- Players, Cards and Equipment
- Variants and Uncertainties
- Sources and Other Descriptions
This 17th century British card game for two players is known only from a description in Charles Cotton's Compleat Gamester (1676). It is a trick-taking game in which the scoring cards are Ace, King, Queen and Jack of trumps and also the Seven of diamonds, when it is a trump. Unusually, the trump suit changes with every trick.
Players, Cards and Equipment
The game is for two players only.
A standard English 52-card pack is used. The cards of each suit rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 except for diamonds in which the Seven is the highest card, known as the Peneech, ranking above the Ace. The picture cards King, Queen and Jack are known in this and other contemporary games as Face cards or "Coats", a term that later evolved to become "coat cards" or "court cards".
Points are scored throughout the game, so a convenient method for keeping a running total is needed. Since the target score to win the game is 61 points, a Cribbage board is suitable. These boards would have been readily available at inns where cards were played at that time - Cribbage is another of the games described by Cotton.
The only cards that have a value are the top cards of the trump suit, which changes for each trick. The Ace of trumps is worth 5 points, the King 4, the Queen 3 and the Jack 2. If diamonds are trumps the 7 is the top trump and scores 7 points.
The players take turns to deal. The cards are shuffled and cut and seven cards are dealt to each player, one at a time. The remaining cards are stacked face down as a stock from which cards will be turned to set the trump suit.
A player who is dealt no Ace and no Face card (King, Queen or Jack) may throw in their cards and demand a new deal by the same dealer.
The dealer turns the top card of the stock face up, and its suit is trumps for the first trick. The non-dealer leads to the first trick.
Any card may be led to a trick, and the second player must follow suit if possible. If unable to follow suit the second player may play any card. If the two cards in the trick are the same suit, the higher card wins. If one is a trump the trump wins. If neither is a trump the player who led wins the trick.
If the trick contains any scoring trump (A, K, Q, J or 7), the winner of the trick immedately scores its value (5, 4, 3, 2 or 7 respectively). Note that the 7 scores nothing if diamonds are not trumps when it is played, but even if diamonds are not trumps the 7 still beats all other diamonds. The 7's of other suits have no special power or value.
The winner of the trick turns up a card from the stock to set the trump suit for the next trick, and immediately scores its value if it is an Ace, King, Queen or Jack. If the turned trump is the Peneech (7), the player who turned it up immediately scores 14 points (twice its value in a trick). Having set the new trump suit the winner of the previous trick leads to the next.
After all seven tricks have been played, the winner of the last trick turns up a card from the stock and scores for it if it is an A, K, Q, J or 7 in the same way as above, even though there is no eighth trick in which its suit can serve as trumps..
After all seven tricks have been played each player counts the number of cards in the tricks they have won (ignoring the values of the cards). In addition to the points already scored during the play, the player who won the majority of the tricks scores 1 point for each card in those tricks in excess of 7. In other words a player scores 1 point for winning 4 tricks, 3 points for 5 tricks, 5 points for 6 tricks or 7 points for 7 tricks.
The first player whose score reaches 61 points or more wins the game. Thus the game can end either when a counting card is turned up, or when a trick containing a counting trump is won, or at the end of the game when the number of cards won is counted.
Variants and Uncertainties
The description given by Cotton does not cover all details of the game. The gaps have been filled in above according to what seems to us most likely, but other interpretations are possible. For example David Parlett has published a reconstruction of Peneech which differs from the one above in several details. Here is a list of the uncertain points.
- Cotton says nothing about how the first dealer is selected. On the German edition of this page Ulf Martin follows Parlett's suggestion that the first dealer is chosen by each player drawing a card from the shuffled deck. Whoever draws the lower-ranking card deals first. For this purpose, Kings are highest and Aces lowest. If both draw cards of the same rank, they must draw again. According to Partlett this was the normal way to decide who would deal first in pre-20th century card games.
- It is unclear whether the dealer should score for turning the card that determines the trump suit for the first trick, if it is a counting card. Cotton's description creates a slight impression that the opportunity to score for turning a counting card is a reward for winning a trick, in which case it is only the cards turned after each of the seven tricks, including the card turned after the last, that should score. But this is far from clear - it may well be that all eight turned cards should be eligible to score.
- Cotton does not say who leads to the first trick. We assume here that non-dealer should play the first card as in most other games. However this breaks the pattern whereby in all other tricks the player who turns up the trump plays first to the next trick. This may be another indication that the dealer does not in fact score for the first turned up trump if it is a counting card.
- Cotton does not explain what constraints, if any, the second player to a trick has to obey. There are at least three possibilities.
- As suggested above, the second player must play the same suit as the first player if possible. If not, the second player may play any card. With this rule, if the first player to a trick does not hold a scoring trump they will normally lead a non-trump to hinder the second player from scoring. In particular, it may be effective to lead a diamond when not trump to try to force the second player to win with the 7 while it is not a counting card.
- If holding the suit played by the first player, the second player must either play the same suit or a trump. If not, the second player may play any card. This rule is found in two of the other games that Cotton describes: All Fours and Maw. In All Fours he gives it explicitly but in Maw he does not. In most other trick-taking card games in his book the requirement to follow suit seems to be the default. Allowing the second player to trump when able to follow suit makes it much easier to save scoring trumps. David Parlett suggests that this rule makes the best game, but that may be mainly because of his different valuation of the cards (see below).
- The second player is under no constraint and may play any card. This seems unlikely, but it might possibly be assumed that since Cotton mentions no constraint there is none.
- According to Parlett's preferred reconstruction, all the Aces and picture cards are counting cards even if they are not trumps (as in the counting of cards for the game point in All Fours). This interpretation seems unlikely, however, since Cotton adds the words "in Trumps" in every place where he writes about the scoring of "Aces and Coats". Also, even if Parlett's interpretation is correct the Seven of Diamonds remains an uncomfortable exception, since Cotton explicitly writes that "it is but seven in hand, and not that neither unless Diamonds be Trumps".
- The mention of scoring cards "in hand" in the quotation above raises a further uncertainty. When a counting trump is played are the points for it scored by the winner of the trick or the player who held it "in hand" and played it to the trick? We have assumed the former. The question will only arise when a scoring trump is beaten by a higher trump. If the score is for holding the card and playing it to a trick while it is a trump, then Aces and Coats will always score for the player who holds them if they manage to play them when they are trumps.
- Parlett notes that Cotton always states that if a game is not played with a full pack of 52 cards. However, he suggests that "it might be worth trying" to play Peneech with a 32-card pack, from which all cards below the 7s are removed. In this case, the proportion of counting cards in the deck is higher, so it might make sense to increase the game target to, say, 91 (one and a half times around the Cribbage board) or more.
Sources and Other Descriptions
Cotton = Charles Cotton, Compleat Gamester. London 1674 (Google Books)
Parlett = David Parlett. Penneech, from his Historic Card Games collection (retrieved 21 Oct. 2022).
Willughby = Francis Willughby, manuscript 1665-70 in the Middleton Collection, Hallward Library, University of Nottingham. Published in: David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng and Dorothy Johnston. Francis Willughby's Book of Games. Abingdon, Oxon 2003, Routledge.