El Royale - card game rules

El Royale

Invented and contributed by Adomas Milius - Copyright© El Royale

Introduction

This game is for 2 to 8 players using a standard 52-card pack, cards ranking from King (high) down to Ace (low). Players can play individually or in teams, for example 2 against 2 or 3 against 3.

At the start of the game each player has a hand of 4 cards. Cards are played in a series of battles between two players, during which other players can also throw in cards. After each battle players with fewer than 4 cards replenish their hands to four cards. To win the game a player has to complete a set of four equal ranked cards on top of the battle pile, and have no other cards left in hand at that moment.

The Deal

To begin the game four cards are dealt to each player, one card at a time, clockwise, beginning with the dealer. The remaining cards are stacked face down to form a drawing deck.

For the first game the dealer and the starting player (who begins the first battle) are chosen at random. In subsequent games the loser of the previous game (or a member of the losing team) will shuffle and deal and the winner of the previous game will start the new game.

During the game there will be (up to) three piles of cards on the table:

  1. The deck or "new cards" - a face down pile from which cards are drawn to replenish players' hands when they have fewer than 4 cards at the end of a battle. At the start of the game this contains all cards not dealt to the players.
  2. The battle pile (face up) - cards that have been played during the current battle. This is empty at the start of the game and after each battle. These cards should be overlapped so that players can clearly see the rank and value of each card in the pile.
  3. The discard pile or "old cards" - a face down pile cards that have been played in previous battles and not picked up by any player. This is empty at the start and accumulates cards during the game. Any time that the "new cards" pile becomes empty, the discard pile is shuffled and stacked face down to make a new deck of "new cards" from which cards can be drawn.

Battles

In each battle there is an attacker and a defender. The defender is the player sitting to the left of the attacker. The starting player is the attacker for the first battle.

To begin a battle the attacker plays a single card or any number of equal cards face up to the battle pile. There is a short pause during which any players other than the defender, in clockwise order beginning to the defender's left, can play cards of the same rank as the attacker's card(s) on top of the battle pile if they wish to. Then it is the defender's turn, and there are two possibilities.

Case 1. The defender beats the attack

The defender beats the attack by playing either

  1. one or more cards of the same rank as the top card of the battle pile, or
  2. one or more cards of equal rank, higher than the top card of the battle pile, which must include a card of the same suit as the top card of the battle pile.

After this, all players (except for the defender), again in clockwise order, beginning to the defender's left, may if they wish throw in further cards equal in rank to the top card of the battle pile.
The defender may throw in further cards equal in rank to the top card of the battle pile, only if new card(s) have been added to it by other players after the defender beats the attack. If the defender chooses to throw in further cards, now other players once again have the opportunity in turn to throw in further equal ranked cards. This can go for as long as the players have equally ranked cards and are willing to throw them in.

There is now an opportunity for any player other than the one who most recently played a card to pick up the whole battle pile and add it to their hand. If more than one player wants it, the attacker has the highest priority, then the other players in clockwise order. In practice, the attacker either takes the battle pile or pauses briefly to see whether anyone else wants to take it. If no one claims the battle pile, the attacker sets aside all the cards played in the battle, placing them face down on the discard pile.

After the battle pile has been cleared (discarded or picked up), all players who have fewer than 4 cards in hand must draw cards from the deck (the "new cards" pile) until they have 4 cards again. The attacker draws first, then the defender, then the other players in clockwise order. After everyone who needs to has drawn cards, the defender becomes the new attacker and begins the next battle.

Example. The attacker plays the club7 and another player throws in the diamond7 on top of it. Now in order to beat the attack, the defender can play one or more equal cards, in this case the heart7 or spade7 or both, or the defender can play a diamond higher than the 7, for example the diamond10, possibly along with other 10's. If the defender played the diamond10 everyone can now throw in 10's. If the defender played a 7, then the only card that can be thrown in is the fourth 7.

Case 2. The defender concedes

If the defender cannot or decides not to beat the attack, all the cards played to the battle pile are picked up and added to the defender's hand. That ends the battle.

Before the play can continue, all players holding fewer than four cards must now draw cards from the top of the deck so that they have four cards again. The attacker draws first, then the other players in clockwise order. (The defender will always have more than four cards after picking up so does not draw any.) Having lost the battle, the defender does not get a turn to attack. The next attacker is the player to the defender's left.

Maximum card holding and elimination

If having picked up the battle pile the defender has more than 16 cards, the defender is immediately eliminated from the game. All the eliminated player's cards - both the cards picked up from the battle pile and the cards that the defender already held - are spread face up on the table. Each of the other players, beginning with the attacker and continuing clockwise around the table, can take any of those cards that they would like to have and add them to their hands (but must not increase their hand size to more than 16 cards). After all players have had a turn to draw cards, any remaining cards that belonged to the eliminated defender are discarded.

In a non-partnership game the turns of an eliminated player are simply skipped. If it would have been that player's turn to attack or defend that turn is simply taken by the next player in clockwise order.

In a partnership game it is not possible for a player to attack their partner. Therefore if it is a player's turn to attack a player who has been eliminated, the partner of the eliminated player must defend in their place. (In a team of more than two players the substitute defender will be the first surviving partner in clockwise order from the eliminated player.) Irrespective of whether this attack succeeds or is beaten, the eliminated player never gets a turn to attack. Therefore the next attacking player will be the next surviving player (of either team) in clockwise order from the eliminated player.
Example: in a 4-player game (North-South against East-West) West has been eliminated. Suppose East attacks North and North beats the attack. Next North attacks East (East taking the place of West), and after that, irrespective of the result, South will attack East (since it is now East's own turn to defend). If East beats this attack it will be East's turn to attack North again. So in this scenario South will never be attacked (unless at some point North is also eliminated, reducing the game to a two-player contest between South and East).

Winning the Game

The play continues until a player satisfies the winning conditions. In order to win you must

  1. play the last of four cards of equal rank to the battle pile, and
  2. having played that card have no cards left in your hand.

Play continues until some player satisfies both conditions and wins, or until all players but one have been eliminated, so that the last survivor wins by default.

In a partnership game, when a player meets the winning conditions or all players of the opposing team have been eliminated, the player's team wins.

Some examples of winning situations:

  1. Suppose you have collected a hand consisting of four nines and no other cards. If the player to your right is the defender and loses the battle, picking up the battle pile, it is now your turn and you can attack with your four nines and immediately win the game. This is lucky for you but quite unusual.
  2. Suppose you have collected a hand containing four queens and nothing else. You are the defender, and the player to your right attacks you with some card(s) lower than a queen, for example one or more jacks. Irrespective of what jacks are thrown into the attack, you can beat the last jack with your four queens, winning the game, since your queens must include the queen of the same suit as the top jack on the battle pile.
  3. Suppose your hand consists of 5, 5, J, J. You attack with your two fives and the defender beats your second five with a jack. Your partner now throws in a second jack. You can now throw in the last two jacks, winning the game.
  4. You are neither the attacker nor the defender and your hand is 8, K, K, K. Your partner attacks the defender with an 8 and you throw in your 8. The defender beats your 8 with the king of the same suit. You can now throw in your three kings to win the game.
  5. It is possible to win even if you have more than 4 cards in your hand. For example your hand is 4, 4, 4, 10, 10. You attack with your three fours and unwisely the defender beats the last 4 with a 10. Your partner throws in a 10. Now you can throw in the other two 10's to win the game.

Some examples of non-winning situations:

It is impossible to win if you have more than two different ranks in your hand. In any battle at most two different ranks can be played, so you cannot get rid of all your cards.

Although an attack can be beaten by playing an equal card, it is impossible to win by this method. For example if you are attacked with an 8 and you hold the other three 8's you can win the battle by playing them all. This ends the battle but you have not won the game because you must have at least one card left over (you always have at least four cards in your hand at the start of a battle). So the game continues. You must replenish your hand to four cards and then it is your turn to attack.

Your hand is J, J, Q, Q and you are neither the attacker nor the defender. The attacker plays two jacks. You cannot win by throwing in your jacks because you would still have two queens in your hand, so you wait. Defender beats the second jack with a queen. Now you can throw in your two queens, but you can no longer get rid of your jacks because the top card of the battle pile is now a queen, not a jack. Unless someone kindly throws in the missing queen, there is no way you can win the game during this battle. You can get rid of all your jacks and you can empty your hand, but your hand cannot be empty at the moment when you play the fourth jack.

It is impossible to win if you are attacked by a king. Since the king is the highest card, no cards other than kings can be played. Normally it will be best to concede the battle and pick up the king to use later.

Communication, Conventions and Etiquette

Table talk is permitted throughout the game. This is particularly useful in a partnership game. For example the defender might ask a partner to throw a card of a different suit into the attack, if unable or unwilling to beat the original attack card. Or any player might ask a partner to throw in a card if this enables them to win the game by playing the remaining cards of that rank. Or a partner might ask the next attacker to attack with a particular rank, so as to get rid of some cards of that rank by throwing them in.

Players are allowed to show their cards. In particular, when you know that an opponent is collecting a particular rank, and you have a card of that rank, you may like to reverse it in your hand, with the back facing you and the card value visible to the other players, to remind yourself not to give it to the player who wants it.

Any information exchanged must be available to all players. Private conversations are not allowed and any card shown to another player must be shown to all players.

The "new cards" (draw) pile and the "old cards" (discard) pile are kept face down and players are not allowed to inspect the cards in these piles.

Players should hold their cards so that everyone knows how many cards each other player holds at all times. If asked how many cards you hold you must answer truthfully.

Last updated: 21st May 2022

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