Manillen

This page is based mainly on a contribution from Lennert Lanssens.

Introduction

Manillen is a game played extensively in the Belgian region West-Flanders. In origin it’s a French game called Manille, which is derived in turn from the Spanish game Malilla or Manilla. The term Manille is also used to note the highest card of each suit.

Manillen is a point trick taking game for 4 players without bidding in fixed partnerships, but variations for 2 or 6 players exist. The rules are very simple, but a game can be won with bad cards and great memory skills.

Players and Cards

The 4 players in fixed partnerships sit facing each other and the game is played clockwise.

The game is played with a 32 card deck and the cards rank in each suit from high to low:
10(Manille) - A - K - Q - J - 9 - 8 - 7.

The Aim

The aim of this game is to be the first team to collect 101 points or more. One game up to 101 is called a boam ("tree"). Only the points in the tricks are important, not the number of tricks taken. You can win a game with fewer tricks than your opponents if there are more points in them. You can play as many boams as you want, but in tournaments usually the best of three boams are played (the first team to win two boams are the victors).

The Deal

To determine which player should deal first at the start of a boam, the deck is placed face down and each player takes a pile of cards in his hands. The player with the highest card at the bottom of the pile deals first. The cards are shuffled by the dealer (not more than twice preferably) and the player to the dealer’s right cuts the deck. The dealer than deals clockwise in batches of 3-2-3 cards, so that every player has 8 card and no cards are left. The next dealer is the player sitting left of the current one.

During the deal the partner of the dealer is not allowed to look at his cards before the dealer has chosen a trump suit. The aim of this rule is to avoid signalling. When the dealer's partner does look at his cards before trumps have been chosen, the cards are thrown in and the turn to deal passes on to the next player.

Choosing trumps

The dealer looks at his cards and selects a trump suit. He can declare diamonds (koekens), spades (piekens), clubs (klavers), hearts (ertens) or no trump (muulen). No trump doubles the score for the hand. There is no bidding - the players must simply accept the dealer's choice of trumps. Some players allow the option blènde muul, in which the dealer declares no trumps before he looks at his cards and the points are multiplied by four. This is usually used when a partnership is far behind in points.

When the trump suit chosen is favourable for one of the opponents, he can say: "Ik ga mee" (I go along), which means that score for the hand will be doubled. If the dealer or his partner believes that his team will nevertheless win he can reply: "Ik ga tegen" (I go against), so that the score will be multiplied by 4.

The Play

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. He can play any card. Each trick is won by the highest trump, or by the highest card of the suit let if it contains no trumps. The winner of the trick leads the next one. Players must always follow suit if they are able to.

If an opponent is currently winning the trick, you must beat the winning card if you are able to, subject to the requirement to follow suit when possible.

  • If your opponent is winning with a card of the suit led, when following suit you must play a higher card than your opponent's winning card if possible. If unable to follow suit you must trump if possible; with no trumps and no cards of the suit led you may play any card.
  • If a plain suit has been led and an opponent is winning with a trump, you must overtrump if unable to follow suit. If you have no cards of the suit led and no sufficiently high trumps, you discard a card of another non-trump suit.

If your partner is winning the trick, there is no obligation to beat your partner's card when following suit, and you do not have to trump if unable to follow suit.

It is illegal to undertrump. That is, if a plain suit is led and trumped, following players are not allowed to play a lower trump than the one currently winning the trick (unless they have nothing left in their hand except small trumps).

Examples:

Spades are trumps. When the first player leads the heartQ and the second trumps with the spade8, then the third player still has to follow suit and plays any heart he wants, because no heart can win the trick - for example he plays heart7. The fourth player doesn’t have to trump if he can’t follow suit because the trick is already won by the partnership, so he plays a high card of another suit, because that rewards his team with more points: clubA.

Spades are trumps, each player has just two cards left are trumps and it is West's turn to lead:
West: diamond9, spade8.     North: spadeK, club7.     East: spade9, heartA.     South: heart9 heart8.
West knows he has the only diamond and leads it to force out the king of spades from North. Now East would like to undertrump with his 9 of spades, and keep his ace of hearts for the last trick, which West would win. But undertruming is not allowed, so East is forced to play his heartA, giving it to North, and then play his trump 9 uselessly on West's trump 8 in the worthless final trick.

The Scoring

The play continues until all eight tricks have been played. The each team counts the points they have taken in tricks. The values of the cards are as follows:

Each 10... 5 points
Each Ace... 4 points
Each King... 3 points
Each Queen... 2 points
Each Jack... 1 point
Each 9,8 and 7... 0 points
The total value of all the cards in the pack is therefore 60 points.

The team that has more points in tricks scores the difference of its points from 30, while the other team scores nothing.

Normally it is quicker for the team with fewer tricks to count. For example if they have 21, the other team must have 39, and therefore they score 9 points (assuming they are playing a simple game with trumps and no one said "Ik ga mee".

If each team has 30, there is a tie and neither team scores for the deal, but the next deal counts double.

If a team takes all the tricks (and therefore all the points) their score is doubled - 60 points - or 120 or more if there are further doubles to be applied, which would win the boam outright.

In summary, the reasons for doubling are:

  • The previous deal was a tie
  • The dealer chose to play with no trumps (muulen)
  • An opponent of the dealer says "Ik ga mee"
  • After an opponent has said "Ik ga mee", the dealer or his partner says "Ik ga tegen".
  • One team wins all the tricks.

So for example if you play in no trumps after a tie, and an opponent "goes along", and one team has 37 in cards, they will score 56 points (7 * 2 * 2 * 2).

In theory, after "Ik ga mee" - "Ik ga tegen" the opponents can double again, then the dealer's team, and so on indefinitely. However this is rare, and also pointles after the first few doubles, since the score will then be enough for the winning team to win the boam on that deal. These big scores tend to spoil the game, so some players agree that there can't be more then two doubles in one deal - the raw points are multiplied by at most 4.

Tactics

Normally a player leads a manille (10) of a non-trump suit, because he has a good chance that the manille will go round (laten rondgoan) and no one will be able to trump. In the second trick it’s already dangerous to lead the ace of the same suit, but you can always try to win a second trick that way.

A good tactic is trying to make a renoang (void) by throwing away your only card of a suit, perhaps on a trick that your partner is winning. Then when that suit is led you will be able to trump and win the trick.

One of the most annoying situations is to hold an ace without any other card of that suit. This is called a bloaten aas. To avoid the risk of losing this ace to an opponent's manille, you should try to discard this ace on a trick that your partner is winning, when you;'re unable to follow suit. Playing a high value card on youre partners trick is called vet’n (fattening).

The most difficult hand when choosing trumps is what is called boeketje Vlaanderen (little Flemish bouquet). This hand consists of 2 cards of every suit, so no suit really stands out as a potential trump suit, and whatever suit you choose, the opponents could well have the majority of trumps.

The most important tactic in winning Manillen is counting the cards. This is important in all trick taking games of course, but in Manillen it’s the only weapon you have when you get bad cards. Try to remember there are 8 cards in a suit and which ones where played, or you will lose every time. An experienced and skilled player can guess the cards in everyone’s hand, just by looking at the first 2 or 3 tricks.

Variations

Sometimes a boam is played in which each partnership is obliged to declare two muuls and two blènde muuls. The idea is to make the game more exciting, but ends it faster too.

Of course no one is allowed to cheat in this game, but occasionally it may happen that someone tries to signal to a partner by touching his ear or blinking suspiciously. When a partnership is caught signalling or cheating in any way, they lose the deal and 20 points are given to the other team.

Some players deal again when a player has a boerecoarte of boerinnecoarte - a hand which constains a jack (zot) and five 0-point cards (7's, 8's and 9 - known as klintjes).

Manillen for two players

The rules making trumps, playing and scoring are exactly the same as in the four player game. The only difference is in how the cards are dealt. There are two forms of play.

The first form is like the four-player partnership game with one player from each team replaced by a dummy. The dummy consists of four two-card stacks, each consisting of a face down card with a face up card on top of it. Only the human players take turns to deal and choose trumps. When it is your partner's turn to play, you choose one of the face up cards. At the end of the trick, the face down card under the dummy card that you played is turned up. In this version each trick still consists of four cards.

The is a more popular two-player game in which each player has a row of four face down/face up cards in front of him, and a trick only consists of two cards. At your turn you can choose to play a card from your hand or one of the face up cards on the table. The cards are dealt follows: a batch of 3 cards to each player's hand, 4 face down cards in front of each player, a batch of 2 cards to each player's hand, 4 face up cards to each player, a batch of 3cards to each player's hand. The table cards are dealt in this order:

1 3 5 7 Opponent’s cards


2 4 6 8 Dealer’s cards

The dealer selects trumps and the other player leads a card. The play is exactly the same as in the four-player game, except for the fact that you can see some of each others cards. Sometimes a power play situation can occur, when a player used all his hand cards and only has some on the table. The other player can take advantage of this situation.

Manillen for three or six players

The three-player version is rarely played. 10 cards each are dealt and the remaining two cards are face up. These two cards are not used in the play but count for the dealer, who chooses trumps and plays alone against the other two players, who are temporary partners. Individual scores are kept in this version. If the dealer's opponents win, both score the points they have over 30.

The six-player version is even more unusual, and luck plays a large part. It is played between two teams of three players, each player sitting between two opponents. Five cards each are dealt, and two face up on the table as in the 3-player game.