Briscola

This page is mainly based on contributions from Paolo Marino and Paolo Ronzoni.

Introduction

Briscola is a trick taking game - that is, the object of the game is to take cards which gives you (or your team) a high score. It is popular in Italy and it uses the Italian 40 card deck. It is often played with Italian cards, which have suits of coins, cups, batons and swords, but you may play using a standard international 52-card deck, just by removing the Jokers, eights, nines and tens. The same game is played in the coastal regions of Slovenia and Croatia under the name Briškula.

Briscola may be played by two, three, four or six players. There is a special version Briscola Chiamata for five players, which is strongly recommended.

Rank and value of cards

In order to define which card wins a particular trick, we must first define a card ranking, given from highest to lowest:
ace, three, king, queen, jack, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2.

Also, the cards have a point value:

Ace 11 points
Three 10 points
King 4 points
Queen 3 points
Jack 2 points

The remaining cards have no point value.

Briscola is often played with Italian cards with suits of swords (spade), clubs (bastoni), cups (coppe) and coins (danari). In this case the picture cards rank in the order King (re) (4 points), Horse (cavallo) (3 points), Jack (fante) (2 points). In North America, Italian cards in various regional patterns can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

As you see, the total value of cards in the deck adds up to 120 points. The player (or team) which scores at least 61 points in a game wins. Games can end in a draw when both reach the same point total (60), and usually Briscola is played to the best of three or five games.

Note on card order

Most books, when describing how to play Briscola with French suited cards (hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades) use the above card order King (4), Queen (3), Jack (2), which is normal in northern Italy. However, many players, especially in the south, reverse the role of the Queen and Jack. The card order is then Ace (11), Three (10), King (4), Jack (3), Queen (2), 7, 6, 5, 4, 2.

Two player Briscola

This is the easiest version of the game, and will serve as a basis for the multiplayer versions.

One of the two players shuffles the deck and deals three cards to each player. He then takes a card (the seventh, in this case) and puts it face up near the pile of undealt cards, which are placed face down. The face-up card suit defines which will be the Briscola suit for the game. The Briscola suit is the trump suit, i.e. the suit which always takes all other cards, card ranking notwithstanding.

The game starts. The first to play is the player to the right of the dealer. In the two player version, this means that the non-dealer (A) will start.

A leads one of his three cards, face up.

B plays one of his cards, and wins or loses the trick according to these three simple rules:

  1. If B plays a card of the same suit as the card led by A, then the trick is won by whoever played the higher card - the winner takes both cards away, and puts them, face down, in a pile near him.
  2. If B plays a card which has a different suit from the card which A led, but neither card is a Briscola (trump), A wins the trick, and the cards will go to A, even if B's card was of higher rank.
  3. If B plays a card of a different suit from A's, and one of the cards is a Briscola (trump), then the player of the Briscola wins the trick.

Example (Briscola is the four of spades):

  • Player A leads the 5 of clubs.
  • Player B plays the ace of clubs. B takes the trick (Rule 1).
  • Player A leads the 5 of hearts.
  • Player B plays the King of clubs. Player A takes the trick (Rule 2)
  • Player A leads the ace of diamonds.
  • Player B plays 6 of spades (briscola). He wins the round (Rule 3).

Note that Briscola is unlike many card games, in that there is no obligation for the second player to play a card of the same suit as the first card or to trump it, just because he can. The second player is free to play any of his cards.

Note that if both players play a briscola, rule 1 dictates that the higher ranking card wins.

After each trick, each player draws a card from the pile of undealt cards. The winner of the trick draws first, followed by the loser. The player who won the trick then leads to the next one.

Eventually the undealt cards will be used up, and at this point the loser of the trick just played will draw the face up Briscola card. The game then continues, without drawing cards, until all the cards have been played.

At the end, each player takes the pile of cards he won in tricks during the game, and counts up the points according to the point scale shown above. The player with more points wins, or if each has 60, it is a draw.

Variations

Some people play that if the turned-up card, the one that indicates the trump suit, is an ace or a three (the two strongest cards), the card is put back in the middle of the deck and another card is turned up.

Some play that the winner is the first player to reach 120 points: unless one player wins all the tricks this will take two deals, one by each player.

Four player Briscola

The game remains more or less the same, but the two pairs of players sit face to face, and each pair plays as a team. Playing proceeds counter-clockwise.

When playing the 4 or 6 players partnership versions of Briscola, most groups allow some communication between partners either by conversation or by visual signals. See below.

The player to the right of the dealer leads first. The other players may play any card (there is no requirement to follow suit). If no one plays a Briscola the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. If one or more players plays a Briscola, the highest Briscola wins.

Each player in turn, starting with the winner of the trick, then draws a card from the undealt pile. The winner of the trick then leads to the next one.

When the undealt cards are used up, the next player draws the Briscola card, and the game continues without drawing until all the cards have been played.

Example:

The players are A, B, C, D, placed around a table like this:

  A  
D   B
  C  

A and C play together against B and D. A deals the cards. Briscola (the thirteenth card) comes up as a three of hearts.

  • D, who sits counter-clockwise from A, plays first, and leads the 4 of spades.
  • C plays the Jack of spades.
  • B plays the two of hearts.
  • If A does not play a higher Briscola, all four the cards will go to the D & B team.
  • A thinks that for this meagre booty (the Jack is only two points, after all) it is not worth using a Briscola, or perhaps he does not have one; anyway, he plays the 5 of clubs.
  • The trick is taken by the B & D team.
  • B leads to the next trick.

Signals

If visual signals are used, players should avoid talking about the cards they have in hand, but signals can be used to indicate the possession of certain high cards of the Briscola suit. One possible system is as follows:

Ace stretch the lips over the teeth
Three distort the mouth to one side
King glance upwards
Queen/Knight show the tip of the tongue
Jack shrug one shoulder

Conversation

Paolo Ronzoni reports that around Rome, many groups do not use visual signals but instead allow a limited amount of conversation. There is no talking during the first trick, but from the second trick onwards the player whose turn it is to lead to the trick may ask partner for certain information:

  1. Whether partner has useless cards (Lisci) in hand
  2. What trumps partner has:
    • The leader may ask about Briscoline - low trumps, from 2 to 6.
    • Or he can ask about Vestite - high trumps, K Q J, called vestite (dressed) because they depict human beings wearing clothes.
    • Note that the 7 of trumps is neither a Briscolina nor a┬áVestita.
    • The leader cannot ask specifically about the Ace or 3
  3. Whether partner can head a trick without playing trump.
  4. Whether partner has Carichi - that is A or 3 of any non-trump suits.

The orders the leader may give to partner are very similar:

  • to play a Liscio
  • to play trump (high or low)
  • to head the trick without playing a trump
  • to play a Carico.

Six player Briscola

This works in the same way as the four player version. The two teams are made up of three players each:

 AB 
D C
 EF 

A, C and E play against D, B, F. The deck is reduced to 36 cards by taking away the two's.

The signals or conversation are the same as in four-player Briscola. If verbal communication is allowed, from the second trick onwards the leader to the trick may ask for information from or give instructions to either partner.

Schembil

This variant of six-player Briscola is played in Northern Africa and also in Southern Italy especially Sicily. Only 36 cards are used - the twos are omitted from the normal 40-card pack.

The six players are divided in two teams of three. Each team chooses a captain, known as the “rais” - normally they will choose the most skilful member of their team.

As usual three cards each are dealt, and players replenish their hands by drawing a card from the stock at the end of each trick.

The rais of each team can ask certain questions of his partners and direct their play. The possible questions and orders are the same as in four- and six-player Briscola - see above, but asked or given by the rais of either team, not the leader to the trick. The other players are not allowed to speak except to answer questions asked by their rais.

When the stock is exhausted, the rais is allowed to look at the cards of just one of his partners (generally he chooses the partner to his right).

Three player Briscola

It's played the same as the two player version, and the deck is reduced to 39 cards by taking away a 2. All three players try to gain the highest number of points.

Briscola Scoperta

This is two-player Briscola with face up cards. Each player's hand of three cards is laid out face up on the table, and the top card of the drawing stock (which will be taken by the winner of the trick) is face up as well as the trump (briscola) at the bottom of the stock. The card values and rules of play are exactly the same as in normal two-player Briscola, but now both players have access to the same information at all times. The only unknown cards are the cards buried in the stock between the top and bottom card.

Briscolone

'Briscolone' means 'large briscola' and some people use this name to refer to five-player Briscola (Briscola Chiamata).

Briscolone is also the name of a two-player variant of Briscola in which each player is dealt five cards rather than three. There is no trump suit in this game so a trick is simply won by the higher card of the suit that was led. The card values are the same as in normal Briscola so there are 120 points available in each deal, but the game is continued over several deals until a player wins by reaching the agreed cumulative target, which may be 151 points or 121 points.

Briscolone is often played with the additional rule that players must follow suit. That is, the second player to a trick must play a card of the same suit as the first player whenever possible.

Briškula in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Veselko Kelava reports that in Bosnia and Herzegovina Briškula is played with a 32-card pack, each suit ranking: A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7. The card values are A=11, 10=10, K=4, Q=3, J=2. Any number can play without partnerships, or four can play as partners, two against two. When the talon comes close to an end and some players draw and some don't get a chance. Only those who drew play to the following trick, so that all again have the same number of cards in hand.

Four-card or double Briškula

In both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, a variation is played in which four cards (instead of three) are dealt to each player, and everyone plays twice to each trick: after everyone has played one card, the play continues around the table and all play a second card. Whoever plays the highest trump or if there are none, the highest card of the suit that was led takes all the cards of the double trick. Everyone in turn draws a card from the talon and then everyone draws a second card so that all have four cards again, and the winner of the previous trick leads to a new double trick.

Other Briscola WWW sites and software

The freeware and PRO versions of Gianfranco Marzano's Briscola computer program are available from his Home Page dei giochi di carte italiani.

At the Italian site Tretre (archive copy) you can find rules of Briscola and several variants.

At GiochiStars you can play two-player Briscola games and tournaments online against live opponents

Žan Kafol has developed a Flash web site providing online multiplayer briškola (briscola) for 2, 3 or 4 players.

At Davide Gullo's GDM community site you can play Briscola Chiamata on line.

With the two-player Briscola program at Solitari con le Carte you can now play online against the computer using any web browser. Briscola scoperta and Briscolone games are also available at the same site.

You can play Briscola and Briscola Chiamata on line at the Italian site biska.com.

Here is Brian Friesen's freeware Briscola program for Windows.

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

With the free Windows program BTM Pro, obtainable from Drazen's homepage, you can play Briscola and some other Italian games against the computer or against other players over a network.