The only known original description of this 17th century English trick-taking game is found in an unpublished manuscript by Francis Willughby, written around 1670. The objective is to avoid winning tricks containing point cards, as in the much more elaborate game Reversis and the modern game of Hearts. Losing Loadum is remarkable in that the card values are exactly those found in numerous continental trick-taking games of the Ace-Ten group, but we know of no other accounts of British point-trick games with high values for the Ace and Ten until the late 19th century.
In the title of Willughby's chapter, the name of the game is spelled "Loosing Lodum" but since in this context "loosing" clearly means "losing" not "letting loose" and Willughby's spelling is in any case quite variable - within the text he several times refers to the game as "Loadum" - it seems more reasonable to call it "Losing Loadum" in modern English. The cards with point values are known as "loaders", presumably because players try to avoid penalty points by loading these cards onto tricks that they are losing, so another version of the name could be "Losing Load'em".
Players and Cards
A standard English 52-card pack is used, the cards in each suit ranking from high to low A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.
The point values of the "loaders" are Ace=11, King=3, Queen=2, Jack=1, Ten=10. All other cards have zero value.
Willughby does not specify the number of players. A game could be started with any reasonable number of players, say up to 9. At the start of the game each player contributes an agreed stake to the pool.
Each player begins the game with three tokens representing lives. In each hand at least one player loses a life, and any player who loses all their lives must retire from the game, leaving the remainder to continue. The last surviving player is the winner and collects all the stakes
Deal and play are clockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.
The first dealer can be chosen by any convenient method. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer deals out the cards one at the time to each player so that everyone has the same number of cards and there are a few cards left over, which are stacked face down. The fewer players there are, the more cards each player will have in their hand, for example:
|Players||Hand size||Remaining cards|
The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn must add a card to the trick, following suit if possible. A player who is unable to follow suit may play any card.
On the first occasion that a player is unable to follow suit, the top card of the pile of undealt cards is turned face up and the suit of this card is trumps. When everyone has seen the trump indicator card it is turned face down again "that it may bee forgotten & mistaken afterwards".
When a trick contains trumps it is won by the highest trump in it. A trick that contains no trumps is won by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of the trick takes it, stores the cards face down and leads any card to the next trick.
Swallowing. It may happen that a player takes a trick in error, perhaps because they played the highest card of the led suit and did not notice that some other player played a trump, having forgotten what suit is trumps. In this case the player who took the trick keeps it and leads to the next - this is known as 'swallowing' a trick. A player might also swallow a trick deliberately if it contains few or no penalty points and they have a particular card they wish to lead. If the player who should have won the trick does not object, the swallower keeps it and leads to the next trick.
Card exchange. A player who holds a counting card may offer to swap it with a counting card held by another player. A picture (King, Queen or Jack) may be exchanged for another picture or an Ace or Ten may be exchanged for another Ace or Ten. A player who wishes to exchange places the card they are offering face down in front of them and says "A Coate for a Coate" if it is a picture or "A Card for a Card" if it is an Ace or Ten. Each of the other players in turn around the table has the opportunity to accept the exchange. The cards are exchanged face down and not shown to the other players. For the exchange to succeed the exchanged cards must be of different suits - if they turn out to be of the same suit, the cards must be returned to their original owners.
Exchanges will normally take place before the play begins, but there is nothing in Willughby's description that prevents an exchange being offered and accepted at any time during the game. Also there is no prohibition against offering more than one exchange, or offering the same exchange again if the first attempt fails due to the cards being of the same suit.
As soon as a player has 31 or more points in their tricks they are said to be 'out'. The play ends and the player loses one token. If all the cards are played without any player declaring that they are out, then everyone counts and the player with most points in their tricks loses a life. In case of a tie for most points, both or all the tied players lose a life.
A player who reaches 31 points but believes that another player reached 31 points before them may challenge that other player to show their tricks. If the challenged player turns out to have more than 31 points they lose a life (even if they have fewer points than the challenger), but if the challenged player has 30 points or less, the challenger loses a life. A player who has already been eliminated from the game may also challenge a player whom they observe to have taken 31 or more points. Note that there is no risk in challenging another player, other than the potential embarrassment of being shown to be wrong. If the challenge is unsuccessful the challenger simply loses the life they were destined to lose anyway, or has nothing to lose if they were already out of the game.
Players who have lost all three of their lives are eliminated from the game. If a player is eliminated when it was their turn to deal next, they should deal the next hand before leaving the game so that the following player does not miss their turn to play first.
The penalty for revoking (failing to play a card of the suit that was led when able to) is to be eliminated from the game.
When all but one players have been eliminated from the game, the last survivor wins and takes all the stakes.
Variants and Uncertainties
As with almost any historic card game for which we have only one detailed descriptions, there are several uncertainties where the original description is incomplete or ambiguous. Below is a list of places where we have supplied details to cover gaps in Willughby's account or where other interpretations are possible. David Parlett has published another reconstruction on his Loosing Lodam page and we will mention the places where our interpretations differ.
Willughby does not give precise details of the deal but writes that they the players have "as manie cards as the deck will afford them, so as there bee alwaies some left and alwaies when some [players] are out the rest have more cards dealt them." Taken literally this implies that when only 2 players remain in the game each will have a hand of 25 cards, which would be quite unwieldy. On the German edition of this page Ulf Martin has suggested that when the number of players is reduced to (say) 4 or fewer, the size of the deck could be reduced to (say) 32 cards by removing the lowest cards. It is unlikely that this was the practice in the 17th century as Willughby does not mention any shortening of the pack in this game.
Willughby does not say what happens If a player is eliminated just before they were due to deal. It seems unfair that the deal should then pass to the next active player since this player would then miss their turn to be 'eldest hand' and lead to the first trick. Therefore we have added the rule that in this situation the eliminated player should deal the next hand to the surviving players before leaving the game.
David Parlett has suggested that Ten should be the second highest card of each suit, ranking between the Ace and the King. In support of this he writes that when specifying their values Willughby lists the cards in the order "Ace, Ten, King, etc." but this is not the case. In fact Willughby writes "The Loaders are, every ace = 11, everie ten = 10, everie Knave = 1, everie Queen = 2, everie King = 3, and all the rest of the cards signifie nothing" but it is almost inconceivable that the intended ranking is A-10-J-Q-K-... which is not found in any other traditional card game.
Willughby gives no hint that the cards should rank in any other order than the usual A-K-Q-... found in most of the other trick-taking games he describes. In fact he writes "They play as at Ruffe...", a game in which the King ranks next after the Ace. Willughby also writes "A king, ace or dangerous card is said to be garded when hee that has it, has a duce, trea or some little card besides." If the King ranks second highest it is dangerous, since it may capture the Ten. If the Ten were higher than the King it would be surprising to choose the King rather than the Ten as an example of a dangerous card, since the King could not capture anything worse in its suit than the Queen or Jack.
According to Parlett, there was a considerable influence from the Netherlands on English gaming culture around the time of 1670. There are several old Dutch games using the same card values as in Losing Loadum in non-trump suits, and with the 10 in these suits ranking between the Jack and Nine.
Willughby writes that "as soon as ever anie one renounces & plaies a card of a different sute they looke what is trumpe, and turn it downe again that it may bee forgotten and mistaken afterwards". We agree with Parlett in taking this to mean that the trump is exposed just once and shown to everyone. Willughby's rules might conceivably be read as meaning that each of the players gets a chance to look at the trump the first time that they are unable to follow suit, but that interpretation seems unlikely.
Willughby does not specify exactly how the swap is handled, at what point in the game it can happen, or how to deal with the case where more than one player wishes to accept the offer. We have suggested a simple way to manage the exchange and adopted the liberal interpretation that a player may offer more than once and at any time during the game.
We agree with Parlett that although Willughby only writes about swapping an unguarded card (i.e. a singleton), this is intended only as the most common example and in fact a player may offer to swap any Ace, Ten or picture card if they see an advantage in doing so.
Willughby includes a section on "Winning Loadum", but it is clear that he is not describing a game that was really played. He is just exploring the theoretical possibility that there could be a game with the same card values but the opposite objective. He writes "I never saw anyone play Winning Loadum, but assume that it is simply the opposite of Loosing, in that players are not initially given tokens, but that someone who wins enough tricks to have 31 in them, with only the value cards counting, is given a token, and that whoever gets 31 or the most eyes under 31, 3 times first, wins all the stakes."
David Parlett. "Loosing Lodam" Historic Card Games, 2022 (augured 24 Oct 2022).
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.