Home Page > Invented Games > Guillotine


A card game for four, invented and described by Scott Marley, and reprinted from issue No.1 of World Games Review by kind permission of Michael Keller. It has no connection with the recent Wizards of the Coast game Guillotine.

There is an old French card game that has never been published in any collection of games that I know of, which forms the basis for Parker Brothers' game Coup d'Etat many years ago, and E. S. Lowe's recent clone Dragonmaster. What follows is a modern version of the original game, fitted with a scoring system that demands thoughtful play. I devised it for our college games group, which had found the original game rather bland, and the two commercial games unnecessarily gimmicky.


A deck of 32 cards (twos though sixes removed) and pencil and paper to keep score with.


A complete series of Guillotine consists of twenty-four deals, with each player dealing six times. There are also six "games" which the dealer may choose from, after he has inspected his own hand. However, once he has chosen one of the six games to play, he may not choose it again, so that he must play each one of the games once in the course of his six deals. (And therefore he has no choice on his sixth deal; there is only one unused game left, and he must choose it.)

Five of the games are trick-taking games. The dealer leads to the first trick, and each player in clockwise order must play a card of the same suit if possible. If he has no cards of the suit led, he may play any card (but cannot win the trick). The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, and the one who played it collects the four cards, keeps them face down in front of him, and leads to the next trick. When all eight tricks are played, scores are determined by the cards each player has taken. Since this is a French game, the French order of ranks is used: A-10-K-Q-J-9-8-7. Got it? A ten beats a king, but an ace beats a ten.

The object of the game is to score the fewest points, so that generally each player is trying to avoid taking cards. The exceptions are "Parlement", where players try to take tricks, and the two games where the king of hearts scores minus ten and is thus a good card to take. But while you are trying to take it, there are other cards to avoid, which is where the careful play is required.


King of hearts scores 20 points, queen of spades = 10.


Each queen = 10; king of hearts = minus 10.


Each spade = 5; king of hearts = minus 10.


Each trick taken = minus 5; king of hearts = minus 10.


King of hearts = 10; each spade = 5; each queen = 10; first and last trick taken = 5 each.


This is not a trick-taking game, but similar to Fan-Tan. The dealer places any card face up on the table. Thereafter each player may add one card to the layout on his turn. A card may be played if it is the same rank as the first card played, or if it is one rank higher or lower in the same suit as any card already played.

Thus, if the first card played is the eight of hearts, the next player may play any eight, or he may play the seven or nine of hearts. Once the eight of spades is played, then the seven and nine of spades may be played. Once the nine of spades is played, then the ten may be played, and so on. If a player cannot play any of his cards, he loses his turn. He may play again on his next turn if one of his cards becomes playable. For no good reason other than tradition, the order of ranks in "Dominoes" is the familiar A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7, though if that's too confusing, you could use the French order here, too, and be consistent.

If a player plays an ace, as a bonus he may immediately play any or all of his cards that he can. This bonus doesn't apply during a deal in which the first card played is an ace.

Play continues until two players are out of cards. The first player out scores minus 30 points; the second scores minus 10.

Ending the game

After each player has dealt six times, add up the scores. The lowest player wins. The total scores of all four players will be 400; if you are playing for money, subtract 100 from each player's score and have those with positive scores pay those with negative scores.


"Guillotine", where everything counts against you, is too dangerous to be left for last. Otherwise you may deal yourself a hand full of high cards and take a bundle of points. Better to get it over with as soon as you think you safely can, and leave yourself with one of the other games for your last deal, so that fewer points will be at stake. "Dominoes" is a good place for a hand of middling cards, and "Parlement" of course is what to call with a hand of high cards. When you have a choice, remember to give scoring cards to the player who's doing best.

Reprinted from World Game Review 1 (Copyright © Michael Keller, 1983)

Home Page > Invented Games > Guillotine
Last updated: 16th March 2005