One of the wonderful features of traditional card games is that the basic procedures of play are very similar from game to game, and yet seemingly slight variances in rules create games that feel completely different. This makes it easy to pick up just about any game once the basics are understood. This page attempts to explain many of the basic rules of play that are assumed in the rules transcribed on this site.
It is important to note that, in the interest of making the rules more succinct and easier to understand, I normalize many traditional aspects of the games on this site. I feel that this makes unfamiliar games easier to learn. However, once you’re familiar with a game, I strongly encourage reading about it more in depth on the Pagat website, which is in an invaluable resource that attempts to accurately document how games are traditionally played.
Every player is on their own team, competing individually against all of the other players at the table.
The players are divided onto opposing teams, and remain on those same teams for the entirety of the game. Scores are kept collectively for each team.
When four play, partners typically sit across from each other with an opponent on either side. When six play, there may be either two teams of three or three teams of two. In the former, each player should have a member of the other team sitting on their right and left. In the later, each player should have a member of one of the opposing teams on their left and a member of the other on their right. Any deviations from these configurations will be noted on specific rule pages.
Players play together on teams, but the teams change from hand to hand. Players keep score individually, and are playing against every other player, even when in temporary alliance. This is a common feature of 3 and 5 player games.
Roles and Positions
At the start of a game, a player must be selected to be the first dealer. It is common to randomly select the first dealer, but it’s completely up to you. The dealer is responsible for shuffling the cards and dealing the hand. When the hand is finished, the player to the dealer’s left (the direction of play affects all of the roles discussed in this section) becomes the new dealer for the new hand.
The player seated immediately to the dealer’s left is known as the forehand. Typically, the forehand is the first player to bid, if there is an auction, and the player who plays the first card. In games with three players, the dealer is referred to as the rearhand and the player between the two is the middlehand.
In games that have an auction, the player who wins that auction is known as the declarer, because they often have the privilege of declaring the trump suit. In some games, the declarer leads the first trick, rather than the forehand.
Mix-up the cards using any method that you prefer. Some people insist that the player to the dealer’s right cuts the deck immediately prior to the deal. It’s common for the card at the bottom of the deck to be visible while shuffling, and cutting the deck ensures that no one knows what card is at the bottom of the deck.
Different cultures and traditions have different methods of dealing cards. Many traditional games have a prescribed way that they are supposed to be dealt, which typically involves dealing players cards in batches of a particular size. Honestly, I don’t think it matters how you deal. Clockwise or counter-clockwise. Singly or in batches. As such, the rules here will leave it up to you to decide how you want to deal, unless there is a functional reason to deal a certain way. If you want to know the “authentic” way to deal a specific game, look it up on Pagat.
With that said, here’s a description of the most basic method to deal a hand that the rules here assume. The dealer shuffles the cards, and then, starting with the player on their left, gives each player, including themselves, a single card face down on the table. They then repeat this process until they have either run out of cards or have dealt a specific number of cards as defined in the rules.
Direction of Play
In the majority of games, each player will take their turn and then the player on their left will take their turn and so on, moving clockwise around the circle. Some games are traditionally played with the direction of play moving counter-clockwise. The rules here assume a clockwise direction of play, but, when it comes down to it, all that maters is that you’re consistently doing everything in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. Once again, if you’re interested in “authenticity,” consult. Pagat.
What is a Trick?
A trick is basically a round in which every player takes a turn playing a card face up to the center of the table. After everyone has played a card, the cards are compared to determine which player won the trick. The winner of the trick then collects all of the cards and stores them face down in a pile in front of them. Finally, this same player leads the next trick by playing a new card to the center of the table. In some games it’s important to know how many tricks a player has won at any given time, and in these cases each trick should be stored in distinct piles in front of the player who won them.
Standard Trick-Taking Rules
The majority of trick-taking games have the same rules of play. The rules here are written assuming these rules, and only exceptions to the norm are described. The standard trick-taking rules are as follows:
- The player who leads a trick may play any card that they want.
- Players following to a trick must play a card in the same suit as the card that opened the trick.
- If a player cannot follow suit, then they may play any card.
- A trick is won by the person who played the highest ranked trump card to the trick.
- If no trump was played to the trick, then the trick is won by the player who played the highest ranked card of the led suit.
- The player who won the trick leads the next trick.
What is Trump?
The majority of trick-taking games have a concept of trump, though how it is implemented varies from game to game. In the most basic case, trump is a suit that out ranks all of the other suits. The lowest ranked card in the trump suit out ranks the highest ranked cards in all of the other suits.
The most conceptually simple types of trick-taking game are plain-trick games. In plain-trick games the cards themselves have no inherent value. Instead, a hand is won or lost based solely on the number of tricks that a player or team wins.
Unlike plain-trick games, in point-trick games the number of tricks that a player or team wins is irrelevant. In point-trick games, cards are assigned specific point values that are awarded to the player who captures them by winning a trick. At the end of each hand, everyone tallies the points that they took to determine who won.
European Point-Trick Games
The majority of European point-trick games assign standard values and ranks to the cards. They are as follows (high to low):
Note that 10s rank between the aces and kings, and not below the jacks.
Tarot cards were originally used solely for playing games. Their association with fortune telling and the occult is a modern phenomenon. Tarot games have long and rich history, and I encourage you to read more about them on Pagat.
There is a lot of variance from one tarot game to the next. This section attempts to describe one common set of rules frequently used in tarot games. Deviations from these rules are noted on the pages of specific games that they apply to.
There are a wide variety of tarot decks. For simplicity, this site will assume the use of a French tarot deck, such as this one. The French deck has a total of 78 cards, 14 in each of the four plain suits, 21 in the trump suit, and a Fool.
Tarot games are point-trick games, and every card is assigned a point value. The plain suits are ranked and valued as follows (high to low):
Note that unlike a standard deck of cards, tarot decks include cavalier cards that rank between jacks and queens. Traditionally, number cards in black suits are ranked in standard, ascending order; while number cards in red suits are ranked in descending order. It’s up to you whether or not you want to do this. It has no bearing on gameplay. Personally, I rank all suits in ascending order to minimize confusion.
The cards in the trump suit are traditionally numbered from 1 to 21, using Roman numerals, and feature a prominent image. In many, but not all, games the Fool is considered to be the highest ranking trump card, above the XXI.
Trump I is know as the Pagat, and is the lowest ranked trump. Trump XXI is known as the Mond. The Fool, Pagat, and Mond are given special status, and collectively referred to as the trull cards or honors.
The trump suit is ranked and valued as follows (high to low):
|Card||Fool||Mond (XXI)||XX – II||Pagat (I)|
The previous section described the Fool as being the highest card in the trump suit. However, the Fool was used very differently in earlier tarot games. There are a large number of games that use the Fool as the Excuse, applying the following rules:
- It is still worth 4 points.
- It does not belong to any suit.
- It can be played to any trick, disregarding standard rules.
- It can never win a trick.
- If it is led to a trick, the player who plays 2nd may play anything and determines the suit of the trick.
- The player who plays the Fool keeps it in their trick pile; it is not collected by the winner of the trick. Instead, the player of the Fool should give the trick winner an empty card from their trick pile as a replacement.
- However, if the Fool is played in the final trick, it is collected by the winner of the trick.
- If a player or team has won every trick and leads the Fool to the final trick, then the Fool wins the trick.
The traditional method of counting card-points is initially confusing. The earliest tarot games were 3-player games where, in addition to the points awarded for taking cards in tricks, players received 1 point per trick they won. Therefore, one way to count your points is simply to sum the values of your cards and add to that number the number of tricks you took.
However, this simple method does not work for every game. Some tarot games for more than 3 players still award 1 point for every 3 cards taken, regardless of the actual number of cards in the trick. Even more unusually, French Tarot awards 1 point for ever 2 cards taken, regardless of the player count.
There are numerous methods that can be used to count that all produce the same end result. The method I’m going to uses here is simply to sum the values of all of the cards taken and then add to that number the number of cards taken divided by the batch size, which is typically 3.