The Scarlet Letter
Volume IV, Number 3 | September 1997
By Fr. 9 Roots
A 78-card deck is required, with five suits. Four of the suits must have 14 cards, numbered ace through ten with four face or “court” cards. The fifth suit must have 22 cards, numbered zero through XXI. Traditional tarot decks such as the Crowley/Harris and Rider/Waite decks or other popular tarot packs can be used, but they often pose a problem in identifying cards held in the hand. The commercially available “Alice In Wonderland” tarot deck gives card values in opposite corners, like traditional playing cards.
Another alternative is to build a pack out of two identical poker decks. Mark Jacks (Princes) from one deck as Princesses and add them to the other deck to create the four elemental suits. Clubs are wands, hearts are cups, spades are swords, and diamonds are disks. For trumps, cannibalize the remaining cards. I made the four Jokers (two from each deck) into the Fool (0), the Magician (I), the Hermit (IX), and the Hanged Man (XII). I took the four queens as the Priestess (II), Empress (III), Adjustment (VIII), and Star (XVII). The Kings were the Emperor (IV), Hierophant (V), Devil (XV), and Aeon (XXI). I finally used the five through ten of clubs for the Sun (XIX), Lovers (VI), Chariot (VII), Lust (XI), Moon (XVIII), and Wheel (X) cards, respectively.
One player deals ten cards each to himself and the other player. A twenty-first card (the “upcard”) is turned face-up and forms the first card of the discard pile. The other player begins by adding either the upcard or the unrevealed top card of the deck to his hand, and then discarding one card. Play returns to the dealer, who chooses from the discard or the deck, and then discards. Play continues, alternating. The object is to form “melds” in ones hand: series of 3 or more cards according to any of several rules.
Not all meld types must be used in any given game. For ease of play, at least the Serpent, Sword, and Sphere melds should be permitted. Other types should be added as agreed.
Ending the Hand
Either player may signify the end of the hand on any play by discarding face-down (the “call”). If, after his Discard, all of the cards in his hand are melded, he is awarded 22 points plus the total value of the unmelded cards in his opponents hand. If the callers hand still contains unmelded cards, he places his melds on the table. His opponent may then play any unmelded cards into the callers melds. Then the value of the callers unmelded cards is deducted from the value of the opponents remaining unmelded cards. If the result is positive, the points are awarded to the caller. If the result is negative, the caller has been undercut, and his opponent receives 22 points plus the difference in the unmelded cards.
Individual cards are scored as follows:
It is good to establish a convention requiring that calls be made only when the callers unmelded cards are below a certain point limit, such as ten or twelve.
Winning the Game
The winner deals the next hand. Scoring of hands is cumulative, and the game ends when the leading score exceeds an agreed limit. 156 makes for a comfortably brief game.
Optional Rules to Make It Uglier
Identification: The caller must be able to identify all the cards in each of his melds according to their Correspondences in a column of 777 chosen by his opponent. (Choice should be limited to a list of columns agreed upon beforehand.) If the caller cannot make the identifications, the hand is left unscored, and the opponent deals the next one.
Wild Cards: Very ugly. Dont do it, if you know whats good for you.
Dealers Choice: The dealer gets to set rules on melds, call limits, identification, and /or wild cards before dealing the hand.
Upcards choice: The upcard determines rules on melds, call limits, identification, and /or wild cards for the hand. For example, the call limit may be set at the scoring value of the upcard.