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.