This is a Romanian game for 4 players in partnerships, using the 32-card German suited 'William Tell' pack. It probably originated in Transylvania, which formerly belonged to the Austro-Hungarian (Habsburg) Empire. A version of the same game is played in Hungary, on the Great Plain (Alföld) of the southeast, where it is known as Filkó, and also across the border in Serbia. In Hungary there are also versions for 5 or 6 players.
The Romanian word Filicău or Flăcău, used mostly in rural areas, means an unmarried teenage boy. It is also the word for the Over-Knaves in the pack, and these four cards are the fixed top trumps in the game, with the usual Schafkopf ranking order: acorns > leaves > hearts > bells. Like most Schafkopf games, Filicău is a trick-taking game in which Aces and Tens are the most valuable cards. The aim of the game is to become and remain the 'master' team by taking most of the Aces and Tens, in which case the losing team are the 'slaves'.
I would like to thank Adrian Todea for explaining the Romanian game Filicău to me, and Róbert Kovács for helping with the section on Hungarian relative Filkó, which is based on the rules given by Gyula Zsigri in his book 'Újabb 21 kártyajáték és még 12 pasziánsz' (Szukits Könyvkiadó, Szeged, 1996).
Players and Cards
There are four players who play as two fixed teams, each player sitting opposite their partner. Deal and play are anticlockwise.
A 32-card William Tell pack is used. In this pack the Aces depict seasons of the year and have rotated suit symbols, the Kings ride horses, and the Over-Knaves and Under-Knaves are distinguished by the position of the suit sign: at the top left of the card or lower down. Note that in Romania the Under-Knave is often known as the 'Doiar', which means 'Deuce', because in some other games (but not this one) it is worth 2 card points. For similar reasons the Over-Knave is sometimes called the 'Treiar' (3) and the King the 'Pătrar' (4).
All four Over-Knaves always belong to the trump suit, and not to the suits printed on them. The ranking of the cards, from high to low, is:
- In trumps: Over of acorns, Over of leaves, Over of hearts, Over of bells, Ace, Ten, King, Under-Knave, Nine, Eight, Seven.
- In non-trump suits: Ace, Ten, King, Under-Knave, Nine, Eight, Seven.
For example if leaves are trumps, the trump suit from high to low is:
and the heart suit from high to low is:
Each Ace and each Ten is worth 1 point to the team that collects in their tricks, and the result depends how many of these 8 points each team has at the end of the play. The other cards have no scoring value.
Preparation and Deal
If the same teams have played before they may keep their master and slave status (see result) from their most recent game. Otherwise the two teams start out even.
If the teams start even the first dealer can be chosen by any convenient random method. If there are slaves, then a member of the slave team deals first.
In subsequent hands, if there are masters and slaves, a member of the slave team deals: either the same player who dealt the previous hand or the player to the right of the previous dealer. If the teams are even, then the new dealer is the player to the right of the previous dealer.
The dealer shuffles the cards, offers the cards for cutting to the opponent to the left. (If the opponents are the master team, they may decide between them that the player to dealer's right should cut the cards instead.) The dealer then deals all the cards one at a time face down anticlockwise so that each player has a hand of 8 cards.
The dealer picks up their 8 cards as a block and shows the bottom card of the pile (i.e. the first card dealt to the dealer) to all the players. If it is not an Over-Knave its suit is trumps for the hand. If it is an Over-Knave then the next card is shown, and this is repeated until a card that is not an Over-Knave is found, and its suit is trumps.
Now all players pick up their cards and look at them.
The player to dealer's right leads any card to the first trick, and each of the other player in turn plays a card. Players must follow suit - that is, play a card of the same suit that was led. Over-Knaves count for this purpose as belonging to the trump suit and not to the suits printed on them. A player who has no card of the suit that was led must play a trump if they have one. A player who has no card of the suit led and no trumps may play any card. Apart from these constraints, there is no obligation to beat the cards previously played to the trick.
Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of the trick gathers the cards, adds them to their team's trick-pile, and leads any card to the next trick.
Before and during the play the players are allowed to talk openly about their strategy in an open manner. They are not allowed to give any information about the cards that they hold, but they can discuss how many points the expect or aim to win, and change their strategy accordingly as the game progresses.
Each team is also allowed to check back through past tricks to see how many points they have already taken. Also, if there is a master team and a slave team the masters can require the slaves to tell them how many points the slaves have taken so far. (If the players had been paying attention to the cards as they were played they would all know this anyway.)
When all the cards have been played, each player counts their points - one point for each Ace or Ten they have in their tricks. The status of the teams is then adjusted as follows:
- If the score is 4-4 or 5-3, there is no change. The masters remain masters and the slaves remain slaves, or if the teams were even they remain even.
- If the score is 6-2 or 7-1, then irrespective of the previous state, the team with 6 or 7 points becomes the master team and the other becomes the slave team.
- If the score is 8-0, then irrespective of the previous state, the teams become even - no masters and no slaves. The team that scored 0 points is said to have 'run away'.
Therefore if the teams are even, your objective is to score 6 or 7 points to become the master team. Failing that, you want to avoid scoring just 1 or 2 points and becoming the slaves. If you can't score as many as 3 points, you try to lose all the points (run away) to stay even.
If your team are the slaves, then again tour best result is to score 6 or 7 points to become masters, but preferably not all 8, which just makes you even. If you can't score as many as 6 points, you can try to lose all the points (run away) to become even.
If your team are the masters you want to score from 3 to 7 points to maintain your status. The next best result is to score 0 or 8 points to be even. Worst is to score just 1 or 2 points in which case you are enslaved.
To save time, the play can be ended before all the tricks have been played if the result is in no doubt - for example if each team already has 3 points in their tricks.
So far as we know, it is not usual to keep a running score, but if the players wanted to keep track, they could record the number of times each team had been the masters.
Teams often make fun of their opponents, even after the game has ended. The current Slaves are supposed to serve their Masters, respecting the status they acquired in the game, and this relationship can last until the next game.
This is the Hungarian version of the game, which has some small differences from the game described above. Filkó is also the name used for Filicău by Hungarian speakers in Romania.
The trump suit is established during the cut of the pack by looking at the bottom card of the section lifted by the cutter. If it is an Over-Knave the next card is looked at and the next until a card that is not an Over-Knave is found, and the suit of this card becomes trumps.
The cards are dealt four at a time, so the trump card(s) exposed during the cut become the property of the dealer, and the effect is similar to the way trumps are chosen in the Romanian game. There will only be a difference in the unusual case where all four Over-Knaves are together it the bottom of the cut portion of the pack, in which case the dealer will get these four trumps and the fifth trump that determined the suit will be dealt to the player to dealer's left.
The rules of play are the same as in Romania, but the result is slightly different. A team that takes 6 or more points becomes Master, and if neither team takes more than 5 points the situation is unchanged. So in this version an 8-0 score has the same result as 7-1 or 6-2.
The first time a team becomes Master they select one of their opponents to be the Servant, and this player deals every hand until the Servant team takes 6 or more points and become the Masters, at which point the role of Servant and the duty of dealing passes to the next player to the right.
Since there is no 'running away', once a team has achieved Master status, there will always be Masters and Servants: the teams can reverse roles but can never become even again.
Filkó can be played by six players in two teams of three, each player sitting between two opponents. For this game the Sevens of bells (gourds) and leaves are removed from the pack leaving 30 cards. The cards are dealt in a packet of 3 each followed by a packet of 2 each - so if two or more Over-Knaves appear in the cut, each team will acquire one or more known trumps. The play and scoring are the same as in the four-player game.
This is also played with 30 cards - the Sevens of leaves and gourds are removed. The cards are dealt in batches of three.
The trump suit is not chosen by cutting the cards. Instead, if there is no master team, the player who has the Over-Knave of acorns - known as the öreg (Old Man) or vén botos (old man with a staff) - chooses the trump suit and names a card of the trump suit (not an Over-Knave) whose holder will be the old man's partner. The other three players form a team against them. For example the holder of the Over of acorns may say "The Old Man calls the Ace of leaves", in which case leaves are trumps and the holder of the Ace is the Old Man's partner. The holder of the called trump must not reveal their identity, which will become clear when the called trump is played during the course of the game. The Old Man leads to the first trick.
If either team scores 6, 7 or 8 points, they become the Masters and a member of the other team becomes the Servant. If the dealer was on the losing team, this player becomes the Servant and deals again. If the dealer was on the team that became the Masters, then the next player in anticlockwise order who was on the losing team becomes the Servant and deals next. The Masters will remain Masters and the same player remains the Servant until the Servant is 'liberated'. If the score is 5-3 or 4-4, there are no Masters and the new dealer is the player to the right of the previous dealer.
To liberate the Servant, the three-player team must score 0, 6, 7 or 8 points. If the Masters score from 3 to 7 points (and the Servant's team from 1 to 5 points) the same players remain Masters, the same suit remains trumps, and the same player remains the Servant and continues to deal, and the same player (the one who held the Upper-Knave of acorns when the partnerships were determined) continues to lead to the first trick. Liberating the Servant by scoring 0 points is called 'swimming away'.
If the Servant is liberated, the turn to deal passes to the next player to the right of the former Servant (and this deal is not considered an act of servitude). Once again the Old Man calls a card to determine the trump suit and the partnerships.
Note that 'swimming away' is only possible after a Masters team has been established and the Servant has dealt. If the Old Man makes trumps and one team scores all 8 points they become the Masters.
Variations in top trumps
In Csólyospálos and Szeged Filkó is played with 5 permanent top trumps when there are 5 players and 6 when there are six players. The Seven of hearts is always the top trump, and in the 6-player game the Seven of acorns is the second highest trump. The Over-Knaves follow in their usual order.
In some places the ranking order of the Over-Knaves is different: from high to low they are acorns, hearts, bells and leaves (leaves lowest instead of second highest).
In Kelebia, 5-player filkó is played with 8 permanent trumps, which are from high to low:
The Eights of Leaves and Acorns are removed from the deck, leaving 30 cards, so that there are 14 trumps altogether if bells or hearts are trumps, but only 13 if acorns or leaves are trumps. In this Kelebia variant, each player is obliged to beat the highest card so far played to the trick, as in Ulti for example.
Rich and Poor
In this 5-player variant the holders of the top two trumps (Over-Knaves of acorns and leaves) form a team called "the Rich" and play against the other three, who are "the Poor". The holder of the Over-Knave of acorns chooses trumps as usual. The rich need to score at least 6 points to win; the poor need at least 3. As usual a member of the losing team deals the next hand. Some play that each deal is an independent event where the partnerships are determined anew. Others play that the teams remain the same and the same player has to keep dealing until the dealing team liberate themselves by scoring at least 6 points. This game is also sometimes played in the form where the Old Man names trumps and a card of that suit (not an Over), and the Rich team consists of the Old Man together with the holder of the called card.
Filkó with Hats
We have incomplete rules of a 4-player variant played in Bátmonostor. The card values there are: Ace=11, Ten=10, King=4, Over-Knave=3, Under-Knave=2. Other cards (9, 8, 7) have no value. There are 120 points altogether and the team that takes more than 61 points wins. The losers have to take off their hats (or if they were not wearing hats, they have to put on decrepit, worn out hats). Or some play that the losers as a penalty have to play standing up until they win a game. Players are allowed to signal what suit they would like their partner to play: pull your mouth to one side to ask for acorns, glance up to ask for leaves, show the tip of the tongue out to ask for hearts, blow up your cheeks to ask for bells.