31 / Scat / Ride the Bus / Blitz

This page is based on contributions from Eric Kent, Paul Welty, Duine Buile, Jim Black and William Priester Jr.

Introduction

This is a simple draw and discard game, suitable for players of all ages. Players have a three card hand and the aim is to collect cards in a single suit worth 31 points or as near as possible to that total. It is played in the USA, the UK and perhaps other places. In the USA it is usually called Scat, 31 or Blitz, but note that all of these names are somewhat ambiguous:

  • This Scat has no connection whatever with the German national card game Skat;
  • There are two other games called 31:
    • the German game 31, also known as Schwimmen, Schnauz or Hosen 'runter, which is like the game on this page, except that cards are swapped with a central pool of three cards, rather than using a draw and discard mechanism;
    • the banking game 31, which is similar to 21 except that the object is to draw cards adding as near as possible to 31 without exceeding it.
  • This Blitz is not to be confused with Dutch Blitz, which is a version of Racing Demon, sometimes played with special cards.

Eric Kent learned the game in the late 70's from older siblings, who had in turn learned it from friends visiting from the UK, and they called it Ride the Bus, and used a somewhat different method of keeping score.

Players

From 2 to 9 or more people can play. Eric Kent suggests that the game is perhaps best when played with 3 players, but it should also work well with a larger group.

Cards and their value

A standard 52 card deck is used. For scoring hands, the ace is worth 11 points, the kings, queens, and jacks are worth 10, and all other cards are worth their pip value.

The value of a three card hand is calculated by adding up the value of the cards held in any one suit. So if you have three cards of the same suit, you can add up all three. If only two cards are in the same suit you can add those, or use the value of the odd card if it is higher than the sum of the other two. If you have three different suits the value of your hand is the value of the highest card in it. The maximum hand value is 31, consisting of the ace and two ten-point cards in the same suit.

Examples:
heartK-heart8-heart5: value 23 (sum of all 3 cards)
spadeQ-diamond9-diamond8: value 17 (9 + 8)
clubA-spade6-spade4: value 11 (the ace is worth more than the spades)
clubJ-heart7-spade4: value 10 (the jack)

Deal

Determine the first dealer in any manner you desire. The deal rotates clockwise with each hand. The cards are shuffled and the dealer deals the cards singly, starting with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise until everyone has a hand of three cards.

The next card is turned face up on the table to start the discard pile, and the remaining undealt cards are placed face down next to it to form the stock. During play, the discard pile is always kept "squared up" so that only the top card is visible and available to be taken.

Play

The player to dealer's left begins and the turn passes clockwise around the table. A normal turn consists of:

  1. drawing the top card either from the stock or from the discard pile;
  2. discarding one card on top of the discard pile.

Note that if you choose to take the top card from the discard pile, it is illegal to discard the same card, leaving the position unchanged. You must keep the card you took and discard one of the cards that was previously in your hand. However, if you draw the top card of the stock, you are free to discard the card that you drew onto the discard pile, leaving your hand unchanged.

Knocking

If at the start of your turn, you believe that your hand value is at least as high as your opponents can achieve with one more turn, you can knock instead of drawing a card. Knocking ends your turn; you must keep the hand you had at the start of that turn, but each other player gets one final turn to draw and discard. After the player to the knocker's right has discarded, all players reveal their cards. Each player decides which suit is their point suit, and totals up their cards in that suit.

The player with the lowest hand value loses a life. If there is a tie involving the knocker, the other player(s) lose a life, but the knocker is safe. The knocker loses if his or her score is lower than that of every other player, and in that case the knocker loses two lives. If there is a tie for lowest between two or more players other than the knocker, then both (all) of those players lose a life.

There is just one case where it is possible to pick up your own discard. This happens when there are only two players left in the game and your opponent knocks. The card you discarded just before the knock is still on top of the pile, so it is now available for you to take back if you want it - for example if you had just broken up a suit for tactical reasons you can now restore it.

Declaring 31

If after drawing and discarding, or with the cards originally dealt, a player achieves hand value of 31, they show their cards immediately and claim victory. In this case all the other players lose. A player who gets 31 can declare it even after another player has knocked; victory is immediate and all the other players lose. If it happens that two or more players get 31 on the initial deal then all the players other than those with 31 lose.

Scoring

The normal way of scoring in Scat is that each player begins the game with three pennies. When you lose a life, you have to put one of your pennies into the kitty in the centre of the table. If you knock and lose, having the sole lowest hand, you pay two pennies (if you have that many).

If someone declares 31, all the other players have to put a penny in the kitty. If someone declares 31 after another player has knocked, the knocker just pays one penny, like everyone else.

If you have no money left, having lost all three of your pennies, you are said to be "on the county" (meaning on the dole, on welfare, receiving charity from the county, etc.), or "on your face". If you lose while on the county, you are out of the game. The game continues until only one player has not been eliminated, and that player is the winner.

Variations

Some play that 3-of-a-kind of any rank counts as 30 (or 30.5) points. When it counts 30, it ties with three ten-point cards of the same suit. If it counts 30.5, it beats all hands except Scat.

Rarely, people play that any straight-flush (three cards of the same suit in sequence) is worth 30 (except for A-K-Q, which is 31).

Some play that there is a minimum score with which you are allowed to knock - for example 17, 19 or 21.

A variant played in Philadelphia and perhaps elsewhere is the "throw-down". Without first looking at the cards, the first player to the left of the dealer can call a "throw down" by exposing the hand. Everyone must show their cards immediately - no one gets to draw a card. The "throw down" is treated like the "knock" in that if the player who called it has the lowest hand value, the penalty is two "lives". Obviously, this round of the game takes very little time, thus speeding up the game.

Ride the Bus has a different way of keeping track of wins and losses. All players start out "seated" at the back of the bus. Players who lose a hand move toward the front in a sequence. The sequence is usually: first, you stand at the back of the bus, then you are in the middle of the bus, then at the front of the bus, then you are on the stairs, then you are off the bus. Players who are no longer "riding the bus" are out of play. Winning a hand simply keeps your position; you do not move back a step if you win a hand.

The scoring system of Ride the Bus can be changed to suit how many hands people want to play. Because this game is very casual, this often happens in the middle of the game by mutual agreement of all players; for example, a player who is "on the stairs" loses another hand and would normally be out of play, but since everyone is having so much fun, it is declared that the player is "on the second step" or "asking the driver to stop" instead of out. If extra levels are introduced, they apply to all players.

On the site Cribbage.ca is a description of a French Canadian version of 31 in which after a player has knocked and everyone else has taken a turn, the player with the highest score is awarded one point. If there is a tie the player who did not knock wins it. Presumably if there is a tie between two players neither of whom knocked they get a point each. A player who makes 31 declares it and score a point immediately. The game apparently goes on until someone reaches a score of 31 - a long game.

Scat software

You can download Ryan Skeldon's free Blitz 31 for Windows.

On the cbc.ca kids site you can play a version of this game called High Hat against computer opponents.

Here is Bob Dolan's Scat program for Windows.