French Tarot is a trick-taking card game, whose origins date to the 15th century French Conquest of Milan. The Conquest, made more famous by Machiavelli’s The Prince, allowed for the greater spread of Italian Culture into France. France adopted the then-Italian Tarot deck, and developed their own games from it.
French Tarot is played using its own propriety deck, in a game of four Players.
How to Play French Tarot?
French Tarot is played using the French-Pattern Tarot Deck. Although the game is playable using the antiquated Renaissance Tarot deck, the modern “Tarot Nouveau” is the most commonly used for the game today.
The French Tarot deck is composed of 78 cards. The Tarot deck has five suits, unlike the traditional four most people are familiar with.
How to Use the Tarot
In French Tarot, there are the four suits most are familiar with (♥♦♣♠), as well as a fifth “Trump” suit. The four normal suits are similar to their Anglo-American counterparts. The Four normal suits are numbered, 1-10. 1 is the lowest-ranking card in the suit, and there are no aces. Instead, there are 4 face cards. The Valet, Cavalier, Dame, and Roi. These names more or less translate to the Jack, Knight, Queen, and King.
The Knight is an additional face card with no equivalent in the Anglo-American deck. No normal suit is ranked higher than the other.
The Trump suit is special. There are 22 cards in the Trump Suit. These cards are ranked 1-21, in Roman Numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.) As French Tarot is a trick-taking game, the Trump Suit will always outrank the other four suits.
The final card, always un-numbered, is the Fool.
Three of these cards have special rules, and are given the distinct name “Honors”. These Honors are The I, the XXI (21), and the Fool. Their mechanic within the game itself will be explained along with the game’s mechanics.
French Tarot must be played with 4 Players, as the entire deck is dealt out. The Dealer should be chosen randomly, by whichever means the Players deem to be appropriate. Each Player is dealt 18 cards, three cards at a time. After each Player has been given three cards, a single card is dealt into the center of the table to form the “Widow’s Hand”, then each Player is given 3 more cards, and this process repeats.
Once Players have all 18 cards in their hand, and there is a 6-card widow’s hand, the bidding war begins.
Bidding and Contracts
Tarot must have four Players not only to deal out the whole deck, but further because of its gameplay. The winner of the bidding war earns the right to be the “Taker”. There are four possible bids, as well as a pass option if Players do not wish to be the Taker.
The bids are ranked in order:
- Guard Without
- Guard Against.
These bids essentially represent different game states that the Taker believes they can win. Each successive bid overrides the previous.
- Player 1 bids Small
- Player 2 bids Guard
- Players 3 and 4 pass
- Player 1 also passes
- Player 2 becomes the Taker
The higher the bid’s rank, the higher the game’s difficulty for the Taker. A Small bid gives the Taker the right to take the Widow’s hand. The Taker must then discard 6 cards, so that their hand remains at 18 cards, but these discarded cards will automatically count towards their point total.
The Guard Bid functions the same way as the Small Bid, except it will have a 2x multiplier on the Taker’s final score.
The Guard Without Bid prevents the Taker from seeing and selecting cards from the Widow’s Hand. However, the cards will still be added to the Player’s score total at the end of the game. To compensate for this increased difficulty, Guard Without Takers will have their final score multiplied by a factor of 4.
The Guard Against Bid is the most difficult game for the Taker to win. The Widow’s hand will remain unseen, and the cards will be added to the opponent’s team score, instead of the Takers. This puts the Taker on an immediate back foot. As such, the Taker’s final score will ultimately be multiplied by 6x.
Once the Taker is determined, the Trick-Taking portion of the game begins.
Gameplay and Trick-Taking
French Tarot, in its Trick-Taking portion, is fairly straightforward to those familiar with trick-taking games. Players will take turns, placing exactly one card into the center of the table to form the trick. After each Player has placed in one card, the Player with the highest ranking card takes the entire trick.
The Taker will lead the first trick, playing whichever card they choose. Players must follow suit, if they are able. To follow suit, Players must play a card of the same suit as the leading card. Even if a Player will lose the trick, such as playing a 4♦ into a leading 6♦, they must do so. However, if a Player has multiple cards which can follow suit, they may play their suited card of choice.
Players are not required to follow suit if they play a Trump card. Trumps automatically beat all non-Trumps and all lower-ranking Trump cards. The II of Trumps will beat the Roi (King) of Spades. A Trump will only lose to a higher-ranking Trump.
Players that cannot follow suit may play any card in their hand, but they cannot win the trick in this case unless they play a Trump.
The Taker leads the first trick, but in subsequent tricks the winner of the previous trick will be given the right to lead the following trick.
After 18 tricks have been played, Players will tally the appropriate scores accumulated by cards in their pile of taken tricks. Each card has its own associated point value. Furthermore, there are special bonuses that offer point payouts, explained in the relevant section below.
The Taker’s final score, after tallying and bonuses, will then be multiplied by their chosen Bid. The Taker can have a positive, or negative score, depending on whether they meet their contract, or not. The number of points needed is determined by the number of Honor Cards taken by the Taker in the various tricks.
No Honor Cards taken requires 56 card points, 1 Card needs 51, 2 Honors needs 41 points, and 3 Honors require 36 points.
If the Taker manages to meet their contract, by accumulating the appropriate number of points according to the number of Honor cards in their taken tricks, their score is increased.
However, if the Taker does not meet the contract, their score is decreased by the same amount. The score, positive or negative, is multiplied by the Taker’s chosen bid multiplier.
French Tarot Scoring
Players’ scores are determined by the card-point value of the cards taken in tricks. Each card has its own associated card-point value. Below is a helpful chart to classify each card’s value:
|Trump Suit Cards
|Normal Suit Cards 1-10
These are the points Players total to determine their score at the end of the game. The Taker will calculate their score and will either grant or subtract points given their ability to meet the bid.
How to Calculate the Score?
The appropriate calculation of a score in Tarot is quite complex. The Taker must calculate the number of points between their contract target determined by their Honor cards, and their actual score.
For example, if Player 1 needed 51 points, and scored 55, they would have 4. 25 points are always added to the Target Score, leaving 29. The Petit bonus is then added if achieved.
These 29 points would then be multiplied by the chosen multiplier. Suppose the Taker won the bid on a Guard Without, and so multiplies their score by 4x.
116 is the multiplied score. The multiplied score is then added to the Slam or Handful Bonuses, if applicable. Suppose that no Slam or Handful bonuses occurred in this case. This determines the preliminary score.
French Tarot is a Zero-Sum game, where the point values of each Player combined will always equal 0. Since this Taker won more points than required by their contract, each opposing Player will lose 116 points. The Taker will then win 348 points (116×3). The preliminary score is always given to the opponents and then multiplied by 3 to determine the Taker’s final score.
Had the Taker failed to meet their bid, then their score would be negative, while the three opponents would have their scores increased.
There are also the aforementioned bonuses, which can further confer a scoring bonus to the Taker. These three bonuses have their own activation rules and their own point payouts.
The Petit will grant the Taker ten bonus points if they are able to take the last trick of the game using the I (1) of Trump.
The Handful is a bonus that the Taker should declare after the Deal when they have at least ten Trump cards in their opening eighteen-card hand. The Taker will have to show their hand to confirm to the other Players. There are three possible Handfuls a Player could have. The Single grants 20 points for ten Trumps, the Double grants 40 points for thirteen Trumps, and the Triple gives 60 points for fifteen Trumps.
If the Taker manages to win all of the tricks in a given round, this is called a Slam. If the Taker declares a Slam when they lead their first trick, and are correct, it will be a “Called” Slam.
- A Called Slam is worth 400 points.
- An Uncalled Slam, the Taker achieving a Slam without declaring it on their first lead, is worth 200 points.
A summary of the essential French Tarot rules can be found below:
- The Trump Suit always outranked cards of any other suit.
- Players are required to follow suit if they are able.
- Players will engage in a bidding war at the start of the game to determine the Taker. One Player must be the Taker. The Taker will face the opposing players.
- The Taker’s score is determined by the number of card points they won, relative to the amount of Honors in their hand. (I of Trump, XXI of Trump, and the Fool.)
Suppose you are an opponent, facing off against the Taker.
- You have a IV of Trump in your hand.
- The Taker leads the trick with an 8♠.
- Your ally, Player 2, Plays the II of Trump.
Now, you could play the IV of Trump, and your team would still take the trick away from the Taker. However, the Taker led the trick without a Trump. Your ally, Player 2, has already won the Trick. There is no need to waste one of your powerful Trump cards when the Taker has already been denied the Trick.
As the opponents, your job is to prevent the Taker from taking tricks, rather than taking them for yourselves for your own score. As such, you are only required to play a ♠, if one is your deck, as that is the Leading suit of this trick.
Save your Trump, and Play any ♠ card that you can. If you cannot, play the lowest-ranking card of any suit in your hand.