Troggu

This page is based partly on information gathered by John McLeod, who took part in games at the Restaurant au Moulin in Grächen in 1987 and observed a game in the Martinikeller in Visp in May 1999. It also makes use of material collected by Max Ruh: typescript descriptions of the versions played in St Niklaus and Visp and newspaper articles about the game played in Visp.

Introduction

Troggu, also known as Trogga or Tappä, is a form of Tarot played in a few villages in the German speaking part of canton Wallis in Switzerland. It seems unfortunately to be on the verge of extinction, and the younger generation show little interest in the game.

Troggu is especially interesting from a historical point of view, because of the use of the fool - here known as der Narr, der Mat, der Gschgüser, or most often der Bättler. In classic Tarot games the fool is played as an excuse: it is exempt from the rules of following suit and has no trick taking power. In the more modern type of Tarot games characteristic of central Europe, the fool has become the highest trump, beating the XXI. The rules on the use of the fool in Troggu are intermediate between the classic and modern traditions. It is usually played as the highest trump, but if it is your only trump you have the option of withholding the fool when a trump play would otherwise be required, and playing any other card instead. If you exercise this option to renege then your fool then becomes powerless to win a trick, though you still benefit from its point value.

Because of this hybrid role for using the fool, it seems possible that Troggu is a surviving example of a transitional stage of Tarot between the classic and modern versions. According to Michael Dummett in "The Game of Tarot" (pp 437-438), Tarot games in which the fool is the highest trump began to appear in the late eighteenth century, so it could be that the game of Troggu as now played in Wallis also originated at about that time.

Even though Troggu is only played in a small region, there are minor variations of the rules from place to place. The decription below is based mainly on the version played in Visp. There are notes on the differences in other versions in the variations section at the end.

Cards

The Italian suited Swiss Tarot pack is used. This pattern, known to collectors as the Tarot de Besançon, or as 1JJ, is similar to the Tarot de Marseilles except that trumps II and V depict Juno and Jupiter instead of the popess and pope respectively. The packs used to play the game in Wallis nowadays often have German titles on the trumps, though the players in Grächen told me that cards with French titles were formerly used. A group of players in Münster (Obergoms) showed me a pack of the type used in the 1950's when the game was more popular in Wallis. This was A.G.Müller's "Tarot No. 1" (as opposed to "No. 1JJ") with French titles and the pope and popess. Probably these were the cards traditionally used in Wallis, but unfortunately they are no longer manufactured in a form suitable for playing.

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

The full pack contains 78 cards but only 62 are used for this game. The cards omitted are the I, II, III and IIII of the long suits (swords and batons) and the X, IX, VIII and VII of the round suits (cups and coins). The pack thus consists of:

  • suits of cups (Goppe), and coins (here called Roosä - flowers), ranking from high to low: king (Kinig), queen (Frouwwi), cavalier (Ritti), jack (Büob), I, II, III, IIII, V, VI
  • suits of swords (Schwäärti) and batons (Schtächnä), ranking from high to low: king, queen, cavalier, jack, X, IX, VIII, VII, VI, V
  • 21 permanent trumps ranking from XXI (Mund) down to I (Bagatt or Bagatji) (low)
  • the fool (der B├Ąttler), which is normally the highest trump, ranking above the XXI.

Each card has a point value as follows:

fool, trump XXI, trump I: ... 5 points each
trumps II - XX: ... 1 point each
kings: ... 5 points each
queens: ... 4 points each
cavaliers: ... 3 points each
jacks: ... 2 points each
numeral cards of suits: ... 1 point each

The cards are counted singly, so the total value of the cards in the pack is 114 points.

Players and deal

The game can be played by any number of players from 3 to 8. The 6- and 7-player versions are said to be best. The first dealer is chosen at random and the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand. The cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by the player to dealer's left. The dealer then places a packet of cards face down in the centre of the table to form the Tapp (or talon), and deals the rest of the cards out to the players in packets, starting to the dealer's right and going aroung the table anticlockwise. The size of the Tapp and the packets to be dealt varies according to the number of players, and is shown in the following table.

Dealto the Tappto each player
3 players8 cards6 + 6 + 6
4 players10 cards4 + 4 + 5
5 players7 cards4 + 4 + 3
6 players8 cards4 + 5
7 players6 cards4 + 4
8 players6 cards4 + 3

Bidding

In the game for up to six players, one player (the Tappist) plays alone against all the rest, who form a temporary team. The Tappist is allowed to improve his or her hand using cards from the Tapp. When there are seven or eight players the Tappist can also call on the help of a partner, and these two play together against the remaining 5 or 6 players. The rules of the game for six or fewer players are described first. The adjustments needed when seven or eight play are explained later.

The player to the dealer's right speaks first. The options are to pass, to offer play a normal game by saying "ich nehm's" or "ich gehe", or to play a Solo (play alone without looking at the Tapp). If the first player passes, the next player has the same options, and so on anticlockwise, the dealer being the last to speak.

If someone offers to play a normal game, there should be a pause to see whether anyone later in the speaking order wants to play a Solo, which takes priority. If there is no Solo, the normal game is played.

In the game with up to 6 players, if everyone passes a misere is played (see below).

Exchanging

In a normal game, the Tappist picks up all of the Tapp cards, without showing them to the other players, and then discards an equal number of cards face-down in their place. The cards discarded may include some of the cards picked up. It is illegal to discard any of the seven 5-point cards, except that if you hold four kings you are allowed to discard all of them if you wish. 1-point trumps can be placed in the discard, and you do not have to notify the other players of this. The point values of the discarded cards count for the Tappist.

In the case of a Solo, there is no exchange with the Tapp. The Soloist plays with the cards as dealt. The Tapp is not looked at until after the play. The points in it will then count for the Soloist as usual.

Play

The Tappist or Soloist leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can; if they cannot they must play a trump. A trick is won by the highest trump in it or, if none are played, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

The fool usually ranks as the highest trump. However, if it is the only trump you have left in your hand, you do not have to play it when a trump is led or when you are void of the suit led. Instead you can throw a card of another suit. After you have exercised this option to withhold the fool, it loses all its trick-taking power. You must keep it in your hand until it is your turn to play to the last trick. Then you show the fool and add it to your team's trick pile. In exchange you extract a low value card from your team's trick pile to be given to the winner of the last trick, along with the other cards played to that trick. If the holder of the withheld fool has to lead to the last trick, the fool is shown as usual, and the next player's card determines the suit of the trick.

Scoring

At the end of the play, each side counts the card points in their tricks. The Tappist or Soloist also adds in the value of the cards in the Tapp. The side that has more than half of the points - i.e. 58 or more - wins. The normal basic stake is 10 Rappen, paid to the Tappist or Soloist by each opponent, or to each opponent by the Tappist or Soloist. If the card points are divided 57-57 neither side wins, and there is no payment. If the losers have 30 points or fewer the payment is doubled (20 Rappen each), and if they took no tricks at all it is trebled (30 Rappen). The payment is also doubled if a Solo was played (20, 40 or 60 Rappen each).

Misere

If everyone passes, a Misere (or Misäär) is played. The Tapp is not used. The player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick, and everyone plays for themselves, the object being to avoid winning points. The player who takes the most points must pay 10 Rappen to each other player.

Special rules for 7 or 8 players

Bidding
If everyone passes, the holder of the Bättler (fool) is forced to play a normal game. If no one has the Bättler (because it is in the Tapp), the holder of the Bagatt (trump I) must play a normal game. If both the Bättler and the Bagatt are in the Tapp, a Misere is played.
Calling a partner
The Tappist chooses a temporary partner by calling any trump except the XXI or the Bättler. Normally the XX is called, unless the caller already has it. The player who holds the called card is the partner of the caller, but must not say or do anything to reveal his or her identity as the partner. This will only become apparent during the play, for example when the called card is played.
If the called card is in the Tappist's hand or in the Tapp, the Tappist plays without a partner, though the other players will not realise this initially. It is legal to call a trump that you have in your hand if you wish to play alone.
In the case of a Solo, there is no calling and no exchange with the Tapp. The bidder plays alone with the cards as dealt.
Scoring
As usual, the team with more than half of the points wins. In a basic game (where the losers had more than 30 points), the Tappist's opponents pay or receive 10 Rappen each, the Tappist's called partner receives or pays 20 Rappen and the Tappist receives or pays the balance (30 Rappen with 7 players, 40 Rappen with 8). If the losers have 30 or fewer points or no tricks at all these payments are doubled or trebled as usual.

Variations

The exact method of dealing the cards to the players and the Tapp varies. The Visp rules do not allow for a three-player version of the game, while the St Niklaus rules envisage at most 7 players. In Grächen the Tapp is dealt after the first round of dealing: in the five-player game the deal can be 5 + Tapp + 6 or 6 + Tapp + 5, at the dealer's discreton; with 4 players the deal is 7 + Tapp + 7.

In St Niklaus and Grächen the special discard of four kings is not permitted, but a player who has all of the 5-point cards - the four kings, the I, the XXI and the Bättler - is allowed to discard all seven of them.

In Grächen there is no Misere - if everyone passes the deal passes to the next dealer. In St Niklaus, instead of the player who takes most points losing, the player who takes least points in a Misere wins a basic stake from each player.

The threshhold at which the losers have to pay a double stake varies. In Visp the losers pay double if they have 30 points or fewer, as described above. In St Niklaus a double stake has to be paid if the losers have 31 points or fewer. In Grächen the double stake applies only if the losers have 20 points or fewer.

In both St Niklaus and Grächen the normal stake was 5 Rappen rather than 10.

Software

You can download a freeware Troggu program from Thanos Card Games.