Briscola: a very popular Italian card game
Briscola, along with Scopa, is one of those card games that almost everyone knows in Italy: in fact, it is known in most Mediterranean countries.
Briscola is easy to learn, but becoming a pro, it’s not an easy task: it’s a trick game, and its goal is to get more cards than your adversary.
Let’s see how to play it
The easiest scenario is with two players, but traditionally Briscola is played with four, each player by himself or in two teams. We’ll see the rules for a four player match.
At the beginning of the game, the dealer shuffles the deck, deals three cards to the opponents, following a counterclockwise order, that is, beginning from the one on the right. Of course, the dealer him/herself gets three cards as well. The dealer, then, turns face up the first card of the deck: that card is the “briscola” for that game, and represents the trump suit. The player on the right of the dealer goes first and puts a card face up on the table. Then each other player, in counterclockwise order, puts a card down. The cards on the table are won:
- by the player that played the highest valued card of the same suit as the briscola
- by the player that played the highest card value of the same suit as the card played by the first player
- by the first player.
Note that in Briscola the cards have a value different than their face value:
- Ace is worth 11 points.
- Three is worth 10 points
- King is worth 4 points
- Knight is worth 3 points
- Knave is worth 2 points
The other cards have descending values from seven to two.
Once the winner of a trick is determined, that player collects the cards on the table, and places them face down in a pile, then each player draws a card from the deck, starting from the winner of the trick and going on counterclockwise. The winner of the last hand is the first to play the following hand. The players will always have three cards in hand at the beginning of each round, except for the last rounds, after all the cards form the deck have been drawn. In the last rounds the player will have only two, then one card in hand. The briscola is the last card of the deck to be drawn.
After all the cards in the deck have been drawn and collected, it’s time to declare the winner. Every player counts the value of the cards that has been collected (see above for the cards value). Cards with face value from seven to two are worth zero points, so each suit has a total value of 30 points and there are a total of 120 points in a deck. The player with the highest points is the winner.
In team Briscola, played 2 vs 2, team members usually use signs and gestures to communicate to the partner what cards are holding in their hands. Half of the fun of the game is spotting the signals or hiding them from the opponents.
A very fun version of Briscola is Briscola in 5 o Briscola chiamata. In this game, players bid based on how many points they believe they can accumulate by the end of the game using their hand plus the hand of a secret partner. For example, if you have a hand with one suit that includes the Ace, the 3, the horse and the seven of bastoni (clubs), you would guess how many points you could make if you had as your partner someone whose hand had the King of bastoni. If you win the bid, you then call as your partner the owner of the King of bastoni.
The fun of the game, however, lies in the play as your partner should NOT identify himself to you or anyone else, but instead keep his identity a secret, taking as many points from the other three players (but not from you) as he/she can, until you tell him/her to play the King. As a result, the four players that do not win the bid usually engage in an elaborate game of bluffing and trying to figure out who is the secret partner. Lying is OK, provided you are willing to live with the consequences after the game is over!