Wednesday, January 30, 2008


No, this isn't a post about gambling, though I am a fan of television poker (World Series of Poker etc); it's another new game I've played this year.

Except I'm not going to count it towards my New Games Quest. Why? Well because it's a card game played with regular playing cards. And that's not all together new. So it's not going on the list, but as it's a game and this is a blog about games, it still rates a mention.

What is Casino? Until last Wednesday I hadn't even heard of it. Having said that, there is some strange inkling jingling around in the far reaches of my brain that says I have actually heard the name in the context of card games before. We'll ignore that inkling for now and just carry on.

I was unwell and invited The Giggling One to play a game on the bed. In the spirit of the quest thing I figured we'd try a two player game that we'd never played before. She pulled out my Encyclopedia of Games and I riffled through the card games section seeking a likely candidate.

That's how I found Casino. The book describes it thusly: This unusual game has its origins in medieval France and is still popular in Italy and eastern Mediterranean countries. It has more in common with traditional Chinese 'fishing' games than with most other Western card games.

It took a little while to understand the rules as they weren't particularly well written. In fact, it wasn't until afterwards when I read the rules for the next game in the book, Scopa - a relative of Casino - that some of the terms were properly explained. So we probably didn't play it 100% correctly, but we got the gist of it.

The aim of the game is to capture as many cards as possible. Here's how it works:

  • Each player receives four cards face-down. Four more cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table (well, doona for us). The actually dealing order is two cards face-down to the non-dealer, then two face-up to the table, then two face-down to the dealer, then repeat.

  • Each player then takes their four cards to form their hand. One at a time, starting with the non-dealer, each player must play one, and only one, card to the table. What they do with that card is up to them. There are three options:

  • Option 1: Capture one or more cards from the table. To capture a single card, the value of that card must equal the value of the card played. For example, you can play the 8 of Clubs in order to capture the 8 of Diamonds. You can capture multiple cards if their combined face values add up to the card you're playing. Taking the 8 of Clubs example again, if there is a 5, a 2 and an Ace on the table, they can all be captured with your 8.

  • You can capture as many combinations that add up to your card value as you like, so with your 8 you could capture another 8 and the 5,2,A. You can also capture builds (see Option 2) with the same value as your card. Court cards have no value and can only be captured by a matching court card, but if you do this you can only capture one (to make a pair) or three (to make all four) at a time. Who knows where these rules originate or why?

  • Captured cards are kept in a face-down pile (along with the capturing card) by the capturing player. If you capture all the cards currently on the table at once, you get a sweep, and keep one of those cards face-up so you know how many sweeps you've taken. Neither of us got any in our game.

  • Option 2: Build. You can add your card to another card on the table to make a combined total. eg. You add your 6 to a 2 to make an 8. However, you can only do this if you also have a card in your hand equal to the value of the build. That is, you can only add a 6 to a 2 if you also have an 8 in your hand. Your opponent can then add a card from their hand (with the same restriction) to make the total higher still (though it can never exceed 10). For example, they can add an Ace to the 6 and 2 and make the total 9, as long as they also have a 9 in their hand. This is known as a single build because it involves only one card from the table to begin with, regardless of how many cards are played onto it from the players' hands.

  • Building therefore allows you to capture multiple cards at once on your next turn, though you're taking the chance your opponent might swipe them before you get a chance to do so.

  • You can also do what's called a multiple build. Here's where things get a little tricky so stay with me. We had to read the rules a few times to get our heads around this one. Once you've played a card from your hand on to a card on the table to form a single build, you can then grab another card on the table of the same value as the existing build and add it to the build. If you do this the value stays the same and cannot be changed.

  • For example, if you play a 3 from your hand on to a 5 on the table, if there is an 8 on the table as well, you can add that to the build and declare you are "building 8s". The value of this build is now set at 8 and cannot be changed (you can't add a 2 and make the value 10).

  • Any player may further add to the multiple build by playing a card from their hand either by itself or with another table card to the build as long as the value is the same as that of the build. I could therefore play a 6 on to a 2 and add those to the 8 build.

  • The same rules apply as with single builds, in that you can only make a multiple build if you have another card in your hand equal to the value of the build.

  • Option 3: Trail a card. The term trail means to place a card face-up on the table by itself without capturing (obviously) or building. This is usually going to happen when you can't capture anything with any card in your hand, or there are no cards currently on the table (because the other player made a sweep).

  • Once you've made or added to a build you are not allowed to trail a card until that build value is changed (in the case of single builds) or the build is captured by your opponent. That's because you have to have a card in your hand to capture the build with at the time you make the build. You don't have to capture it immediately though. You can start a new build or add to an existing build if you wish, as long as you don't trail.

  • Once both players have exhausted their hand cards (after eight turns), the dealer deals four more cards, two at a time, to each player. This continues until no more cards are available to be dealt.

  • Any cards left over on the table once the final card is played at the end of the game go to the player who made the last capture. Capturing cards this way does not constitute a sweep unless they are taken in the normal course of play.

  • Then, finally, if you've trawled your way through this post, you can tally the scores as follows:

    > For capturing most cards: 3 points
    > For capturing most spades: 1 point
    > For capturing the 10 of Diamonds (Big Casino): 2 points
    > For capturing the 2 of Spades (Little Casino): 1 point
    > For each Ace captured: 1 point
    > For each sweep: 1 point

  • If there is a tie for most cards or most spades, neither player scores a point.

    There you have it. It'll play quicker than it took me to type all of that, and it's not overly strategic. We thought it was OK, but not brilliant. Any comments welcome. For the record, in my battle with The Giggling One we played 3 games, and I was victorious 2-1. We're in no rush to play it again. I have more important games on my agenda. More about that soon...
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