And now for something completely different!
Years ago, when my friend Perlandria lived a couple blocks from me, the two of us regularly found ourselves making up games to play with Tarot cards, just the two of us, or with one or more of our SOs at the time, especially Hobbit (mine), and Paka (hers).
She recently reminded me of them, asking if I had the rules for any of them written up. It happens that I DO have those notes from a few different places, so I offer them here to her and to you, for the enjoyment of all.
I know there were other games. She remembers the rules we came up with for a Crazy-8s kind of game, for example. But these are the three I have:
For 2-4 players using 1 divination deck of any kind:
- Divide the deck into as many even chunks as there are players.
- Each round, each player pulls the top card and reveals it.
- The players as a group treat the cards as a reading, and decide which player the reading is for. Any excuse is a good one.
- Whoever the reading is “for” gets those cards.
- Play until all the cards have been revealed.
- Optional: Each player can look at their stack for larger patterns. Commentary is encouraged.
This game doesn’t scale well. 3 players is ideal.
The original name was “Tarot War”, but that seemed wrong because it’s not a competition. Hence “Tarot Spar”.
Spar is particularly useful if you’ve done a lot of readings and need to clear your head of a sub-set of cards that have come up repeatedly. I use this game as a sort of palette cleanser.
For 3+ players using 1 fully illustrated deck of cards:
- Deal 3 cards to each player. Each player looks at their hand, hiding the cards from the other players.
- On their turn, a player may ask any other single player for a card which depicts the secondary symbol of their choosing.
It can be common or obscure, or even somewhat abstract, as long as it is not systemic, such a suit symbol, the number on the card, or the letters in the name or title of the card.
Examples: “Do you have any horses?” “Do you have any yellow backgrounds?” “Do you have any happy people?” Or even, technically, “Do you have any swords NOT on a card of that suit?”
Any given symbol may only be requested ONCE PER GAME. The goal is not to make sets, but to explore the details of the cards.
- IF the active player receives a card with the symbol they requested, they go again.
Otherwise they draw a card from the deck and it’s the next player’s turn.
Optional: If the card they draw has the symbol they requested on it, they go again.
- The game is over when a player acquires 10 cards.
Optional: The winning player may attempt to treat their hand as a reading.
Optional: Each time a particular player wins, the number of cards required for that player to win again increases by 1.
TarotFish is very scaleable. My default play is geared towards 3-5 players aiming for a Celtic Cross reading, but there’s no reason to stick with that. The game goes faster if you start with more cards, aim for a smaller hand, or have fewer players. Reciprocally, more players, fewer starting cards, or larger target layouts make the game last longer.
TarotFish works well with any deck where there are significant repeating art themes and plenty of details in the pictures. Pip decks don’t work. They don’t necessarily even have to be for divination, since the “reading” part is totally optional. Storytelling decks and other art decks may be functional options as well.
For 3+ players using 1+ divination decks of any kind:
- Divide the deck into approximately equal stacks, 1 per player. (If you have more players, distribute the deck so that everyone can reach, but don’t worry about 1 stack per person.)
- Each player is given one card to establish a face-up discard pile, the top card of which is “in play”.
- Play takes place in several two-phase rounds.
- Each player needs a 3 card “Reading” laid face up in front of them on the table. These cards are also “in play”.
The arrangement of order and reversals WITHIN any given individual Reading may be changed at any time for any reason, regardless of turn.
- To create Readings for all the players, each player on a turn will take the top card from any draw pile and place that card, face-up, in front of any player who does not already have 3 cards in front of them.
- On their turn the player should swap any two cards which are “in play” (i.e. the readings and tops of discards).
The goal is to make any kind of interesting pattern appear in as many of the of the Readings as possible.
When the card arrangements change, all the players pause briefly to consider the significance of the change.
Comments are encouraged.
- If there are no suitable swaps to make, the player may take a card from a draw pile and place it on a discard pile.
- A player may NOT move a card directly from a draw pile to a reading once all players have 3 cards.
- If all the players in consecutive turns chose to draw to a discard pile, it is presumed that all the Readings on the table are complete. Each player puts their current reading at the bottom of their own discard pile, and return to Phase 1 for the next round.
- The game ends when there are no longer any cards left in any draw piles.
Notes: It’s easy to vary the rules on which draw piles can be pulled from, and which readings can be played to. More restricted play may require the draw piles to be re-balanced later in the game if one runs out before the others.
Feel free to try out these games and let me know how you liked them. I’d also love to hear about other creative Tarot games in the comments!