How to Play Briscola: a Trick-Taking Card Game

Written by: Abha Vardhan

Briscola is an Italian trick-taking card game, which works with points. The game was originally played with a 40 set deck of cards that had clubs (bastoni), cups (coppe), swords (spade), and coins (danari) as suit symbols. Nowadays this game is played with a standard 52 card deck after eliminating some cards such as Jokers, Eights, Nines and Tens.

The game can be played with between two to six players. Three cards are dealt to each player and the remaining cards are placed facing down on the table. The dealer then takes the seventh card and puts it face down on the table. In order to win the game, the player or the team (when the game is played with four people or more) needs to score at least 61 points.

Understanding the Card Rankings and Points Values

In order to understand the rules of the game, it is important that you are aware of the card rankings and point values. In order to win a trick, the card ranking is as follows: Ace, Three, King, Queen, Jack, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Two. It is interesting to note that in this game 3, in terms of ranking 3 comes after ace, making it a significantly powerful card.

Each card has a designated value, for example, Ace has 11 points, 3 has 10 points, King has 4 points, Queen has 3 points, Jack has 2 Points. The rest of the cards have a value of 0 points.

Different Versions of the Game

Briscola is one of the most sought-after games amongst card players because it includes clever strategies that need to be employed in order to win. The rules and strategies are different, depending on which version of Briscola you play. They are also dependant on the number of players involved in the game.

  • Two Players Game: The basic version of Briscola is played with two players.
  • Three Players Game: When there are three players, the dealer reduces the pack of 40 to 39 by removing a ‘two’ card. The game rules are similar to the two players’ version. In this version, each player seeks to achieve the maximum number of points for themselves.
  • Four Players Game: If there are four players in the game, you can play the basic version or the partners’ version game. Most players prefer the latter where partners are made to sit opposite each other. Most teams agree to some communication between partners either by conversation or by visual gestures.
  • Five Players Game: When played with five players, the game is referred to as Briscola Bastarda, also known as “Call Briscola.” It is considered the most delightful version of the game. The basic rules remain the same with certain variations (see below).
  • Six Players Game: This version follows the same rules as the four player version, but includes two teams of three players.

How to Play Briscola: For Two Players

This is the simplest version of the game and works as a foundation for other multiplayer types. Before you start to play the basic version of Briscola with two players, let’s get acquainted with its simple rules.

  • High card is the winner: When two players are playing the same suit, then the one with the higher rank wins.  It is quite basic. King beats Queen, Queen beats Jack, Jack beats Seven and so on. However, the only thing to keep in mind is that the Three beats all excluding the Ace.
  • Chase the suit: It is as simple as it sounds. You need to follow the suit, so if one player leads a Club, other must follow with a Club. Let’s say, for example, one player plays the three of clubs, and another plays the ace of spades, the first player still wins because the second player didn’t chase the suit.
  • Trump is always the winner: If the first player plays the ace of the non-trump suit, and the second player plays any card of the Trump suit, the second player wins. So, it is clear the trump card always has an upper hand. However, if the first player plays a trump card, and the second player plays a higher trump card, the second player wins.

Now, let’s begin the game. One of the players becomes a dealer and shuffles the cards. Three cards are dealt to the second player and then the dealer deals three cards to himself. Then, he flips the next card of the deck and places it face-up next to the cards that are not dealt yet. This ‘face-up’ card is considered as the Trump suit or Briscola for this hand.

The player who didn't deal the cards plays first and starts the game by playing one of the three cards. The other player plays one of his cards and wins or loses the trick in accordance with the three simple rules highlighted above.

The player who won the first trick draws a card from the stack of the undealt cards, followed by the player who lost the hand. The player who won the trick then gets to play the first card of the next trick. The winner of this hand will be the first to draw the next card from the undealt cards and he will be the only one to lead the next hand.

Gradually, all the undealt cards will be used up. When there are only two cards left, one face-up and the other face down, the player who won the last trick gets the face-down card and the loser gets the face-up card. You will find many strategies addressing the pros and cons of players taking or not taking the last trick.

How to Determine the Winner of the Game?

After all the cards are used up, each player collects the cards they have won in tricks during the game and counts up the points. The objective of the game is to achieve more points than the other player. There is a total of 120 points available in Briscola, so a player needs at least 61 points to win the game. If each player gets 60 points, the game is considered a draw.

How to Play Briscola: For Four Players

When four players are playing the game, the basic rules remain the same. However, the partners sit opposite each other and play as a team. The game starts in an anti-clockwise direction and the player sitting on the right side of the dealer begins first. The other players may or may not follow suit and can play any card.

If none of the players plays a Trump suit, the winner is the one with the highest card of the suit led. On the other hand, if one or more players play a Trump suit, the highest Briscola wins. The winner of the trick is the first one to draw a card from the pile of the undealt cards, followed by the rest of the players. Also, the winner leads the next hand. When all the cards are used up, the next player takes up the Briscola card. The game goes on until the players have played all the cards.

After all the cards have been played, the partners add their points and evaluate the total point value of cards.

Visual Cues - when playing in partnership, the pairs can communicate with each other through various signals and gestures. The game becomes more fun as the other partner tries to interpret the signals and hide them from their opponents. The traditionally followed cues are as follows:

  • Ace: Purse your lips or stretch the lips over your teeth
  • Three: Distort your mouth to one side or twist your mouth
  • King: Stare upwards or raise your eyebrows
  • Queen: Lick your lips or show the tip of your tongue
  • Jack: Lift one of your shoulders

How to Play Briscola: For Five Players

The five players’ version of Briscola is probably the best of all. The basic playing rules and the aim of the game remain the same as the players aim to receive the highest number of points. However, there are some vital twists in this version of the game.

  • Dealing: first, all the cards of a 40-card deck are distributed among five players, and each player gets eight cards each. Thus, there are no cards on the table.
  • Bidding: second, there is bidding in the game where all the players announce the number of points they might score in the game, after analyzing the eight cards they have in their hand. The player sitting right to the dealer starts the bidding. The rest of the players can either place a higher bid or pass.

The highest bidder or the ‘caller of the game’ decides which card will work as a Briscola for the game. By doing so, he also recruits the ‘holder of that card’ as his partner. The remaining three players form a second team, to play against the other pair. The important thing here is that no one knows about the holder, not even the caller. It is crucial that the holder does not expose his identity during the game; however, other players can try and guess who the holder is and change their strategy accordingly.

Scoring

When the game ends, the caller and the holder pair calculate their points. If their value matches with the original bid, the caller receives two points and the holder gets one, while the rest lose one point. If the caller/holder receives less points than their original bid, the caller loses two points, the holder loses one, and the team of three gets one point each.

 

 

 

 

 

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