This game is known as Le Tarot, Jeux de Tarot, Tarocchi, Trumps, Tarock, etc. These are the most basic rules; hundreds of variations exist. It’s easy and a lot of fun. Hands move quickly. Skill derives from play that maximizes points.
The Game: Tarot is a trick-taking game that can be played with two to six players (usually 3 or 4). The cards otherwise known as the Major Arcana or Trumps are a permanent Trump suit.
The Object of the Game: The object is to capture the most points. Only some cards count as points.
The Deal: Deal out all the cards to the players. Leftover cards go to the dealer who can choose to discard and replace any from her hand, except she cannot discard the Kings and Trumps 0, 1 & 21. (Traditionally, play moves counter-clockwise, but simplified play uses standard clockwise movement.)
The Play: The player to the left of the dealer leads by placing a suit card on the table. Each player (moving clockwise) must follow with one card of that suit.
- The highest card of the led suit wins.
- If you don’t have a card in the suit that was led you MUST play trump!
- Whenever a trump card is played, the highest trump always takes the trick.
- If you are out of both suit and trump, play any card (a throwaway).
- Aces are low. (Originally: Cups & Coins were aces high and tens low, while Swords & Wands had tens high and aces low. Simplified play keeps it simple.)
- The winner leads for the next trick.
- Optional: You cannot lead a Trump card until one has been played.
Winning the Trick: High trump wins; if there’s no trump, then high card of the suit led wins. The winner of the trick collects the cards and keeps them face down on the table.
The Excuse: The Fool is a special card, known as “The Excuse.” If dealt the Fool, you can play it at any time instead of another card, but it can’t win a trick. At the end of the trick, the Fool is returned to the person who played it. It counts with the tricks she won (unless she wins no tricks and then it goes to the person who won that trick). You usually play the Fool to protect a high point card.
Counting Points (simplified): When play is over, sort cards won into two stacks: 1) Point Cards and 2) 0-Point cards (see below). Match one Point Card with two 0-Point Cards in sets of three so there is only one point card per set of three. Each of these sets has the value of the point card. (Example: Queen of Cups, Seven of Swords, Wheel of Fortune has the value of the Queen of Cups = 4 points.) Match leftover cards into sets as indicated below. Player with the highest points wins the hand. Or continue until a player reaches a specified number of points like 300.
- 5 points: Kings and 21, 1, 0 of Trump (World, Magician, Fool)
- 4 points: Queens
- 3 points: Knights
- 2 points: Jacks (Valets)
- 0 points: All others (including all Trump and suit cards except those named above)
- 10 point bonus if Magician takes the last hand!
Leftover Cards: After separating into sets of three as described above, match any remaining cards as follows:
- 3 cards of 0-point value = 1 point (1 or 2 cards = 0 points)
- 2 or 3 cards in which two of the cards have point value = value of point cards minus 1 pt.
- 3 cards in which three of the cards have point value = value of point cards minus 2 pts.
Observations on the symbolism of the game by Tom Little:
In the game of tarot, court cards are worth a lot of points when captured, but are not terribly powerful (any trump can capture them). In a typical hand of tarot, the story that plays out on the card table is one of royal personages scurrying around to avoid falling victim to Love, Death, the Pope, and various other hazards of medieval life. The kings end up acting as cowardly bullies, pouncing into the game early, when they can count on having inferior cards of their own suit to capture, before the trumps come into play. If they don’t get played early, they can end up stagnating in one’s hand — it isn’t safe to go out — until the last trick when they are finally forced onto the table again, usually (if the winning player has skill and style) to be captured by the Magician, the lowest trump, who is nothing but a charlatan and hustler. What an indignity, and what a fitting fate for a cowardly king or queen who ran out of underlings to bully.