bid of 110 or pass. The next player to the left (the dealer) has the chance to bid or pass next. Once someone has bid 110, the next player may raise by ten points to 120, or else pass. A player may not raise by anything other than ten points. When a player passes, they drop out of the bidding and cannot bid again on that hand. When two players have passed, the remaining player becomes the declarer, and their bid becomes the contract for the hand.

Should the first two players pass on the first round of bidding, the third player (the player to the dealer’s left) is forced to play. A forced player may opt to accept a typical 110-point bid as usual. However, they also have the special option of making a contract of only 100 points. While this reduces their risk in the ensuing hand, it also limits their pre-hand options slightly, as described below.

The widow

After the bidding is concluded, the declarer turns the widow face-up. Once their opponents have seen it, they take it into their hand. They then choose one card from their hand (either one of the cards they had before, or a card from the widow) to give, face up, to each of their opponents, bringing each player to eight cards.

If, after exchanging cards, the declarer believes their hand has improved, they may choose to raise their bid. Raises must be a multiple of ten points. On the other hand, if they feel they are unlikely to make their contract, they may concede the hand. They deduct the value of the bid from their score, and each opponent scores 40 points. The hand is then over at that point.

If the declarer was forced and bid only 100 points, there are slightly different rules for dealing with the widow. Neither the widow, nor the cards passed to the opponents, are turned face up. Also, the declarer’s bid is locked in at 100; they cannot raise beyond this. A player with a bid of 100 may still choose to concede, however.

Play of the hand

The declarer leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit, if possible. If not, they must play a trump; only if they have neither a trump nor a card of the suit led may they play a card of the other two suits. Players must also head the trick. That is, they must play a card able to win the trick if they have one they can legally play. The highest trump played to a trick wins it. If no trump was played, the highest card of the suit led takes the trick. Won tricks are not added to the hand; instead, they are placed in a won-tricks pile in front of each player. The player that won the trick leads to the next one.

Initially, there is no trump suit. If a player has a king and queen of the same suit when it is their turn to lead, they may reveal both of these cards as a marriage. They must then lead either of them to the trick. The trump suit then changes to that of the marriage. Which suit is trump may change multiple times per hand as players reveal further marriages. To remind the players of the current trump suit, keep an out-of-play card of the appropriate suit displayed, changing it as necessary.

Scoring

Once all eight tricks have been played, the hand is scored. The declarer totals the value of the cards they captured in tricks. Aces are worth eleven points, 10s are worth ten, kings four, queens three, and jacks two. 9s have no point value. To this total, the declarer adds the value of any marriages they revealed in the hand. A marriage in hearts is worth 100 points, in diamonds 80, in clubs 60, and in spades 40. If the combined total exceeds the contract value, the declarer has made their contract.

A declarer that fulfills their contract scores the value of the contract (not their hand total). If the declarer breaks contract, they subtract the value of the contract from their score instead. In this case, the declarer’s opponents also score the value of their hand (calculated the same way as is done for the declarer).

The deal passes to the left and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until a player reaches a score of 1,001 or more points. A player is capped at a score of exactly 1,000 points when not the declarer, meaning players must make a contract on their final hand in order to win the game.

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