La Morte

A Card Game of Tricks for 3 to 5 Players, created by Matt Haller

This is a simple trick-taking game that can be played within the span of an hour.

The Deck

For 3 or 4 players, 37 cards from the Tarot pack are used, with nine ranks in four suits, plus the 13 of Trumps (La Morte). Card ranks are Ace high, with all numeric ranks in descending order: 1 K Q C J 10 9 8 7.

To extend the game for five players, add nine extra cards to the pack, two extra ranks in each suit, plus the 1 of Trumps (Il Bagatto). Il Bagatto is the highest Club, above Ace: [B] 1 K Q C J 10 9 8 7 6 5.

The 52-card international pack can be substituted, using additional numbers in place of the Cavalier, a Joker or an unused Spade as La Morte, and the 2 of Clubs in place of Il Bagatto, if needed.

  • 3 or 4 Players: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6.
  • 5 Players: [2] A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4.

The Deal

The dealer of the first round should be chosen by lottery. Afterward the deal passes left each round.

The dealer deals clockwise one card at a time, until 9 cards are dealt to each player. The remaining card, or the top card of the deck in case of 3 players, is turned up in the middle as the talon. The suit of the talon is trumps that round. If La Morte is turned up, no suit is trump.

Bidding

The dealer starts by bidding. The legal bids are:

  • Bid X - A wager of the number of tricks that will be taken. A bid must be at least 1, or higher than any previous bid. A bid of all-tricks cannot be raised. Once a bid is accepted, the player who bid last becomes the contract maker, and no higher bids are possible.
  • Accept - Sets the contract and participates in the defense. This call can only be made after a bid. The first player to accept leads the first trick with the lowest-ranked card in their hand, immediately. If two or more cards are tied for lowest, the player may choose from among them. In any case, any players who have yet to bid may see the cards played into the trick before choosing to accept or drop themselves.
  • Drop Out - A player who drops neither accepts the bid nor participates in defense. The aim of a dropper is to take 0 tricks. After a player has dropped out, they may not bid or accept later, with one exception, below.

If all players drop out, the dealer has the option of restarting the bidding by making a bid themself, or mucking the deal. If the dealer bids, all other players may respond in any normal fashion. When mucked, the round is abandoned and the deal passes left.

Play

Each round is 9 tricks.

Players must play cards in the lead suit of possible, otherwise any card may be played. The player who plays the highest trump, otherwise the highest card in-suit, wins the tick. The winner of a trick leads the next.

The La Morte is a played as if it were the in the trump suit. Players may never lead with La Morte, unless they must, because it is their only card. La Morte wins any trick led trump. Conversely, it loses any trick led off-trump, and the player taking the trick in this case is "il Morto". Il Morto scores normally (including for the trick just taken), but plays no more tricks, and the lead passes left.

Scoring and Penalties

  • A player who makes their bid scores points equal to the contract value.
  • If the maker fails to make their bid, each defender scores the contract value.
  • If a player Drops and takes no tricks, they score 1 less than the contract value. Otherwise, they score 0.
  • Each trick is worth 1 point for the maker and any defenders. Tricks of dropped players are not scored.
  • If a player is forced to lead La Morte on the last trick, they are "Fuori dal Tempo" or simply "dal Tempo", and scored 0 regardless of points earned.
  • Any other revoking of the rules is scored a deduction equal to the points otherwise earned (illegally scoring 3 results in a -3, for example).

The game is played until a set number of points are earned, typically 50. A round limit can also be set, with the game concluding after a specified number of deals.

These game rules are in the public domain.