Arcanoid

[Une version française de cette page est également disponible.]

Abstract

This page describes an invented card game that is played with tarot cards, if possible divinatory tarot (but ordinary tarot cards will do also). The game has been called pseudo-tarot for a time, until someone suggested the much better name arcanoid (with a ‘c’, mark: with a ‘k’ the name refers to a well-known arcade game).

The requirements that the rules were to meet have been outlined in an entry in my weblog.

The rules have known some variation over time: the version described in this version of this page shall be codenamed “DRESDEN” (there is no logic or reason behind this name, I just needed an arbitrary label). Further variants, with different names, will be described later on.

However, there is supposed to be no difference in meaning between this English version of the rules and the French version: both are equally authoritative. In case of conflict, the version closer to the spirit of the rules should apply.

Table of Contents

The cards

The deck is a tarot deck of seventy-eight cards, which we describe here for convenience:

Principles of the game

The game can be played by two to ten players (though the optimal number is between four and six). Each game consists of normally five rounds. At the start of each round, the cards are dealt anew and play proceeds independently from the other rounds; at the end of the round, the (up to four) “battle winners” are determined. At the end of the game, only this information from each round is used to determine the overall winner.

Each round consists of four battles, which take place simultaneously, one on each of four (abstract) battlefields, corresponding to each of the four suits (so, swords, staves, cups and coins). The round determines four winners, one for each of the battlefields (there is always exactly one winner per round for each battlefield), but it is quite possible for one player to win several battles in the same round (even all four of them). The game winner is normally determined, after five rounds, as the player having won the greatest number of battles, irrespective of suit, but in the case of a draw, there are more complicated rules to determine the actual winner.

Each round consists of a number of turns, during which each player plays successively. The moves which can be made during a turn will be described later. Some moves are said to commit a player in a battlefield: in such a move, the player puts down some cards which will represent his “forces” on that battlefield; a committing move is irrevocable, and except for the Tower (one of the major arcana) nothing can change the committed cards, add or remove anything, until the end of the round. The round ends when all players have made a committing move for each one of the battlefields, and it is then by comparing the committed forces, battlefield by battlefield, that the winner of each battle is determined. As soon as a given player has committed on the fourth battlefield, that player is removed from play for the remainder of the round, and his cards are discarded.

During the course of a round, before and after each move, each player normally has six card in his hand. It cannot be more (barring the effect of some major arcana). It can be less, but only in the case when the deck is empty, and then the round will continue at most until all players have run out of cards (at which point they have no choice but to abdicate on the remaining battlefields, if any—though the order in which they do so might be important). When the deck is not empty, each move is concluded by drawing from the deck the number of cards required to complete the cards in one's hand to six (or to empty the deck).

The basic principle of a committing move is to put down any number of cards from one's hand, all of the suit that matches the battlefield for which one is committing (but there are exceptions to this). At the end of the round (again, when all players have committed on each battlefield), the forces are compared in principle by adding the total number of figures committed by each player on each battlefield: for example, if one player committed the four, six and seven of swords (on the battlefield of swords) and another player the nine and ten, the latter would win the battle of swords (provided the other players did not commit something even higher). Remember that once cards have been committed on a particular battlefield, they can never be changed.

Making a move

Passing one's turn is not permitted: each player must, when he is to move, either perform some committing move, or perform some move that causes him to remove at least one card from his hand (and consequently draw, unless the deck is empty) or perhaps from some other store of cards (see, e.g., the description of the major arcanum Strength below).

One move that is always possible consists of discarding a card: the player then removes one card from his deck (discarding more than one card at a time is not permitted) and puts it, face down (without showing it to the other players), on the discard pile. The player then completes the move by drawing a card from the deck, unless the deck is empty. Any card can be discarded, there are no exceptions to this.

In all of what follows, the verb “to discard” will refer to the action of putting a card face down, without showing it to the other players, on the discard pile (see below).

We now leave aside all major arcana, whose effects we will detail later, and concentrate on the fifty-six suit cards, to describe how to make committing moves.

To make a committing move on a battlefield, the player sets down a certain number of cards from the corresponding suit. It is possible to set down no cards at all: in fact, that is the only possible move which does not remove any cards from the player's hand (but it is allowed nonetheless, as it is a committing move), and it is therefore the only possible move when a player has no cards left (because the deck is empty); in that case, the player must clearly state what battlefield he is committing nothing on, and is said to abdicate on that battlefield, which he cannot win (unless all other players also abdicate, which should be exceedingly rare). Otherwise, one can put down any number of numeric cards (from ace through ten) of the corresponding suit, or the knave alone (or the knave with only an ace), or the knight alone (or the knight with only an ace), or the queen and the king together. In the first case, the force on that battlefield is determined by adding the numbers of the cards in question (with specific rules in case of tie); otherwise, the knave is worth fifteen (actually a little less, say, fourteen and a half; an ace does not add to the value of the knave), the knight is worth eighteen (actually a little less, say, seventeen and a half; an ace does not add to the value of the knight), and the queen and king together are worth more than anything else (seventy, say), so they automatically win the battlefield in question (actually, some major arcana might be worth even more, as explained later).

No matter what kind of move is made, the player ends by drawing, if possible, from the deck the number of cards necessary to complete his hand.

The deck and discard piles

The discard pile receives all discarded cards, as well as the cards of the players who have finished for the round (having committed on each battlefield). Cards committed on a battlefield are not put on the discard pile: rather, they are left on the table until the end of the round. Certain major arcana, also, are not discarded when used but rather set aside for the remainder of the round (so they will not come back into play even if the deck is refilled).

The deck initially consists of all undealt cards. While the deck is not empty, cards are drawn from it at the end of each move to complete the player's hand to six cards or to empty the deck (except when the player has committed on each battlefield and is removed from play).

Refilling the deck

When the deck becomes empty, all players must give their opinion (in playing order, starting from the one who drew the last card, and including those who are removed from play because they have already committed on all battlefields) as to whether the deck should be refilled: if a single player dissents, the deck is not refilled, and hands are left to run out of cards; however, if all players agree, then the cards in the discard pile (if any) are shuffled and reused as new deck, after what play is resumed where it was left off (and the player whose move resulted in emptying the deck continues to complete his hand to six cards, if necessary).

Of course, if the deck and the discard pile are both empty, then there is nothing to do but leave the deck empty (and even if some cards are discarded at a later point, they cannot be brought back to the deck). Further note that if a player is in the process of drawing cards when the deck becomes empty, he should give his opinion as to whether the deck should be refilled (which would mean his being able to complete the draw) before looking at the cards that he has been drawing.

Winning battles

The rules for determining the winner of a battle are as follows (in order of decreasing strength):

Winning the game

After all five rounds have been played, the overall winner is determined according to the following rules:

The effect of the major arcana

We now consider each trump in turn.

The Fool (0, or unnumbered)
The Fool is played out of turn, immediately after some other player attempts to commit on a battlefield on which the current player has not yet committed: the Fool is put down on the table before the next player plays. The Fool has the effect of stealing the commitment just attempted: instead of being committed for the player who played them, they are committed for the player who put down the Fool. The Fool is then discarded, and the player who put it down draws a card from the deck if necessary (but after the player whose commitment was stolen). The Fool cannot be used to steal a couple of any kind (royal or imperial, legitimate or illegitimate), nor the World, nor an abdication (including Judgment), nor any commitment which contains an ace. However, nothing prevents the Fool from being used to steal a commitment which would have been the last for the player attempting it.
The Magician (1)
The Magician (best thought of as an alchemist) can be used to transmute a card as it is committed, which has the effect of allowing to use it in any suit of the player's choice. Only numeric suit cards (ace through ten, of any suit—swords, staves, cups and coins) can be transmuted (courts cannot be transmuted), and only one card may be transmuted in a given commitment (which must, therefore, be a numeric commitment, or a single knave or knight). The magician is committed along with the numeric values (but does not add to the commitment's value further than by transmuting the card). For example, it is possible to commit the ten of swords and the ten of staves, together with the Magician, either on the swords (by transmuting staves to swords) or on the staves battlefield (by transmuting staves to swords), scoring twenty points in either case. It is even possible to commit a single numeric card with the Magician, on any battlefield whatsoever.
The High Priestess (2)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player of the High Priestess then chooses any target player, who shows him his hand. No rule forbids to say what the cards in the hands are (nor is it forbidden to lie), but it is not permitted to show the hand to the other players. The player of the High Priestess draws a new card, and plays again.
The Empress (3)
The Empress is of no value by itself. It can only be played with the Emperor or with the Lovers. When both Empress and Emperor are possessed by the same player, they can be used together: they are then committed simultaneously on one or two of the player's battlefields to which that player has not yet committed (possibly terminating the player's role in the round). The Empress and Emperor win all battles to which they are committed, even against the queen and king of the given suit. (The cards are not discarded when they are played, they remain where committed.) The Empress and the Lovers can also be committed on one or two battlefields, but they are weaker than the royal couple (see the description of the Lovers for more explanations on illegitimate couples).
The Emperor (4)
The Emperor is of no value by itself. It can only be played together with the Empress, as explained above, or with the Lovers in the same way as the Empress.
The Hierophant (5)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player of the Hierophant then chooses one of the four suits, or trumps (major arcana without the Fool) or the Fool alone, and every player, including the caller, shows (to everyone) the cards of that suit in his hand. The Fool need not be shown if trumps are called for: however, the Hierophant can be used to reveal the Fool (and only the Fool). The player of the Hierophant draws a new card, and plays again.
The Lovers (6)
This card is played by committing it on a battlefield together with a court (king, queen, knight or knave) of that field's suit, or on one or two battlefields with the Empress or Empress. The combination thus formed is called an illegitimate couple and beats any adversary on that battlefield except the combination of queen and king or the combination of Empress and Emperor.
The Chariot (7)
This card is played simultaneously with others from one's hand (possibly none), by putting them all face up on the table for all players to see. The Chariot then holds the other cards “in reserve”. The same player, at any later point, may use his turn to either add one or two further cards to the chariot (more may be added later), or discard the Chariot and all its reserved cards, or else discard only the Chariot and commit the reserved cards plus possibly others from his hand (provided the rules allow all these cards to be committed together, of course). Note that the Chariot allows more than six cards to be committed on a battlefield.
Justice (8)
This card is played by showing it to all players, and then leaving it aside for the remainder of the round. It is irrelevant who plays this card, its effect is the same on all players. Six cards (or less if six are not available) are drawn from the deck, face up on the table: these cards, which will be refilled as necessary (and if possible) to remain always six, and always visible, belong to all players, who can all use them as if they were theirs. The player who put down Justice gets to play again. Please see the notes below for special interactions between Justice and the Devil.
The Hermit (9)
This card is played by putting it down on the table. It gives its player the possibility of playing three times out of turn, immediately after some player's move (possibly his own, possibly even several times in succession, but no more than three times overall). The player is never forced to use these extra moves, however: only his regular move is compulsory. He can choose to play again immediately after having put down the Hermit (and drawn a card if possible) if he wishes, but that will cost him one of the three extra moves. After the three moves have been made, or after the player has completed the round, the Hermit is discarded.
The Wheel of Fortune (10)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player then draws five cards from the deck (or as many as possible, if fewer), looks at them, and then discards four cards of his choice (or less, if there were not enough cards to draw five) from the total ten in his hand, to bring the total back to six (or more, if Strength is in effect).
Strength (11)
This card is played by showing it to all players, and then leaving it aside for the remainder of the round. The player then chooses between one of the following two options: “two visible cards” or “one hidden card”. In the first case, he draws two cards from the deck and leaves them face up on the table. In the second case, he draws one card from the deck and adds it to his hand. In either case, one must also remember to draw one last card (to replace Strength itself). The extra cards can then be used, for the remainder of the round, as though it were part of the player's hand (with the important difference that, in the “two visible cards” case, every other player can see them).
The Hanged Man (12)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player of the Hanged Man then chooses any target player, possibly himself, thereby causing all of that player's cards to be discarded and new ones to be drawn if possible. (The player of the Hanged Man then draws a card, if necessary and possible, to complete his hand.)
Death (13)
When this card is played, it terminates the round prematurely: the entire deck is discarded, and cannot be refilled—so the players' hands will be left to run out of cards. Death, of course, has no effect if the deck is already empty.
Temperance (14)
This card is played by putting it down on the table and specifying a battlefield on which it acts, on which the player who puts it down cannot already have committed (but abdication and Judgment do not count here). Also, the deck must not be empty. Temperance will remain in effect as long as these conditions are satisfied and as long as the player remains in play. As soon as the player who used Temperance commits (other than by abdicating) on the tempered battlefield (which is permitted for him), or when the deck runs out of cards and is not refilled (including when Death is put down), or if the owner finishes the game (by having commmitted on every battlefield, including for example if he abdicates on the tempered battlefield last), Temperance is immediately removed and discarded. The effect of Temperance is to prevent any further commitment (other than abdication, or Judgment), by other players, on the battlefield on which it acts, so long as it acts.
The Devil (15)
This card is played by showing it to all players, and then leaving it while it is active. It causes six cards (of fewer if six are not available) to be drawn from the deck, which are put face up on the table. (Finally, the player draws another card to complete his hand.) The six cards form the hand of another, daemon, player, who is added to the game, playing just before the player who put down the Devil card, and who is played by that player (the daemon player does not start playing immediately, but only after all other players have played, immediately before the daemon's master's next turn). The daemon player's cards are always shown on the table, for all players to see; apart from that, he is just like an ordinary player. But any battle won by the daemon player at the end of the round is deemed to have been won by the player who put down the Devil. (However, the daemon player is considered as a separate player: so if he commits a five of swords, for example, that card is not added to his allied's forces, it is compared with the rest in the usual way.) When the daemon player has finished playing in the round, the Devil is discarded. Please see the notes below for special interactions between Justice and the Devil.
The Tower (16)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player can then decommit some cards which have already been committed, on some battlefield, either by himself or by an opponent: this cancels their force on the battlefield. However, it is not possible to decommit a battlefield for a player who has already committed on all four (and therefore ceased to play); nor is it possible to decommit an abdication, or Judgment, or the World. The decommitted cards are discarded (except for the Emperor and Empress or a combination of one of these with the Lovers if they remain committed on another battlefield), and the battlefield is then free again for the player who was the target of the Tower (so new cards can be committed there again).
The Star (17)
This card is played by showing it to all players, after what it is discarded. The player then calls one of the fifty-six minor arcana (suit cards): if any player has this card in his hand, he must surrender it to the caller, and then draw a card from the deck; otherwise (when the call fails) the caller draws a card from the deck.
The Moon (18)
This card is identical to the Star, except that if the call fails, the caller has the option of trying a second call (for a different card) before drawing a card.
The Sun (19)
This card is identical to the Star and the Moon, except that the caller can make up to three calls for a card (or until one succeeds). Alternatively, the caller can choose to call a major arcanum, with the exception of Judgment, the World and the Fool (these cannot be called), but then has only one call.
Judgment (20)
This card can be committed on any battlefield of any player, provided that player has not yet committed on that battlefield, and Judgment abdicates that battlefield for the target player. (That player is considered to have abdicated at that very instant, not later on when it is his move. If the battlefield was his last, his cards are immediately discarded. The Judgment card is not discarded, however, when it is committed.)
The World (21)
This card can be committed on any battlefield (but the player must say which upon committing it), provided nothing has been committed, by any player, on that battlefield; even abdication, or Judgment, or a commitment destroyed by the Tower, prevent the World from being used on a battlefield (however, Temperance only temporarily prevents the World from being committed). The World then wins the corresponding battle, and causes all other players to instantly abdicate on that battlefield (possibly terminating their role in the round, in which case their cards are immediately discarded).

Further notes

Here we describe further rules for a plethora of special cases and strange interactions of special cards (such as several major arcana).

Variants

DRESDEN

DRESDEN is the variant of the game described above.

NASSAU

The DRESDEN variant is defined by the following difference with respect to DRESDEN: Temperance cannot be removed implicitly by (the player who put it down) playing on the tempered battlefield; however, it can be removed explicitly, but this requires a full move. Temperance also disappears when the deck runs out of cards. No player, not even the one who put down temperance, can commit on the tempered battlefield (as long as it is tempered).

KOBLENZ

The KOBLENZ variant is defined by the following difference with respect to NASSAU:

Every player is permitted to make one secret commitment per round, following essentially the same rules as (with the Magician) in the MALTA variant: the cards are put face down on the table (so only their number is visible) and will be revealed only at the end of the round. Each player is permitted to do this once per round (and if the commitment is stolen using the Fool or decommitted using the Tower, the benefit is still lost). The Tower, incidentally, will not reveal which the decommitted cards were (nor will the High Priestess or similar such); the Fool may be used to attempt to steal a secret commitment (showing it to the wielder of the Fool) but in that case the Fool is lost and discarded if the commitment cannot be stolen.

MAINZ

The MAINZ variant is defined by the following differences with respect to NASSAU:

MALTA

MALTA differs from MAINZ only in the effect of the Magician, which should read as follows:

The Magician can be used to commit cards secretly: they are placed face down on the table, rather than face up as usual, and the opponents can only see how many cards are being put down. The Magician is discarded. The cards will be revealed at the end of the round, and then compared normally.

If some cards have been committed secretly using the Magician, and another player (immediately) attempts to steal them using the Fool, then the player who put down the Fool looks at the hidden cards (but does not show them to the other players), and steals them if they can be stolen by the Fool (that is, if they are not a couple); otherwise the Fool is lost (and discarded).

The Magician can be used secretly commit the Empress and Emperor, but in that case the imperial couple will be committed only to one battlefield (on which the Magician is played). The Magician cannot be used to commit the World secretly (nor to secretly pass Judgment or any such silly thing).

There is no possible transmutation of elements in the MALTA variant.

WORMS

WORMS differs from MAINZ insofar as aces are concerned.

When an ace has been commmited alone (or possibly just with the Magician) on a battlefield, then a second commitment can be made later to that battlefield, or, rather, the ace can be completed (but in a single move: there is no third or fourth commitment). This second commitment can be either a number of numerics of the appropriate suit (possibly using the Magician to transmute a card; however, it is not possible to put down the Magician on the first commitment with the ace and then use it on the second, even if the ace was initially of the appropriate suit) or a knave or a knight (but not a couple: that is, not a queen and king nor a court with the Lovers, nor the Empress and Emperor). The second commitment can be stolen using the Fool, in which case the ace is not stolen along with the rest (it remains committed). Once the second commitment has been made, the whole is considered as a single commitment (for example, the Tower could be used to decommit the whole set); if an knave or knight is made as second commitment, then it automatically discards the ace, otherwise the ace stays with the rest (and adds one point to the total forces, quite regularly).

Note that until the second commitment has been made, if ever, the ace's commitment is viewed quite regularly. For example, committing an ace on one's last battlefield will remove one from play, thus excluding the possibility of making any second commitment to go with the ace. Also, the ace prevents the World from being put down on the battlefield, or Temperance by the player who committed the ace, and so on just as the usual rules dictate. The Tower, of course, can decommit the ace alone just as it can decommit the ace along with the rest once the second commitment has been made.

GAZA

GAZA is an additional option (it can be played on top of any variant, even though “GAZA” alone normally means “MAINZ+GAZA”), which is used to make the game a little more interesting when there are only two (or possibly three) players.

GAZA adds an extra player, called the “USA”, which plays last in the round, and according to mechanical rules. USA's cards, of course, are hidden to the other players (except when certain arcana are used). When it is USA's turn to play, it mechanically discards its oldest drawn card and (if there is a still a deck) draws a new one to replace it (thus, there is no need for anyone to see its cards); it is always willing to refill the deck; when it runs out of cards, then it systematically abdicates on swords, staves, cups and coins (in this order, if that is of any importance) — thus, the USA will never win in GAZA (unless, that is, the players are very desirous to lose). Nothing says you can't use Judgment on the USA player, although there is no apparent reason why this would be useful; using the High Priestess or the Hanged Man is also permitted (and there might even be a reason for doing it). There is one special thing, however, about the USA player: in case a (real) player uses the Hierophant or the Star, Moon or Sun, then all of USA's cards are turned up so that every player can see them, and the appropriate action is taken; USA continues playing normally for the remainder of the round (newly drawn cards are invisible, of course).

The point of this extra player is to essentially remove roughly one third from the deck when there are two players. This makes it a little harder to obtain royal and imperial couples, for example.

Meme pool

Here are some further ideas for possible variants of arcanoid that have yet to be tested (or are not sufficiently well specified to define variants on their own).