Pig, Spoons

Introduction

These are very simple and enjoyable games for a large number of players. Up to 13 can take part using a standard 52 card pack; more if two or more packs are used. The players sit in a circle, and are dealt four cards each. The object is to collect four cards of the same rank, by passing cards one at a time to your left-hand neighbour while receiving cards from the player to your right.

There are two different ways of playing: with or without a stock pile. There are also two different ways to end each hand: in Pig the players touch their noses, while in Spoons they grab a token from a central stock which contains one fewer token than there are players.

Normally the loser of each hand loses a life, though in some versions they are eliminated immediately. In the versions with lives, each life lost gives the player a letter of a word, and players drop out when they complete the word. The word usually corresponds to the name of the game, so in Pig, each player has three lives while in Donkey they have six.

Pig with no stock pile

This version of the game requires four cards of one rank for each person playing. For example, with seven players you could use all the aces, kings, queens, jacks, tens, nines and eights from a standard pack (28 cards). With four you could just use the aces, kings, queens and jacks (16 cards). The cards are shuffled and dealt out to the players so that everyone has four cards.

All players simultaneously place one unwanted card face down to their left, and then pick up the card that the player to their right has placed. Then they do the same again, and continue until someone collects four of a kind. There are no turns - the passing happens as fast as the players wish, but during the play cards must only be passed one at a time, and you must never have more than four cards in your hand at one time, so you are not allowed to pick up a new card from your right-hand neighbour until you have reduced your cards to three by discarding one to your left.

If you manage to collect four of a kind you do not say anything. Instead you quietly touch the end of your nose with your index finger, and stay in that position. As soon as one player touches his or her nose, all the other players may do the same, even if they do not have four of a kind themselves. The last player to touch his or her nose loses. It is surprising how players will sometimes continue to study their cards for quite a long time, not noticing that everyone else is touching their noses.

Many play that the loser now drops out of the game, and the next deal is played with one fewer player - of course four cards of one rank must be removed from the pack each time a player drops out. When there are only two players left, they are the joint winners.

For a longer game, you can give everyone three lives. Players only drop out when they have lost three times. The lives can be represented by letters of the word PIG: the first time you lose you get a 'P', the second time an 'I', and the third time a 'G', and you drop out. Some play that it is illegal to talk to a PIG - that is, someone who has lost three lives. Anyone who does so becomes a PIG themselves. This gives the players who have been knocked out something to do - they can distract the surviving players and try to persude them to talk to them.

In Australia the game is sometimes called Hog rather than Pig. The loser of each deal is the Pig, and a player who has been a Pig three times becomes a Hog and drops out of the game.

Pig with a stock pile

This version is played with a full pack of 52 cards, or more than one pack if there are more than 12 players. Four cards are dealt to each player and the remaining stock of undealt cards is placed to the right of the dealer.

The game is played in the same way as the version without a stock, described above, except that the dealer draws cards from the stock, and the player to dealer's right placed unwanted cards face down on a discard pile. The rule that you can never hold more than four cards at a time still holds, and you can only discard and draw one card at a time. The dealer can discard cards and draw replacements from the stock as fast as he or she likes. The other players are restricted only by the speed at which the player before them passes on cards. When the stock is exhausted the discard pile is used as a new stock.

The object of the game is the same as in the game without a stock - to collect four of a kind. The first player to collect four of a kind touches his or her nose, and the other players then do the same, the last to do so being the loser. There is a slight advantage in dealing in this version of the game, since as dealer you don't have to wait for your right-hand neighbour to discard. Therefore it is usually agreed that the winner of each hand (the first to collect four of a kind) deals the next.

As in the game without a stock, the loser may be eliminated from the game; alternatively the loser may lose a life, players who lose three lives being eliminated. It is not necessary to adjust the deck as players leave the game, and it is possible to play for a single winner, who is the first to collect four of a kind when only two players remain.

Variations
Some players deal five cards each rather than four. The cards are still passed one at a time and the aim is to collect four of a kind among your five cards. Others deal only three cards each, and the aim is then to collect three of a kind.

Spoons

For this game, in addition to cards and people, you need a collection of spoons, with one fewer spoon than the number of players. The spoons are placed in the centre of the circle of players and the cards are dealt and played the same way as in Pig - the game can be played either with a stock or without a stock.

A player who collects four of a kind takes one of the spoons. As soon as a spoon has been taken, all the other players are entitled to take a spoon each, even if they do not have four of a kind. Since there is one spoon fewer than the number of players, one player will be left without a spoon. This player is the loser of this deal.

A series of deals can be played in which the loser, or a player who has lost three times, is eliminated from the game. Each time a player is eliminated you must remove one spoon from the game; if playing without a stock you also remove one set of four equal cards from the pack.

There are more dangerous versions of this game known as Forks and Knives, using those utensils instead of spoons.

Vatra and Magarac

Vatra (Fire) and Magarac (Jackass) are versions of Pig without a stock that are played in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The basic game is similar to the game above, except that players pass cards in turn rather than simultaneously. There is also a somewhat more challenging variant that is played an extra "travelling card".

The basic game is for 3 to 13 players using a deck of 4 cards of the same rank for each player: for example 4 players will use 16 cards, and you would use the full 52 card deck for 13 players. The players sit in a circle and the randomly chosen dealer shuffles and deals all the cards, clockwise one at a time, so that each player has four. Player to the left of the dealer begins the game by passing one card to the left. Each player in clockwise order, after receiving a card from the right, checks to see whether he has four-of-a-kind, and if not passes one card to the left. Any card may be passed, including the card the player just received. So the player to dealer's left has four cards during his turn and three cards otherwise, while the other players have five cards during their turn and four cards otherwise. he then must choose one of his cards and pass it to the player on his left, face down.

A player who has four-of-a-kind may inmmediately anounce it by laying or slamming his hand (meaning both the cards and the hand holding them) onto the playing surface and yelling "Vatra!" ("Fire!"). Once this has happened, all other players must do the same thing as soon as they can: the last player to do this is the loser of the hand. Note that a player must put his hand down and yell "Fire!" to be safe from losing, doing just one thing but not the other doesn't count. The loser of the hand is punished as described below, and the turn to deal passes to the left.

The Travelling Card

The travelling card is an extra card that is added to the deck. Usually it is the 7 of diamonds but if the four sevens are in play some other odd card can be used, for example a joker. The deal will now end with the player to dealer's left, who will have five cards at the start. Before play begins, the holder of the travelling card must turn it around so all the other players can see it and know where it started. The travelling card is then turned back facing its owner, who then shuffles his cards under the table or behind his back.

As in the basic game, the player to dealer's left begins. Playera will have four cards except during their turn, after receiving a card and before passing one on, when they will have five. When a card is passed, the player to whom it is given can refuse it, provided that he has not yet seen what it is: the player to his right must in that case pass a different card, which cannot be refused.

If a player manages to complete a four-of-a-kind, but his fifth card is the travelling card, then that player cannot yell "Fire!" and win. Instead he must pass a card. If he succeeds in passing the travelling card (either immediately or after his first offer is refused), keeping only his four-of-a-kind, he can then yell "Fire!" and win.

Punishment

The two versions of the game, Vatra and Magarac, differ according to how the loser is punished.

In Magarac, the loser of each hand gets one letter of the word Magarac (which means Jackass, which conveniently also has 7 letters). The game continues until a player has lost 7 times, spelling out the whole word. This player loses the whole game and is mockingly called jackass by other players.

Vatra uses a more authentic form of punishment, but is usually only played by young boys. One of the players gathers up the cards and shuffles them and another player, usually the winner of the hand, is chosen to issue the punishment. The loser names one of the cards in the deck (other than the travelling card), stating its rank and suit, and also chooses whether to begin from the top or the bottom of the deck. The player who shuffled takes cards one by one from the top or bottom as specified by the loser and shows them, continuing until the card selected by the loser appears. Meanwhile the loser places his hand palm down on the table. Each card that appears, up to and excluding the named card, results in a punishment according to its suit:

  • Spade - The punisher hits the loser's hand with his fist, like a hammer. (The punisher should not hit with his knuckles, because there is then a risk of breaking bones).
  • Club - The punisher runs his knuckles over the loser's hand twice in the shape of a cross.
  • Diamond - The punisher twists the skin on the back of the loser's hand.
  • Heart - The punisher pats the loser's hand as one would pat a dog or a cat.

When the loser's card comes up, his punishment is over and the new hand is dealt.

Some Tips

If you have good reflexes, keep your eyes and ears open for a player yelling "Fire!" and react quickly enough you will never lose, but there are plenty of other things you can do to improve your chances.

  • To maximise your prospects of collecting four-of-a-kind, never pass a card that's part of a pair unless your other 3 cards are a three-of-a-kind.
  • Observe whether the player to your left keeps the card you give him or passes it on. You will then know whether he wants the cards of that rank or not.
  • In a 3 or 4 player game it is possible to collect one card of each rank, making it impossible for other players to win.
  • If playing with a travelling card, watch your opponents closely, and you may be able to guess from their behaviour where the travelling card is.
  • When playing with a travelling card, sometimes it is worth refusing the first card you are offered if you know the travelling card is not to your right. This may force your right-hand opponent to give you a card that he wanted to keep.
  • If you lose when playing Vatra, it is worth watching carefully as the cards are gathered and shuffled: you might be able to estimate the position of a certain card. Do not choose a heart, since the card you choose does not cause a punishment, and so you would as many as possible of the cards before your card to be hearts.
  • If you are the winner or punisher, do not be too agressive: players who hit the losing player really hard usually get hit hard themselves in return when they lose.

Other variations and web pages

The French equivalent of Spoons known as Bouchon (meaning cork) is played with corks. The loser of each hand gets a letter of the word B-O-U-C-H-O-N, so you are not eliminated until you have lost six times.

In Australia, Donkey is a game similar to Spoons played without a stock but with 5-card hands, so that a player who has 4-of a kind can continue playing after surreptitiously claiming a token. As you would expect, the loser of each hand gets a letter of the word D-O-N-K-E-Y. It is described on Adrian Morgan's Donkey page.

The Romanian version Popa Prostul is played without a stock pile but with an extra card, a joker called Popa Prostul. The dealer begins with five cards of which he immediately discards one to the left, and the other players with four each. Subsequently players must not hold more than four cards - they must always discard one to the left before picking up the one passed from their right. A player who picks up the joker must keep it for one turn, passing a different card, before passing the joker on after picking up the next card. A player who has four of a kind puts his cards face down after which everyone does the same, the last to do so being the loser.

Acknowledgement

My thanks to the many people who sent me descriptions of these games, including Kerry Allemann, Craig Daniel, Chris Davis, Karen Emery, Keith Forrest, Peter Foster, Garnell, Lisa Gartland, Daniel Grad, Carla Jean, Yale Kozinski, Doris Leung, Brian Lipinski, Veselko Kelava, Dean Morbeck, Adrian Morgan, Rob O'Keefe, Evan Parsley, Doughy Satan, Alan Stevenson, Steven Wyckoff and several anonymous correspondents.