Coup d'Etat

Here are the rules of the card game Coup d'Etat, as published in 1966 by Parker Brothers. They are reproduced here for the benefit of anyone who has the game equipment but has lost the rules.

The basic game is clearly related to the traditional French game Barbu, though the added complication of the coup is perhaps an American invention.


The origin of Coup d'Etat is obscure, but it is believed that the game was first played by political prisoners in the dungeons of France over two centuries ago. Even the old game was highly interesting, but the new one with its "COUP" and "HIDDEN COUP" overthrow is a fascinating new concept and has a spearpoint challenge for game-lovers looking for something different.


In this game there are 6 hands each of which is different and each of which must be played to complete a round. The number of rounds to complete a game is always equal to the number of players in the game. Each player plays for himself and partnerships are not permitted. The winner is the player with the most money at the end of the game.


  1. A pack of cards having four suits (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs) with eight cards in each suit plus one special Coup card. In each suit the Ace is highest in value followed in order by the 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9, 8,7. Note that the 10 ranks next to the Ace and ahead of the King. The suits are of equal value.
  2. A Director's Board which is used to record the hands and rounds played.
  3. Six daggers, which are the markers used on the Director's Board.
  4. Four charts which describe the object of each of the six games and list the rewards and penalties. The Director's side is used when the Director is controlling the game and the Coup side is used when a player is attempting to overthrow the Director.
  5. A supply of money. Because the basic idea for the game originated in France, the denominations are in francs.


Each player takes a chart and 10,000 francs in the following denominations: Two 2000 franc notes, three 1000 franc notes, five 500 franc notes, and five 100 franc notes. Place six daggers in the six holes in the Director's Board under the letter S (Start).

After the cards have been shuffled, each player draws a card from the pack. The player drawing the card highest in value becomes the Director (dealer) for the start of the first round. The Coup card is the highest card in the deck. If two players tie for high, they draw again. If only three are playing, remove the sevens and eights from the deck before dealing.


The Director places the Director's Board in front of him. he deals eight cards, face down, to each player and puts the last card in the center of the table, also face down.

All players pick up their cards and sort them by suit and by value without exposing them to the other players. The player holding the Coup card must announce it to the other players. He must then decide whether or not he wishes to try for a Coup and thus overthrow the Director and become the Director himself for the ensuing hand. If the Coup card should be in the center of the table, rather than in a player's hand, the Director must shuffle and deal again.

Director's Chart

HandAvoid Taking or DoingPenalty pay to Director
BarbuDon't take King of Hearts800 francs if you do
Waterloo*Don't take any Queens200 francs for each
Siege*Don't take any Spades100 francs for each
ToucheDon't take 1st or last tricks400 francs for each
Guillotine*Don't take any of abovepay above for each
DominosDon't be last out of cards800 francs if you are
* Hidden Coup Allowed

Using the Director's Chart

Let's assume that, in this first hand, the player holding the Coup card decides against trying for a Coup. he discards his coup card, which is not used in this hand, and replaces it with the extra card form the center of the table. The Director, after studying his cards, decides which of the six hands listed on the Director's Board he wished to play. He announces his choice to the other players and moves the dagger opposite that hand on the Director's Board to the right, on space, so that is is now under column 1. Each player turns his chart to the Director's side. The Director starts the game by playing a card, face up, to the center of the table. he may play any card that he wishes except as follows:

  • If he has selected Barbu, he may not lead a Heart to start the first trick.
  • If he has selected Siege, he may not lead a Spade to start the first trick.
  • If he has selected Guillotine, he may not lead a Heart or Spade to start the first trick.

The player to the left of the Director then plays a card from his hand. He must play a card of the suit led is he has one, but if he does not, he may play any card in his hand. In turn, the other players each play on car, which completes a trick (except in Dominos which will be described later). The player playing the card of highest value in the suit led takes all of the cards played and leads any card that he wishes to start a second trick. Play continues in this manner until all eight tricks have been played.

In the game of Touche and Guillotine, payment should be made to the Director for the first and last tricks as they are taken. The rest of the penalties in Guillotine and penalties in Barbu, Waterloo, and Siege may be counted at the end of the hand and paid as one lump sum. In Siege, for example, each player counts the number of Spades he has taken, multiplies that number by 100 and pays the equivalent number of francs to the Director. The Director does not pay any penalties, except that he does not collect any francs that he might have won from others whenever he takes penalty cards. It is therefore very important to become the Director and try to prevent others from taking over the Directorship.


The object of the game of Dominos is to force some other player to play the last card. In Dominos, unlike the other games, 10 ranks between the Jack and the 9. If the Director elects to play Dominos, he plays any card from his hand, face up, in the center of the table. The player to his left then must play a card that is either next higher or next lower in value of the suit led or a card of the same value of another suit. If he can play, he must, but if he can make none of these plays, he passes his turn. Other players follow in turn playing a card next higher or next lower in value on the suits already started or starting new suits with cards of the same value as the card originally played by the Director.

Assume that the Director started the game with the 10 of Hearts. The second player then played the 9 of Hearts, and the third player the Jack of Hearts. The fourth player having neither the 8 nor Queen of Hearts played the 10 of Spades. Play continued in this manner until all cards were played and the layout of cards on the table appeared like the diagram. A player plays only one card per turn except when he plays an Ace on a King. This entitles him to continue to play all or any of the cards in his hand that are playable. He is not required to play more then the Ace unless he thinks it to his advantage to do so.

Coup Chart

HandTo Succeed You MustIf Successful Collect
from Each Player
If Not Pay
Barbu Take King of Hearts600 francs800 francs
Waterloo*Take all Queens1000 francs800 francs
Siege*Take all Spades1000 francs800 francs
ToucheTake 1st and last600 francs800 francs
Guillotine*Take all of above1500 francs800 francs
DominosBe first out of cards600 francs800 francs
* Hidden Coup Allowed

Using the Coup Chart

After the first hand has been completed the Director shuffles and deals the cards as before and, as before, the player who is dealt the Coup card must decide whether or not he wishes to try for a Coup. In making his decision he must remember that there are now only five different hands to choose from since one of the six hands of the round has already been played. Let us assume that this time the player with the Coup card decides to try for a Coup. He announces the game he wishes to play and the Director moves the appropriate dagger from the "S" column to the "1" column. All players turn their charts to the Coup side.

In order to make a successful Coup a player must accomplish what is required by the Coup side of the chart for the hand he has selected. It is not easy to make a Coup because every player will try to prevent it. These other players are not subject to the penalties that are listed on the Director's side of the chart. The player trying to make a Coup does have several advantages. First, he selects from the hands not played during the current round the one he wishes to play. Second, he has the opportunity to lead the first card. Third, the Coup card which he holds in his hand is wild; that is, it is the highest in value and this captures any other card. The only exception is that it cannot capture an Ace of the suit led if the Ace is played before it on the same trick. It does capture the Ace if the Ace is played after it.

When a player is trying to make a Coup, the extra card in the center of the table is captured by the player taking the first trick and becomes part of that trick. If a player tries to make a Coup in Dominos he is not permitted to use the Coup card but must replace it in his hand with the extra card from the center of the table.

If the player attempting to make a Coup is unsuccessful, he places under the Director's Board the amount of money indicated on the chart as a penalty. This is called the Treasury. This money goes to the first player who makes a successful Coup, or if no one does during the round to the player who is Director at the time all six hands of a round have been completed.

If the player attempting to make a Coup is successful, he is paid by each of the other players the amount indicated on the chart for the game played. He takes the Director's Board and collects any money that may be in the Treasury, and continues as the Director until some other player makes a Coup and takes the Directorship away from him, or until all hands for the round have been played. If the Director is dealt the Coup card, he may try for a Coup. If successful he receives the amounts listed on the Coup side. If unsuccessful, he pays the penalties to the Treasury but does not lose the Directorship.

The player to the left of the original Director becomes the Director for the second round regardless of who was the Director at the end of the first round. This during a game each player will have the opportunity of starting a round as the Director.

Hidden Coup

A Hidden Coup can be tried in Waterloo, Siege, and Guillotine ONLY. Suppose, for example, the player holding the Coup card decides against trying for a Coup and the Director therefore names the hand to be played. Let us assume further that the Director has selected to play Siege in which the object is to avoid taking Spades. If, however, any player other than the Director is able to take all of the Spades, he is not penalized 100 francs for each one taken but instead receives 1000 francs from each of the other players as indicated on the Coup side of the charts and becomes the new Director. If he fails to take all of the Spades, he pays only the regular penalties on the Director's Chart for those he has taken and does not even have to confess that he was trying to make a Coup. A Hidden Coup is not permitted if some other player is attempting to make a regular Coup, nor can the Director try for a Hidden Coup.

To succeed in completing a Hidden Coup a player usually has to be something of an actor. The first time he takes a penalty card or two, he must seem very upset in order to prevent the other players form learning too early in the hand what he is trying to do.


If during play, a player runs out of money, he may borrow form any other player at an interest rate of 200 francs per 1000. In other words, he must pay back 1200 francs for every 1000 borrowed. He also must contribute at least 1.2 of future winnings to the one from whom he borrowed until the loan and interest have been repaid.

Winning the Game

When all rounds have been completed (three if three play and four if four play), each player counts his money. Players who have borrowed must subtract any debts including interest which they owe. Players who have lent money are entitled to add the amounts still due plus unpaid interest. The player with the most money is the winner.

Some Tips on Playing

Director's hand: If you hold the King of Hearts get rid of it as soon as you can without taking the trick. Play it on someone else's Ace or 10 or discard it when you cannot follow the suit led.
To make a Coup: You probably need the King and another high Heart in your own hand to have a chance of making a successful Coup. The more of the eight possible Hearts you hold in your hand, the better your chances.
Director's hand: Get rid of any Queens you hold in your hand as soon as you can without taking any tricks. Play them on other players' higher cards, or discard them when you cannot follow suit.
To make a Coup: You do not need to hold all of the Queens in your own hand, but you do need lots of high cards to be able to take the lead and keep it.
Director's hand: Small Spades probably will not hurt you, but get rid of the high ones whenever you can without taking tricks.
To make a Coup: The best hand is a long suit of Spades, headed by the Ace. You should have at least one other Ace to lead for the first trick.
Director's hand: Play low on the first trick and try to save a low card for the last trick. It is better not to have lead later in the game as other players may have gotten rid of the high cards in the suit you are holding.
To make a Coup: You need one or two Aces to go with your Coup card. Take the first trick and try to regain the lead by the next to last trick so that you can lead for the last.
Director's hand: You are fortunate if you have a hand full of low cards. It is not safe to take any trick in this game.
To make a Coup: This is the most difficult hand in which to complete a successful Coup but the rewards are also great. You will need to take all of the tricks to be sure of success. Dominos - In the Director's hand and when trying to make a Coup it is best to have no cards of the highest or lowest values because these cards cannot be played until late in the game. It is will to hold cards that run in sequence, thus assuring several successful plays. The Coup card is not used in Dominos even when a Coup is attempted.

Short Game

If you wish to play a shorter game, eliminate entirely the hands of Barbu and Touche. Each round consists of three of the four remaining hands. As soon as three hands have been completed, (regardless of which three) the Directorship passes to the next player. All other rules remain the same. If 6, 7, or 8 wish to play, use two sets and play at two tables.

Rules copyright © Parker Brothers 1966

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   . Last updated: 25th April 1999