Briscola

This page is based on a contribution from Paolo Marino.

Introduction

Briscola is a trick taking game - that is, the object of the game is to take cards which gives you (or your team) a high score. It is popular in Italy and it uses the Italian 40 card deck. It is often played with Italian cards, which have suits of coins, cups, batons and swords, but you may play using a standard international 52-card deck, just by removing the Jokers, eights, nines and tens. The same game is played in the coastal regions of Slovenia and Croatia under the name Briškula.

Briscola may be played with two, three, four or six players. There is a special version for five players, which is strongly recommended.

Rank and value of cards

In order to define which card wins a particular trick, we must first define a card ranking, given from highest to lowest:
ace, three, king, queen, jack, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2.

Also, the cards have a point value:

Ace 11 points
Three 10 points
King 4 points
Queen 3 points
Jack 2 points

The remaining cards have no point value.

Briscola is often played with Italian cards with suits of swords (spade), clubs (bastoni), cups (coppe) and coins (danari). In this case the picture cards rank in the order King (re) (4 points), Horse (cavallo) (3 points), Jack (fante) (2 points). In North America, Italian cards in various regional patterns can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

As you see, the total value of cards in the deck adds up to 120 points. The player (or team) which scores at least 61 points in a game wins. Games can end in a draw when both reach the same point total (60), and usually Briscola is played to the best of three or five games.

Note on card order

Most books, when describing how to play Briscola with French suited cards (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades) use the above card order King (4), Queen (3), Jack (2), which is normal in northern Italy. However, many players, especially in the south, reverse the role of the Queen and Jack. The card order is then Ace (11), Three (10), King (4), Jack (3), Queen (2), 7, 6, 5, 4, 2.

Two player Briscola

This is the easiest version of the game, and will serve as a basis for the multiplayer versions.

One of the two players shuffles the deck and deals three cards to each player. He then takes a card (the seventh, in this case) and puts it face up near the pile of undealt cards, which are placed face down. The face-up card suit defines which will be the Briscola suit for the game. The Briscola suit is the trump suit, i.e. the suit which always takes all other cards, card ranking notwithstanding.

The game starts. The first to play is the player to the right of the dealer. In the two player version, this means that the non-dealer (A) will start.

A leads one of his three cards, face up.

B plays one of his cards, and wins or loses the trick according to these three simple rules:

  1. If B plays a card of the same suit as the card led by A, then the trick is won by whoever played the higher card - the winner takes both cards away, and puts them, face down, in a pile near him.
  2. If B plays a card which has a different suit from the card which A led, but neither card is a Briscola (trump), A wins the trick, and the cards will go to A, even if B's card was of higher rank.
  3. If B plays a card of a different suit from A's, and one of the cards is a Briscola (trump), then the player of the Briscola wins the trick.

Example (Briscola is the four of spades):

  • Player A leads the 5 of clubs.
  • Player B plays the ace of clubs. B takes the trick (Rule 1).
  • Player A leads the 5 of hearts.
  • Player B plays the King of clubs. Player A takes the trick (Rule 2)
  • Player A leads the ace of diamonds.
  • Player B plays 6 of spades (briscola). He wins the round (Rule 3).

Note that Briscola is unlike many card games, in that there is no obligation for the second player to play a card of the same suit as the first card or to trump it, just because he can. The second player is free to play any of his cards.

Note that if both players play a briscola, rule 1 dictates that the higher ranking card wins.

After each trick, each player draws a card from the pile of undealt cards. The winner of the trick draws first, followed by the loser. The player who won the trick then leads to the next one.

Eventually the undealt cards will be used up, and at this point the loser of the trick just played will draw the face up Briscola card. The game then continues, without drawing cards, until all the cards have been played.

At the end, each player takes the pile of cards he won in tricks during the game, and counts up the points according to the point scale shown above. The player with more points wins, or if each has 60, it is a draw.

Variations

Some people play that if the turned-up card, the one that indicates the trump suit, is an ace or a three (the two strongest cards), the card is put back in the middle of the deck and another card is turned up.

Some play that the winner is the first player to reach 120 points: unless one player wins all the tricks this will take two deals, one by each player.

Four player Briscola

The game remains more or less the same, but the two pairs of players sit face to face, and each pair plays as a team, like in Bridge. Playing proceeds counter-clockwise.

When playing the 4 or 6 players versions, players should avoid talking about the cards they have in hand. However, some players use a system of signalling, using facial expressions to indicate what cards they have.

The player to the right of the dealer leads first. The other players may play ANY card (there is no requirement to follow suit). If no one plays a Briscola the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. If one or more players plays a Briscola, the highest Briscola wins.

Each player in turn, starting with the winner of the trick, then draws a card from the undealt pile. The winner of the trick then leads to the next one.

When the undealt cards are used up, the next player draws the Briscola card, and the game continues without drawing until all the cards have been played.

Example:

The players are A, B, C, D, placed around a table like this:

  A  
D   B
  C  
A and C play together against B and D. A deals the cards. Briscola (the thirteenth card) comes up as a three of hearts.
  • D, who sits counter-clockwise from A, plays first, and leads the 4 of spades.
  • C plays the Jack of spades.
  • B plays the two of hearts.
  • If A does not play a higher Briscola, all four the cards will go to the D & B team.
  • A thinks that for this meagre booty (the Jack is only two points, after all) it is not worth using a Briscola, or perhaps he does not have one; anyway, he plays the 5 of clubs.
  • The trick is taken by the B & D team.
  • B leads to the next trick.

Signals

One system of signals in use to indicate high Briscola cards is as follows:

Ace stretch the lips over the teeth
Three distort the mouth to one side
King glance upwards
Queen/Knight show the tip of the tongue
Jack shrug one shoulder

Six player Briscola

This works in the same way as the four player version. The two teams are made up of three players each:

 AB 
D C
 EF 

A, C and E play against D, B, F. The deck is reduced to 36 cards by taking away the two's.

Three player Briscola

It's played the same as the two player version, and the deck is reduced to 39 cards by taking away a 2. All three players try to gain the highest number of points.

Briscola Bastarda [Five player variant]

Briscola Bastarda (Bastard Briscola), also known as Briscola Chiamata (Call Briscola) is probably the most enjoyable version of this game. The base mechanics remain the same, i.e. object of the game remains to gain the highest number of points, a briscola suit exists and so on, but there are two important twists to the basic game.

The deal

All the 40 cards are distributed among the players. Each receives eight cards, so no cards remain on the table, and everyone sees from the start all the cards in his/her hand.

Bidding

Starting with the player to the right of the dealer, everyone in turn "declares" how many points he will probably score in the game, based on the cards he has in hand. Each bid must be higher than the previous one; a player who does not wish to bid higher can pass. A player who has passed cannot bid again during the auction. The bidding continues, for several rounds if necessary, until all the players except one have passed.

The highest bidder then "calls" the Briscola, i.e. decides which card will act as Briscola for the game. He declares which is the selected card to the other players. (Ace of clubs, for example). The called card identifies the briscola suit, but serves also to define which of the remaining players will team up with the first one: the three remaining players form a team which is opposed to the caller/holder pair.

The problem is that no-one, except the holder, knows which one of the players will team up with the caller.

Play

The actual play is the same as in a "traditional" Briscola game. The play continues until all cards have been played.

The holder should avoid revealing his identity until the time comes to play the called card. The other players should try to deduce which player is playing with the caller, and adjust their strategy accordingly.

Scoring

At the end of the game, points gained by the caller and by the holder are counted together.

If the total is equal to or more than what the caller declared before the game, he gets 2 points, the holder takes 1 points, and the three other players get -1 (negative) point each. If the total is less than the declared amount, the three players get 1 points each, while the caller loses 2 points and the holder 1 point.

At the start of the game, the players should agree how many points they will play to - usually 10-15 points. Further games are played until someone wins by reaching this total.

Additional Notes

The caller can, if he has an exceptionally good hand, call for a card he has in its own hand. This will gain (or lose) him 4 points, while his opponents still gain/lose 1 point each.

The game is extremely funny: players need to decide whose side the others are on, mainly by observing the cards played during a round (it's forbidden to talk about the cards in one's own hand, as usual). The holder should walk a thin line between gaining points for himself and his partner, while avoiding being discovered too soon.

Variation

Some people play a different method of bidding. Players state the rank of the Briscola they wish to call (e.g. ace, three, king, ...), the objective being always to win at least 61 points. Each player in turn must pass or bid a lower rank than the previous bidder. So the bidding is won by whoever is prepared to call the lowest card. If someone bids "two", the bidding can continue by other players offering to call a two and win more than 61 points, and then the player who was prepared to call a two and win most points would win the bidding.

Briškula in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Veselko Kelava reports that in Bosnia and Herzegovina Briškula is played with a 32-card pack, each suit ranking: A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7. The card values are A=11, 10=10, K=4, Q=3, J=2. Any number can play without partnerships, or four can play as partners, two against two. When the talon comes close to an end and some players draw and some don't get a chance. Only those who drew play to the following trick, so that all again have the same number of cards in hand.

Four-card or double Briškula

In both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, a variation is played in which four cards (instead of three) are dealt to each player, and everyone plays twice to each trick: after everyone has played one card, the play continues around the table and all play a second card. Whoever plays the highest trump or if there are none, the highest card of the suit that was led takes all the cards of the double trick. Everyone in turn draws a card from the talon and then everyone draws a second card so that all have four cards again, and the winner of the previous trick leads to a new double trick.

Other Briscola WWW sites and software

The freeware and PRO versions of Gianfranco Marzano's Briscola computer program are available from his Home Page dei giochi di carte italiani.

At the Italian site Tretre you can play Briscola on line against live players or against the computer, and also find rules of Briscola and several variants.

At GiochiStars you can play two-player Briscola games and tournaments online against live opponents

With Orfeo Bernardo's Briscola Mano a Mano you can play against the computer or against a live opponent.

Žan Kafol has developed a Flash web site providing online multiplayer briškola (briscola) for 2, 3 or 4 players.

At Davide Gullo's GDM community site you can play Briscola Chiamata on line.

The two-player Briscola program at the Solitari con le Carte site is written in VBScript, and therefore can only be played using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

You can play Briscola and Briscola Chiamata on line at the Italian site biska.com.

Here is Brian Friesen's freeware Briscola program for Windows.

You can download a freeware Briscola program from Thanos Card Games.

With the free Windows program BTM Pro, obtainable from Drazen's homepage, you can play Briscola and some other Italian games against the computer or against other players over a network.