Italian playing cards from a deck of "Bergamasche" by Dal Negro
|Skills required||Tactics, Memory|
|Card rank (highest to lowest)||A 3 R C F 7 6 5 4 2|
|Playing time||25 min|
Briscola (briškula in Croatian and Montenegrin, brìscula in Sicilian, brìšcula or brišc in Neapolitan, Skembeel in Libya, brisca in Spanish and Catalan, bisca in Portuguese, bixkla in Maltese, briškola in Slovene), one of Italy's most popular games together with Scopa and Tressette, and a little-changed descendant of Brusquembille, the ancestor of Briscan and Bezique, is a Mediterranean trick-taking card game for two to six players played with a standard Italian 40-card deck. Apart from the Northern Mediterranean, the game is also popular in Puerto Rico. It is usually considered to be an elaboration from an original Dutch card game related to klaviaas, perhaps transmitted by sailors. (A confirming piece of evidence comes from the curious expression when one team wins all the points, called a cappotto. This is a puzzling term, as it means coat jacket in Italian, but may descend from Kapot, meaning complete defeat in Dutch). Relative to the Dutch game, where players need to follow suit, briscola rules allow any card to be played. This makes the game more unpredictable, as trump cards cannot be easily neutralized and may be played strategically at any point in time. The game can also be played with a modern Anglo-French deck, without the eight, nine and ten cards (see Portuguese variations below). With three or six players, twos are removed from the deck to ensure the number of cards in the deck is a multiple of the number of players; a single two for three players and all four twos for six players. The four- and six-player versions of the game are played as a partnership game of two teams, with players seated such that every player is adjacent to two opponents.
A deck of Italian cards consists of forty cards, divided into four suits: coins (Denari in Italian, and sometimes suns or sunbursts), swords (Spade), cups (Coppe) and clubs (sometimes batons, bats or Bastoni). The values on the cards range numerically from one through seven, plus three face cards in each suit: Knave (Fante in Italian), Knight (Cavallo in Italian), and King (Re in Italian). A Knave is a lone human figure standing. The Knight is a human figure riding a horse. The King is a human figure wearing a crown. To determine the face value of any numeric card, simply count the number of suit icons on the card. The ace card of coins is usually a type of bird with circle in the middle.
Below is a table identifying card rank and point values. Unlisted cards have no point value, and are ranked in descending ordinal value, from seven to two. Note however the odd ranking of the three.
|Cards, by rank||Point value|
|Three (3) (Tre)||10|
|Knight (or Horse) (Cavallo) for Spanish type cards, Woman (or Queen) (Donna) for French (international) style cards.||3|
In total, a deck has 120 points. To win a game, a player must accumulate more points than any other player. If two players (teams) have same number of points (60) another game is played to determine the winner.
After the deck is shuffled, each player is dealt three cards. The next card is placed face up on the playing surface, and the remaining deck is placed face down, sometimes covering half of the up-turned card. This card is the Briscola, and represents the trump suit for the game. Before the game begins if a player has the deuce of trump he/she may retire the "briscola". This move may only be done at the beginning of the game or first hand. Before the first hand is played (in four player game), team players may show each other their cards. The deal, and game play itself, proceeds counter-clockwise.
The player to the right of the dealer leads the first hand (or trick) by playing one card face up on the playing surface. Each player subsequently plays a card in turn, until all players have played one card. The winner of that hand is determined as follows:
Unlike other trump card games, players are not required to follow suit, that is, to play the same suit as the lead player.
Once the winner of a trick is determined, that player collects the played cards, and places them face down in a pile. Each player maintains his/her own pile, though the four- and six-player versions may have one player collecting all tricks won by his partners. Then, each player draws a card from the remaining deck, starting with the player who won the trick, proceeding counter-clockwise. Note that the last card collected in the game should be the up-turned Briscola. The player who won the trick leads the next hand. During game play and only before the next to the last hand is played, a player who draws the card with the seven (7) of trump can take the "briscola". This may be done only if the player has won a hand. Before the last hand, people in the same team can look at each other's cards.
After all cards have been played, players calculate the total point value of cards in their own piles. For multi-player games, partners combine their points.
This is a popular add on to the game, which originated in the Italian version of "Briscola" but has been widely accepted in the Spanish version of the "Brisca". "La Conquista" (The Conquest in Spanish language) is also known as "Mano o Sota Negra" (Black or Jack Hand) in Spanish Brisca. The Black Hand is defined as when a player automatically gets in his hand the King card, 3 and 1 card of the chosen "Briscola". When those three cards are gathered by the player, they are shown to the opponent and the game is automatically won in spite of the points that the opponent has gathered throughout the game which might or not have exceeded the player's points.
In four- and six-player variations a system of signaling is often allowed between members of the same team. In this variant, the first round is played without speaking, and on all subsequent rounds players are permitted to signal their partners and attempt to signal without the other team noticing. A common system of signaling is as follows:
There also exists a variation whereby the three, is ranked as a three (i.e. a four can beat it) but maintains its status as worth 10 points. However, as mentioned, this is a variation, and not standard rules.
In some parts of Italy (located mainly in Piedmont and Sardinia), the three as the second most valuable card is substituted by the seven, like in Portuguese Bisca (see below).
Briscola Chiamata (English: declaration Briscola) is the five-player version of Briscola. Every player is dealt eight cards, so that no cards remain undealt. Then the bidding phase begins, the purpose of which is to decide the trump suit (Briscola) and to form two uneven groups that will play against each other.
In one variant, each player, starting from the dealer's right and proceeding counter-clockwise, bids on progressively lower card values, according to the peculiar sorting of cards used in the game. Thus, if the first player bids on a Three, the second player can only bid on a King or lower. If a player bids on a Six, the next player can only bid on a Five, Four or Two. Bidding continues until all but one player have passed in a round. This remaining player has then "won the bid" and therefore gets to declare the Briscola, i.e. the trump suit. If he had bid on a Three, for example, he could choose "Three of Cups": the trump suit will be Cups, and the holder of the "Three of Cups" is determined to be the declarer's partner.
In another variant, bidding proceeds in the same fashion, but players declare how many points they will score (61 or more). A player may pass, and hence cannot bid again in that game. The bid represents the number of points that player believes he is capable of accumulating. In this variant, whoever declares the trump suit also declares a specific Briscola card (example, the "Ace of Cups" if Cups was the declared Briscola) and the holder of this card is then determined to be the declarer's partner.
The two variants can be combined. Most commonly, the bid starts as in the first system but a bid of Two can be beaten by a bid of "Two with 65 points". Alternatively, any player can "force" the bid and ask subsequent players to keep the same card but increase the score. This is useful whenever a player has low-value cards such as a Two or Four in his strongest suit.
In both systems the declarer can declare the highest Briscola card he does not already hold in the hopes of creating the strongest combined hand between him and his partner, but can also "bluff".
After the bidding phase, the game proceeds in the same way. First, the remaining three players are partnered with each other, without their knowledge; each player, other than the declarer's partner, acts independently, until it is clear which players are partners. Infrequently, the declarer may declare a Briscola card he already holds (if he feels he has a very strong hand), in which case the other four players are partnered against him.
Because of the unique method of declaration and blind partnering in this variation of the game, it is considered to be one of the most entertaining variations of the game. Game strategy is often devised to determine which player is partnered with the declarer, whereas the declarer's partner may devise ruses and decoy strategies to fool the other players, such as not taking a trick, or playing points on a trick that will be won by an opponent.
Briscola Chiamata also features a unique scoring scheme. Each player collects tricks as per the regular version of the game, and counts points collected similarly. Partners, which are known by the end of the game, then combine their points. Game points are assigned as follows:
These points are accumulated after every game. The grand winner is the player with the most points at the end of the last match. Note that if the declarer calls a Briscola he holds, then the declarer will win or lose four points, and every other player will win or lose one point.
Usually, players determine the number of game points to accumulate in order to declare the grand winner, typically ranging from 10 to 20 points.
The main variations were explained earlier in this article. In some variations, when calling a two the declarer can opt to have a "blind" first hand, in the sense that the caller does not announce the suit until the hand has been played. It is rather intriguing to play a hand of briscola without knowing what suit is briscola nor whom one plays with. To further complicate the blind hand, any two played has to be covered (face down). The briscola has to be announced before the cards are turned. The blind first hand can also be restricted to bids that have a score of 62 or higher.
Another variation, this time on the "score bidding" method, is that the declarer can only choose a suit, the called rank being implicitly a two.
There is a now popular variation of the "Briscola" game where it is now played with all cards faced up instead of down, with the purpose of not hiding any cards for the benefit of the opponent to see. The players can now see all the opponent's won cards, the current hand and the deck's next card to pick; is it a harder but interesting variation of the popular game.
The Briscola scoperta (Uncovered Briscola in English) is a variation where the cards are dealt face up to each player. The deck is also upturned so that the first card to be drawn is visible. This variation usually leads to more thoughtful play; remembering which cards have already been played is also very important.
In Croatia and Montenegro, the briscola game is called briškula and it is played predominantly in the coastal areas. The game is played with Triestine cards in the normal Italian fashion though there is also a popular variation called briškula Dalmatian style or briškula na duplo (double briškula). This variation is exactly the same as the normal Italian game except that each player plays two cards separately during the course of a trick. To play briškula Dalmatian style four cards are dealt to each of the players and then the player to the right of the dealer leads the first hand (or trick) by playing one card face up on the playing surface. Each player subsequently plays a card in turn, until all players have played one card. Then, the player who played the first card again plays another card as does each subsequent player. The winner of that trick is determined by the normal rules of briscola.
In Portugal, the briscola game is called bisca and it is played with a modern Anglo-French 52-card deck. The 8, 9 and 10 cards must be removed from this deck, though, in order to obtain the 40 cards needed to play. The Kings equal to the Italian-deck kings, the Jacks equal to the knights, and the Queens equal to the knaves (to know the reason why the Jack ranks higher than the Queen, see Latin-suited cards in Portugal). The seven (called bisca or manilha), and not the three, ranks above the face cards. Thus:
|Cards, by Rank||Point Value|
|Seven (7) (bisca or manilha)||10|
The game play is the same as in Briscola, except that the trump suit is given by up-turning the last card of the deck (and not the next one after the dealing).
The Sueca is arguably the most popular game in Portugal, being also very popular in Portuguese former colonies such as Brazil or Angola. Being a partnership game for four players, also played with 40 Anglo-French cards which rank the same as in Bisca, Sueca can be considered a variation of the 4-player Briscola, where all cards are dealt and players have to follow suit.
For detailed rules and game play, see Sueca (game).
The Sueca Italiana (which means "Italian Sueca", evidencing the origin of the game) or just Italiana is the Portuguese variation of the Briscola Chiamata, also played with an Anglo-French deck. The bidding and card playing phases are identical to the Italian version - Bisca card ranks and values always apply, though - but the scoring system is a bit different. For more detailed rules and game play, see Sueca Italiana.