Rules of the Game of Tarot (1637)

revised English language edition

The following is an attempted reconstruction in modern English of the earliest printed rules of the game of Tarot (Abb=E9 Michel de Marolles, 1637) as transcribed by Thierry Depaulis from documents at the Biblioth=E8que nationale de France ( This text was first published by Depaulis in the booklet which accompanied the facsimile edition of the Vi=E9ville Tarot Pack (1984). These rules were not included in Michael Dummett's "The Game of Tarot", because they were discovered by Depaulis two years after the 1980 publication of the book and thus were unknown to Dummett at the time of printing.

I should confess my knowledge of the French language is largely limited to the terminology used in the modern French game of Tarot and I have made extensive use of the Internet translation utility Babelfish. What follows is a revised edition of an earlier attempt of mine to reconstruct this game. This earlier attempt was marred by a few errors which resulted from my lack of proficiency in the French language combined with incorrectly copying a portion of the original document. Many thanks are due to Thierry Depaulis for his most welcome constructive criticisms of my previous attempt.

The English language terms employed here: King, Queen, Knight, Page, Coins, Cups, Swords, Wands and the names of the Fool and the Trumps are derived from the English language edition of the Tarot of Marseilles manufactured by Carta Mundi and distributed by US Games. To supplement what I was able to fathom from a computer assisted translation and my admittedly limited knowledge of French, I used some prior knowledge of other such games which I have learned from Stuart R. Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot , David Parlett's "Dictionary of Card Games" and John McLeod's Card Games website (

The author of the original document (assumed to be Abb=E9 Michel de Marolles) recommends the game for no more than three players and also claims it is not very pleasing for two as a "dummy" or "phantom" player, here termed "le Mort", (not to be confused with "La Mort" or the Death Trump) is deemed necessary to play the missing third hand. This "phantom" third hand is a pile from which a card is drawn randomly on each trick. To make the two player game more agreeable, he appears to suggest stripping the pack of 12 of its 78 cards. Three cards of each suit are to be removed for this purpose: the 10, 9, & 8 of the Cups and Coins and the Ace, 2, & 3 of the Swords and Wands. The pip cards of the Cups and Coins, evidently rank in reverse order, which is common in games of this type.

The author gives more details of the three player game. Each player is dealt 24 cards. There remains thus 6 cards which appear to constitute the discard pile (this same discard pile would later be named the "chien" or "Talon" in the modern French and Austrian games). One of the three players (presumably the dealer) exchanges these 6 cards with up to 6 in his own hand. After this exchange, the discard card pile must not contain The Fool, any Kings, or any of the 21 Trump cards. It appears in this variant that the discard pile is concealed from the other two players both before and after the exchange ( In modern French Tarot, the "chien" is revealed before the exchange, but not after).

Much of the description I often found difficult to decipher, but I would assume that, like other games of this type, that the eldest leads the first trick and that play is counter-clockwise with an obligation to follow suit if possible, or Trump if not possible, and if neither following suit or Trumping is possible, play any card. The winner of a trick leads the next. (In the modern French game, there is an obligation to play a higher Trump than those previously played in the trick, but I doubt if such an obligation existed in this early variant).

Players receive points (or tokens) for certain combinations of cards in their hand at the play of the first trick. One of the cards, the ace of coins is termed "la belle" or "the beauty" for the purpose of a rather unusual rule, given below, which I have not seen in any other game of this family and so I doubt whether it was very prevalent.

1: Three Kings are worth one point of each one ( I assume this means that the combination is worth fifteen points total). Four Kings are worth four points of each one (20 points) A combination of four court cards ( four Kings, four Queens, four Knights, or four Pages) is termed an "Imperiale" A Tarot is one of these seven cards: King (of which there are four), the Fool, the Magician (I), and the World (XXI). Four Tarots would also be collectively worth 20 points. However the author suggests that if one wishes to include five or six of the seven Tarots as valid combinations, then four Kings should only be worth three points. Two Kings and The Fool wins one point of each one. Three Kings and The Fool are worth two. Four Kings and The Fool are worth six. The World (XXI), The Fool, and The Magician (I) are worth three. Four Tarots are worth one. Five Tarots are worth two. Six Tarots, are worth three. Seven Tarots are worth four. Seven Tarots and "la belle" (the ace of coins) are worth five.

2: "He who lacks his." There is a bonus for having two of these three Tarots (or "the Trull"): the Fool, the Magician (I), and the World (XXI) and there is a penalty for not having any of them. Should a player have none of these three Tarots, he pays one point to whomever has two of them.

3: Ten Trumps are worth one point of each one (10). Fifteen Trumps are worth two (30). Twenty Trumps are worth three(60) ( This is clearly an ancestor of the modern French Poign=E9e.)

4: A player having the four honors ( King, Queen, Knight, or Page) of each rank (called "Imperiale" in this account, but in some later variants, such as German or Danish Gro=DFtarock games, such combinations would sometimes be called "Cavallerie") wins one point of each one. This apparently means that all four Kings in one hand score 20 points total; for four Queens, this would be 16; four Knights, 12; and four Pages, 8.

5a: "Brizigole" (4 greatest or 4 least Trumps): A player having the four greatest Trumps held in hand; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), and The Moon (XVIII) or the four least trumps; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III) and The Emperor (IV) wins one point of each one.

5b: For the five greatest; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), The Moon (XVIII) and The Star (XVII) or the five least; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV) and The Pope (V); two points.

5c: For the six greatest; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), The Moon (XVIII), The Star (XVII), and The Tower (XVI) or the six least; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV), The Pope (V), and The Lovers (VI); three points.

All the above combinations must be declared at the start of the first trick for them to count towards the total score.

There are also bonuses for Petit au bout or Pagat Ultimo, that is, winning the final trick with the Magician(I) and for K=F6nig Ultimo, winning the final trick with a King. Such achievements are worth 6 points.

 The Fool (The Excuse): This account appears to be very much in keeping with the way it is played in modern French Tarot. I shall thus paraphrase from John McLeod's Rules of Card Games website as it pertains to this variant for those not familiar with it: If you hold the excuse you may play it to any trick you choose - irrespective of what was led and whether you have that suit or not. the excuse can never win the trick - the trick is won as usual by the highest trump, or in the absence of trumps by the highest card of the suit led. It is legal to lead the excuse, and in this case the second player to the trick can play any card, and this second card defines what suit must be followed. The player that played the excuse keeps it in his trick pile, even though he may have lost the trick to which it was played. If the trick is in fact won by the opponents of the player of the excuse, the trick will be one card short; to compensate for this, the player that played the excuse must transfer one card from his trick pile to the winner of the trick. This will be a card of no point value; if he does not yet have such a card in his tricks, he can wait until he takes a trick containing such a card and transfer it then.

 The method used to count the cards appear to be that of grouping them in three's. I shall quote from John McLeod's website to illustrate this counting method. "A group consisting entirely of empty cards is worth one point. A group containing one valuable card is worth the value of that card. A group containing two valuable cards is worth one less than the sum of their values. A group containing three valuable cards is worth two less than the sum of their values. A group containing four valuable cards is worth three less than the sum of their values."

 Though the above rules may have been discovered too late to meet the deadline for Dummett's "The Game of Tarot," and what you are now reading may very well be the first time these rules have been exposed to the anglophone world, there will soon be, according to Depaulis, a new edition of the book, written by both Dummett and McLeod, under the title, " The Tarot Family of Card Games," which will include these rules as well as, no doubt, numerous others.

James D. Wickson