Shichi Narabe - card game rules

Shichi Narabe

Shichi Narabe layout


Shichi Narabe is a Japanese card game closely related to the game known as Fan Tan, Sevens, Parliament or Domino in the West. 'Shichi' means '7' and 'Narabe' means 'lined up' so the name might be translated as '7 in a row'. As in Fan Tan, the players' objective is to empty their hands by playing their cards to a layout in the form of 13x4 grid beginning with the Sevens and building each suit outwards towards the King (high) and the Ace (low). There are two basic differences between the Japanese version and the Western game.

  1. Sevens laid out at the start. All players who are dealt Sevens place them face up on the table before the play begins. These Sevens are arranged in a column to start the layout.
  2. Passing. Players are not forced to play a card when they can. Each player is allowed up to three passes that can be used when they cannot or choose not to play a card. However, a player who has used all three of their passes loses the game if they are unable to play at a subsequent turn.

Players often take advantage of the passing rule to block the layout and prevent their opponents from disposing of cards. There are several variants, most of which are designed to make blocking more risky, leading to a more interesting game.

  1. Joker. A Joker is added to the 52-card pack. Its holder can use it to skip a blocking card if they hold the following card. The owner of the card that was skipped must immediately play it and take the Joker in exchange.
  2. Tunnels. When after a suit row has been built to the edge of the layout it can only be continued by building inwards from other end of the same row - playing the Ace next if the 8 to K are all present or the King next if the 6 to A are all present, as though the left and right edges of the layout were joined to form a cylinder (or by a tunnel). The missing card nearest the Seven will now be the last to be played in this row. For example in the diagram above the club9 is not playable if playing with tunnels. The remaining clubs can only be played in the order K, Q, J, 10, 9.
  3. Ghost. A player who has been eliminated because they passed four times becomes a 'ghost'. The other players must not talk to a ghost - anyone who does so becomes a ghost themselves while the former ghost re-enters the game.
  4. Killing. In this variant, known as Koroshi-no Shichi Narabe, the layout is built in two dimensions by adding the next card in any direction - vertical or horizontal - and an empty cell of the grid can be 'killed' by surrounding it with cards, making the card that would have fitted there unplayable. There is also a version of this called Mushikui (moth-eaten) in which not only single cells but also groups of connected cells can be killed.

This page is based on information from YOSHIMURA Mayumi, KUROMIYA Kimihiko, Alexey LOBASHEV and TERANISHI Isamu.

Players and Cards

This is a game for 3 or more players: it is probably best for around 3-5 people. The direction of play is clockwise.

A standard international pack of 52 cards is used for the basic game.

Deal and Play

The dealer, selected by any convenient random method, shuffles the pack and deals out all the cards one at a time. If there are 3 or 5 players, some of them - those to the dealer's left - will have one more card than others. All players who hold Sevens place them on the table in a column to begin the grid.

The player who placed the Seven of diamonds plays first, and the turn to play passes clockwise. At each turn, a player must either play one card to the layout or pass.

A card can be played if it is the next in sequence extending one of the suit rows to the right or left - that is, the next missing card above or below the 7 of that suit. For example in the diagram at the top of the page the only playable cards are the spade5, spadeK, heart4, heartJ, club9, diamond3 and diamond10.

A player who has no playable card or does not wish to play a card passes. Each player is allowed to pass at most three times during the game. Traditionally players mark this by saying 'pass 1', pass 2' or pass 3' ('pasu ichi', 'pasu ni', or 'pasu san'). Some groups may find it more convenient to keep track by giving each player three tokens when the cards are dealt, one of these tokens to be surrendered for each pass.

A player who has already passed three times, is still holding one or more cards and has no playable card at their turn says 'hasan' ('bankrupt') and loses the game. They must immediately place all their remaining cards in the places where they fit in the grid. The other players continue to play, skipping the turn of the player who was bankrupt. instead of 'hasan' some say 'pasu yon' ('pass 4') or 'nagedashi' ('throw in').

After a bankruptcy in which the player who was eliminated threw in the Queen, King and Ace of hearts, the 2 of spades, the Queen of clubs and the Jack of diamonds, the layout might look like this:

shichi narabe layout after nagedashi

The possible single plays are still the same as in the diagram at the top of the page: spade5, spadeK, heart4, heartJ, club9, diamond3 and diamond10.

Endgame and Result

The first player who manages to play their last card is the winner. Players who have played all their cards drop out of the game and other players continue, skipping the turns of players who have no cards, until only one player is still holding cards.

There is no scoring as such in this version of the game, but the players are ranked as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on in the order in which they ran out of cards. A player who was bankrupt is automatically in last place. If there was more than one of these, the earliest bankrupt player takes last place, the second takes second last place and so on.


Shichi Narabe with a Joker

In this popular variant a Joker is added to the 52-card pack, so there are 53 cards in all. As usual all the cards are dealt out, the Sevens are arranged in a column and the player who was dealt the Seven of diamonds begins.

As an alternative to playing a card or passing as in the basic game, in this version the holder of the Joker has an extra option: to play the Joker in the position of the next missing consecutive card in one of the suit rows, and also play the next missing card after that in the same row continuing in the same direction. This play is only allowed if the player does not hold the card represented by the Joker. Whenever the Joker is played, the holder of the card it replaces must immediately place that card in the layout, taking the Joker in exchange and adding it to their hand. This does not count as a turn for the player who acquired the Joker: the player to the left of the one who played the Joker plays next.

For example in the diagram above, the holder of the Joker has the following additional possibilities:

  • Joker plus spade4, the Joker in place of the spade5. The Joker cannot be used to represent the spadeK in this row as there is no further missing card in that direction.
  • Joker plus heart3, the Joker in place of the heart4. The Joker cannot be used to represent the heartJ as there is no further missing card in that direction.
  • Joker plus club10, the Joker in place of the club9.
  • Joker plus diamond2, the Joker in place of the diamond3.
  • Joker plus diamondQ, the Joker in place of the diamond10.

Note that a player cannot use the Joker to replace a card they hold themselves, effectively playing two adjacent cards and keeping the Joker in their own hand. The above plays are only legal if the Joker player does not hold the skipped card, and thereby passes the Joker on to the owner of that card.

Although the Joker can give its owner many extra possibilities to play, holding it is not necessarily an advantage, especially in the late stages of the game. The Joker can never be played alone, only with another card, the next in the row, and therefore it can never be played as the last card of a row. The player who holds the Joker at the end of the game can never be the winner unless all the other players are bankrupt.

Shichi Narabe with Tunnelling

This is another popular variant, in which the left (Ace) and right (King) edges of the layout are considered to be adjacent. The two ends of each suit can be thought of as connected by a tunnel. In this variant when either half of a suit row has been completely filled with all cards of that suit up to the King or down to the Ace, the other half must be completed in reverse order. The next card played in that row must be the Ace or King respectively (if not already present), using the tunnel. After that, the cards of that suit are played in sequence from that Ace or King, progressing inwards towards the Seven. So the playable cards in each row are as follows.

  • If neither side of the row (A-6, 8-K) has been completed, the next card can be , the nearest missing card to 7 on either side of the row.
  • If the low side (A-6) is complete, the next card played in that row must be the King or the nearest missing card to the King.
  • If the right side (8-K) is complete, the next card played in that row must be the Ace or the nearest missing card to the Ace.

In the diagram above, the club9 cannot be played. The next club must be the clubK, followed by Queen, Jack, Ten and the Nine will be the last club to be played. In the other suit rows the playable cards are the same as in the basic game, but in hearts if the heartJ is played, the next playable card becomes the heart2, since the Queen, King and Ace are already in the layout. After the Jack has been played the heart4 is no longer playable until the 2 and 3 are in place.

This variant makes blocking tactics more risky and careful timing is needed. In the above example the holder of the club9 would like to have disposed of it before the clubK appeared, since the 9 will now be the last club to be played.

It is possible to play with both tunnelling and a Joker. In that case, the Joker can used to complete the upper or lower side of a row along with the following card, which is now the furthest card from the Seven on the other side. In the diagram above if playing with tunnelling it is no longer legal to play Joker plus club10 because the completion of the 6-A side of the club suit has opened the tunnel, but instead it is possible to play Joker plus clubJ, with the Joker replacing of the clubK. Two additional moves involving the Joker are also possible:

  • Joker plus spadeA, with the Joker in place of the spadeK (in this case the next playable card in this row is the spade3 - the 5 will now be the last spade to be played).
  • Joker plus heart2, with the Joker in place of the heartJ (the next playable heart will now be the 3).

Shichi Narabe with a Ghost

TERANISI Isamu describes a variant in which a player who passes for a fourth time (and thereby becomes bankrupt and loses the game) is called a "ghost". The active players must try to avoid talking to the ghost, but the ghost makes every effort to start a conversation with an active player. If any active player does talk to the ghost, that player becomes the new ghost (and loser of the game) and must give their cards to the previous ghost who returns to the game and plays the hand surrendered by the new ghost.

Shichi Narabe with Killing

This version ('Koroshi-no Shichi Narabe') is played with a standard 52-card pack with no Joker. As in the basic game, all the cards are dealt to the players and the holders of the four Sevens place them on the table in a column. Since in this game the arrangement of the suits is significant, either the Sevens should be shuffled together and arranged in a random order or a fixed sequence of suits, for example spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds, should be agreed in advance.

The person who placed the diamond 7 plays first. At their turn each player may either pass (a maximum of three passes is allowed as usual) or play a card horizontally or vertically adjacent to any card already in the layout. For example, if the first player plays the 8 of hearts and the next player plays the 9 of hearts, the following player can play the 9 of a suit that is adjacent to hearts in the layout. After a few turns the layout could possibly look like this:

koroshi-no shichi narabe layout

If a single cell is surrounded on all four sides by played cards or the edges of the layout, the card that belongs in that cell is 'killed'. The killed card can no longer be played and the owner must place it face up on the table in front of themselves as a penalty card. For example in the above position:

  • playing the heart5 kills the heart6 (all four adjacent spaces contain cards).
  • playing the spadeQ kills the spadeJ (surrounded by three played cards and the top edge of the layout).
  • whichever of the spade8 and spade9 is played first kills the other.
  • playing the club9 kills three cards at once: the diamond9, the club8 and the club10.
  • playing the diamond9, the club8 or the club10 kills nothing (there is no single surrounded cell).
  • it is not possible to kill the diamond6 yet, because the diamond5 is not yet playable.

The configuration required to kill a card is similar to that used to capture a single stone in the board game Go. As in that game, four cards are needed to kill a card in the interior of the layout, three to kill a card on the top, bottom, left or right edge, and only two to kill a corner card - for example the heartK and the spadeQ are sufficient to kill the spadeK, surrounding its cell with two cards, the top edge and the right edge.

A player who cannot or does not wish to play a card to the layout can pass instead. Each player is allowed three passes. If a player has used all their three passes and is unable to play a card at their turn, they must drop out of the play and place all the cards remaining in their hand in front of themselves as penalty cards - in this variant these unplayed cards are not added to the layout.

Players also drop out of the play when all their cards have been either played to the layout or killed. The others players continue, skipping the turns of players who have dropped out. This also applies to the last player holding cards, who continues to play the remaining cards from their hand to the layout.

The play ends when all the cards are either on the layout or displayed in front of the players as penalty cards. The player with the fewest penalty cards wins. If a number of games were to be played a running total could be kept of the number of penalty cards each player had placed over the series of deals.

There several possible variants of Shichi Narabe with Killing.

  • Some play that cards that are killed and cards belonging to a bankrupt player are not laid out on the table but kept concealed in the player's hand as permanently unplayable cards. In this case the winner is the player holding fewest cards when no more cards can be played.
  • Shichi Narabe with Killing cannot be played with a Joker, but it can be played with tunnelling. Each King is considered adjacent to the Ace of the same suit, and killing a King or Ace requires four cards for the two suits in the middle or three cards for the top and bottom suits, in the same way as the other ranks. Unlike in the game without killing, completing a row on one side does not stop it from being built outwards from the 7 on the other side. It remains possible to play any card that is adjacent to a card that is on the layout - either physically or via a tunnel - provided that it has not been killed.
  • Alexey Lobashev describes a variant in which groups of connected cells can be killed. This is sometimes known as Mushikui-no Shichi Narabe ('moth-eaten 7 in a row') because the resulting layout resembles a leaf or a piece of paper than has been partly eaten by insects. In this variant, which is played with tunnelling as above, a group of connected cells is killed if its boundary consists entirely of already played cards, or of already played cards together with either the top edge or the bottom edge of the layout. In other words, an empty cell remains alive as long as it is connected to both the top and the bottom edge by chain of adjacent empty cells. When an area is killed, the owners of the cards corresponding to all cells in that area must immediately place them on the table in front of themselves as penalty cards. In the diagram above, two groups of cells have already been killed: the two-cell group spade8-spade9 and the four-cell group diamond9-club8-club9-club10, and these six cards are all penalty cards.
  • Some players allow a card to be played if it is horizontally, vertically or diagonally adjacent to a card already in the layout. This is not recommended as it tends to give too wide a choice of plays and make captures too easy.

Other Websites

Thee Japanese MagicDoor website includes descriptions of several of the above versions of Shichi Narabe.

This page is maintained by John McLeod,   © John McLeod, 2022. Last updated: 24th May 2022