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Pys'ngtaut

Also known as Kuzanasta. Created by Stephen & Jill Rogers

Pys’ngtaut (pronounced pihz-zing-tot) is a game that was created for a book I’m writing entitled "Armistice". It is supposed to be an alien card game played with an alien deck of cards, which are similar yet significantly different from modern playing card or tarot decks. A rough version of this alien deck can be approximated using regular types of cards, and it is this version of the game that will be presented here.

Pys’ngtaut is a rummy game. The goal is to collect sets of cards, each of which are worth a set number of points. It is designed to be a high-stakes gambling game, played generally by the aristocracy of the alien world in question. The more sets a player completes, the higher the potential pay-off if they win. The most unique feature of this game is the utilization of two draw and discard piles, only one set of which is available to a given player during the game (unless they draw the "god" card). Also, the scoring of the game is unique in that sets that contain more than three cards are actually worth less than three-card sets.

The game is still being tinkered with, so our extra thoughts and ideas will be added to the end of this document as game variations.

Pys’ngtaut Ter’nasit (Kuzanasta)

This is the version of the game designed for use by human players. There are fewer cards available, and thus many feel that this version is much harder to win at than the original game, much to the chagrin of its originators.

PLAYERS: 2-4. The game was designed for four players. There are no partnerships allowed in any form of the game.

EQUIPMENT: Two decks of regular playing cards are required. From one deck, all of the face cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks) are set aside. A single joker is also required, for a final total of 93 cards. Any type of deck can be used, be they French-suited, Spanish-suited, German, tarot, or whatever, so long as two of the same type of deck is used. If using tarot cards, the trump suits of both decks are removed except for a single copy of The Fool. The rules presented here assume that the players will use a standard deck (52-cards, French-suits). Finally, a scoring device is required. Poker chips are recommended, with the white chips representing 5 units, the reds 20, and the blues 1000. If an additional color chip is used, a denomination of 10,000 is recommended.

RANK AND VALUE OF THE CARDS: The cards rank K (high), Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low). The joker has no rank: it is a card that grants special powers to the player who plays it. The face cards have a hand value of 50 points, 6-10 have a value of 10 points, and A-5 have a value of 5 points. The cards have no value once they are placed in sets, although the sets themselves score significantly higher amounts of points if the player goes out. Any wild cards in the hand are worth zero.

THE DEAL: Cut cards to determine who the first dealer is. High card deals first, with suits ranking Hearts (high), Diamonds, Spades and Clubs (low) in the event of a tie. Face cards and the joker disqualify a player from dealing first. In subsequent hands, the deal passes to the right.

Once the dealer for a hand has been determined, that player shuffles the combined deck and then cuts the cards, offering a cut to all other players if they wish. The top card of the deck is then turned up. The rank of this card sets the Wild Cards for the hand. If the joker is turned up, there are no wild cards and the value of the hand is doubled. For the three-player game, this card is then placed on the bottom of the pack. Otherwise, it is placed out of play but kept in plain sight. Each player then receives seven cards, dealt counter-clockwise singly. After the cards are dealt from the single deck, the remaining cards are placed into two equal-sized draw piles (39 cards a piece for 2-players, 36 cards a piece for 3-players, and 32 cards for four players) by taking the appropriate number of cards off of the top of the deck as a whole (these cards are not dealt into two piles, nor should the top half of the pile be reversed by the separation process). The upper half of the deck is placed within easy reach of all players. For the 2 and 3-player game, the bottom half is set aside but not out of play. For the 4-player game, the dealer and the player across from the dealer share the top half, while the players on either side of the dealer share the bottom half. After the draw piles have been formed, the top cards of the piles are turned up to form the discard piles.

THE PLAY: Once the cards are dealt and the draw piles have been formed, play begins with the player to the dealer’s right. Play proceeds counter-clockwise around the table. Players, on their turn, may draw a card from the top of their designated pile or take the up card from their designated discard pile. A player may only take the top card from the discard pile if they can use it to form a valid set. After a player has drawn, they may place down as many valid sets from their hand as they so choose, and then signify the end of their turn by discarding one card to their designated discard pile.

MELDING SETS: A player forms a set of cards by matching at least four cards of the same rank. Runs of cards (e.g. 4-5-6) are not valid sets in any form of the game. Wild Cards may be used to substitute for one or more cards of a set, but there must be at least one natural card in a set; sets of wild cards may not be melded. Additional cards of the same rank can be added to a melded set at a later time, though they do not increase the value of a set further; they may be used to help a player run out their hand.

After a player has melded two four-card sets to the table, they may begin melding three-card sets. Three-card sets are in fact worth more than four-card sets, but four-card sets still score a rather high number of points. However, to claim the points for those sets, the player must eventually go out. If another player goes out, a player’s sets are worthless.

TAKING THE UP CARD: If a player can use the top card of their discard pile to form a meld, they place the other cards of the meld on the table, and then take the up card. The player then must take the next seven cards of the discard pile and add them to their hand. If there are not seven cards in the discard pile, the player must draw what is there and then make up the difference by drawing cards from the draw pile. An up card may only be taken by combining it with cards from the player's hand to form a new meld: at least one of the cards from the player's hand must be natural. If the top card matches a set the player already has on the table, they may only take it if they can form another set of that rank from cards available in the hand (one, two or three natural cards and one or two wild cards, depending if a player can form three-card sets or not). If they can form the set, those cards are melded as a separate set, and then afterwards added to the existing set.

Exception, Going Out: A player does not have to draw extra cards if, by picking up the up card, they can legally go out. This would happen in a situation where a player has two four-card sets already on the table and can get rid of the rest of the cards in their hand by picking up the up card only, or in the situation where a player has one four-card set on the table, three or more cards in their hand composed of cards of a single rank and wild cards, and can form their second four-card set by picking up the up card only.

THE "GOD" CARD: The joker is also known as the "god" card, because it grants special powers to any player who chooses to play it. To play the god card, a player simply places the god card in front of them during their melding phase. The player then draws a card to replace the god card. This player may now choose their draw pile (including cards from the bottom half of the deck in 2-3 player games) and may discard in either discard pile (including a second discard pile which only the endowed player may access). The god card doubles the player’s final score (which may be good or bad, depending upon whether or not that player goes out). Finally, when taking the up card, the player with the god card may elect to take as many cards from the discard pile as they choose, up to the maximum of seven (they do not have to draw any extra cards if they so choose). It is possible to lose the god card throughout the course of play. The effects of the god card only last while the player is in possession of that card. If it is taken away, the player loses the abilities the god card granted. A player may choose to discard the god card instead of playing it, in which case it acts like a discarded wild card.

DISCARDING WILD CARDS: If a player discards a wild card at any time, all the cards in that pile, including the wild card, must be immediately set out of play. These cards may not be used again in the hand under any circumstances. When discarded, a wild card may be used to capture the god card from another player. If another player has the god card in play, then the player simply takes it and adds it to their melded sets. The god card can be moved around many times from play to player, so long as there are any wild cards left.

DEAD HANDS: If at any time a player’s draw pile is exhausted, they cannot take the up card from their discard pile, and are required to draw, the game is halted. Each player tallies up the value of their hands and places the value into the "pot". No player may score for their sets and a new hand is dealt.

GOING OUT: A player may go out by running their hand out of cards, after having melded at least two four-card sets to the table. A player simply needs to run their hand out: it is valid whether their last card is melded or discarded. When a player goes out, each other player tallies up the value of the remaining cards in their hand and adds the scoring value of the winning player’s melded sets, the final total of which is then paid to the winner. A losing player’s melded sets have no value, and are not calculated into the winning player’s prize. If any previous "pot" exists, that pot goes to the winner. If the winning player holds the god card, they collect twice the amount that would normally be due from all players, but a losing player with the god card must pay out twice the value of the winner’s sets along with twice the value of their hand.

The winning player’s sets score as follows (with examples):

3 Natural Face Cards (Q-Q-Q):20,000
3 Face Cards with Wilds (J-J-W, K-W-W):10,000
3 Natural Number Cards (7-7-7):10,000
3 Number Cards with Wilds (9-9-W, 6-W-W):5,000
4 Natural Face Cards (K-K-K-K):2,000
4 Natural Red Cards (4H-4H-4D-4D):1,500
4 Natural Black Cards (4S-4S-4C-4C):1,100
4 Face Cards with Wilds (K-K-K-W, Q-Q-W-W, J-W-W-W):1,000
4 Natural Cards (8-8-8-8):1,000
4 Number Cards with Wilds (3-3-3-W, 2-2-W-W, A-W-W-W):500

Thus, the major source of points for any player is the amount and type of sets that they have in play. If playing with money, the final amount of points that a player would have to pay out to the winner determines just how much money they’ve lost in that single hand. The scoring system is designed to reflect the aristocratic nature of its origins: you can see that, even if one were to play that each point represented one penny, the amount paid out for just one set of 3 natural face cards would equal $200!!

IRREGULARITIES IN PYS’NGTAUT

EXPOSED CARD: If a card is exposed either during the shuffle or the deal, or accidentally during the hand, the intended owner of the card may demand a new card, declare a mis-deal, or accept a monetary penalty from the dealer. Usually, these penalties are small, but there have been known instances where a player has been granted immunity from payment when the dealer has won the game.

IMPROPER DRAW/DISCARD: If a player is caught drawing a card from the wrong stack, that card must be immediately discarded into the correct discard pile. If the offender cannot remember which card was drawn, they must throw out their hand and pay the winner triple the amount due. The value of their cards is ignored in this case, so they only pay out triple the value of the winner’s sets. If the winner holds the god card, that amount is doubled, for 6 times the normal amount. If a player is caught discarding a card into the incorrect discard pile, that card is placed on the bottom of the correct discard pile.

IMPROPER MELD: If a player tries to meld a set that uses more than one rank of cards, unless at least one rank of those cards are designated as wild, then the meld must be returned to hand, the offender is disqualified from winning the hand and must pay out double to the final winner (the value of their cards is figured into their loss). If the either the offender or the winner has the god card, the offender must pay out quadruple. If, however, an improper meld is allowed to stand on until the offender’s next turn, it stays on the table and is counted as a valid meld. A player who is caught making an improper meld continues to play as normal, even though they cannot win. If the hand is dead, they simply throw in what they owe into the pot, and are eligible to win the next game.

PLAYING OUT OF TURN: If a player plays out of turn, by the rules of the original game, the offender may be put to death and his money divided among the remaining players. The current version requires some kind of physical punishment, such as a strong punch in the arm, along with payment to each of the other players for their sets and the amount of points in the offender’s hand. Should the interrupting player win, that player is obliged to pay (rather than collect) the normal scoring value to the other players.

STRATEGIES IN PYS’NGTAUT

A player’s biggest liability in Pys’ngtaut is the ability to access only half of the cards available in the game. A player could easily begin to attempt a set only to find that the cards necessary to complete that set are in the other stack! If the player doesn’t have access to the god card, they will not be able to get the access they need to finish their hand and go out. As such, the player who has the god card has a huge advantage over the other players. Still, if a player feels that their opponents are likely to get into a heated fight over the god card, it may be better to just discard it and get rid of some cards in the process.

The most basic strategy is to save pairs when possible and absolutely to save any three cards of the same rank, or, to a lesser extent, a pair of cards with one wild card in hand. A pair of cards increases the possibility of finding a third card of that rank. As far as individual cards are concerned, the higher value cards should be thrown away as quickly as possible, so as to limit the value of the hand should another player go out. Face cards should probably only be kept if a player is dealt a natural pair, or perhaps an individual wild card with a face card. Since there are half as many face cards as there are cards of other rank, though, this will likely not happen often.

Players who are fortunate enough to hold two or more wild cards in the hand have a lot of flexibility in their possible plays. For starters, a player with three wild cards may elect to form a four-card set with their highest value natural card, despite the lessened value of the final set. This may be particularly important when one or more sets have already been formed by other players to reduce the value of the player’s hand, should another player go out. A player with multiple wild cards can throw one away if they want, which will get rid of the discard pile. If another player has thrown out the god card, they may capture it for themselves. Someone who holds six wild cards shouldn’t wait: they should throw out their two four-card sets and go out as soon as possible.

Once a player has two four-card sets, the game gets a little easier. Pairs become more important for completing three-card sets, and a player can lay off additional cards on their existing sets. Should the player get enough cards to turn a three card set into a four-card set, its value decreases dramatically. However, at that point in the game, running the hand out of cards should be the player’s top priority as it is very likely that one or both draw decks would be getting low. If a player is lucky enough to finish out their sets early, then it may be possible to rack up extra sets, but they do a player absolutely no good unless they finally do go out.

VARIATIONS ON PYS’NGTAUT

Original Variation 1: Sets can only be formed with cards of the same color (reds match with reds, blacks match with blacks). This does not apply to face cards.

Original Variation 2: Wild cards cannot be used in sets that contain cards of the opposite color. This variation tends to make the game very difficult and may make the final pot when someone actually does go out very large.

Original Variation 3: If the wild cards are a number card, they cannot be used to help fill out a set of face cards. If the wild cards are face cards, however, they can be used to fill out sets of both face cards and number cards. This variation offsets the advantages of playing with more wild cards.

Original Variation 4: If face cards are wild, the game is worth three times the normal amount. This variation is also designed to offset the advantage of playing with more wild cards.

Original Variation 5: The holder of the god card must still draw seven cards when picking up the up card. This offsets that advantage of the god card.

Original Variation 6: Players must draw seven cards after picking up the up card, regardless of whether or not they could have gone out after picking up the up card only. This makes the game harder to win.

Original Variation 7: The stakes of sets can be raised or lowered, at the discretion of the players.

Original Variation 8: The value of a player’s sets is subtracted from the value they have to pay to the winner at the end of the game. If they end up with more points than the final winner, they do not have to pay out anything, but they do not receive anything from the winner, either.

Copyright © 2004 by Stephen and Jill Rogers


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Last updated 13th November 2004