Sancagna is a four-player point-trick game using a 52-card Venetian pack. It is played on the island of Burano in the north-east of the Venice lagoon, typically by fishermen. The cards have an unusual ranking order in which the highest trump is the King, and the highest card in the other three suits is the Four. The aim is to be the first team to collect 21 or more card points in the tricks they have won.
This page is based on a description by Alberto Fiorin in a paper given at the IPCS Convention in 1997 - see sources.
Players and Cards
Normally there are four players who form two teams of two, partners sitting opposite each other. The game is sometimes played by six players, and a two-player version also exists, though it is relatively uninteresting. The six-player and two-player versions are described in the variations section below.
The deal and play are anticlockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.
This game is played with a 52-card pack of the Trevigiane pattern, also sometimes known as the Trevisane or Venete (Venetian) pattern. Cards of this pattern most often come as a 40-card pack, lacking 8's, 9's and 10's but 52-card packs are also available. The four suits are swords (spade or strette), batons (bastoni), cups (coppe) and coins (denari).
The card ranking and point values are unusual, and are different in the trump suit from the other three suits, as shown in the following table.
|King (bù or vecion)
So there are 30 card points in the trump suit and 13 in each other suit for a total of 72 in the deck. The worthless low cards of each suit, the 9, 8, 7, 6 and 5, are known as scartine.
A slate is used for keeping score.
The dealer deals out the cards in packets of three, going twice around the table so that each player has 6 cards. The next card is placed face up on the table and its suit is trumps. The remaining cards are stacked face down, but before doing this, by convention the dealer shows the bottom card of the deck - the card that 'bacia la tavola' (kisses the table) - to all players, so that everyone knows that this card is out of play.
The player to dealer's right leads any card to the first trick, and thereafter the winner of each trick leads any card to the next.
Players who are able to follow suit must play either a card of the suit that was led or a trump. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card.
Therefore the only illegal play (apart from playing a card out of turn) is to play a non-trump of a different suit on a non-trump lead while holding a card of the suit that was led. The penalty for this is severe - the offending team loses 3 games plus 9 card points (the equivalent of the value of the whole deck since a game is 21 points).
Ending the Play and Scoring
At the end of any trick, a member of the team who won the trick may claim to have won - i.e. that they have in their tricks (plus any points carried over from the previous game) at least the necessary 21 card points to win. As in other Italian games this is known as 'chiamarsi fuori' (going out). This ends the play. The score is recorded and the new dealer shuffles the cards for the next game.
The points in the tricks of the team that claimed are counted and if the claim is correct a circle is drawn on the winning team's side of the slate to record the win. If they have more than 21 card points the excess is also recorded and counts towards the next game. For example if the winners had 28 points in their tricks they would win a game, scored as a circle, and they would have 7 card points towards the next game, needing only 14 more points to win it.
In most cases one team will reach 21 points and claim within the first six tricks. However, if after six tricks have been played no one has claimed, the same dealer picks up the undealt part of the pack and deals another six cards each in packets of three as before. The trump suit remains the same - no new card is turned up. There will now be just four unused cards on the table - the trump indicator, the known bottom card and two unknown cards. Play continues as before, the winner of the sixth trick leading to the seventh.
A team that claims correctly wins the game irrespective of the number of card points taken by their opponents. A team that has 21 points may choose not to claim but to continue playing to accumulate more points for the following game. If when they eventually claim they have 42 or more points they win two games at once (two circles), counting any excess over 42 towards the next game. It is theoretically possible even to win three games at once by this method. There is however the risk that their opponents may meanwhile reach 21 points, claim and win, even though the first team have more points.
Alberto Fiorin's paper does not give details of what happens in case of an incorrect claim. By analogy with other games, presumably the opponents of the claiming team win the game, irrespective of the number of card points they have taken. Possibly they are also awarded the number of points by which the claiming team were short of 21 towards the next game.
Players may communicate information about useful cards in their hands by visual signals. These signals should ideally be inconspicuous, and made while partner is paying attention and the opponents are not. The usual signals are:
|King of trumps
|puff your cheek(s)
|Jack of trumps
|slight movement of shoulder
|Ten of trumps
|twitch one eye
|Four of trumps
As in most games where card signalling is allowed, it is usual for one member of each partnership to act as the captain, who receives signals from their partner and directs the play. The captain will generally be either the more experienced player or the player with the stronger hand.
Alberto Fiorin mentions that the signals are sometimes varied, so that they are not too easy to detect. He does not explicitly mention whether conversation between partners is also allowed, but presumably it must be, if only to allow the captain to indicate which cards the partner should play.
The four-player game is the usual one. It is possible for six to play in two teams of three, each player sitting between two opponents. Four cards are dealt to each player, and then another four cards each if neither team has gone out by the end of the fourth trick.
The two-player game is said to be the least interesting. The deal is six cards each in packets of three (as in the four-player game), with up to three further deals from the same deck if neither player has gone out.
Alberto Fiorin. Giochi di carte in via di estinzione nel Triveneto. (From the conference proceedings of the International Playing Society Convention, 1997, Trieste, edited by Alberto Milano and Luca Rodda, pp 71-73.)