Spite and Malice

This is a kind of competitive patience (solitaire) game for two players. It is also known as Cat and Mouse. Both players try to be the first to get rid of a pile of "pay-off cards" by playing them to centre stacks which are begun with an ace and continue in upward sequence to a king. This is not a physical race (as in Spit or Racing Demon where play is simultaneous) - in Spite and Malice the players take turns.

There are quite a few different versions of Spite and Malice around. First I will give what seems to be the most widely played version of the game. Then I will describe some of the more popular variations, and finally I will explain the rather different version which appears in most of the card game books.

Players and equipment

Spite and Malice was originally a two player game, and it is easiest to describe this version first. Versions for larger numbers of players are described later. Two 52 card packs of cards are needed. The cards in each pack rank from low to high: A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q, with kings wild. Suits are irrelevant in this game.

Deal, layout and terminology

The layout of the game is shown in the following diagram:

spite and malice layout

To begin the game both packs are shuffled together and 20 cards are dealt face down to each pay-off pile, and a further 5 cards are dealt to each player as their hand. The remainder of the cards are placed face down between the players to form the stock. The top card of each pay-off pile is turned face up and placed on top. Whichever player has the higher card showing will play first. If they are equal, both players shuffle their pay-off piles and turn up a new top card. At this stage the centre stacks and side stacks are all empty.

The play

The object of the game is to be the first get rid of all the cards in your pay-off pile by playing them to the centre stacks. Only the top card of your pay-off pile is available for play at any time; when you have managed to get rid of the top card, you turn the next pay-off card face up and try to get rid of that.

The first card in each centre stack must be an ace, then 2, 3, and so on in sequence up to queen, each card played being one higher than the card it covers. There cannot be more than three centre stacks at one time.

The side stacks can contain cards in any order, and when playing to a side stack you may put your card on whichever stack you choose. The only limitation is that you cannot have more than four side stacks.

The player whose first pay-off card is higher plays first, and thereafter the players take alternate turns. If you have fewer than five cards in your hand you begin your turn by drawing cards from the stock to bring your hand up to five cards. You may then make a series of moves, the possible moves being:

  1. To play an ace to an empty centre stack, or to play to a centre stack the next higher card than the card showing (for example a six on a five, or a jack on a ten, irrespective of suit). The card played may come from your hand, from the top of one of your side stacks, or from the top of your pay-off pile, and is played face-up on top of the centre stack.
  2. To play a card from your hand face-up on top of one of your side stacks. This ends your turn. A player cannot have more than four separate side stacks at one time; if you have no empty side stacks then you must discard onto a side stack that already contains cards, making the card you cover temporarily unavailable for play.

You may play as many cards to the centre stacks as you want, but as soon as you play a card to a side stack your turn ends, and your opponent may play.

Note that you can never play a pay-off card to a side stack, or to move a card from one side stack to another, or move a card from a centre stack to anywhere.

Kings are wild and can represent any card. You can discard a king to a side stack without committing yourself as to what it represents. When a king is placed on a centre stack it represents the next higher value than the card it covers.

If during your turn you manage to play all five cards from your hand, without playing to a side stack, you immediately draw five more cards from the stock and continue playing.

If you complete a centre stack by playing a queen (or a king representing a queen) your opponent shuffles the completed stack into the stock, creating a space for a new centre stack, and you can continue playing.

End of the game

The game ends when someone wins by playing the last card of their pay-off pile to the centre. The game can also end if the stock runs out of cards, in which case the result is a draw.

More than two players

Spite and Malice can easily be adapted for any number of players. Turn to play passes clockwise. Depending on the number of players and how many cards you deal to the payoff piles, more decks may need to be added - for example some play with one deck per player. Some play that the number of centre stacks is limited to one more than the number of players - i.e. four for three players, five for four players, etc.

Four people can play as partners; six people form three teams of two. Partners sit opposite each other. At your turn you can play from your partner's pay-off pile or side stacks to the centre stacks, but you can only discard to your own side stack. Play continues until one pair wins by playing all the cards from both of their pay-off piles.


Number of Centre Stacks

Some players allow an unlimited number of centre stacks (but never more than four side stacks for each player). In this case it is not necessary to remove completed centre stacks immediately, but you may agree to wait until the stock is depleted.

Some play other limits on the number of centre stacks - for example a maximum of four.

Compulsory play of aces

Some play that aces cannot be retained in your hand but must be played as soon as drawn to start new centre stacks. Also an ace appearing on your pay-off pile must immediately be played to the centre. In this version there is no limit on the number of centre stacks.

Loading the Opponent's Pay-off Pile

In this variation, reported by Henry Lee, it is permissible to move the card from the top of your pay-off pile or play a card from your hand onto the top of your opponent's pay-off pile. The card must be the same suit and one rank higher or lower than the card on which it is placed. For example if the top card of your opponent's pay-off pile is a heart8 you can load a heart9 or a heart7 onto it. It is sometimes possible to give your opponent a series of cards in this way. Note that you are not allowed to load cards from your discard piles onto your opponent's pay-off pile - the card must come from the top of your own pay-off pile or out of your hand. (Since this version is played with unlimited centre stacks and compulsory play of aces, the question of whether aces can be loaded on kings or vice versa does not arise.)

Size of pay-off piles

Some people play with a different number of cards in the initial pay-off piles - for example 21 or 25.

Resolving Stalemates

Some people play that if the stock runs out the winner is the player with fewest cards remaining in their pay-off pile. Only if the pay-off piles have equal numbers of cards is the result a draw.

Playing with jokers

Some people include jokers in the deck for Spite and Malice. The jokers are wild and can represent any card. Some play that the kings remain wild as well; others play that only the jokers are wild, and that 13 cards are needed top complete each centre stack, ending with the king.

Restriction on use of wild cards

Some play that a wild card (King, or Joker if used) cannot be used to represent an ace. Others play that a wild card cannot represent an ace or a seven.


Jeffrey Jacobs suggests that if a series of games is played, the same scoring system as in the "book version" below can be used. (The proprietary game Skip-Bo also uses a similar system.) The winner of a hand scores 5 points for winning the hand plus 1 point for each card left in the opponent's pay-off pile. For example, if you win and catch your opponent with six cards, you score 11 points (5 for winning the hand plus 6 for cards). In a stalemate the player with fewer cards scores the difference between the numbers of cards each player has left. The winner could be the first player to reach a target score, such as 50.

Masachusetts Variation

Benjamin Arnoldy has reported a rather different version of the game, played in Massachusetts. The main differences are:

  1. the payoff piles contain only 14 cards at the start;
  2. one card is dealt face up to each side-stack at the start of the game;
  3. immediately before making the side stack discard that ends your turn you must play a card from your hand to each of your empty side-stacks; if you have insufficient cards in your hand to complete your turn, you draw five new cards from the stock and begin a new turn.

The Book Version of Spite and Malice

When Spite and Malice is found in card game books, the versions described are normally rather different from the one described on this page. The main differences in the book version are as follows.

Players and cards
There are always two players. The two packs get mixed together during the play, but need to be separated out for each new game. To make this possible, the two packs should have different backs. Pack A is a standard 52 card pack; Pack B has the usual 52 cards plus 4 jokers, making 56 cards in all. Pack A is dealt out face down to form the two 26-card pay-off piles. Each player is dealt a five card hand from pack B, and the remainder of pack B is placed face down to form the stock.
Discarding to side stacks restricted
Any card may be played to an empty side stack. If a side-stack already contains a card or cards, the card played on top of it must be equal to or one less than the card showing (for example on a seven you can play another seven or a six). When you play to a side stack this ends your turn, but you may decide to end your turn without playing to a side stack if you wish. In fact you may be forced to end without discarding to a side stack, because you may have no card that will fit.
Use of jokers
A joker can represent any card except an ace. You can discard a joker to a side stack without committing yourself as to which of the possible ranks it represents. For example, if a side stack has a nine followed by two jokers on top, the next card placed on the side stack could be a six (counting the jokers as an eight and a seven), a seven, an eight or a nine (counting both jokers as nines). When a joker is played to a centre stack it must represent the next higher value than the card it covers. A joker cannot be used to start a centre stack, because a joker cannot represent an ace. A joker can change its value as necessary when it is played from a side stack to a centre stack.
Restrictions on aces and twos
If you have an ace or two visible on top of your pay-off pile or one of your side stacks, it must be played to a centre stack as soon as this is legal. If you have more than one such card you can choose which to play first. Jokers are not affected by this restriction - you are never forced to play a joker to the centre as a two, even if it is on top of a two on one of your side stacks.
Number of centre stacks
Some books allow an unlimited number of centre stacks to be formed. Others impose a limit of four.
Passing and stalemates
If you cannot or do not wish to play any cards at all in your turn you can pass, and your opponent plays again. Occasionally it will happen that your opponent is also unable or unwilling to move. There is then a discussion. If neither player is prepared to break the stalemate the game ends at this point. Some say that if either player has any aces and twos in their concealed hand which can be played to the centre, they must play one such card to break the stalemate.
Some say that when a stalemate is reached, instead of ending the game, all of the cards in the players' hands and on the table, except the remaining pay-off piles, are shuffled together, two new five-card hands are dealt, and play continues.
If you want to score, then you score 5 points for playing all your pay-off cards, plus one point for each card remaining in your opponent's pay-off pile. If the game ends in a stalemate then the player with the smaller remaining pay-off pile scores the number of cards difference between the piles.


With Mari J Michaelis's SpiteNET: Spite and Malice computer program you can play against the computer or against a live opponent over the Internet.

The collection HOYLE Card Games for Windows or Mac OS X includes a Spite and Malice program, along with many other popular card games.

Net Spite and Malice, from NetIntellGames, also allows you to play against a computer opponent or with a human opponent over a network.

Mike Perry has written a Cat and Mouse (Spite and Malice) program for the Mac.

The German site Skill 7 includes an online Spite and Malice game under the name "Katz und Maus".

From the Tams11 lobby you can obtain an Windows Snerks game (similar to Spite and Malice) that can be played solo or on line against a live opponent.

At Solitaire Online you can play Spite and Malice online against the computer.