Troccas

il mund il bagat il narr

Introduction

Troccas is a Tarot game played with the 78 card Italian suited Swiss Tarot pack, known to some people as the 1JJ pack. It is played in the Canton Grisons (Grischun, Graubünden) in the east of Switzerland. It is popular in the region known as the Surselva, from the Medel and Tujetsch valleys in the west to Ilanz in the east, and is played to a lesser extent further down the valley as far as Chur. The language of this region is Romansh - the fourth Swiss national language - and therefore much of the terminology of the game is in the Romansh language.

Although the exact history of the game is uncertain, it is probable that this Swiss tradition dates from the seventeenth century, when the game was imported from Italy. In recent years it has gained in popularity and there are many local clubs and tournaments.

The description of Troccas on this page is based on information from

  • my visit to Sedrun to play Troccas in 1978,
  • Carla Deplazes' paper 'Troccas - Das Tarockspiel in Graubunden' in the Schweizerische Archiv fur Volkskunde 83. Jahrgang, Heft 1/2, Basel 1987 (pp 41-59),
  • 'Turnier da Troccas a Savognin' (1985) - a set of rules compiled by Norbert Berther and Gieri Carigiet,
  • the paper 'Cuorta introducziun el giug da Troccas' (2000) by Annalisa Cathomas, who has kindly answered several detailed questions about the rules.

Troccas for Four Players

The principal and most popular form of Troccas is played by four players in fixed partnerships. This will be described first, followed by the less usual variations for three, five or six players.

Players and Cards

An Italian-suited 78-card tarot pack is used, of the Swiss design known as 1JJ because Juno and Jupiter are substituted for the Pope and Popess. The pack consists of 21 trumps identified by Roman numbers from I (lowest) to XXI (highest), four suits of 14 cards, and a special card called the Fool, which is labelled 'LE MAT' but known in Romansh as 'il narr'. As well as the Fool, the 21 trumps and the four court cards of each suit have titles written at the bottom of the card in French. The Romansh names of the cards are given below.

The four suits are the usual Italian suits of cups, coins, swords and batons. Each suit has four court cards and ten numeral cards. The ranking of the cards in the suits from high to low is:

  • in cups and coins (round suits): king, queen, cavalier, jack, ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10;
  • in swords and batons (long suits); king, queen, cavalier, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, ace.

In North America, Swiss 1JJ tarot cards cards for this game can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

The aim of the game is to win tricks containing valuable cards - especially the highest and lowest trump (XXI and I), the Fool, the kings and to a lesser extent the other court cards - see scoring for details of how the cards are valued.

The four players play in two fixed partnerships and the deal and play are anticlockwise. To determine partners, the top card of the pack is placed in the middle of the table, and then cards are dealt out to the players, face up, one by one, until each player has a trump (a player who has already received a trump receives no more cards). When all the players have a trump, those with the two lowest trumps become partners, as do those with the two highest; the player with the lowest trump becomes the first dealer. The players then arrange themselves so that partners are facing each other across the table.

The Deal

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts the pack. The cut card is shown to the three players other than the dealer, but the dealer may only look at it himself after he has dealt the first 12 cards to each player when the cards are dealt in three rounds (see below). When the cards are dealt in two rounds or a single round the dealer may look at the cut card before starting to deal.

The dealer, known as the "scartist", deals nineteen cards to each of the other players, and twenty-one to himself. The normal method of dealing is in three rounds: a batch of six cards to each player, then another batch of six each, then a batch of seven to each of the other three players and nine to the dealer. The last card dealt to each of the four players is turned face up for all to see.

A team that is currently losing by at least 9 points may demand that the deal be in two rounds of nine and ten cards (dealer taking twelve cards in the last round), and a team losing by 18 or more points can demand that the cards be dealt in one round, each player being given their 21 cards in a single batch. When the single round method is used, the players of the losing team are allowed to gather up their own cards from the preceding round in any order that they like; in this case the cards must not be shuffled before the deal, but only cut.

After each round of the deal there is an interval in which the players decide whether the hand will continue or will be abandoned, in which case the cards are thrown in, shuffled, cut and redealt by the same dealer. The players speak in turn, beginning with the player to the dealer's right. Any of the players may veto the throw-in; in this case the next round of the deal immediately goes ahead or if the deal was already complete the dealer discards and the play starts. If the first two players are prepared to allow a throw-in, they can use their turns to give some information about their hand to their partners, indicating the strength of their trumps and whether they hold Kings with or without other picture cards in the suits, but they cannot mention specific suits. The third player, having heard this, can either demand that the deal or play continue or can say "liber" (free), allowing the scartist to choose whether to continue or to abandon the hand. Also, if the scartist has no trumps at all at the end of the last round of the deal, he may choose to abandon the hand and deal afresh, even against the wishes of the other players; only the dealer has this privilege.

The giving of information about cards held during the deal is known as tschintschar (talking) and will be described in detail later.

The Discard

When the deal has been completed, if the hand is not being abandoned, the dealer must discard two cards face down to form the scart, which counts for his side at the end of the play. It is illegal to discard any King, trump XXI or I or the Fool - that is any card worth 5 points (see scoring). The dealer is free to include court cards below the king, numeral cards in the suits, and even trumps other than the XXI or I in the discard.

The Play

The player to the dealer's right leads to the first trick.

  • If a trump is led, the other players must play trumps if possible, otherwise they may throw any card.
  • If a suit card is led, the other players must follow suit. Any player unable to follow suit must play a trump. A player who has no cards of the suit led an no trumps may play any card.

The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

The Fool (il narr) is an exception to the above rules. The holder may play it to any trick, regardless of the requirement to follow suit or play a trump. It can never win a trick, but neither is it captured by the winner of the trick to which it is played. Instead, the person who played it adds the Fool to the tricks won by his team. If the trick is won by the opponents, the player of the Fool gives it up in exchange for it a low card from the tricks won by his side; this low card is added to the trick pile of the team that won the trick.

The team that played the Fool is not allowed to give a card from the scart in exchange for it. If the team that plays the Fool has not yet won any tricks containing low cards, they keep the Fool face up in front of them and can give a card in exchange for it when they later win a trick. If a side wins all the tricks, they also win the Fool and the scart.

If the Fool is led to a trick, the second player may play any card, and the remainder of the trick is played as though this second card had been led to it.

Another special rule comes into effect the first time any particular suit is led, if the king of that suit is played to the trick. In that case, at the end of the trick, if the jack of the suit has not also been played, the winner of the trick can call 'buob' (jack) or 'buob, sche' (jack, if). When 'buob' is called, in most cases the holder of the jack must add it to the trick, and in exchange must take back into his hand the card that he played to the trick. There are just two exceptions:

  1. if the jack is one of the two cards that the dealer placed in the scart, it remains there and calling for the jack has no effect;
  2. if the holder of the jack played the Fool to the trick, he is allowed to keep the jack and the Fool remains played.

In most cases, calling 'buob' has the effect that one of the players who played a numeral card (lecra) of the suit will have to take it back in exchange for the jack. However, it sometimes happens that the holder of the jack played the queen or cavalier to the trick; in this case the queen or cavalier is taken back in exchange for the jack. To prevent this, the player of the king can call 'buob, sche' instead of just 'buob'. 'Buob, sche' requires the jack to be contributed to the trick only if the holder did not play the queen or cavalier. If the holder of the jack did play the queen or cavalier he announces this; the played card then remains in the trick and the player keeps the jack in his hand for later use.

If the holder of the king has the jack as well, then when the suit is first led he is allowed to play both the king and the jack together to the trick; when the trick is complete, he takes from the trick a numeral card of the suit (played by one of the other players) and adds it to his hand.

Scoring

At the end of the play, each team counts the value of the cards in their tricks, the scart being included with the dealer's team's tricks. The cards have point values as follows:

    trump XXI, trump I, Fool  . . . .  5 points each
    trumps II to XX  . . . .  1 point each
    kings  . . . .  5 points each
    queens  . . . .  4 points each
    cavaliers  . . . .  3 points each
    jacks  . . . .  2 points each
    ace to 10 of each suit  . . . .  1 point each

The cards are counted in groups of four, and three points are subtracted from each group - so that for example a queen plus three numeral cards is worth 4 points (4+1+1+1-3), and a group consisting of a king, a cavalier and trumps XXI and XV is worth 11 points (5+3+5+1-3). The dealer's team will have two cards left over, corresponding to the scart. These two cards are worth the sum of their values minus one point. However the cards fall, the total value of the cards in the pack is always 72 points. Readers who find this method of counting unfamiliar will find some further discussion of it on the page on counting points in tarot games.

Each team scores the difference, positive or negative, between its total of card points and 36, and adds it to its cumulative score from previous hands. After each hand, therefore, the positive score of one side will be exactly balanced by the negative score, of the same absolute value, of the other. This score is not written down, but remembered from hand to hand.

A game consists of four hands, not including abandoned deals. The winning side is of course that which has a positive cumulative score at the end of the four rounds.

Tschintschar

The exchange of information during the deal about the quality of the players' hands is known as tschintschar (talking), dar cun autras (playing with other cards) or cantar (singing). The conversation takes place in a kind of code, referring indirectly to the cards held by speaking of places and in metaphors. The aim is to pass useful information to your partner while confusing the opponents. There is no requirement that the information given be true: a player may exaggerate or make entirely false statements to mislead the opponents. Tone of voice and gestures accompanying the remarks can also be important. It is usually better not to say too much - one does not want to risk giving information to the enemy.

Individual cards are seldom named, with the exception of the XXI and the Fool. Trumps are often described in general terms by relation to the Medel valley: for example a player might say: "jeu sun da Medel", "duas da Medel", "tschéc da Medel" (I have some trumps, two trumps, plenty of trumps). Players will sometimes use the names of places in the valley to indicate their trump length and strength, lower down the valley indicating stronger cards: for example "gnanc tochen Sogn Gion" (not even at Sogn Gion) shows very weak trumps, while "ei va encunter Salvaplauna" (nearly at Salvaplauna - a meadow just outside Disentis) indicates very strong trumps, as does "clavau dalla claustra" (monastery cellar). "Dar da freid" (play cold) means that the player has no more trumps.

"Ina cuort" (a court) or "ina famiglia" (a family) refers to the king, queen, cavalier and jack of a suit. A king and queen together are called in Brigels "ina napla" (a group). Court cards can be described in relation to the Tujetsch valley, for example "mo in pèr da Tujetsch" (just a few court cards). In the Medel valley they say "da Mustér" (from Disentis) for court cards, because people from Disentis were thought of as wealthy and well dressed. Kings can be described in terms of flowers, "ina flur" (one flower) corresponding to a strength of about two kings. "In fluretg" (a small flower) would represent one king and "in fluretg nausch" (a poor little flower) is a bare king, without other court cards; on the other hand "in tschéc fluretg" can show two kings supported by some court cards. "In persul" (only one) and "in miserabel" (a miserable one) are similar to "in fluretg nausch", showing a lone king, as does "strusch in" (hardly one), which can also show the unprotected trump I. "Ina femna" (a woman) indicates court cards without the king. "In tec carn" (a little meat) shows a few court cards.. "Bi e bein in" shows a king accompanied by other cards of the suit, or the trump I with some other trumps and "il narr bein" shows the Fool with trumps. "Il narr blut" is the naked Fool, with no accompanying trumps.

A good hand might be indicated by saying "jeu gidel" or "jeu tegn cun tei" (I help), "jeu sun cheu" (I am here), "mia part bein" (my share is good) or "jeu hai miu giug" (I have my game), or "paset". The following would describe a mediocre hand: "strusch mia part" (hardly my share), "pli bugen autras" (I would prefer other cards), "in paletg", "tric e trac" (in Brigels: this and that), "pas". With a bad hand one can say: "autras" (other - i.e. asking for other cards), "lavadas" (washout), "buca cheu" (not here), "vitas" (empty cards), "senza mei" (without me) or "pasun". To demand that the deal or play continue, vetoing the throw-in, one can say "aunc sis da quellas" (another six like those), "dai vinavon!" (deal some more), "jeu mirel" (I see it), "jeu stun" (I stay), "tuttas" (all), or "nus dein" (start the play).

Variations

The greatest variation in the versions of Troccas played in different places concerns the type and amount of conversation and signals that are allowed during the deal (and in some places also during the play of the cards), the rules being more liberal in the Tujetsch and Medel valleys, while to the east the game is more often played in silence.

In some places, the holder of the XXI may signal that he holds it by knocking on the table the first time that trumps are led. Subsequently, the holder of the highest outstanding trump can signal it by knocking on the table on the next lead of a trump after it becomes highest, all higher trumps having been played.

Troccas for Six Players

The six players form two fixed partnerships of three each: the members of the two sides sit alternately. Each player receives thirteen cards in the deal: one round of six cards each followed by one round of seven cards each, the last card being dealt face up. The dealer takes no extra cards, and there is therefore no discard. There is no conversation (tschintschar) and no option to abandon the deal. At the end of the round, the cards are counted in fours, as in the four-player game; the two odd cards which one team will have are also treated in the same way, so that there are still 72 points altogether. A game consists of six rounds. All else is as in the four-handed game.

Troccas for Three Players

Each of the three players plays for himself. The cards are dealt in batches of five, the dealer taking the last three cards and discarding three, so that each player has twenty-five cards. Since there are no partners, there is no conversation, no signalling and no possibility to abandon the deal. There is no option to call for the jack when playing the king to the first trick in a suit. However, a player who holds both the king and jack of a suit can play them both to the first trick in that suit, taking a low card from the trick in exchange.

Some players count the cards in threes (grouping the cards into threes, and subtracting two points from the sum of the card values in each group), so that there are 78 points in total. In this case each player wins or loses the amount by which their card point total exceeds or falls short of 26.

Others count the cards singly, giving each card taken in tricks its full value. Each of the three cards in the scart counts one point less than its full value (so 1-point cards are worth nothing at all). Using this method, there are 127 points altogether. The dealer scores the difference between his point-total and 43 points; each of the other two players scores the difference between their point total and 42 points.

For the rest, all the rules of the four-handed game apply.

Troccas for Five Players

Each player plays for himself. The game is exactly like the three-handed one with the cards counted singly, except that the dealer gives fifteen cards to each of the other players and eighteen to himself, discarding three. The dealer scores the difference, positive or negative, between his point-total and 27 points: each of the other players scores the difference, positive or negative, between their point-total and 25 points.

More Romansh Terminology

RomanshEnglish
il retgthe king
la reginathe queen
il cavaglthe cavalier (lit. the horse)
il buobthe jack
cuppascups
rosascoins (lit. roses)
spadasswords
bastunsbatons
   
RomanshEnglish
troccastrumps
catschar troccasto draw trumps
il narrthe Fool
ils honorsthe honours (5-point cards)
igl juhethe XXI, I and Fool (jubilation)
lecrasnumeral cards of a suit
ina scartinasingleton of a suit

TrumpTitle on cardRomansh name(s)English translation
ILe Bateleuril bagat[the pagat]
IIJunonla gaglina, la biuathe hen
IIIL'Imperatricel'imperaturathe empress
IIIIL'Empereurigl imperaturthe emperor
VJupiteril da Cuoz, il Diu faulsthe false god
VIL'Amoureuxils amuraithe lovers
VIILe Chariotil carr, la Catrina en crotschathe wagon, Catherine in the coach
VIIILa Justicela stadera, la giustiathe scales, justice
VIIIIL'Ermiteil paderthe monk
XLa Roue de Fortunela ventira, la roda dalla fortunaluck, the wheel of fortune
XILa Forcela forzastrength
XIILe Penduil pendiuthe hanged man
XIIILa Mortla mort death
XIIIITemperanceil aunghel, la tempronzathe angel, temperance
XVLe Diableil giavel, il da cornas, il naucli, il bab dallas femnasthe devil, the horned one, the evil one, the father of young girls
XVILa Maison de Dieuil tiaratriembel, il cametg, la Cadi, la casa da Diu, la claustra barschadathe earthquake, the lightning, the church, the house of god, the burned monastery
XVIIL'Étoilelas steilasthe stars
XVIIILa Lunela glinathe moon
XVIIIILe Soleilla suleglthe sun
XXLe Jugementla dertgira, ils bluts, ils bluts digl aug Rest, la giuventetgnajudgement, the nudes, uncle Christian's nudes, youth
XXILe Mondeil mund, la vacca, la biala, il min, il miau, la fermathe world, the cow, the beautiful one, the cat, the strong one

Other Troccas WWW Pages

Another description of Troccas can be found on Nicolette Deplazes' Troccas page.