Bid Tarot for Four

In a typical hand of tarot, the story that plays out on the card table is one of royal personages scurrying around to avoid falling victim to Love, Death, the Pope, and various other hazards of medieval life.

This program will let you play one of many versions of bid tarot, popular in central Europe.

Bid Tarot for Four

The Tarot deck was designed for games, and when supernatural powers are attributed to them by a card reader, they are merely being used as props for lay counselling.

This is my version of a primitive tarot game with bidding and a talon for exchange. It is similar to a version of Tapp-Tarok still played in central Europe. French Tarot is a popular, somewhat more complex variant.

Here, who deals each hand doesn't matter. This is about teaching the principles of tarot games and there's no competitive bidding. Everybody gets 18 cards. The six cards left over are "the dog". Make your bid. Here if you pass, one of the other players will usually bid.

Here, you win or lose a hand that you bid depending on whether you take 46 card points. Your game score is determined only by your bid, with nothing more for extra points. "Small -- use" lets you take the undealt cards ("dog") and then discard six cards (not kings, not trumps if you have a choice, never I, XXI, Fool), and include the cards you discard for your card point score. You win 3 game points, one from each opponent. "Big -- use" is the same except the score (positive or negative) gains six game points, two from each opponent. "Big -- keep" is the same except you leave the dog alone but still get the card points, and you gain 12 game points, four from each opponent. "Big -- discard" is the same except you do not get the points for the dog at all, and you get 24 game points, eight from each opponent. In the last two contracts, no one gets to see the dog until the end.

In the play for tricks, the player counter-clockwise from the dealer plays first. The "Major Arcana" are always trumps. Play goes counter-clockwise. You must follow the suit led if you can, and if you cannot, you must play a trump if possible. The trick is taken by the player of the highest-numbered trump, or if no trumps are played, by the highest card of the suit led. All minor suits rank from top to bottom KQJX98765432A.

However, if you have The Fool you may play it instead of following suit or trumping. If you lead the Fool at the beginning of a trick, the next player can play any card. The second card played to that trick defines the "suit led" for the trick. The Fool remains your property for scoring except as noted below. The Fool wins a trick if and only if it is played on the last trick and and the side playing the Fool has won all previous tricks. If you play the Fool to the last trick and your side has not won all the previous tricks, then the Fool becomes the property of your opponent(s).

If the taker wins the last trick with the magician, the taker gets ten extra card points. If a different player wins the last trick with the magician, the taker loses ten card points.

In scoring cards taken in tricks, I followed the usual way counting card points in tarot games. Magician, World, Fool, Kings count 4 1/2 points; Queens count 3 1/2 points; Knights count 2 1/2 points; Jacks count 1 1/2 points; Ordinary cards count 1/2 point. There are 91 points total and the bidder needs 46 points to win.

In the cheap positive contract, the machine will make the card swap for the player, at least for now.

Both the taker of the contract and the first hand to lead against the contract will often play form their longest suit. Be aware of this.

If the hand is passed out, a "misery" round is played in which the object is to take as few high card points as possible. A player must play a winning card to a trick if possible. Except on the last trick, the fool cannot be played to avoid playing a winning card. The magician cannot be played unless it is the only trump held. If one player has more high card points than any other player, they lose three game points and everyone else gains one game point.

This Tarot game can be adapted for various numbers of players.

Easier                         Harder.
Opponents will not look at other hands.

Check this box to see the card names on mouseover.
Check this box to require playing the Fool if you would need to play a trump but have no other trump.
"Chicks rule" -- queens beat kings; decide before melding. Queens, not kings, are tarot trumps; queens are worth +4, kings +3. The KQNP sequence stays the same.
All player's hands worth considering bids: Trade (1)   Use (2)   Keep (4)   Discard (8)  

Make your bid....

Trade a card, use the extra cards
No trade, use the extra cards
No trade, keep the extra cards
No trade, discard the extra cards

More about the cards:

While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
  Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
  And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
  I was not heard. I saw them not.

        -- Shelley

It seems most reasonable to me to think that the Tarot began as playing cards, for entertainment and games, when sufficiently sturdy paper / pasteboard was invented. The suit cards are like our own playing cards.

The trumps present common interfaith symbols that people from many traditions have found helpful in reflection and meditation.

My own experience has been that this can perhaps improve your life if (and only if) your intention is to stop focusing on life's "small stuff" and prepare you to be kind to those around you.

If there are really any intricate cosmic secrets here, I have been unable to understand them. Call me dumb or unspiritual if you like. When I have actually seen the cards used for divination by practitioners, they were obviously being used as mere props for lay-counselling.

The "Latin" suits may represent the military and government (swords), the clergy (cups), the business folks (coins), and the laborers (staves).

Kings would rank highest, then queens. Chivalric knights were sworn to serve queens, and pages were squires to knights.

In the trump suit, notice how often a card seems naturally to take precedence over the one just below it. No reasonable person would deny that the cards are beautiful and meaningful, or claim that this is just a more complex version of "scissors, paper, stone".

The Magician ("juggler", "mountebank" or "sleight of hand artist") may have been introduced first, as a wild card like our joker for some card games.
The High Priestess was a female pope ("la Papesse"). When it was decided to introduce a second wild card, a female trickster might have been chosen as the magician's counterpart. The legend of "Pope Joan" may have attached itself to the card.

The next three cards may have been introduced together. The Empress would have precedence over the previous two cards, and the four Kings.
The Emperor, of course, is lord over the Empress. The Holy Roman Empire was in existence when the cards were developed.

The Hierophant is probably the Pope, to whom the Emperor owed obedience, at least in theory.
Romantic love has power over every human being. Waite called the first five cards "the captives of Cupid."

War interrupts the lives of Lovers and can take love even out of the human heart. I've been told that the bonds between comrades-in-arms are stronger than between Lovers.
Strength ("fortitude") gives victory over the enemy Chariots. Socrates's four temporal virtues (fortitude, justice, temperance, and perhaps wisdom / judgement) may all be represented in the images.

The Hermit may originally have been Father Time, who wears down all Strength.
The Wheel of Fortune, or the cycle of Luck, operates through all Time and over the years.

Justice, rather than Luck, should determine what happens to a person.
The Hanged Man is a mystery. Perhaps this is an extrajudicial lynching. Perhaps this is a cryptic representation of the One Who fulfilled the demands of the law's Justice by His death.

Everything represented up to now is subject to human mortality.
Temperance, living a wholesome life, gives the best chance of staying healthy and avoiding premature Death.

The devil tempts us to live in ways that are not temperate or otherwise wholesome.
At the destruction of the Tower of Babel, the devil's agents were dramatically defeated. *

The Star shines high above all Towers.
The Moon outshines the Stars.

The Sun outshines the Moon.
At the Last Judgement, the Sun and all rest of creation will disappear.

A card representing a Fool (simpleton) was probably introduced to be playable at any time.
The World contains all the things that can possibly be, and so it is the highest of all cards. Perhaps this is the new World that will follow the Last Judgement.

* If, as in the old decks, the tower is the "House of God", then the Church defeats the devil, and nothing below the heavens can take precedence over the Church.

As a kid, I spent quite a bit of time with Waite's book and the tarot pack. I wondered about his hints that he possessed great secret knowledge. (Re-read his description of the "Hanged Man", look closely at the Ace of Cups, recall that in his own life he professed the Christian faith, and then draw your own conclusions.) Today I appreciate him most as the first person to write systematically about the western occult tradition. At least some of his Golden Dawn fellow-seekers of "secret knowledge" eventually found the Ignatian "Spiritual Exercises" more helpful.

Tarot Game Rules -- links to more complicated games with bidding
Tarot History
Various Tarot Decks
Tarocchino -- downloadable book of tarot games. No-nonsense account of the history of the gaming cards and the bunko artists who made it an "occult mystery." Thanks!
The Castle of Crossed Destinies -- "semiotic fantasy novel"

Francis of Assisi
Christian Tarot Decks
Tarot and Evangelism -- prof at U. of Aberdeen divinity school. Like any evangelist, meeting "New Agers" where they already are.
Tarot of the Saints -- Biblical and historical images, some gnosticizing
Tarot of the Saints -- Amazon
Tarot of the Saints -- Margaret of Rome resists the devil, etc.

VI. The Lovers

Waite's Tarocky
Danish Tarot
French Tarot for Three
French Tarot for Four
German Cego
Hungarian Tarot
Konigrufen -- complicated, casual tarot game
Swiss Troccas
Scarto -- primitive tarot game

Meet Ed