Rules of Card Games: High Jinks

High Jinks

Contributed by Justin Elkan Jones . A lite version of this game, suitable for beginners, is also available. The rules of these games are also available online as printable documents: High Jinks and version High Jinks Lite.

1. Introduction

High Jinks is a competitive combat-style card game for 2-4 players using standard playing-cards. Its game mechanics borrow heavily from popular trading card games (most notably Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Cardfight!! Vanguard). Face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings and Jokers), alternatively referred to as Agents, are played to the field and are used to attack the opponent and to defend oneself from opponents’ attacks. Number cards (2-10), alternatively referred to as Spell cards, are used to modify an Agent's Power with the objective of overcoming the Power of an opposing Agent. Aces have a special power to defeat an Agent during combat. 

To play this game, you will need the following materials:

  • One standard 52-card deck of playing cards plus 2 Jokers, if playing with 2 players, or 2 identical decks plus 4 Jokers, if playing with more than 2 players
  • At least two or preferably three 6-sided dice per player for keeping track of 'battle scars'.
  • For experienced players, a chess timer (optional) to limit thinking time for moves.

2. The Playing Field

Each player owns 9 zones on the field, arranged in 3 rows and 3 columns. The first row contains Agent zones and the second and third rows contain Spell card zones, also known as Mana zones. Thus a player may have no more than 3 Agents and 6 Spell cards on their side of the field at a time. Each player must allocate table space for up to 5 cards used as Damage Counters. In addition each player has a hand of cards which are held so that their faces can be seen by the owner but not by the opponent(s). There are 4 other locations on the playing surface (placed at the players' discretion) for card stacks accessible to all players. They are:

  • The Deck: face-down stack from which cards are drawn and Damage Counters received.
  • The Boneyard: face-up resting place for Spell cards. 
  • The Bench: face-up resting place for Agents. 
  • The Void: face-down stack with limited accessibility. 

An image of a sample playing-field for two players can be downloaded here (PDF).

Spell cards and Aces are discarded to the Boneyard, and Agents are discarded to the Bench. A card that is banished is sent face-down to the Void. The Bench, the Boneyard, and a player’s Damage Counters are best built as a spread, so that all cards in them are visible. The order of the Bench and the Boneyard is relevant and must be preserved.

Cards taken from the Deck, Bench and Boneyard are drawn, recruited or salvaged, respectively. To draw a card the player takes the top card from the Deck and adds it to their hand. To recruit or salvage a card the player selects any card from the Bench or Boneyard respectively and adds it to their hand.

3. Game Setup

At the game's outset, one of the players must be appointed as the dealer. The dealer shuffles the whole Deck of 54 or 108 cards and deals 9 cards to each player. Each player then chooses 6 of those cards to form their starting hand and sets aside the remaining 3 face-down. When all players have finished choosing their starting hands, the dealer picks up the rejected cards and discards them to the Boneyard/Bench. The remainder of the Deck is stacked face-down in the Deck location.

The player to the dealer's left gets the first turn, and thenceforth turn order proceeds clockwise. During your first turn, you skip your Draw Phase, and you may not enter the Combat Phase, unless you are the dealer (last in turn order).

4. Draw Phase

Your turn begins with the Draw Phase, during which you draw 2 cards. Every player skips their Draw Phase on their first turn.

5. Main Phase

After drawing, you enter your Main Phase. All non-combat activities, such as summoning an Agent, setting a Spell card, and banishing a pair, are conducted during the Main Phase.

6. Summoning Agents

During your Main Phase, you can normal summon an Agent from your hand to one of your unoccupied Agent zones (placed vertically and face-up). When an Agent is normal summoned, its controller can either draw one card or activate the Agent's summon ability (see section 18). You are allowed one free normal summon per turn. In addition, you can retire (discard) one or more Agents from your side of the field to earn an equal number of additional normal summons.

You can also special summon one or more Agents from your hand to your side of the field. A special summoned Agent enters the field tapped (placed horizontally and face-up). A tapped Agent cannot declare an attack. An Agent’s summon ability does not activate when it is special summoned.

You can retire (discard) one or more Agents from your side of the field to earn an equal number of additional normal summons.  A retired Agent can not be summoned (normal or special) for the rest of the turn.

7. Setting Spell Cards

During your Main Phase, you can set a Spell card from your hand to one of your unoccupied Mana zones (placed vertically and face-down). It is then available to be used to empower any of your Agents in the Combat Phase (see section 10). Spell cards need not be set in any particular spatial relation to your Agents.

8. Combat Phase

The Main Phase is followed by an optional Combat Phase, during which the turn player can attack the opponent(s). An attack proceeds in 3 or 4 steps:

  1. The turn player declares an attack against any opponent with an untapped Agent they control. The attacking Agent becomes tapped (turned from vertical to horizontal).
  2. The opponent being attacked may block the attack with one of their own Agents. The corresponding attacker and defender are then considered to be “dueling”. The blocking Agent is turned 45 degrees for the duration of that duel.  If it survives, the same Agent can still be used to block subsequent attacks that turn.
  3. Damage step: An unblocked attacker deals damage (see section 9). If the defending player blocks, dueling Agents can be empowered using Spell cards (see sections 10 and 11).
  4. The Agent with the lower Power is defeated (sent to the Bench). See section 12 for determining the outcome of ties. Suit abilities can be activated at this time (see section 19). Each Agent remaining on the field that dueled gains a Battle Scar (see section 27). (An unblocked attacker is not given a Battle Scar).

9. Dealing Damage

If an attacker is unchallenged by a defender, it attacks the opponent directly and the defending player is dealt 1 Damage Counter. They pick up the top card of the Deck and place it face-up in their Damage Counter zone.  You lose the game when you accrue 6 Damage Counters. Thus the objective of High Jinks is to deal damage to your opponent(s) while resisting attack. Cards dealt as Damage Counters are available to the player as single-use resources (see section 26).

10. Duels

During the damage step, each player involved in the duel is allowed the opportunity to empower their Agent using Spell cards. A Spell card on the field that has not yet been used this turn can be tapped (turned vertical to horizontal) to empower the dueling Agent by the value of the card. A face-down Spell card used in this way is flipped face-up, and remains face-up until removed from the field. A Spell card in the hand may also be used to empower a dueling Agent by discarding that Spell card to the Boneyard. Lastly, a face-up Spell card in the Damage Counter zone may be used to empower an Agent, after which it is flipped face-down.

Multiple Spell cards can be used to empower the same Agent in one duel; however, the sum of the Spell cards may not exceed 13; this is known as the 13 Rule.

The attacking player is allowed to empower first. When the player is finished playing Spell cards, they pass to the opponent who may then empower their Agent; and so play passes back and forth until both players pass, which concludes the damage step. The defeated Agent is sent to the Bench and the remaining Agent(s) is (are) given a Battle Scar (see section 27).

11. Suit Bonus

When an Agent is empowered using a card of the same suit, it gains a +1 Suit Bonus for the duration of that duel. This extra Power does not count against the 13 Rule, and multiple Suit Bonuses stack.

12. Tiebreakers

The outcome of a tie in the damage step is decided by the face values of the dueling Agents. Each type of Agent has an advantage over another. Kings defeat Queens, Queens defeat Jacks, and Jacks defeat Kings. In a tie involving a Joker or two Agents of the same type, neither is defeated. Both Agents remain on the field and receive a Battle Scar (see section 27).

13. End Phase

The turn ends with the End Phase. At this time, all players who have tapped cards on the playing field untap these cards (turn them back to vertical). Play then passes clockwise to the next player.

14. Deuces

The deuce (the Spell card with value of 2) is not subject to the 13 Rule. For example, if you have empowered your Agent with Spell cards whose values sum to 13, you can use a deuce to further empower that Agent to 15 (plus any Power bonuses).

15. Sixes

During your Main Phase, you can banish a 6 from your hand or field to add a card from the Void to your hand. You must declare the specific card that you wish to add before searching the Void. You then receive 1 Damage Counter, unless you successfully add a card of the same suit as that of the 6 that you banished.

16. Sevens

During your Main Phase, you can banish a 7 from your hand or field to banish a card from an opponent’s hand. You must declare the specific card that you wish to banish. If the declared card shares the same suit of the 7 you banished, it is instead added to your hand. If your opponent does not have the declared card, they must prove it by showing you their hand.

17. Aces

Aces are powerful cards used only in the Combat Phase. During the damage step, you can banish from your hand an Ace of the same suit as either of the dueling Agents to defeat the opponent’s Agent, regardless of those Agents’ Power. However, the opponent may retaliate by banishing from their own hand an Ace of an appropriate suit to instead defeat your Agent.

18. Summon Abilities

When you normal summon an Agent, you can either draw one card or activate that Agent’s summon ability. Every Agent is granted an ability based on its face value:

  • Jacks: select 1 face-up Spell card on an opponent’s field and discard it to the Boneyard.
  • Queens: recruit 1 Agent from the Bench.
  • Kings: salvage 1 card from the Boneyard. 

If there is no valid card to select for an Agent’s summon ability, you can instead draw 1 card.

19. Suit Abilities

Every Agent is granted an additional ability by its suit, which activates as a consequence of combat:

  • Hearts: When a Heart is defeated, its controller recruits the bottom card of the Bench, except itself.
  • Diamonds: When a Diamond is defeated, its controller salvages the bottom card of the Boneyard.
  • Clubs: When a Club defeats an opponent’s Agent, its controller either draws or salvages 1 card. 
  • Spades: When an attacking Spade defeats an opponent’s Agent, the defending player is dealt 1 Damage Counter.

When the suit abilities of both Agents involved in a duel would activate (e.g. a Club defeats a Diamond), the Agent that was defeated will apply its ability first.

Kinship: When Agents of the same suit duel, their suit abilities do not activate. So, for example, if a Spade is defeated by an attacking Spade, its controller does not take damage.

20. Digging

During the Main Phase, you can tap an untapped Agent you control and discard 1 card from your hand of that Agent’s suit to draw 1 card. The Jokers can discard a card of any suit to dig.

21. Guild Bonus

When you control 3 Agents of a specific composition, each of those Agents gains a Guild Bonus to their Power, which does not count against the 13 Rule.

  • Jack + Queen + King (multiple suits): +1
  • Jack + Queen + King (same suit): +2

22. Jokers

When you normal summon a Joker, you can activate any one of the three summon abilities. A Joker temporarily acquires the suit (and suit ability) of the first Spell card used to empower it, for the duration of that duel. Subsequent Spell cards played during that duel can grant suit bonuses. A Joker can also be used to substitute for any type of Agent for the purposes of achieving a +1 Guild Bonus. You can use only 1 Joker to compose a Guild.

23. Pairs

During your Main Phase, you can banish a pair of equal valued Spell cards from your hand and/or field to draw, salvage, and/or recruit 2 cards. If you salvage a pair of Spell cards, those two cards cannot be banished together as a pair for the rest of the turn.

24. 3 and 4 of a Kind

During your Main Phase, you can banish from your hand and/or field 3 of a kind of Spell cards to draw 1 card, salvage 1 card, and recruit 1 card. In addition, you can do 1 of the following:

  • Burn 1 player (they are dealt 1 Damage Counter)
  • Heal 1 Damage Counter belonging to any player.  It is discarded to the Bench or Boneyard.

During your Main Phase, you can banish from your hand and/or field 4 of a kind of Spell cards (using all 4 suits) to draw 1 card, salvage 1 card, recruit 1 card, and add any 1 card from the Void to your hand, excepting any of the cards just banished for the 4 of a kind (unlike using a 6, you need not declare it). In addition, you can burn 1 player and heal 1 Damage Counter.

When using 3 or 4 of a kind, you can choose the order of events (for example, you can salvage or recruit a healed Damage Counter). Each player can only be burned once per turn, and can only be healed 1 Damage Counter per turn. A player cannot be burned for their 6th and final Damage Counter.

25. Straights and Straight Flushes

During your Main Phase, you can discard from your hand and/or field a straight of 3 Spell cards (3 in a row) of any suit combination to draw 3 cards. If you discarded a straight flush (3 in a row of the same suit), you can also do 1 of the following:

  • Select up to 3 face-down Spell cards on opponents’ fields, and flip them face-up.
  • Select one of your face-down damage counters, and flip it face-up.

You may not use a straight flush of the same suit more than once per turn.

26. Damage Counters

A player’s face-up Damage Counters are available to them as one-time resources, which after being expended are flipped face-down. Spell cards can be used as if in your hand for the purposes of empowering an Agent, or for completing pairs, straights, straight flushes or 3 or 4 of a kind. A 6 or 7 can also be used during your Main Phase to activate its respective effect. An Ace can be used in the damage step as if in your hand. An Agent can be used during your Main Phase to activate its respective summon ability (a Joker can be used to activate any one of the three). Face-down Damage Counters can still be viewed by the players.

27. Battle Scars

At the end of the damage step, each remaining Agent that dueled gains a Battle Scar. (A 6-sided die works well for keeping track of an Agent's Battle Scars.) An Agent gains a Prestige Bonus to its Power equal to half its number of Battle Scars, rounded up. So, for example, an Agent with 1 Battle Scar has a +1 Prestige Bonus, and an Agent with 5 Battle Scars has a Prestige Bonus of +3. Like the Guild Bonus, this extra Power does not count against the 13 Rule. In addition, an Agent acquires extra abilities as it collects Battle Scars:

  • At 2 Battle Scars, the Agent becomes a Juggernaut. A Juggernaut is granted both the Club and the Spade suit abilities. It is not treated as having these suits for the purpose of applying Kinship.
  • At 4 Battle Scars, the Agent becomes an Archlord. Once per turn during your Main Phase, if you control an Archlord, you can banish from your hand 1 card of the same suit as that Archlord to draw, salvage, and/or recruit 2 cards.
  • When your Agent gains its 6th Battle Scar, it becomes a 6th Dimensional Planet Smasher, and you immediately win the game.

The abilities gained from Battle Scars are cumulative (so an Archlord still keeps the Spade and Club abilities).

28. Losing the Game

When you lose, if 2 or more players remain, your Damage Counters and any cards remaining on your side of the field are sent to the Bench or the Boneyard. The player that dealt the final Damage Counter untaps all cards on their field, and any cards remaining in your hand are added to theirs. (If you lose due to time (see section 30), your hand is simply discarded).

Redemption: When you receive an Ace as your 6th Damage Counter, the Ace is added to your hand, and you continue play with 5 Damage Counters.

29. Decking Out

Immediately after the last card of the Deck is drawn or received as a Damage Counter, the Dealer combines the Void and the Bench and thoroughly shuffles them together to construct a new Deck. In a game of 3 or 4 players, High Jinks should be played with 2 Decks and 4 Jokers. This greatly reduces the frequency of the Deck running out. If playing with time control, the clock should be paused while constructing the new Deck.

30. Time Control

In games between proficient players, it is advisable to play with a timer in order to speed up game play and reward players for fast decision-making. The amount of time given to each player should be discussed and agreed upon before the game begins. After this initial time period has expired, that player immediately receives 1 Damage Counter. Another Damage Counter is received at regular intervals thereafter. The suggested duration for the initial period is 20 minutes, with a subsequent interval of 3 minutes. A chess timer is perfectly suitable for games of 2 players. Time is run down continuously for the turn player, with the exception of the damage step, when play is being passed back and forth between the attacking and defending players.

31. Note Taking

Much of the skill in High Jinks is in memory. Once you have become proficient with the game mechanics, it is advisable to start noting on paper which cards have been banished to the Void. This will streamline your decision-making and relieve some frustration. It will also build your memorization skills, preparing you for truly competitive games, which of course are played without notes.


13 rule 10
aces 17
archlord 27
battle scar 27
burn 24
combat phase 8
damage counter 9, 26
damage step 8, 11
dealer 3
defeated 8
deuces 14
digging 20
draw phase 4
empower 10
first turn 3
four of a kind 24
guild bonus 21
heal 24
jokers 22
juggernaut 27
kinship 19
losing the game 9, 28
main phase 5
normal summon 6
pairs 23
prestige bonus 27
recruit 2
redemption 28
retire 6
salvage 2
sevens 16
sixes 15
special summon 6
straights 25
suit abilities 19
suit bonus 11
summon abilities 18
tapped 6, 8, 10
untap 13
Last updated: 10th September 2019