Scala Quarenta is an Italian Rummy-type card game, officially recognized as one of the national games of Italy. The game is very similar to other Rummy games popular in the United States, Canada, and the UK.
The game is believed to have originated in Hungary during the First World War, as Italy and Hungary had been allies. Italian and Hungarian soldiers would mingle together, and play card games as a way to pass time and gamble.
The game has its own regulatory body in Italy, to ensure the purity of the rules in an official capacity. This article will concern itself with those official rules, as given by the Federazione Italiana Scala Quaranta e Varianti (The Italian Federation of Scala 40 and its Variants).
How to Play Scala 40
Scala Quaranta is played using two copies of the Anglo-American Joker Variant 54-card deck. This means the deck has a total of 108 cards. Generally, the game should be played with four Players, though between 2-6 can participate in a single game.
Players should randomly select a dealer by a method of their choosing. The Dealer shall then shuffle both decks together into a single “stock.”
Once the deck has been adequately shuffled, the Dealer will pass the deck to the Player sitting immediately to their right.
- That Player will take roughly half of the cards from the top of the deck, and place it on the table without looking at the cards.
- The dealer will then stack the deck back together, with the portion cut by the other Player now sitting on the bottom of the deck.
- Following the cut, the Dealer will then distribute one card at a time to Players in a clockwise fashion.
Players will be dealt one card at a time until every Player has 13 cards. Players may look at their own cards, but should keep them hidden from other Players.
Well and Heel Setup
Once each Player has been dealt their cards, the Dealer shall deal one final card, face up, next to the deck. This face-up card represents the discard zone and is called the Well.
The remaining stock of cards are placed next to the well, face-down. These cards are for drawing and are referred to as the Heel.
Players can score in Scala 40 by placing cards on the table as in most Rummy games. There are two valid melds that Players can use to “drop” cards for points. The Run, and the Set.
- The Run, sometimes called a “sequence” is a combination of at least 3, and up to 13 cards (Wildcard can be added for 14) that are ranked consecutively and are all of the same suit.
- Players can also score in Sets. A Set is a combination of three or four cards that are all the same rank, but have different suits.
To Drop sets and runs, Players simply place the cards face-up on the table in front of themselves. Players must only drop valid Runs and Sets, however.
Sets and Runs are scored by the value of the cards within them.
- Numbered cards have a score that matches their rank, so 2s are 2 points, 5s are 5 points, etc.
- The Face cards are always worth 10 points.
- The Jokers (wild cards) are worth 25 points.
The Ace is both high and low.
- If the Ace is used in a sequence in which it is a “1”, such as A♦ 2♦ 3♦ then the Ace is only worth a single point.
- If the Ace is used high, such as a sequence of Q-K-A, or if the Ace is used in a set, then those Aces would be worth 11 points.
There is an additional limitation, preventing Players from dropping cards.
Players must “Open” to drop cards. To Open, Players first drop of cards must equal 40 or more points.
For example, Player 1 cannot drop cards on their turn, because they have a Set of 9s, and a set of 2s. 9×3 is 27, 2×3 is 6, meaning Player 1 cannot Open, as they can only drop a total of 33 points.
Player 2 can open, because they have a sequence of 10♦ J♦ Q♦ K♦ for a total of 40 points.
Once a Player has opened, they may drop any cards that they wish. After opening, a Player can also drop individual cards on sets and sequences already on the table.
For example, if there is a sequence 4♦ 5♦ 6♦ and Player 2 has a 7♦ and has already opened, they may “Attack” that sequence by implanting their own 7 onto the end of it.
At the start of each turn, Players must draw one card. If a Player has not yet opened, then they must draw from the Heel on their turn. If a Player has opened, they may draw from the Heel, or from the Well.
At the end of each Player’s turn, they must discard one card into the Well. The discard should be made face-up, such that all other Players may see the discard. This allows the next opened Player to draw the Well card.
Closing the Round
Once a Player has depleted their hand of all of their cards, either by melding every card in their hand, or by discarding their final card at the end of their turn, they have “Closed.”
Once a Player has closed, they have won the round. All other Players must then count the point total of the cards remaining in their hand.
The Closing Player, as they ended the round with an empty hand, will always have a score of 0. The Other Players must then tally their scores according to their hands.
Players that reach 101 points or more are eliminated from the game, and cannot participate in subsequent rounds until the ongoing match has ended.
More rounds are played until all but one of the Players has a score of 101 and are eliminated. The final remaining un-eliminated Player is the overall winner.
A short overview of the Scala 40 rules can be found below:
- Jokers can be substituted for any card of any rank, and any color. So a black Joker can be used in a sequence of ♥’s.
- Players must open by playing a meld with a score of 40 or more. Players cannot meld, or attack, without opening.
- Players must draw one card at the start of their turn, and must discard one card at the end of their turn.
- The Player to empty their hand of cards during a round wins the round. The last Player remaining in the game without being eliminated is the winner of the whole game.
Scala Quaranta is scored using the “deadwood” system. For those familiar with how Rummy is played that will ring a bell.
Once a Player has emptied their hand of cards, they have closed the round and it immediately ends.
Players cannot close on their first turn in a round. Each Player must be allowed to have at least one turn before a close can occur.
Once a Player has closed, the remaining cards in a Player’s hand are deadwood, and apply a penalty score. So, the closing has a penalty of 0, because they are the winner.
Other Players must tally their penalty according to the score of their cards, given below:
|Card Category||Deadwood Value|
|Numbered Cards (1-10)||Same as the Card’s Rank|
|Face Cards (J, Q, K)||10 Points|
Notice that Aces are always 11 points, because they are unmelded and as such cannot be considered “low.”
Suppose that you have opened, and melded, and the following 9 cards in your hand:
7♠ 4♦ 4♣ Joker 10♦ 7♥ Q♦ 2♦ 8♠
And you draw the following card:
A terrific draw. Now, using the Joker, you can drop two melds onto the table.
7♠ 7♥ Joker and 4♦ 4♣ 4♠
Although you have already opened, this hand would qualify you had you not. Even though 21 (7×3) and 12 (4×3) does not equal 40, the Joker is worth 25 points, and would make this a valid qualifying opener.
Strategy and Tips
As Players can attack your melds with their own cards, it may be sometimes beneficial to hold onto a particular meld, such that you can accrue more components of the meld and get a higher drop at once.
This strategy is valid but risky. Other Players can close the game out while you are attempting to make a big drop.
When deploying this strategy, keep a close eye on other Player’s hands. If someone is getting close to closing, start dropping cards as soon as possible.
Although it is best to win each round, this is not always feasible due to the random nature of card games. As such, always try to have the smallest hand possible. You never know when someone could close out on one turn, and that might leave you with a lot of deadwood.
Jokers, Aces, and Face-cards are the priority in that order. Get them out of your hand in as few turns as possible. Drop Jokers before you Drop Aces, before you Drop Face-Cards.
The below thread is interesting if you want to read a bit more about strategy in Scala 40: