Napoleon

This page is mostly based on information from Kuromiya Kimihiko.

Introduction

This page describes the Japanese game of Napoleon. This is a point-trick game with trumps, and is currently the most popular trick-taking game in Japan. It is completely different from the British card game also known as Napoleon (or Nap, for short), which is described on the Nap page of this web site.

Napoleon belongs to the picture group of games, collectively known in Japanese as Etori. These games appeared in the late 19th century and the earliest known description of Napoleon is from 1887.

Players and cards

Japanese Napoleon is best for five players, and the five-player game will be described first. It is also possible, though much less interesting, for two, three, four or six players to play - see variations.

Napoleon is played with a standard 52-card pack. The scoring cards are the ace, king, queen, jack and ten of each suit, which are worth one point each, so there are 20 card points altogether. The normal ranking of the cards in each suit from high to low is A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, but there are three special cards, which are the highest in the game.

  1. The ace of spades is the most powerful card, irrespective of what suit is trumps. It is called the ohrumaiti (from the English 'almighty'), which is often shortened to maiti (mighty). In the early 20th century it was known as supekyureishon (from the English word "speculation"), and a few players still call it supeki.
  2. The jack of the trump suit, known as sei jakku (regular jack) is the second highest card.
  3. The jack of the same colour as trumps, known as the ura jakku (sub-jack) is the third highest card.

These three cards always belong to their own suits: for example, if hearts are trumps, the jack of diamonds (ura-jack) still belongs to diamonds, not to hearts, and the mighty always belongs to spades. When a red suit is trumps, therefore, the cards in hearts and diamonds rank from high to low J-A-K-Q-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, and the cards in spades and clubs A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. With black trumps, the spades rank A-J-K-Q-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, clubs J-A-K-Q-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, and hearts and diamonds A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.

Deal

The deal and play are clockwise. The dealer shuffles and deals each player ten cards, one at a time. The last two cards are put face-down in the middle of the table to form the blind. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

Bidding

The bidding begins with the player to dealer's left and goes clockwise around the table. A bid consists of a number of points (from 11 to 20) and a suit. A higher number outbids a lower number, and between bids of the same number, a higher suit outbids a lower suit, the suits ranking in ascending order: clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades. So the lowest possible bid is 11club and the highest is 20spade.

Each player in turn must either bid higher than the previous bidder, or pass. A player who has passed takes no further part in the bidding. If all five players pass (which is unusual), the cards are thrown in and the same player deals again. If someone bids, the bidding continues clockwise for as many circuits as necessary until four players have passed. The player who made the last and highest bid becomes the declarer, known in this game as Napoleon. Napoleon's objective is, with the help of a partner, to win in tricks at least the number of points stated in the bid, with the named suit as trumps.

Calling a partner and taking the blind

Napoleon now chooses a partner by calling any card - for example the maiti. The holder of this called card is the adjutant (fukkan), and is Napoleon's partner for the hand. The adjutant's identity remains secret until the called card is played. The other three players form a team whose aim is to prevent Napoleon and the adjutant from fulfilling the bid.

Napoleon picks up the two blind cards without showing them, and discards two cards. If any scoring cards are discarded they are placed face-up and count for Napoleon's opponents; non-scoring cards are discarded face-down. If Napoleon finds the called card in the blind (or chose to call one of his own cards), he plays alone - this is called hitori-dachi (standing alone). It is not announced to the other players, but will become clear when Napoleon plays the called card.

Play

Napoleon leads to the first trick, and winner of each trick leads to the next. Throughout the play it is compulsory to follow suit, and a player who has no card of the suit led can play any card. The first trick is played without trumps, and the maiti, sei-jakku and ura-jakku do not yet have their special status as high cards. The normal ranking of cards A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 therefore applies to all suits, and the trick is won by the highest card of the suit that Napoleon led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

From the second trick onwards the trumps and the three special cards acquire their power. Also, the same two rule comes into effect. This rule says that in a trick where everyone plays the same suit, the two of the suit becomes the fourth highest card, beaten only by the three special cards.

It is still compulsory to follow suit if you can. The trick is won by

  • the maiti (spadeA), if it was played
  • the sei-jakku (trump jack), if the maiti was not played
  • the ura-jakku (jack of the same colour as trumps) if neither the maiti nor the sei-jakku was played
  • the two, if all the cards in the trick are of the same suit, and none of the three special cards was played ("same two" rule)
  • the highest trump in the trick, if none of the three special cards was played and the same two rule does not apply
  • the highest card of the suit led, if no special cards and no trumps were played, and the same two rule does not apply.

The winner of the trick leads to the next.

During the play, all the scoring cards are stored face-up in front of the player who won them in a trick, and the other cards are piled face-down in a single heap.

Example: diamonds are trumps and A is leading to a trick (not the first). The cards played by the five players are:

ABCDEresult
heartAheart3heart7heart10heartQA wins (highest heart)
heartAheart2heart7heart10heartQB wins (same two rule)
heartAheart2heart7heartJheartQD wins (ura-jakku)
heartAheart2club7heart10heartQA wins (highest heart)
heartAheart2diamond7heart10heartQC wins (with a trump)
heartAheart2diamond7heartJheartQD wins (ura-jakku)
heartAheart2diamond7heartJdiamondJE wins (sei-jakku)

Scoring

At the end of the play, the scoring cards won by Napoleon and the adjutant are counted. If the bid was less than 20 and Napoleon's team has taken at least as many as scoring cards as were bid, but not all 20 of them, Napoleon's team wins. Each member of the opposing team pays one chip, Napoleon wins two chips and the adjutant wins one. If Napoleon's team takes fewer scoring cards than the bid, Napoleon must pay two chips, the adjutant pays one, and the opponents collect a chip each.

Napoleon's team also loses if they take all 20 scoring cards having bid less than 20 - this is called the "Siberian rule". As usual, Napoleon must pay two chips, the adjutant pays one, and the opponents collect a chip each.

However, if the bid was 20, the normal payments are doubled. If they succeed in taking all 20 points, each opponent pays 2 chips, Napoleon collects 4 chips and the adjutant 2. If the opponents manage to win any scoring cards, Napoleon must pay 4 chips and the adjutant 2, and the opponents collect 2 chips each.

In case of hitori-dachi, when Napoleon plays alone without an adjutant, the result is decided in the same way, counting just the scoring cards that Napoleon won in tricks. Each of the four opponents pays or receives 1 chip (2 if the bid was 20) and Napoleon therefore receives or pays 4 chips (8 if the bid was 20).

Variations

Napoleon has numerous variations, some of which are described below.

Bidding variations

Bidding without turns
Many groups do not follow the formal bidding procedure by which the bidders speak in clockwise order. Instead, the bidding can be started by anyone who wants to bid and the players speak in any order, each bide being higher than the last. The bidding continues until four of the players have said "pass".
Minimum bid
Some play that the minimum number of points that can be bid is 12; some groups even play with a minimum bid of 13.
No-trump bids
Some groups allow bids in no-trumps (NT). Usually no-trumps ranks above spades, so that for exampole a bid of 13 NT is higher than 13spade but lower than 14club, and the highest bid is 20 NT. However, some groups play that no-trump bids are lowest, a no-trump bid ranking below the same number in clubs. groups.
If the winning bid is in no-trumps, there is of course no trump suit. Therefore there is no sei-jack and no ura-jack. The mighty retains its usual power and the same two rule still applies as usual.
Bidding after passing
Some groups allow a player who has passed to bid later in the auction.
Procedure when all pass
If everyone passes in the bidding, many people play that the cards are thrown in and there is a redeal by the same dealer.
Some play that the two cards of the blind are turned up (or three cards, when Napoleon with a joker is played) and there is a second round of bidding; if everyone still passes, there is a redeal.
Others play that the player who holds the mighty is compelled to be Napoleon isf everyone else passes.

Variations in the role of the special cards

First trick
Some play that the three special cards have their power in the first trick, though there are no trumps as yet. Others play that the mighty has its power, but not the jacks. Some play that Napoleon is not allowed to lead a trump to the first trick.
Yoromeki (Enchantress)
Some play that if the mighty and the yoromeki (the queen of hearts) are played in the same trick, the yoromeki beats the mighty.
Special cards are top trumps
Some play that the mighty and the ura-jack belong to the trump suit, not to their own suits.
For example, if hearts are trumps, the mighty and the ura-jack (spadeA and diamondJ) belong to hearts, and can be played on any heart lead. If either of these cards are led the other players are compelled to follow with hearts if they can. When spades are led (and spades are not trumps), you cannot play the mighty unless you have no other spades, in which case you can play any card; similarly, when the suit the same colour as trumps is led, you cannot play the ura-jack unless you have no card of the suit led. If a trump is led, and you have no trumps except the mighty or ura-jack, you are compelled to play one of these cards.
So in this variation the mighty, sei-jack and ura-jack behave just like the joker, right bower and left bower in 500 or Euchre.

Napoleon with a joker

A standard 52 card deck with one joker (53 cards in all) is used. The dealer shuffles and deals each player ten cards, one at a time. The last three cards are put face-down in the middle to form the blind.

The joker is a special card. It is the weakest card and can never win a trick unless it is led. You can play the joker at any time you want, regardless of the suit led. Some play that Same Two is not valid in the trick to which the joker is played since the joker doesn't belong to any suits; others play, however, that Same Two is still valid if the other four cards belong to the same suit and one of them is the two.

There are numerous variations as to what happens when the joker is led. Two of the most popular are as follows.

1. Joker as strong trump hunter
When the joker is led, the other players must play a trump if they have any. The joker itself becomes the fourth strongest card; in other words, it is beaten only by the mighty, the sei-jack or the ura-jack. (Some play that the joker becomes the second strongest; it beats even the sei-jack or the ura-jack, and is beaten only by the mighty.)
Leading the joker to the first trick is forbidden.
Some play that the spade3 is the joker hunter. If the joker hunter is led, the player who has the joker must play it. (Remember the rule that the joker is the weakest card unless led.)
2. Joker as weak trump hunter
Some play that when the joker is led, anyone who does not have a trump must play a scoring card if possible. If they have no trumps and no scoring cards, they may play any card. The joker itself is regarded as the weakest trump. In other words, the joker wins the trick unless anyone has played a trump or one of the three special cards. This means that the joker loses the trick in most cases.
Leading the joker to the first trick is forbidden. When playing with the joker as a weak trump hunter it is normal to play without a joker hunter.

Variations in scoring

Some play that if Napoleon's opponents take no scoring cards in their tricks and Napoleon has bid less than 20, Napoleon's team loses. In this variation, Napoleon cannot protect himself from the "Siberian rule" by including a scoring card in the two cards he discards before play begins.

Some people adopt the rule that the payments are doubled when Napoleon bids 14, tripled when 15, quadrupled when 16, and so on. This makes it advantageous to bid as many points as you think you can take, rather than trying to win the bidding as cheaply as possible.

Florent Barraco has provided a formula which generalises the above method of scoring for any minimum bid and any number of players.

  • Each opponent scores the basic score: [basic score] = [napoleon's bid] - [minimum bid] + 1
  • [adjutant's score] = [basic score] × [number of opponents] ÷ 3
  • [Napoleon's score] = [adjutant's score] × 2

These scores are of course positive for the winning side and negative for the losing side. In the 4-player game, when there are only 2 opponents, Napoleon's and the adjutant's score are rounded to the nearest whole number. When there is no adjutant, Napoleon's score is just [basic score] × [number of opponents].

Four players

The dealer deals 12 cards to each of the four players, and leaves the last four cards in the middle of the table (five cards if a joker is used). Some players remove the club3 and/or the diamond3 from the pack to reduce the number of cards in the kitty. Scoring varies - some play that Napoleon wins or loses 3 points, the adjutant 1 point and the opponents 2 each; some that Napoleon wins or loses 4, the adjutant 2 and the opponents 3 each, and some that each of the four players wins or loses just 1 point.

Alexey Lobashev has provided a description of a specific version of the four-player game, taught to him by Hattori Takeshi:

  • Players may bid in any order. The bidder names the number and suit, but there is no order of suits. To outbid another player, you must bid a higher number.
  • When appointing an adjutant, Napoleon is not allowed to name a card that is already in his hand. After Napoleon has called a card, the dealer deals the last four cards to the players, so that everyone has 13 cards.
  • There are no special rules for the first trick: the special cards have their power and the same two rule is in effect from the beginning.
  • It seems that there is no formal scoring, except that a count is kept of how many times each player has won as Napoleon. With this method of scoring it is unclear why the adjutant should help Napoleon to win. However, according to Mr Hattori it is the custom that if the Napoleon's team loses, the adjutant should offer his apologies to Napoleon.

Six Players

Deal each player eight cards. The last four (or five when you play with a joker) cards form the blind. Some people who think four or five cards are too many remove club3 and/or the diamond3. The game is played like Napoleon for five, with appropriate adjustments to the scoring: either Napoleon wins or loses 3 and the adjutant 1, or Napoleon and the adjutant win or lose 2 each. In either case, the opponents win or lose 1 point each.

Three Players

We are not certain about the rules for this version. It seems that it is played without a Fukkan. Sixteen cards are dealt to each player and the last four (or five when you play with a joker) cards form the blind. The game is played like Napoleon for five.

We have also heard of a variation with a fukkan, which sound very strange. It seems that the main strategy of the third player is to try to take no point cards, so causing Napoleon's team to lose unless they have bid 20.

Two Players

This game was invented by TAKASAKI Shin-ichi.

First the dealer deals each player sixteen cards, in four piles of four cards, with the top and third card of each pile face up and the others face down - the piles are fanned so that all the face-up cards can be seen by both players. Then the dealer deals each player a hand of nine cards. The last two cards (or three when you play with a joker) form the blind.

The game is played like Napoleon for five. The top card of each pile is regarded as a part of the player's hand, though the opponent can see it. If a top card is used and the next card of the same pile is face down, the player immediately turns it up.

Earliest form of Napoleon

The first known description of Napoleon is in the book Sêyô Yûgi Karuta Shiyôhô, published in 1885. It differs from the modern game as follows.

  1. It seems that tens were not scoring cards, so there were only 16 card points.
  2. It was played without the fukkan (partner) - Napoleon played alone against the others.
  3. Napoleon was not obliged to take more scoring cards than the other players in order to win.
  4. There was no sei or ura jakku - all the jacks ranked between the queen and ten of their suits - and no "same two" rule.
  5. Napoleon's aim was not to take at least as many points as the bid, but to take the exact numner bid: no less and no more. Otherwise he lost. This could be the precursor of the Siberian rule in the modern game.

Links to other Napoleon pages

Here is a Napoleon page by Khopesh, with further variations.

Rules of Napoleon are available on the Card Game Heaven site.