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The Basics





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The Basics


Topics on this page:

The Cards

The Games

The Process


The important parallels between a Scroker deck and a standard British or International deck of cards may too quickly be overshadowed by the most glaring difference—the use of letters instead of numbers. But take heart, this changes less than one might expect about the standard formats of centuries old, well oiled card games. In fact readers will find most of the games in this guide are merely variations of known card games with the added nuance of "word-play" to outwit an opponent.

"The Cards" topic is front-loaded to provide specifics about the Scroker deck itself, necessary information for playing some of the more advanced games. "The Games" provides a broad overview of the types of games found on subsequent pages of this site. Lastly, the general rules of card playing are covered in "The Process," helpful to the true novice. For those readers like me who may never reach the end of this rambling before their minds say "yeah, yeah, yeah—I’m ready to play," I recommend Four Play , ironically, for the single player and Scrummy for multiple players. These are the games that the Quick Start Guide on the "Home" page will guide you to. Both require only a minimal understanding of the make-up of the deck. (then, when you’re ready for the next level, come back to "The Basics").

Important to everyone using this guide, the "Glossary" is essentially a collection of mildly ambiguous terms that will be helpful for coloring as well as defining play. A comprehensive knowledge of every term, however, is far from necessary, particularly in the beginning. When you are reading the rules for a given game and see a word in hypertext, you know that a definition for that term exists in the "Glossary." Clicking on it will take you directly to the definition. Some critical rules of play, when they are common to more than one game, are often imbedded in the "Glossary" definition. In these cases, a review of that term will be a review of a critical rule. Your browser's "back" and "forward" functions between a game's rules and the glossary will come in handy.

One other convention employed in this guide is worth mentioning. Every card in this deck has an associated and unique proper name that is not necessarily exactly the same as the letter depicted. Since multiple cards may depict common letters, I found it important to distinguish the instances that I am referring to a specific card from the instances I am referring to all cards that depict a common letter. Rather arbitrarily I chose the square-ish parenthesis, mostly because it seemed card-like, to house the proper name for any given card, and quotation marks for other instances. Recapping:

  • Proper card name: [A], [B], [C] etc.
  • Other instances: "A," "B," "C," etc. or simply A, B, C etc.

Lastly, I never met a rule that couldn’t be changed. I have provided the hardware—the Scroker deck—and some games to get a player up and running. If there is a problem with a rule, change it—as long as everyone at the table agrees. Name a new game for that matter—just don’t deal me out completely.


The Cards

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The Scroker deck contains 52 regular cards (often referred to as "letters" in this guide) plus 2 wild cards that are removed before most games unless specifically called for—sound strangely familiar? Like a standard deck, all the cards are divided into 4 suits of 13 cards each. Also, like a standard deck, all the cards within a suit have a natural rank, which is broadly defined by the alphanumeric hierarchy: "A" to "Z." Specifically, "B" outranks "A," "C" outranks "B," etc.

Unlike a standard deck, the 4 suits themselves have a defined hierarchy, which leads to the conclusion that all 52 cards have a ranking with respect to each other. The names of the suits in ascending order are: 1) Lemons, 2) Limes, 3) Chili Peppers and 4) Animals.



"Lemons" is the lowest ranking suit and, like all four of the suits in the deck, it contains 13 cards. The suit is simply made up of the first 13 letters of the alphabet. Within the suit, the lowest ranking card is called the [A] and the highest-ranking card is the [M]. For further clarification, a player might say [Sour A] or [Sour M].

(Letters are depicted from lowest to highest rank)



The next higher-ranking suit after "Lemons" is "Limes." Essentially, the Limes continue the alphabet where the Lemons left off. Since there are 26 letters in the alphabet, these 2 "sour" suits may be thought of as the alphabet cut in half with the first 13 cards making up the "Lemons" and the second 13 making up the "Limes." Like in the Lemons suit, the specific name of each card in the Lime suit is simply the name of the letter depicted. A player might use the name [Z] or [Sour Z] to refer to the highest-ranking Lime.

(Letters are depicted from lowest to highest rank)


Chili Peppers

The next highest-ranking suit above the two "Sour" suits is the Chili Pepper suit. This suit is the most complex. Unlike any other suit, all 13 cards in this suit are vowels. But, just as in all suits, the normal alphanumeric order (in this case: A, E, I, O, U) is still the primary system governing rank. The secondary system, which I call the "heat" factor, determines ranking for the duplicate vowels: the more chili peppers depicted, the "hotter" the card and therefore the higher rank.

(Letters are depicted from lowest to highest rank)

The full and proper name for all cards in the suit identify the number of chili peppers for the corresponding vowel. For the "A" cards depicted above, the proper names are [One-chili-pepper-A], [Two-chili-pepper-A] and [Three-chili-pepper-A] respectively. Note that the distribution of vowels correspond roughly with common usage in the English language (i.e. there are more "E’s" than any other vowel).

Occasionally, certain games may give uncommon value or power to cards with multiple chili peppers but it is important to recognize the default ranking within this suit. That is, the [Three-chili-pepper-A] outranks the [Two-chili-pepper-A] but, the [One-chili-pepper-E] outranks all of the Chili Pepper "A’s." Likewise, you should conclude that the highest-ranking card in this suit is the [One-chili-pepper-U]. Also, because of overall suit ranking, all Chili Peppers outrank any Lemon or Lime cards.



The fourth and highest ranking suit in the deck is "Animals." Again, normal alphanumeric order determines ranking within the suit and all Animals outrank every other card in the deck. These "power" cards wield ultimate authority in the deck. As Vanna knows, they are some of most often used letters in the alphabet.

(Letters are depicted from lowest to highest rank)

I like thinking about the cards that comprise this suit as falling into a low (A-D-E-I), middle (L-M-N-O-P) and high (R-S-T-U) group to help remind me of the relative value of any given Animal held in my hand. For recalling the makeup of this suit, keeping in mind that exactly one of each vowel is present comes in handy. Also, remember when the song taught us that "L-M-N-O-P" was actually that one big letter in the middle of the alphabet? Well, it’s helpful here. If you happen to be one of those acronym kind of people, how about this for an idea? "A-D-E-I" can be rearranged into "IDEA" and "R-S-T-U" into "RUST."

Finally, all Animals are properly named as the animal depicted on each card. The highest-ranking card shown above is not a "U," it is the [Unicorn], effectively the highest-ranking card in the entire Scroker deck. The 13 cards that comprise this suit from lowest to highest are the [Alligator], [Dog], [Elephant], [Insect], [Lion], [Moose], [Newt], [Owl], [Pig], [Rhinoceros], [Snail], [Turtle] and [Unicorn]. Memorization is not required—just look at the picture.


Wild Cards

Lastly, the deck contains two standard wild cards named [Scrokers]. Almost any game may be played with the addition of one or two [Scrokers], though most serious card players choose to remove them unless the rules specifically call for their inclusion. [Scrokers], serve as any desired card by the holder, thereby introducing a higher degree of pure chance to any given game.

Really, any card may be designated as "wild" for a particular game. Likely choices would be the [X] or [Z] or even a sub-group of cards such as "reptiles" or "birds." This option tidily serves a dealer’s desire to temporarily introduce wild cards without physically adding [Scrokers] to the deck.


The Games

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Certainly there are notable differences between a traditional card deck and a Scroker deck, but the parallels are abundant. All known card games (traditional or Scroker) fall into families of games which have a similar structure or objective, but vary in their specific rules or complexity. To simplify the discussion, let’s distill them down to four major families of objectives.


Creating Order

"Creating order" is the only discernable objective of solo card games. Although every card game hinges on the ability of players to create some sort of order with his hand of cards to gain an advantage, this category of card games has no other objective because there is nobody to beat but the cards. Victory belongs to the lone participant who, having overcome statistical odds and intellectual obstacles, returns a mixed-up deck to some logical order.

Scrolitaire is the generic classification of Scroker card games that are played by one person. As with traditional solitaire games, there are no points to be earned or money to be won. Scrolitaire is modeled, in concept, on traditional card solitaire games that are won by successfully rearranging a shuffled deck into a defined order based on rank and suit. Intended to exercise a player’s memory and ingenuity, the stated objective is always much easier "said than done." The only true difference of Scrolitaire from its traditional counterpart is the ordering requirement to create words.



Simply stated, the aim of these games is to be the first player to successfully "go-out" thereby emptying one’s hand of cards. Nearly all "going-out" games require a player to match cards in some way in order to remove them from his hand and ultimately go out. The match may be to other cards in his hand or other cards in play. But, in all cases a necessary relationship, be it suit, rank or other, will dictate the freedom to play or obligation to hold onto a card for later disposal.

Several games have multiple, at times even conflicting objectives that are ultimately settled by the player who goes out first. The games of Scrummy, broadly fashioned after the well-known traditional Rummy games, are prime examples. In these games, the objective of collecting sets of cards is as important as freeing the hand of cards. Specifically, in Rummy the player seeks to "meld" by collecting and arraying cards of common or sequential value. Correspondingly, in Scrummy, the player seeks to "word" by collecting and arraying cards that spell a word. In both games the player must never lose sight of the goal to go out first.


Taking Tricks

In "trick-taking" games, a player’s primary goal is to strategically sequence the order he plays his cards to influence his chances of taking a trick. A "trick" refers to the collection of cards in the middle of the table after all players have contributed one card each in turn. Accordingly, the number of cards in a given trick ordinarily equals the number of players at the table. Once a single trick has been completed, one player or team of players will have earned the right or obligation to "take" the trick. The designated player then removes the trick from the center of table and stores it facedown near him for easy accounting following a round of play.

"Suit-following" is considered a basic rule of trick construction. Players must play only cards of the same suit as the first card contributed to that particular trick. Only if a player does not have a card of the same suit in his hand may he play one of another suit. Whoever plays the first card of a new trick, usually the winner of the previous trick, chooses to lead with a card from a specific rank and suit in order to attempt control over who will take the trick when it is complete. In general, the winner of the trick is determined by considering the relative rank of only cards of the suit led, ignoring higher-ranking cards of different suits.

Of course, there is always that exception to the normal rule. In traditional card games, that exception is called the "trump." Correspondingly, the "ruling suit" of the Scroker deck shares nearly identical properties to those of a trump suit for trick-taking purposes. For example, in a game a dealer declares that "Chili Peppers rule," a player who plays the highest-ranking Chili Pepper, regardless of the suit led, will take the trick. Unlike traditional card games, another significant exception called the "scrump" allows the final player contributing to a trick to overturn the prevailing rule of the trick by creating a word.

Three major categories of trick-taking games exist. (1) In "plain-trick" games, a player attempts to win a target number of tricks. Winning more than the stated goal may or may not be beneficial depending on the game, while winning fewer almost always equates to some sort of penalty. (2) Players of "point-trick" games are less concerned with the number of tricks taken and more concerned with the point earning potential of specific cards within the tricks. (3) Finally, "trick-avoidance" games challenge players to take as few tricks as possible or avoid taking tricks that contain cards of high point value. Generally, high scores in this last category of games are losing scores.

Bridge, probably the best-known traditional card game in this family, is a good example of how elaborate the rules of trick-taking games can get. Frequently, games combine elements of plain and point trick and even trick-avoidance games all in one. Complicating the matter further, elements of other types of games such as the collection of sets of cards are sometimes incorporated. While some games are structured to enable autonomous competition, the most common trick-taking games are for four players (usually divided into two teams of two) and involve several rounds of play. Because of the often-complex scoring systems, one player normally will keep a running tally of all players’ points, updating scores at the completion of each round.

Quist is the Scroker deck trick-taking mainstay tracing conceptual lineage to the traditional card game Whist although some variations borrow heavily from the more modern Black Maria, a descendant of Hearts. Finally, Scroker introduces Soup, a trick-taking variant that involves players taking "loose tricks." The term "loose" is used to indicate a radical deviation from the normal rules applied to trick construction.



The objective of gambling games is obvious. But don’t be mislead by the crude premise and lack of much actual card-play. Much skill is required. Beyond the initial deal and limited exchange of a few cards, any chance a player has to affect the hand he has been dealt is precluded in fairly short order. Chips occupy the center of the table and seemingly the players’ attention. How much and when to bet are the only tangible concerns for most of the game. But it is precisely this skeletal structure which supports the real muscle of these games—psychology. Understanding some basic strategies based on possible card combinations and their associated statistical likeliness is important. Understanding your opponent is paramount.

Actual coins or other forms of cash are sometimes used as the tokens of wager. But Poker chips, readily available at game stores, are the universal standards for all gambling games. A basic set of white, red and blue chips adequately serve most friendly events. There are some variations in corresponding value depending on the desired stakes of a game. "White" generally serves as a single unit for whatever amount will be gambled, be it a penny, nickel, quarter, two dollars or whatever. "Red" comes next, usually as a multiple of 2 or 5 of "white" depending on the system chosen. "Blue" chips, just like on Wall Street, are the big boys weighing in at 5, 10, 20 or even 25 times the value of "white." Serious gamblers may even employ yellow chips (25, 50 or 100 units) and black chips (100, 200, or 250 units).

Dusty old gambling games like Brag and Primero have been played in pubs and clubs for centuries, but none have been so globally successful and infamous as the much younger, Poker. Though many variations of this traditional card game exist, all are based on possible five-card combinations commonly called the "Poker hand." The value of any given Poker hand corresponds directly to the statistical improbability of a player being dealt matching cards (two, three or four of a kind) or sequential cards (straight) from a common suit (flush). Similarly, the value of any given Scroker hand, also comprised of five cards, corresponds directly to the improbability of a player being dealt a word (two, three, four or five letter) from a common suit (clean).


The Process

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Again, no surprises exist for anyone who has ever participated in a traditional card game. The players of any Scroker card game, from the moment they meet to the time they stand-up to collect their belongings and pride if necessary, conduct themselves just as any soused comrades in the dankest of early English pubs. For anyone who slipped through the cracks, I have included the most basic rules of the road.



The number of players that plan to participate primarily drives the choice of games, and consequently the seating arrangement. The rule of thumb governing all seating arrangements dictates players to sit as most opposite as possible from all other players. In games of four players with two sets of partners, the partners will sit directly opposite each other. Five or more players are most comfortably seated symmetrically around larger circular tables. In all cases, common sense should prevail to minimize the chance of players being able to see each other’s cards.

The player who first handles the cards, usually the owner, may resolve any disagreement about seating or partner selection by conducting a simple card-draw. Cards should be shuffled to everyone’s satisfaction and spread as a single facedown array in the center of the table. Each player then draws a single card from anywhere within the array. The player with the highest-ranking card has first choice for whatever issue is in contention and so on down the line. If the conduct of the card-draw itself is in contention over the simple issue of "seating," perhaps another group of players is necessary.



Most games require some predetermined number of cards be equally distributed to each of the players. Accomplishing this task is the responsibility of the dealer. Again, players may draw cards at the start of the session to facilitate selection of the first dealer. The highest-ranking card rules. Subsequent dealers are generally dictated by the rules of the game. Unless stated otherwise, the winner of a hand earns the next deal. As a default, the role of dealer will pass one player to the left of the previous dealer.

The deal really begins with the shuffle. Since the nature of most games is to systematically organize the cards throughout the course of play, ensuring a thorough shuffle between hands should be the chief concern of a conscientious dealer. Any player may shuffle the deck upon request between hands, although the designated dealer will conduct the final shuffle.

After shuffling, the dealer will present the deck facedown to the player to his right. That player then initiates a "cut" of the deck by lifting a random number of cards (ordinarily half the deck) from the top and placing them along side the remaining cards. The dealer then completes the cut by placing what had been the lower half of the deck on top of the others. Contrary to some beliefs, the ceremonial cut is not a ritual of superstition, but rather serves one practical function: to ensure that no player knows what the bottom card is. Therefore, laboring over where exactly to cut the deck is unnecessary. Likewise, the whole sacrament will have been for naught if the dealer nonchalantly flashes everyone the new bottom card while picking up the deck and dealing out the cards.

A standard deal is conducted by distributing cards one by one to each player, beginning with the player to the dealer’s left and continuing around the table clockwise. The deal is completed logically with the last card to the dealer when everyone has received the number of cards called for by the rules. As a matter of trivial exactitude, any declarations by the dealer should be completed before the last card is dealt.

Occasionally, even a proficient dealer will "misdeal" accidentally exposing a card or dealing the wrong number of cards to a player. Other than a slight deduction of pride, there is no consequence for a single occurrence. The cards are gathered, shuffled, cut and re-dealt by the same dealer. Two misdeals in a row, however, and the dealer forfeits his turn to deal.

Final setup for the game or hand, such as placing the stock in the middle of the table and turning over the top card, is also the responsibility of the dealer. In most instances, this concludes the obligations of the dealer, though a few games, especially gambling games, require him to remain the card-doling toastmaster throughout the course of the entire hand.



Upon completion of the deal, each player will pick up the cards and hold them in one hand as a loose array for his own viewing, assessment and rearrangement as desired. Even in casual games, the importance of holding cards carefully as not to disclose any portion of them to other players cannot be overemphasized. The intellectual appeal of any card game hinges directly upon observing, deducing and inferring information from revealed cards amidst the concealed dispersal of all others. An innocent dipping or turning of the hand that carelessly divulges the coveted particulars to another player, quite frankly, spoils the fun.

Play begins when the lead initiates his turn. Directly following the deal, the lead is usually the player to the dealer’s immediate left. Depending on the game, he may lead by playing a card from his hand, drawing a card from the stock or discard pile or exchanging a card or cards with another player. In gambling games, the lead is the player who is afforded the first option to bet.

Usually, when the lead player is finished with his turn, the player to his left takes his turn and so on i.e. play moves clockwise around the table. Some games sequence continually in this manner until someone wins while other games are structured with periodic interruptions to this cycle. In trick taking games, for example, the winner of the trick usually leads to the next trick, thereby momentarily disrupting the normal clockwise flow.

Often, games consist of several rounds more commonly called "hands." These mini-games typically conclude when one or more players deplete their hands of cards. If the global game has not been won by anyone upon completion of one of these hands, the cards are reshuffled, dealt, and a new hand is played. Many games designate the winner of the previous hand as the new dealer. While gambling games default to passing the deal clockwise around the table, the winner of non-gambling games earns the right to deal or pass the deal to his left for the next game.



Scoring falls in three categories. The first, and simplest, is the "goal" oriented games such as those of the Scrolitaire family. A player either wins or loses based on whether he accomplishes the stated goal of the game. The second major category is the "gambling" games. Requiring minimal card play, these games lack substance without the psychological tension created by wagering. The lure is lucre. Accordingly, the distribution of cash or chips amongst the players at any given time is a fair indicator of who’s winning and who’s losing. The final category is the "soft-score" games.

Soft-score games are played primarily for their intellectual challenge rather than for money. These games which include all the well-known trick-taking and going-out games, derive much of their interest from the unique scoring mechanisms integral to the strategies themselves. Usually, a target score is set and a player or team of players tries to attain that score by playing, holding or collecting cards that have an associated point value. More often than not, these games span several hands and sometimes have elaborate rules for assigning values to cards or sets of cards. Accordingly, the election of an accountant with pencil and paper to keep the running totals is a must.

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