Players: 2

This 2-player game which appeared in North America in the 1970's is slightly reminiscent of later commercially successful combat games such as Magic the Gathering though the similarity is probably a coincidence.

Class: Combat Games

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Region: USA, Britain


The exact origin of this unusual two-player game is unknown. Dating from the 1970's at the latest, it is the earliest example I have found of a combat card game. The aim is to be the first build a layout worth at least 21 points. Cards can be used for their point value, or to attack your opponent's layout by destroying or capturing cards.

For some years a FAQ by Richard Sipie, first published in 2000, was the only generally available documentation of the game. I am grateful to Michael Pearson for his help in preparing the new description on this page and to Greg Pallis, an enthusiastic player and winner of the Cuttle tournament in the 2009 Mind Sports Olympiad, for answering my various detailed questions about the rules.

Players and Cards

Cuttle is played by two players using a standard 52-card deck without jokers.


The goal is to be the first to accumulate 21 or more points worth of point cards on your side of the table. The first player to achieve this wins the game.


Each player has a hand of cards, normally held concealed from the opponent. The dealer deals six cards to himself and five to his opponent. These are the players' initial hands. The remaining deck is placed face-down and becomes the draw pile. The dealer's opponent then takes the first turn.

During the game, players play cards from their hands, placing them face up on the table in front of them. This way each player forms a layout of cards on their own side of the table.

Various actions cause cards to be discarded. Discarded cards are stacked face-up next to the draw pile so that only the top card is visible. This pile of discards is called the scrap pile.


On your turn you must perform exactly one of the following actions:

  • draw a card from the draw pile and add it to your hand
  • play a point card from your hand
  • play a one-off effect card from your hand
  • play a permanent effect card from your hand

The turn then passes to your opponent.

If the draw pile runs out, then instead of drawing a card, a player is allowed to pass, i.e. do nothing at all on that turn. If there are three consecutive passes the game ends and neither player wins.

Card types and how to use them

In Cuttle there are three categories of card: point cards, one-off effect cards and permanent effect cards.

1. Point cards
Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 can be played as point cards.
Aces are worth 1 point. Number cards are worth their face value.
There are two ways to play a point card:
  1. A point card can be played face-up on your side of the table. These cards add up to form your total points. The first player to accumulate 21 total points wins the game.
  2. Alternatively, a point card can be played as a ‘scuttle’ allowing you to remove an opponent’s point card from the table. The point card you play must be higher in value than the card you wish to scuttle, or equal in value with a higher suit. The rank of the suits is clubs (lowest) < diamonds < hearts < spades (highest). So for example the diamond7 can scuttle the club7 or the heart6 but the diamond7 cannot scuttle the heart7. To scuttle an opponent's point card, place your card on top of it and discard both cards to the scrap pile.
2. One-off effect cards
Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 can be played as one-off effect cards.
One-off effect cards are never placed on the table but are discarded into the scrap pile immediately after use. See the list below for a description of each effect.
3. Permanent effect cards
8, Jack, Queen, King can be played as permanent effect cards
Permanent effect cards are played face-up on the table like point cards, though note that the 8 is turned sideways. A permanent effect lasts for as long as the card is on the table. See the list below for a description of each effect.

One-off Effects

Scrap all point cards on the table - both yours and your opponents'.
There are two possible ways to use a two as a one-off effect card.
  1. Play a two in your turn to scrap any permanent effect card on the table.
  2. Play a two to block a one-off effect card played by your opponent. This is the only case in which you can play a card during your opponent's turn. Your two and your opponent's one-off effect card are both scrapped. Note that a two can be used to block a two: if you play a one-off effect and your opponent tries to block it with a two, you can use your own two to block your opponent's two. Both twos go to the scrap pile and your original one-off effect card takes effect (unless of course your opponent then plays another two to block it again).
Rummage through the scrap pile and add a card of your choice to your hand. Since the 3 is not scrapped until after its effect has been carried out, you cannot use this effect to take back the 3 you just played.
Your opponent must discard two cards of his choice from his hand, showing them to you before placing them on the scrap pile.
Draw the top two cards from the draw pile and add them to your hand.
Scrap all permanent effect cards on the table - both yours and your opponents'.
Draw a card and play it immediately however you wish.
If you draw a card that cannot be played immediately it is discarded, but if it can be played you must play it, even if it is to your disadvantage. For example a jack might have to be used to give a point card to your opponent.
Return any one permanent effect card on the table to its controller’s hand.
Note that if you use this to return a jack, the point card that it was stacked on changes sides.

Permanent Effects

While you have an 8 on the table as a permanent effect card, your opponent must play with the cards in his hand exposed. The 8 is placed sideways on the table, distinguishing it from point cards and making it look like a pair of glasses.
Transfer control of a point card. The jack is placed on top of a point card and both cards are moved across the table, changing the owner. Multiple jacks can be stacked on top of a single point card, and the ownership changes each time a jack is added or removed.
Naturally you would normally play a jack on a point card controlled by your opponent, moving it to your side of the table so that it becomes yours. However, if you were to draw a jack as a result of the one-off effect of a 7 when your opponent had no point cards, you would be forced to play it on one of your own point cards and pass it to your opponent.
If a point card is scrapped, either by an effect or by scuttling, any jacks upon it are also scrapped.
All your point cards and permanent effect cards on the table other than queens are defended from effects that target single cards. Queens protect against 2, 9 and jack effects, but not against an ace or a 6, since these target multiple cards. Queens do not protect against scuttling (scuttling is not an effect).
Since queens do not defend themselves or other queens, you can use a 2 to remove an opponent's queen.
If you play a 2, your queen on the table blocks your opponent from countering it with his own 2.
The number of points you require to win the game is reduced according to the number of kings on your side of the table as follows:
  • No kings: 21 or more points;
  • One king: 14 or more points;
  • Two kings: 10 or more points;
  • Three kings: 7 or more points;
  • All four kings: 5 or more points.


The following improvements to the game have been suggested.


Greg Pallis recommends that when a four is played as a one-off effect, the two cards scrapped from the opponent's hand should be chosen at random. The opponent's hand is shuffled face down, two cards are drawn from it, exposed, and discarded to the scrap pile.

This rule change encourages aggressive play, makes the four stronger, and somewhat weakens the power of twos, since if you keep them in your hand they are vulnerable to a four attack.


Daniel Goers suggests that an 8 can be played as a one-off effect card to scrap a 8 that is on the table as a permanent effect card. Both 8's are discarded to the scrap pile.


In the standard rules, nines are almost useless as one-off effect cards. You might use one to remove a jack from a point card controlled by your opponent if that immediately won the game. In any other case, your opponent can immediately undo the effect of the nine by simply putting the permanent effect card back on the table.

I suggest the following amended rule. When you play a nine as a one-off effect, you return one permanent card of your choice to your opponent's hand, and your opponent must wait at least one turn before playing that card again.

Reddit user gaylordqueen69 has suggested a more powerful use for the nine. When you play a nine as a one-off effect you take one permanent card of your choice from the table and place it face down on top of the draw pile. This card will therefore be acquired by the next player who draws a card.


Daniel Goers suggests that a 10 can be used as a one-off effect card to block a scuttle. The 10 and the card played as a scuttle are discarded to the scrap pile and the card that your opponment was trying to scuttle remains in place.


Reddit user beamer159 has suggested a variant in which although a queen does not protect itself, it does protect other queens. Therefore if you have two queens they protect each other as well as your other permanent effect cards and can only be removed by a six.


Daniel Goers suggests that one Joker can be added to the deck. It is played as a one-off effect and causes the players to exchange hands with each other.

Other Cuttle Pages

Jared Miller has published a revised and clarified set of Cuttle rules on github.

The Cuttle page by gaylordqueen69 on Reddit includes an amusing rewrite of the FAQ, some suggested rule changes, and carries comments including a completely revised schedule of one-off effects suggested by beamer159.

Cuttle Online

You can play Cuttle online against human opponents at Ryan Emberling's Cuttle site.

Richard Sipie's Cuttle FAQ

For reference, I have reproduced below copy of Richard Sipie's original Cuttle FAQ, published in 2000, which used to be at An archive copy of the original page is also available. I have tried and failed to contact Richard Sipie to ask his permission to publish this. If anyone has any further news of him or his plans for this FAQ, please let me know.

1. What is Cuttle?

Cuttle is a game for 2 players, played with a simple 52-card pack.

The objective of the game is to have 21 points worth of "Point Cards" on the table. A game takes approximately five minutes, although anything between twenty minutes and twenty seconds is possible!

2. How do I play it?

Play begins with the dealer, who deals six cards to himself and five to his opponent. This opponent then takes the first turn.

On a turn, a player may play a card (see #3), or draw one. If a player has 21 or more points worth of "point cards" on the table at the end of his turn, that player is victorious - otherwise the turn passes to his opponent.

3. What do the cards do?

Firstly: ANY numbered card (A-10) may be played as a "point card". In this case, the player puts the card face-up on the table in front of him, and it is worth as many points as the are spots on its face (1 for an ace, etc).

Secondly: ANY numbered card (A-10) may be played, instead, as a "scuttle". In this case, it is played ON TOP of a point card which it exceeds in value*. Both cards are then moved directly to the scrap pile (face up, as is everything there)**.

*: Value is not just numerical, but alphabetical: clubs - diamonds - hearts - spades. The eight of clubs will scuttle the seven of spades, but not the eight of hearts.

**: Cards in the scrap pile have no controller, and do not effect the game in any way.


The numbered cards may all be played as a one-off, except for the eights and tens. In this case, they are placed directly into the scrap pile, with the following effects.

ACES: Put all point cards on the table into the scrap pile.

TWOS: Place any card on the table into the scrap pile, except a point card. (In practice, Kings, Queens, Jacks and the "glasses" eight)
Place any one-off just played into the scrap pile. This occurs before the effect of that card is accomplished, and, uniquely, can be played during the opponents turn, as well as your own.

THREES: Rummage through the scrap pile, taking a card of your choice into your hand.

FOURS: Opponent must discard two cards of his choice from his hand into the scrap pile.

FIVES: You may draw two cards.

SIXES: All cards on the table except for point cards are moved into the scrap pile.

SEVENS: Draw a card. You can, and must, play this card immediately - whether as a point card, a scuttle, a one-off, whatever. If you are unable to play the card, it is discarded. (This may only happen in the event of drawing a jack).

NINES: Return any permanent card to its controller's hand.


ROYALTY can only be played on your turn, and count as no points.

JACKS: Are placed on top of a point card already on the table. Kept there, the card is moved across the table and is now owned by the opponent of its original owner (who is generally your opponent!)

QUEENS: Are played on the table, like a point card. With a queen in play, none of your other cards may be the target of opposing cards that target a single card, such as jacks and twos. However, this offers no protection against those like aces that target more widely, even if there is only one card the table that will be effected. Nor do Queens offer any protection against scuttle attacks.

KINGS: Are played like queens. With a king in play, a player can win with just 14 points worth of point cards on the table. With two kings he needs just ten, with three, seven, and with all four just five points! (Mathematically, a player needs 21/(1.5^k) points to win, where k is the number of kings controlled by that player).



The final card! As well as a point card, an eight too has a secondary use, although it is not a one-off. Instead, the card may be placed rather like a king or queen, but at right angles to the opponent (and his other cards). This differentiates it from point card eights, and simultaneously makes it look like a pair of glasses! The effect is that the opponent must play with his hand exposed until he finds a way to transfer the eight to the scrap pile.

And we're done!

4. What happens if the pack is exhausted?

Although I am no authority, I can find no other guide to the question online. The rule I have played for twenty-five years is that it is unfair (and dull!) to end the game while a win may still be forced. Therefore, I play that "taking a card" in this situation becomes an effective pass, and that if three of these occur in a row, it is only then that the game is declared a draw.

5. Can I play a two to "counter" a point card? How about a scuttle?

The single most common question I am asked :-). Players who are used to Magic: The Gathering are often surprised to find out that this is not allowed - a two is not a universal counterspell. It may only "counter" a one-off, nothing else.

6. Do Queens protect against "countering" twos?

The second most common question I am asked :-). The answer is yes: queens prevent the targeting of any single card controlled by that player, however briefly.

7. May a two be used to cancel an opponent's two?

Absolutely! A last-in, first-out order seems the only sensible one to employ - i.e. in this situation the last-played card (the second two) moves the first to the scrap pile. From there it cannot effect the game, so the original card is played unscathed.

8. May I use a three to rummage for the three I just played?

I don't think so. Since cards in the scrap pile do not affect the game, I believe a card sits in a kind of suspension until its effect has been resolved. This also gives clarity to the protection of one-offs by queens.

9. Suppose the only point card on the table is mine, and my one-off seven comes up as a Jack. What happens

To me, the only logical answer is that the card switches sides, with the jack on top of it!

10. This game is has similarities with Magic: The Gathering!

It's been remarked on. It does however predate it considerably - I learnt the rules in 1975. A reverse genealogy would be fascinating - I would love to know if Richard Garfield has heard of the game.

J. Who is the author?

Richard Sipie has been playing games since 1951. He also enjoys walking, collecting (especially theatre paraphernalia) and flattery :-). He is happily married and lives in Bloomington, IL.

R.Sipie, 2000
(do E-mail me!)
[but the address given - - unfortunately no longer works - JM]

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2017. Last updated: 1st June 2024

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