Eléwénjewé

This page is based on information from Adewale Kassim of Walxytech.

Introduction

Eléwénjewé, whose full name is Eléwénjewénómbàjenómbà is a fishing game played in the Yorùbá land of Nigeria, West Africa. It dates from the slave trade era and is still played in the 21st century.

Eléwénjewé is played with a standard 52-card pack, to which two jokers can be added, and the objective is to capture or "scoop" cards from the table or "palette". A card can be captured by an equal card and several cards can be captured together by a card that is equal to their sum.

There are some differences between the "professional" game, played as a serious competition, and the "amateur" game, played for fun. Also there are differences between "normal rules" and "Yorùbá rules", which are stricter.

Players and Cards

From two to five people can play, and even a six-player game is possible. However, professional games are normally played between just two players.

A standard international 52-card pack is used. The Ace has a capture value of 1, and the 2-10 have their face value for the purpose of capture. Kings, Queens and Jacks have no numerical value, and can only be captured by another card of the same rank.

In amateur games, two jokers may be added to the pack. These have the special power of capturing all the cards from the table. In professional play jokers are not used.

When there are more than two players, the game may be played either clockwise or anticlockwise, as the players agree.

Deal and Play

Players take turns to deal, in clockwise or anticlockwise sequence according to the agreed direction of play. In some serious games there is a non-playing dealer who acts as referee.

Before shuffling, the dealer must remove four special cards from the deck: the K, Q, J and 9 of the Diamond suit. These four cards are placed face up in the middle of the table:

kingqueenjacknine

The rest of the cards are shuffled by the dealer and one of the other players will cut. The dealer then deals a batch of four cards to each player, beginning with his right hand or left hand opponent, going around the table anticlockwise or clockwise as agreed, and ending with the dealer himself, or with the last player if the dealer not playing.

The players look at their four cards, and play in turn, beginning with the player who was dealt the first cards and continuing in the direction of play. Each turn consists of playing one card face up to the table and possibly capturing ("scoping") some of the cards on the table.

When all players have played their four cards, the dealer gives them each another batch of four from the deck of cards (but no more cards are dealt to the table) and play continues. When 52 cards are used, without jokers, there are 48 cards to be dealt, and with 2, 3, 4 or 6 players they will all be used after 6, 4, 3 or 2 rounds of dealing respectively. When the players have played their last four cards the play ends.

In an amateur game, when jokers are added to the pack, the cards cannot be dealt exactly to the players in batches of four. In this case, there are several alternative procedures, and the players must agree in advance which to use:

  1. In a two-player game, when jokers are used, the last two cards may be dealt to the players. After the 6th deal of four cards each there is a final deal in which each player has just one card to play.
  2. The remaining cards may be placed with the face-up cards on the table immediately after dealing the last four cards each to every player.
  3. The remaining cards may be left unused and belong to nobody.

In the 5-player game without jokers, there will be 8 cards remaining after the second deal. There is a third deal of one card to each player and the last three cards are either added to the table cards or not used. In the five-player game with jokers, there are two deals of four cards each followed by one deal of two cards each.

Capturing

Capturing is locally known as "scooping" or "scoping" - maybe there is some influence here from the Italian game Scopa.

At your turn you must play one card from your hand.

  • If the played card matches any card on the table, it can scoop the matched card. For example a king scoops a king; a 7 scoops a 7.
  • If the played card is a number card from 2 to 10 and it is equal to the sum of two or more cards on the table, it can scoop those cards.

Scooped cards are placed face down in front of the player who captured them, along with the card that was played to make the capture.

It is possible to scoop more than one set of cards that add up to the card played, or a matched card and an add-up set together. For example if the cards A, 2, 5, 6, 7 are on the table and a seven is played, the player could capture all the cards: 7 and (6+A) and (5+2). If a nine is played, with these same cards on the table, the player could capture either (6+2+A) or (7+2) but not both sets at once, since the 2 cannot be used simultaneously in different sets. Normally it would be better to capture (6+2+A) - three cards rather than two.

Scooping is not compulsory. It is legal to play a card without taking all the cards that could be scooped. For example if there is a 4 and a 2 on the table, you could play a 4 from hand and leave the cards on the table instead of taking them, hoping later to scoop all three cards with a 10.

Under Yorùbá rules, when a card is used to scoop more than one card, all the scooped cards must be different from each other and from the played card. For example you can use a 10 to scoop a single 10 or to scoop 7+ 3, but you cannot use a 10 to scoop 4+4+2, and you cannot use it to scoop 10+7+3.

If you do not scoop any cards from the table, either because the card you played does not match anything, or because you choose not to scoop any cards, the played card stays face up on the table and is available for capture in future turns.

Amateur Eléwénjewé games are sometimes played with Jokers. In this case

  • If a Joker is played, it automatically scoops all the cards on the table. In Yorùbá, this is called “Ipalemo”.
  • If a Joker is played when the table is empty, it remains there, and is taken as a bonus scooped card by the next player who makes a valid capture. This does not often happen, but can occur if a player has kept a Joker as his last card, but the player immediately before him scoops all the cards from the table.

After the very last card has been played and there are no more cards to deal, any cards that remain on the table are taken by player who played the last card, irrespective of whether that card scooped any cards from the table. This gives a considerable advantage to the last player, but this is balanced by the fact that the players take turns to deal so that a different player makes the last play in each game.

When Eléwénjewé is played as a gambling game, sometimes it is agreed at the start of the game that the remaining cards will belong to no one, thus avoiding giving an unfair advantage to the last player.

Esun

Esun is the Yorùbá word for what is known as "building" in European fishing games. At at the start of the game it may be agreed that Esun is allowed.

When playing with Esun, when playing a card, you can combine it with other cards on the table into a protected pile that you intend to scoop later. You must have a card in your hand that can legally scoop all the cards of the protected pile together, according to the normal rules of matching and adding, and you are committed to scoop the pile before your four cards are exhausted (unless some other player takes it first).

A protected pile can never be added to or broken apart. Once formed it can only be scooped as a single unit, and when it is scooped no other cards can be scooped at the same time. A protected pile must be scooped before the next cards are dealt. If no one else takes it the person who formed the pile must scoop it - otherwise he will suffer a penalty.

Examples:

  • On the table is a 3, a 5 and a 6. In my hand I have 2, 5, 10. I can play my 2, make it into a protected pile along with the 3 and the 5. Any player can scoop this pile of {2, 3, 5} by playing either a 5 or a 10.
  • There is a Queen on the table and I have two Queens. I can play one of my Queens on the table Queen to make a protected pile of Queens, and later scoop the pile containing both these Queens with my second Queen.

If playing Yorùbá rules, a protected pile cannot contain two equal cards, and cannot be scooped by a card that is equal to one of the cards that is in it. So under Yorùbá rules a pile of {2, 3, 5} cannot be taken by a 5, but only by a 10. Also under Yorùbá rules it is impossible to make a protected pile of picture cards, because such a pile would necessarily contain duplicates.

Isiwo

Players may agree in advance to play with "Isiwo". This Yorùbá word means that at any time players may look through their own pile of scooped cards. This helps them to remember what cards remain in the deck, which is particularly important when playing the last few cards.

When playing without Isiwo, cards that have been scooped cannot be looked at by anyone until the end of the play.

Under no circumstance are players allowed to look at their opponents' scooped cards. For example, if a player plays a card and uses it to take some cards from the table and add them to his scooped cards, the opponent cannot look at these cards to check whether the play was legal. If the opponent thinks the scoop was illegal, he can accuse the player of an illegal scoop, but if the accusation turns out to be false, the accuser suffers a penalty.

Scoring

At the end of the play, each player's stack of scooped cards is counted. All cards are equal in value - one point each.

The captured cards are then combined and shuffled by the dealer for the next round of play. A professional Eléwénjewé game consists of three rounds; an amateur game lasts for four rounds. The number of cards scooped by each player in the three or four rounds is added together. Whoever scooped most cards in total is the overall winner.

With a larger number of players the game can also be played in the following way. At the end of the game, the player with the fewest points is eliminated, and the others play another game. This continues until a single winner is determined.

Irregularities and Penalties

The penalty for breaking the rules of the game varies according to the level of play. In an amateur game you may just get a warning. In a professional game you will lose one or more cards. You may suffer a penalty if:

  • You touch your opponent's cards - either the cards dealt to other players or the cards that other players have scooped.
  • You touch cards on the table that you cannot scoop with the card that you played. In the Yorùbá language this is called “Itakuta”.
  • During a game with Yorùbá rules, you try to make a play that is only allowed under normal rules, such as capturing duplicate cards or trying to make a protected pile with duplicate cards. This is called “Dodo”.
  • You wrongly accuse your opponent of an illegal move - for example you accuse your opponent of wrongly scooping cards when in fact the scoop was valid.

The exact penalties should be agreed before starting to play. Normally they involve the loss one card, either from the player's hand or from the player's scooped cards.

When losing a card from hand the player must choose one card and add it to the table cards. The player will then run out of cards one turn earlier than the others, and will miss a turn at that point. When a player loses scooped cards, they are placed face up on the table and are available for capture by any player.