And You Thought I Only Meant Card Games

When someone mentions trick-taking games, they almost always mean card games.  But of course, almost is the key word there.  Today, we’re going to be playing with dominos, looking into the official domino game of my home state that I never heard of before digging into historic games.

Texas 42 may not have a sordid past, but it does have a murky one.  There are at least two different stories of how it was invented.  The one most commonly passed around is from a 1985 newspaper article, which cited an interview from 1927 with William Thomas.  He claims to have co-invented the game with a friend of his when he was 12, after they were caught playing cards in the hayloft of a barn in Garland (then called Trappe Spring) around 1887.  Their town was devout Baptist, and they were punished for sinful card playing, but dominos were allowed, so they figured out a way to play cards, specifically trick-taking, with dominos.

The other version is from an article in 1915, which states the game was invented in Mineral Wells, by a brakeman who worked on the Santa Fe rail line, while he was on vacation, and bored in his hotel room. The paper only gave his last name, Giescke, and explained that he’d been musing over the properties of dominos.  Games played with multiples of 5 were pretty popular, and he noticed that between the 1-4, 2-3, 5-0, 5-5, and 6-4 that there were a total of 35 points in a double-six set.  Since there were also 28 total dominos, a 4-player partnership trick-taking game would have 7 tricks.  Add 35 and 7 together, and you get a total of 42 points, which is how he came up with the name.

The process described in the second story sounds more feasible from a game-design perspective, but keep in mind that both stories were written after the game was incredibly popular.  Since Texas is known for tall tales, it’s not unreasonable to think that people would claim to be the inventor of a well-known game, since these things are extremely difficult to prove when the game is mainly passed around through word of mouth.

Regardless, Texas 42 is a 4-player partnership point-trick game.  The goal is to bid how many points you will take, then earn “marks” for reaching your bid.  If you fail to make your bid, the opposing team scores the marks you would have earned.  These marks, oddly enough, are drawn on a score-pad to form the word ALL, with each mark earning one line segment, like Hangman.  Counting it up, it looks like 7 marks wins the game.

Domino “Suits”

In a standard set of double-six dominos, there are 28 tiles, and 7 “suits.” That is, the numbers 0-6 on either side of the domino determine the tile suit.  In Texas 42, the double of each suit is the highest-ranking domino, followed in descending order by the rest of the tiles sharing the same suit number.

This by itself is intuitive enough, but the problem that comes to mind is how do you decide which suit a tile is when you play it?  The official ruling is that when a non-trump tile is led to a trick, it is the suit of whatever the higher number is.

As an extreme example, let’s imagine that the suit of 3s is trump for the hand.  You have the lead, and you lead with the 0-6, under the mistaken belief that you just played the six of the zero suit, just one tile less than the double-blank.  Unfortunately, you immediately lose the domino to the 1-6, because you actually played the zero tile of the sixes suit, the lowest ranked tile if the suit.  Of course, then they lose it to the 0-3, and threes are the trump suit.  Later in the same hand, someone leads the 3-5.  Because threes are trump, it counts as being a member of the threes suit, so it actually is the five of threes.

Clear as mud?  Good, me too.  The computer stomped me for like half an hour before I caught on how to lead properly.  I’m also terrible at choosing the appropriate bid for the hand, even though I understand the rules.  Just because you know the game well enough to teach it, it does not mean you are actually skilled at playing it.

To sum it up:

  • Trump Suit: Double high, followed by the six of that suit down to blank, always
  • Non-Trump Suit, When Led: Counts as a member of the higher suit number on the tile
  • Non-Trump Suit, Following Led Suit: Ranking within the led suit is still double high, followed by the six down to the zero.  So leading a 2-4 sets the trick suit to fours, and the 5-4 is still a member of the fours suit during the trick.

The Deal and Bidding

The dealer for the hand shuffles the tiles by “washing” (mixing) them face-down on the table, and each player receives 7 dominos.  The dealer’s opposing team get to draw first, followed by the dealer’s partner, and finally the dealer.  Then each player, starting with the dealer’s left, gets one bid for points or marks.

Bids are a declaration of how many points you think you can take during the game, or how many marks you are willing to risk if you think you can take all the tricks.  30 points is the lowest bid, all 42 points is 1 mark, and the opening bid is maxed out at 2 marks, although the bid itself can go higher.  If all 4 players pass, their hands are turned in, and the next dealer shuffles.

Trying for a bid of 30, declaring ones as trump


The Play

Tricks won by me (left) and my partner, on order from bottom to top, left to right, with the first domino being the tile led, and all suits at the bottom: won by 1-2 (11), won by 1-3 (6), won by 1-6 (1), won by 1-1 (6), won by 3-6 (1), won by 1-5 (6). Our final score is 31, so we made the bid and gain 1 mark.

Normally, after winning the bid, the declarer declares the trump suit and leads to the first trick.  The led suit must be followed, if possible, or may be trumped if you have none of the led suit.  Remember, trumps belong to the trump suit and nothing else.  For example, if twos are trump, and someone leads the 4-6, and you have both the 3-6 and 2-6 in your hand, you must lose the 3-6 to follow suit.  Tricks are taken by the highest-ranked domino of the suit led, or the highest trump.

The declarer may also call no trumps, or “follow me.”  This means there is no trump suit for the hand, and the suit for the trick is always determined by the higher side of the domino led.  Remember, the double of each suit counts as the highest tile in that suit.

Tricks remain face up and are displayed next to the winning player in sets of 4, presumably to check for mistakes in who won the trick.  If playing for all 42 points, these may be stacked to only show the 8 dominos of the last two tricks taken.

Special Contracts

However, there are a couple of special contracts the declarer can attempt instead.  During the bidding, they just bid the appropriate number of marks, and announce the contract before beginning play.

  • Nello: If every player before them has passed, the declarer may bid 1 or 2 marks and go Nello instead of passing and going to the next hand.  This bid is to attempt losing every trick.  The declarer’s partner turns down their dominos and is out of play for the hand, making it a 3-hand game.  There are no trumps, and doubles are a separate suit, from 6-6 down to 0-0.  A led domino counts as a member of the higher-numbered suit, as usual, and a double may not be played to the trick unless no other dominos of the led suit are in hand.  In this bid, the point tiles do not matter, only successfully losing all the tricks.
  • Plunge: The declarer must hold at least 4 doubles to choose this contract, and must have bid al least 4 marks (this is the only way an opening bid can be higher than 2 marks), or 5, if the bid was already 4 before their turn to bid.  The declarer’s partner chooses the trump suit, with no hints from the declarer.  They must then win all 7 tricks.

Variations of Play

In some games, there are a few other trump options, or differences in the contracts.  These are all optional rules, and should be agreed on by all players before beginning the game.

Follow Me (no trumps) declarations may choose whether doubles count as high or low within their suit.

Doubles Trump is a declaration that the doubles themselves are a trump suit, and no longer count as a member of their own suit.  This means that if a double is led, players must play a double to follow suit, or discard any tile if they have no doubles.

Nello players may choose how doubles are treated during their attempt.

  • Doubles high: Doubles are the highest tile in their suit
  • Doubles low: Doubles are the lowest tile in their suit
  • Doubles take doubles: Doubles are a separate suit, ranked 6-6 down to 0-0, and not a member of their numbered suit.  This is the normal way Nello is played.
  • Doubles take doubles, inverted: Doubles are a separate suit, ranked 0-0 down to 6-6.

Splash is similar to a Plunge bid, but only requires 3 doubles, and a bid of 2 marks.  The declarer’s partner chooses the trump suit, as usual, but they also lead to the first trick.  Again, all 7 tricks are required to win.

Sevens is another special contract in which the point tiles do not matter.  A trick is won by a domino whose pips total is closest to 7.  If more than one tile is tied, the first one played wins the trick.

Playable Apps

Texas 42 on iOS

Texas 42 on Android


You Da Man!

L’Ombre, from mid-17th century Spain, was the trick-taking game that introduced the idea of bidding.  Players of games like Spades and Bridge know of bidding as declaring the number of tricks you and your partner think you can take with your hand.  At the beginning, though, bidding was a declaration of how you, on your own, planned to win the hand with a majority of tricks.

L’Ombre (or Hombre) is a three-player game, using the 40-card Spanish deck.  In the 1657 description from The Compleat Gamester, he describes the card ranks using French suits – the writer was in England, and pared down a French (now standard) deck by removing the 8, 9, and 10 of each suit.  In my illustrations, I will be using a Spanish pack.  Conversion is straightforward – Sword became Spades, Batons were Clubs, Coins changed to Diamonds, and Cups are now Hearts.  First, an excerpt describing card ranks, and then an illustration to show what he means.

The Ranking of Cards

There are two suits, Black and Red; of the Black there is first the “Spadillo” or Ace of Spades; the “Mallillio” or black Deuce, the “Basto” or Ace of Clubs; the King, the Queen, the Knave, the seven, the fix, the five, four, and three. Of the Red Suit there is the Spadillo, punto, Mallillio, &c.

The Spadillo or Ace of Spades, is always the first Card, and always Trump, and the Basto or Ace of Clubs is always third; of the Black there is 11 Trumps, of the Red 12. The Red Ace enters into the fourth place when it is Trump and it is called Punto then, otherwise only called an Ace.

The least small Cards of the Red are always best, and the most of the Black; except the Deuce and Red Seven, which are called the Mallillio’s and always se∣cond when Trump. The Matadors (or Killing Cards) which are the Spadillo, Mallillio, and Basto are the chief Cards, and when they are all in hand the Others pay for them three of the greater Counters apiece; and with these three for foundation you may count as many Matadors as you have Cards in an interrupted series of Trumps; for all which the others are to pay you one Kounter apiece.

Just roll with the spelling – at least the transcription I found converted f to s where appropriate – the scan read as “the leaft fmall Cardf,” for example.  In the first paragraph, he’s naming special card ranks that change depending on which suit is trump for the hand.  The second paragraph mentions Punto, which is a special rank for a red Ace only when a red suit is trump.

In the third paragraph, he describes the full ranking of the cards, seeming to contradict his earlier definitions, although he’s just including the other suits for the special positions.  He also mentions Counters, which represent the bets in the game.  A small counter is worth 1 bet, while a large one is worth 5.  We’ll get to the betting system in a bit.  Below are the card rankings for each suit, assuming they are trump.  When a suit is not trump, the card in the Mallillio or Punto positions are back in normal numerical order – note that the Ace of the red suits only counts as 1, so it’s next to the 2, not above the king.  Meanwhile, the Mallillio card is the lowest-ranked card in a suit when it is not trump.  A little weird, I know.

The Black Suits, from left to right: Spadillo, Mallillio, Basto, King, Knight, Knave, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. When not either is not trump, their ranks go from King down to 2

The Red Suits, from left to right: Spadillo, Mallillio, Basto, Punto, King, Knight, Knave, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Notice that no matter what suit is trump, the Ace of Swords is always the highest card, and the Ace of Batons is always third highest.  The Mallillio (second highest card) is held by the lowest-ranked card of the current trump suit, so a 2 when it is Swords or Batons, and a 7 when it is Coins or Cups.  The term Matadors refers to these three “super-trump” cards.

You may also have spotted that in the Coins and Cups suits, there is a partial reverse-ranking – that is, after the face cards, the Ace (1) is the highest rank, counting down to 7.  I’m not sure of the reason for this, but I’m sure I’ll dive down that rabbit hole in some future post.

The Deal

Just before the first deal, players put up one of the Greater Counters (worth 5) as the stakes.  If the stakes are empty at the beginning of a hand, each puts in another Great Counter.  Otherwise, the Player to the left of the dealer (the Eldest hand) adds in one Lesser Counter (worth 1) to begin the deal.

The players are each dealt 9 cards, and the remaining 13 are set aside to form what in some games is called a talon or cache.  They are effectively out of play, which makes figuring out what each player is holding more difficult.  Depending on the outcome of the bid, cards may be exchanged (“taken in”) with the talon, blindly from the top of the deck.

The Goal and Bidding

I’m blending these together, because it’s hard to bid on winning a game without knowing how to win in the first place.  Simply put, you want to take the most out of nine tricks if you win the bid.  This means at least 5 tricks won guarantees the game, and you can win with 4 if the other two players end up with a 3/2 split.  A tie with one or both opponents will have you doubling the bet in play, rather than paying out to either opponent.  I’ll explain more about how the payouts work when I detail the end-game results.

The bidding is very simple – the eldest hand has the right to bid game or pass, letting the second player make the same choice, followed by the third.  When you pass, you pay one Lesser Counter to the stakes.  If all three players pass without bidding game, the eldest hand automatically wins the bid.

To bid game allows you to choose the trump suit, and to have the first right of exchange with the talon. Simply discard any number of cards, and draw the same amount from the top of the deck.  Each card taken costs one Lesser Counter, again paid to the stakes.  If you look at the cards you have drawn before naming a trump suit, however, be aware that the other players now have the right to name a suit for you.

After the game player (the Hombre) has exchanged cards, the other two players have the option of doing so as well.  The Hombre can also choose not to exchange cards at all if he feels certain he can win at least 5 tricks, in which case each of the other two players immediately pays him one of the Greater Counters as a side bet.  If he fails in this declaration, he must return their Greater Counter, and pay another one to each of them, so the Hombre stands to gain or lose 10 bets on this gamble, where each of the other players may gain or lose 5 each.

In later games, such as Tresillo, you could outbid a player who already bid game, by declaring a more difficult win, such as a random trump, or not exchanging cards at all.  But in this first bidding game, you either bid to win or you pass.

The Play

The Compleat Gamester mixes recommended strategy and payouts with the gameplay rules in a way that is difficult to follow, so I will be summarizing how to play.  For the curious, though, here is an example:

When one hath a sure Game in his hand, he is to play without taking in, then the others are to give him each one of the great Counters as he is to give them, if he play without taking in a Game that is not sure and loseth it; if you win all the Tricks in your hand or the Voll, they likewise are to give you one Counter apiece, but then you are to declare before the fifth Trick that you intend to play for the Voll, that so they keep their best Cards, which else, seeing you win five Tricks (or the Game) they may carelessly cast away.

The Hombre leads a card to the first trick.  Players are required to follow suit.  There is no requirement to trump if you are out of the led suit, although of course, you may do so.  Leading trumps or Matadors forces other players to use any trumps in their hand, although the three Matador cards can only be forced out by the other Matadors.

After each player has laid down one card, the highest card of the led suit wins the trick, unless it was trumped, in which case the highest trump wins it.  The winner collects their trick and angles them out to keep track of tricks won before leading a card to the next trick.

If any player wins the first 5 tricks, whether they are Hombre or not, they can either collect one Lesser Counter from each other player immediately, or declare that they are playing for the Voll, that is, attempting to win all 9 tricks.  Success is worth an additional Greater Counter from each other player, in addition to the normal winnings.

Endgame and Payouts

After all nine tricks have been played, each player counts up how many tricks have been won, and make payouts based on three possible conditions:

  • Sacado: The Hombre succeeds in having more tricks than any other player.  He wins the stakes, plus one Lesser Counter from each opponent.
  • Codillo: The Hombre has fewer tricks than at least one other player.  The player with the most tricks wins the stakes, plus an equal amount from the Hombre
  • Repuesto: The Hombre is tied with one or both opponents.  He adds up the current total of the stakes and pays that amount in, doubling the initial stakes going into the next game.

In the case of either Sacado or Codillo, the stakes are empty going into the next hand which means each player will ante in one Greater Counter, as explained in the section on the deal.

Game Evolution – Tresillo

Given that I’ve mentioned it several times and it is the version played today, I will also detail rule changes which will allow you to play Tresillo.  It is virtually the same game, except for the counters, the possible bids, and the payout system.

In Tresillo, the counters are referred to as tantos.  Think of them as poker chips.  Each player had their own color, and there were three denominations – a square worth 1 tanto, a circle worth 5 tantos, and a rectangle worth 10 tantos.  Typically players would buy in to have 10 of each unit.  The different colors were so players could distinguish how much they each won or lost, and settle up after the game.

The game made use of two plates, one to hold a 5-tanto piece from each player at the beginning of the game, and one for the actual stakes of the current hand, which passes from dealer to dealer – this is referred to as the plato.  To begin a hand, the dealer first examines the plato.  

  • If it is empty, the dealer takes one of the 5-tanto pieces from the middle of the table, and adds a 1-tanto piece from their personal stockpile.
  • If the plato is not empty, the dealer adds only 1 tanto from their personal stock.

The deal and tricks are played the same, except players do not have to pay out for passing on the bid or exchanging cards.  There are, however, other possible bids, listed below from lowest to highest in rank.  The highest bid becomes the Hombre for the hand.  If there is a tie bid, the last player to give that bid is the Hombre.  Like poker, you can raise the bid as it goes around the table, until the other two players pass.

  • Juego (I play): choose the trump suit, then exchange cards with the talon.
  • Vuelta (turn): flip over the top card of the talon to determine the trump suit, then exchange cards.
  • Solo (alone): choose the trump suit, but exchange no cards

In all of these cases, the opponents may exchange cards with the talon after the Hombre either exchanges or chooses not to.  Typically, they negotiate so that the player with the stronger hand exchanges first.

At the end of the game, there are nine possible situations (the same three outcomes as in L’Ombre, as well as three different situations with the stakes.  Below, I’ll list them as an outline, which sadly looks more complicated than it is in actual play.

  1. First Puesta: The plato was empty before the deal, and there are no open debts
    1. Sacado: Hombre wins the contents of the plato, plus 1 tanto from each opponent
    2. Repuesto: Hombre pays the amount in play into the plato.  The amount in play is the contents of the plato, plus 4.
    3. Codillo: Hombre pays the amount in play into the plato and an equal amount to the winning opponent.  Again, the amount in play is the contents of the plato, plus 4.
  2. Puesta in the Plato: The plato contains an amount paid in by an unsuccessful Hombre.
    1. Sacado: Hombre wins the contents of the plato, plus 1 tanto from each opponent.
    2. Repuesto: Hombre writes the amount in play on the Reserved Puesta sheet under their name.  The amount in play is the contents of the plato, plus 4.
    3. Codillo: Hombre writes the amount in play on the Reserved Puesta sheet under their name, and pays an equal amount to the winning player.  The amount in play is the contents of the plato, plus 4.
  3. Reserved Puesta: There are debts recorded on the Reserved Puesta sheet.
    1. Sacado: Hombre wins the contents of the plato, plus the highest recorded debt from that player.  If the highest recorded debt was from the Hombre, they simply win the contents of the plato, and cross out that debt.
    2. Repuesto: Hombre writes the current amount in play on the Reserved Puesta sheet under their name.  The amount in play is the highest debt on the sheet, plus the contents of the plato.
    3. Codillo: Hombre writes the current amount in play on the Reserved Puesta sheet under their name.  They also pay an equal amount to the winning opponent.  The amount in play is the highest debt on the sheet, plus the contents of the plato.

There are some bonuses paid to a successful Hombre, as well.  These are paid by the opponents, or to both opponents if the Hombre was unsuccessful in these special bids:

  • Vuelta: 1 tanto extra
  • Solo: 2 tantos extra
  • Estuche: Has all 3 Matadors and wins – 1 tanto extra
  • Primeras: Wins first 5 tricks and does not play the rest – 1 tanto extra
  • Bola (or Voll): Wins all 9 tricks – 8 tantos extra

Closing Thoughts

Between a deck with unfamiliar suits, Spanish game terms, super trumps, reverse card ranking, special rank for the lowest card of the trump suit, two against one gameplay, and the payout system, L’Ombre can seem daunting on the first read-through.  I felt the same way when I initially found Tresillo, which borrows much of the gameplay and adds another layer of complexity to both the bidding and payout system.

I had learned Tresillo first, and though it was fascinating to me, as a lover of trick-taking games, it was complicated enough to explain to a casual player that it was easier to just teach a faster game from the time of El Camino Real, which was the initial inspiration to research these games.  Fortunately, because of those borrowed concepts, when I was slogging through the rules as interpreted by an Englishman writing them up for a compilation, it helped me considerably to fill in the blanks, or follow the rambling strategic suggestions to write up the rules as simply as I could.

It just lends credence to my belief that the broader the range of games you have learned or played, the easier it is to learn unfamiliar ones, as you will recognize concepts and mechanics that carried over as the games themselves evolved.

With that in mind, enjoy the game.  Keep gaming, and keep learning.



Würfelspiel and Bowling!

I’ve been poking around at other interesting sources of historic dice games, and ran across a document published by the SCA.  For those who don’t know, that’s the Society for Creative Anachronism, a long-running LARP (Live-Action Role-Playing) group.  They research and practice the skill-sets from medieval Europe, although they are especially known for mock battles with PVC and foam weaponry.  Several of my friends in college were into the SCA, although it wasn’t really for me.

However, some of what they claim as historically accurate may be a bit romanticized and not strictly correct – creative anachronism, after all, so I like to double-check sources to make sure things like games weren’t a modern invention created to feel historic.  Fortunately, this particular dice game was referenced in a book from 1910, published in Germany. There doesn’t seem to be a translated version available, but at least I found the book – Würfel und Würfelspiel in Alten Frankreich (Dice and Dice Games in Old France – thank you Google Translate).

The game is called Le Drinquet, which immediately makes me assume that the stakes were alcoholic beverages, but who knows?  It is a simple two-player dice game, racing to score 101 points, with one small twist – it requires a chessboard.

One player takes the dark squares, and he other has the light ones.  They agree beforehand whether each throw will consist of one, two, or three dice, and who goes first.  The player trows their dice onto the board, but only gets to score the dice that land fully within their squares.  If any portion of the die touches an opponent’s color, it scores zero.  This adds a fun extra element of chance and dexterity, in addition to not knowing what number will be rolled on each die.

Since it would be a shame to end a dice blog entry with only one game, here’s another fun one from the 1910 edition of Foster’s Complete Hoyle – Ten Pins with Dice.  In this game, you play ten frames, like a standard game of bowling, with up to three throws each.  Any number of people can play, each throwing two dice.  After each roll, a player may leave one or both dice on the table.  If only one is left, the other is thrown again.

When throwing, a six counts as zero (think of it as a gutter ball), so double-fives (ten pins) is the best possible roll.  If you throw double-fives, on your first roll, it counts as a strike.  Double-fives on the second roll is a spare.  If you don’t throw a strike of spare, it is a break, and you keep the results of your third throw for the frame.

As in bowling, a strike not only scores ten points, but also the results of your second roll in the next frame (the total of throwing the “ball” twice).  A spare scores ten plus the results of your first roll in the next frame.  Now, the rules don’t specify this, because the odds of throwing double-fives twice in a row are relatively slim, but I would assume that if you throw a strike again immediately after scoring a strike, you would also add the first throw in the next frame.  This would allow the change of a maximum score of 30 for a strike, as in real bowling.


More Dicing with Royalty

I think it’s time we look over a few more dice games, courtesy of our old friend Alphonso X, from the Libro de los Juegos.  Let’s start with a couple of simple ones:


There is another kind of game which they call riffa that is played in this way: he who first rolls the dice should roll them as many times until he rolls a pair on two, then he should roll the other one. Then the pips of this third die are to be counter with the pips of the other first two dice. 

And if the other who is playing with him, in rolling the dice in this same way rolls more points he wins, and if as many he ties, and if less he loses. 

This is basically a game of high score.  Roll the three dice until you get a pair, then roll the third die one more time.  Add up the pips for your score, and the best score wins.

Par Con As (Pair with an Ace)

And if he rolls a pair on two dice and an ace on the other, he wins. And if not, the other must roll and in this way they play until one of them succeeds and he who should rolls it first, will win. 

Yep, another game of pure chance.  The first to roll any pair with a one on the third die wins.  But that’s easy mode for the gamblers of the day.  How about something a bit more challenging?


There is another kind of game that they call panquist and it is played in this way: he who wins the battle will roll first and the other is to place four bets one in front of the other. And whichever one rolls will give the first point number to the other one and the second he will take for himself. 

And the rolls which can be given are from seven pips to fourteen. 

And these are the rolls that win both for the one who places the bets as well as the one who rolls the dice to the one whose roll comes first. 

The break in flow here is because I skipped 8 paragraphs showing how pips add up, even though for this game, the way you roll each of the point numbers matters.  However, I thought it was best expressed as a table:

 Point # Dice Show  # Bets Won 
3-6  Ignore & reroll  0
10  5-4-1/5-3-2
11  6-3-2/5-4-2
12  6-5-1/6-4-2
13  6-5-2
14  6-5-3
15-18  Ignore & reroll  0

Basically, choose someone to roll first.  The person who is not rolling puts up 4 bets as the stakes for the round.  The roller rolls at least twice, giving a point number first to their opponent, and then to themselves.  Rolls below 7 and above 14 are ignored – there are no hazards in this game.  The first person whose point number comes up again wins a number of the bets as shown in the table.

People like this game – it gives the same kind of thrill as modern Craps with slightly less risk, since there’s no bad roll except the opponent’s point number.  But one thing about the rules as written just doesn’t fully make sense to me, and that has to do with how each round is bet upon.

Let’s say you’re rolling, and your opponent puts up 4 bets.  Then their point number ends up winning, but only for 1 of those bets.  What happens to the other 3?  If they stay up on the board, then the opponent didn’t win 1 bet – they lost 3.  If they get them all back, then they didn’t win anything – they broke even.

For that matter, how does it affect the next round, when the roller is now putting up the 4?  Do they just fill it back up to 4?  Give back the previous bet and put up a new 4?  Add to it, forming a pool?

I dug around, and couldn’t find any source that gave a better explanation of how the betting worked.  If each player takes turns putting up stakes for the roller, they will simply get it back as often as not, so it becomes an exercise in losing slowly to the current roller.  To make it more exciting, I’d have each player ante 2 coins each round.  The game would still progress slowly if only 1 or 2 bets are won, but winning 3 or 4 would be far more exciting it wasn’t all your own money.

Alternatively, have the non-roller put in only 2 bets per round, gradually growing a pool.  If someone wins more bets than the pool currently has, then the loser pays the extra out of their current personal stash.  This would add much more interest in the results of the rolls, hoping for those high-paying combinations.


For the final dice game from Libro de los Juegos, we have something special, not because of the goal – it’s another Hazard-type game – but because of the playing pieces.  This is the only game King Alfonso X presented that uses only 2 dice.

There is another kind of game they call guirguiesca that is played with two dice in this way: Those who want to play have first to roll battle, and he who wins it will roll first. 

And if he should roll 6+6 or 6+5 or the flip-sides of these which are 2+1 or 1+1 it will be azar, and he will win one amount of such quantity as they agreed upon that it should be worth. 

And if per chance he should not roll azar and he should roll four pips or five or six or seven or eight or nine or ten in whatever way that they should come, each one of these will be called a point number and that whomever he is playing with shall have it, and the other will bet upon it whatever amount he should wish and if the one who rolls the dice should then roll of it as many pips as he gave him, this will be called match and he will take whatever is there whether he had been assigned to that point or whether he had kept silent. 

And if by chance he should not roll a match and he should roll one of the numbers which we said above were azares, he will lose it all. And if he should roll neither match nor azar and he should roll one of the other point numbers, that one he will take for himself, and he will roll as many times until his (point number) or that of the other one comes. And rolling his own he wins and for that of the other one he loses. 

I thought I’d give the entirety of the text for this final dice game.  I’d been skipping the part about rolling battle in the previous games – basically it’s just rolling to see who goes first.  Usually they’d roll all the dice for a high number, but given the wide range of results, it’s more fair to roll only one die.

After seeing all the other hazard games, this one is very simple.  If you get 2, 3, 11, or 12 on the first roll, you win an agreed-upon base bet.  If not, they are now azares, and you’re assigning the first result as a point number to your opponent, who then places their bet against you.

Next, start rolling again.  If you match the opponent’s point number on this second roll, you win.  Rolling one of the azares loses.  Any other number is now the roller’s point number.  Continue rolling until you match your point number and win.  If you roll the opponent’s point or one of the azares, you lose.  Any other result is ignored.

From here, it’s an easy jump to modern-day Craps, in which the hazards changed to just 11 and 7, which of course is the most common number rolled on two dice.  The only point number is taken by the roller.  The rolling itself got simplified from these early games – if I recall, it was the betting that got more complicated, with the non-rollers betting on how the roller would win or lose.  In this way, craps borrowed from panquist, it seems.

That’s it for this entry, but while there are no more dice games presented in this book, there are many others, with new mechanics and goals, which end up proving the last words the king gave on the subject in this text to be incorrect.

In this 12 games of dice that we have put here, can be understood all the others that they play in the other lands which are made or which can be made from here on which we do not know. 


Conquian – the First Rummy in the West

It is generally accepted that rummy-type (draw, meld, discard, try to go out) games originated in China (don’t worry, I’ll get to mahjong eventually).  I’ve played many different variants on the idea, and when I was researching card games played during the heyday of El Camino Real, I was pleased to discover that the very first rummy-style game in the west came from Latin America.  The best guess is Mexico during the 1860’s, but even as of the roaring 20s, game rule collectors weren’t sure.  Here’s an excerpt from Foster’s Complete Hoyle, in its third publication in 1922.

The etymology of this word is Spanish, con quién, “with whom”, but of the game it stands for, little or nothing is known except that it is a great favorite in Mexico, and in all the American States bordering upon it, especially Texas. It is an excellent game for two players, quite different from any other in its principles, and requiring very close attention and a good memory to play it well. In its finer points, especially in the judgment of what the adversary holds or is playing for, it ranks with our best games, and will probably grow in popularity as it becomes better known.

The game is played with the 40-card Spanish deck, of course.  Remember again that the 10 (sota, or jack) comes immediately after the 7 in sequence.  For play with a standard international deck, you can either remove the 8, 9, and 10 from each suit, or the three face cards to have a continuous run from Ace through 10.  In this game, the Ace is low, and the King is high.  When played with stakes, each game is worth one bet, and if it is a tie, another bet is added and a new hand played until someone wins.

Since it is my oldest source, I will be pulling the rules from Foster’s Hoyle.  Modern sources or apps may vary slightly in the number of cards dealt, but the rest of the gameplay remains the same.

The goal of the game is to be the first to meld 11 cards.  A meld is either 3 or 4 cards of the same rank (the 3 of cups, swords, and coins, for example), or at least 3 numbers in sequence within the same suit (such as the 7, 10, and 11 of batons).  In common card-playing jargon, cards of the same rank are a set, while cards in sequence within a suit are a run.

Traditionally, both players are dealt 10 cards, two at a time, and the remainder of the deck is placed in the center as a draw pile.  Play begins with the non-dealer.  The first player turns over the top card of the deck, and checks whether they can form a meld with anything in their hand.  If so, they lay down the cards to meld before adding the revealed card from the deck.  This is important, since so many other games work differently.  A player never draws a card into their hand for this game.  The first player now has a choice:

  1. Play at least two cards from their hand to form a valid meld (set of 3 or 4, run of 3 or more cards in suit) with the face-up card from the deck – you cannot lay down a meld without using the card from the deck. Afterward, they discard 1 card from their hand, ending their turn.
  2. Reject the card, ending their turn.

After this decision has been made, the second player has a slightly different choice:

  1. Play a meld using at least two cards from their hand with the discarded/rejected card from the previous player’s turn.  Afterward, discard a card from their hand, ending their turn.
  2. Reject the card left by the last player.  Turn this card face-down to form a waste pile.  The waste pile cards are out of the game and will not come up again.  Then, reveal the next card from the top of the deck and either meld it, or reject it, which ends their turn and passes this new card to the other player.

Player 1 rejected the revealed card. Player 2 could reject the 4, but then could not meld the 1-2-3 of swords alone. They can meld 2-3-4 or 1-2-3-4 of swords.

Play continues like this, with an old card to either use or reject.  If rejected, it is discarded permanently, and a new card is revealed to be decided on before passing play again.  After you have melds on the table, you may add the revealed card to your existing melds by itself or with a card from your hand.  Again, you may not meld to anything from your hand without using the card from the deck.

After any meld, you discard 1 card from your hand to pass to your opponent. If your discard causes you to be out of cards, the game is not over until you have eleven cards melded in front of you – you just have to hope for a lucky rejection or draw to win.  If you run out of cards in the draw pile, the game is a tie and you play again.

Seems simple so far, right?  There are just a couple little wrinkles left: Borrowing, and Forcing.

Borrowing is about using cards from a meld of 4 or more cards to form a new meld with the card in play from the deck.  You can pull one card from a set of 4 of a kind, or from either end of a run.  No meld can have fewer than 3 cards after any borrowing is complete.

Forcing is when you make your opponent use a card to add onto one of their existing melds (the 4th card to a set, or to extend a run from either end).  It can be done in only two situations:

  1. They reject your discard or drawn card, and turn over a new one that can be used on their visible melds
  2. After you have melded, as it is the only time you would discard.

An example of a forced play. The player rejected the 3 of coins at the beginning of their turn, revealing the 5 of swords. Because they have a visible meld that can use the 5, their opponent forces them to do so, making them break up one of the pairs in hand.


To force a card, simply pick it up once revealed or you discard, and play it on their meld, telling them to discard, instead of melding normally.  This is a technique to disrupt a potential meld in their hand, making it more difficult to finish melding their full 11 cards.

Player 2 is now in a bit of a pickle. They have laid down 10 cards and have none in hand, meaning they must be able to use the card from the deck in order to win the game. They can only add the 10 of swords or the 7 of cups to their runs. The 10-swords is melded by the other player, and what Player 2 doesn’t know is that the 7-cups os in Player 1’s hand. Unless they discard it, Player 2 cannot win.


It is interesting to see elements that were used by so many later rummy games.  The rearranging of melds is especially interesting to me, since the first place I encountered it was in Rummikub, which despite just being plastic tiles representing cards, is considered more of a board game.  I have also seen rules stating the initial deal as 8 or 9 cards, again only requiring melding 1 more card than the number dealt.  In this, I prefer the challenge of the original deal of 10.  Because there are only 10 cards in each suit, this prevents you from winning with only a very long run.

The game can feel more slow than other rummy games, because of the reject/new card/can’t use/reject mechanic.  In other games, you can pick up the discard to try and improve your initial deal, which is not the case here.  It adds a greater challenge to do the best you can with your deal, but it can be frustrating to realize you cannot possibly go out and have to go through the motions of rejecting cards until you finish the deck to tie the game and redeal.

In the example game above, this is exactly what happened.  Player 1 only had sets, and the 4th card of each was melded by Player 2.  Because they had no other pairs in their hand, and no two cards of the same suit that were close enough for a potential run, they could not meld or discard for the rest of the game.  Meanwhile, Player 2 could only win with the 7 of cups, which was in Player 1’s hand and could not be discarded.  So, back and forth, they ended up rejecting the last 10 cards in the deck one by one.  I think when you’re drinking and gambling and not playing very close attention, this wouldn’t be a problem, but for someone used to the light card-counting that helps in trick-taking games, it is frustrating to know the game will be a tie, but to waste time getting to the redeal.

It is a minor quibble, though, and if you can let that go, Conquian is an enjoyable and challenging game, worthy of being the parent to a wide variety of rummy-type games in the west.

Playable Apps

Conquian for iOS (uses the 8 card deal/9 cards melded to win rules)

Conquian for Android

Cinquillo : Introducing the Spanish Pack

To be honest, I’m not sure whether Cinquillo would be considered “historic” or not, as it is difficult to find when any particular card game surfaced.  However, given that it involves laying out the entire deck by rank and suit, I like to use it to introduce the Spanish deck to newcomers.

In the most common Spanish deck, there are 40 cards.  The four suits are oros (coins), copas (cups), bastos (clubs or batons), and espadas (swords).  Each has 10 cards, numbered 1 through 7, and then three face cards: sota (jack), caballo, (knight), and rey (king).  The printed numbers of the face cards are 10, 11, and 12, which initially confuses people new to the deck, since I need to explain that 10 comes immediately after 7.

Originally, Spanish decks were 52 cards, like our modern deck, but one rank was removed so a full deck could be printed on two sheets.  Then, in the 17th century, the game Ombre (played today as Tresillo, which I will cover later) used a stripped deck of 40 cards, by removing the 8 and 9.  This game was wildly popular, and soon, the 40-card deck was the most common deck used for games.  Today, it is possible to get the larger decks (my highest-quality deck, with plastic cards, is a 48-card deck), but the 40-card deck is still the most widely available.

Cinquillo is the Spanish version of Fan Tan (also known as Sevens), which is a relatively common game with the standard French-suited international deck.  Is is a blend of what is known as a tableau game, in which you are laying out cards in a specific pattern (like most solitaire games), and a card-shedding game, in which the goal is to be the first to run out of cards (like crazy eights or Uno).  It can play between 2 and 5 players, and I like to lead with it to familiarize people with the deck.

To play with 3 or more players, deal out the entire deck.  With three, this means one player will have an extra card, so the deal will rotate between hands.  For two players, deal out thirteen cards to each player, and the remainder of the deck forms a draw pile that will be used up during play.

The player with the 5 of coins plays first, laying it down on the table, and then play passes to the right. In a 2-player game, it is possible that the 5 of coins was not dealt.  In this case, choose someone to go first.  They must draw a card and pass their turn.  This continues until someone has the 5 of coins to play at the beginning of their turn.  You do not play the 5 of coins immediately when you draw it – drawing the card was your turn – play it on your next turn.

After the 5 of coins is in play, you will do one of three things on your turn:

  1. Play the next-ranked card (up or down) in suit to a group already on the table.
  2. Play one of the other 5s to begin a new suit.
  3. Pass (and draw a card, if in a 2-player game and the deck has not run out).  Note that you may not pass if you have a possible play.

In this example, the possible plays are the 7 or 1 of coins, the 7 or 4 of cups, or the 5 of either swords or clubs.  The hand shown must play the 5 of swords – they have no other available play.

The game is over when one player runs out of cards.  They score 5 points for going out, plus 1 for each card remaining in their opponents’ hands.  Typically, the game is played to 100 or 500 points.  As a gambling game, there are no points.  Instead, each player antes at the beginning of the game, then adds one bet to the pool when they have to pass.  The winner gets the pool, plus one bet for each card remaining in the losers’ hands.

The easiest mistake to make is to pass because you forget that the 10 follows the 7.  Once you get that down, the game is very simple, and the basic strategy becomes apparent quickly.  Since the hardest cards to play are those at the very ends, you can make your opponents more likely to have to pass by holding on to the central cards (like 3 through 7) as long as possible.  Of course, if you have an end card, you’ll probably want to play cards to force other players to fill in those gaps as early as you can, so you don’t get stuck passing later.

So far, Cinquillo has always gone over pretty well, with players enjoying the light strategy and becoming excited to learn what else can be played with this new deck.  I have no idea how old it is, but it’s definitely a game worth remembering.

Playable Apps

Be warned, there is usually not an English language option available for Spanish card game apps.  You may have to learn a few words to get the hang of what the buttons do.

Cinquillo on iOS

Cinquillo on Android


The Hazards of Being King

Just after Triga, Alfonso X spoke about the idea of losing rolls that had nothing to do with your point number, with azar (hazard) rolls.  In all the following games, to save seeing him write about all the possible combinations to roll them (kings could be almost as long-winded as I am), he pretty consistently defines azar as rolls 15 and up, or 6 or less, on three dice.

Medio Azar being played

Azar (Hazard)

There is another dice game that they call azar and it is played in this way: the one who first has to roll the dice if he should roll 15 pips [or higher, or 6 or lower], they win. And any of these numbers in any of the ways that they may come according to the other games that we have described above is called azar.

And if by chance he does not roll any of these azares first, and gives to the other as a point number one of those which are from six pips and above or from fifteen and below, in whichever way that it may come, according to the other games we described in which they come. And afterward these (rolls) he rolls one of the rolls which we said here was azar, this roll will be called reazar and the one who rolled first will lose.

And also if by chance he should not roll this number which becomes reazar, he must take for himself one of the other point numbers which are from six pips and above or from fifteen and below in whatever way it may come. And they should roll as many times until one of these numbers comes, either his own by which he wins or that of the other by which he loses, except if he takes the same point number that he gave the other, which would be called match. And they must continue rolling as above.

And however any of these rolls should come that are called azar or reazar and until one of the point numbers comes, neither of them will win nor lose because of it until it is divided by the rolls, as it says above.

Did you get all that?  First of all, he seems to be accidentally including 6 and 15 as possible point numbers after he defined them as azar.  I’ll assume that to be an error and that he meant 7-14.

In plain English, roll azar on your first roll, and you win.  If you roll anything else, the number you do roll becomes your opponent’s point number. 

On your second roll and any roll afterword, rolling azar (now called reazar), and you lose.  If you roll your opponent’s point number on this second roll (and only this second roll) and you match (draw) the game.  Anything else is now your point number.

After that, keep rolling until you either roll your point number again and win, or you roll your opponent’s point number or reazar, and you lose. 

In this game, you easily see the concepts that would later become Craps as it is played in the modern day – the instant win opening roll, the point numbers, and the instant loss if you roll the same numbers that would have won if they were first.  The main thing I find interesting is that this is a two-player game in which the first point number is given to the non-roller and becomes an additional hazard.  This idea continues in other games.


There is another dice game that they call marlota in which there is no azar, re-azar, nor high rolls. And it is played for money in this way: he that rolls the dice is to give a point number to the other with whomever he is playing.  And the point numbers that he can give or take for himself are these: [seven through fourteen].

And if he rolls fourteen or above or seven or below, it is not a point number for either one or the other. But rather he should roll as many times until he hits a number of these aforementioned ones to (give to) that one with which he is playing and take another for himself. And of these numbers, the first one is to belong to whomever he is playing with and the other is his own. 

And after the point numbers are divided in this way, he is to roll as much until his comes or that of the other, thus rolling his own he wins and rolling that of the other he loses.

Essentially, Marlota is Azar, without the azares.  You simply ignore rolls above fourteen or below seven.  It’s odd that King Alfonso put this game after the description of Azar, given that it removes that level of complexity that made Azar interesting.  It’s basically just a bet to reroll the second point number you roll before rolling the first again.

Dice of different materials, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Medio Azar (Half Hazard)

There is another dice game that they call medio azar that is played in this way: those who want to play have first to roll battle and he who wins will roll first. 

And if he rolls 14 pips or above or seven or below in any way that each one of these numbers may come it will be azar. And for each azar he will take a bet amount as agreed upon…

And the rolls which are in the middle of these are called point numbers and they are these: [8-13]. And if by chance he should not roll azar and hit the other’s point number and take a point number for himself, the one that should come first will win three amounts. 
And if after he should give a point number to the other one he should then roll azar between he takes his own point number, that amount will go up to four. And if he should roll another azar it will go to five. And as many azares as he should roll each one after the other, will be worth an amount until he takes a point number for himself.
And if by chance before he takes a point number for himself he should match the same point number as the other one, he will roll again for azar and if he should make it, he will win all the amounts that were there. And if not, hit the point number again and it will count on top of the other first amounts and in this way the game returns to start over again. 

This one is a little complicated to decipher, but of note is that azar in this case is 14 and up and 7 or below.  Azares in this game work a little differently; instead of instantly winning or losing the game, they raise the stakes.

Basically, if you roll a point number for your opponent and then another for yourself, and manage to roll one of them again without rolling any azares, the winner gets 3 bets (3 of whatever base unit you’re betting with).

For each azar rolled after you give a point number to the opponent, but before taking one for yourself, add one bet to the stakes.

If you roll your opponent’s point number again before taking one for yourself, roll one more time to get azar.  If you make it, you win the pool of bets.  If on this roll, you roll the opponent’s point number again, it’s a match, and the stakes are returned to their owners.  Anything else, and you lose.

Otherwise, once both players have a point number, azares no longer add to the stakes, and the first point number rolled again determines the winner.

Half Hazard is very fun, with a press-your-luck aspect that keeps making the bets go higher and higher, increasing the thrill of victory, or agony of defeat.  You might only win a little, but vast changes of fortune are possible.

Since I can’t resist tinkering with rules, here’s a way to possibly adapt the game for more players (up to 6)

  1. Dice change hands after each roll, so each player sets their own point number.
  2. Azares raise the stakes until all players have a point number.
  3. Matching someone else’s point numbers sets the game between those two players, to finish as described in the normal game.  Any other players take their stakes back and drop out of the round.
  4. Otherwise, if nobody matches someone else’s point number, winner takes all.

If anyone tries it, I’d love feedback on how it plays.  Have fun playing!