Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hand & Foot

After much delay, I give you the wonderful game of Hand & Foot. One reason for the delay is that I had gotten quite rusty, and feared that I may have forgotten some of the rules. My recent visit with my stepmother's Dad gave me an opportunity to brush up. I learned the game from him, and we play it together every chance we get.

A first thing to note is that some people who play a card game called "Hand and Foot" may disagree with the rules below. This is because there are any number of local variations of the game. Whenever you get together with people who supposedly know how to play it, you end up squabbling over whose rules are the best. Let me put an end to all discussion of the sort. I will simply assert, with the autocratic authority to which I am entitled by virtue of being a Fat Stupid Jerk, that the rules you are about to read are the recipe for the most enjoyable variant of the game. So there.

Any number of players, from two on up, can play. You need the same number of decks of cards (poker decks), plus one. Mix all the cards together, including jokers. This will involve several players shuffling and cutting cards to each other until they are deemed sufficiently randomized. Then let each player deal himself two hands of 13 cards each. Leave one in a pile, face-down, for later. That's the "foot," as opposed to the "hand," which you can hold in your hand and look at immediately. The remaining cards are placed in two stock piles, with space between them for a waste pile.

Each turn begins when a player draws two cards from either or both of the stock piles, unless he can pick up the waste pile. Each turn, except perhaps the winning player's last turn, ends when the player discards one card, face-up, onto the waste pile. Each game consists of four rounds, after each of which scores are counted. The player with the highest score at the end of four rounds wins the game.

Points are gained by laying down "books" of cards of the same denomination, with or without wild cards, regardless of suit. Wild cards are the jokers and 2's of all suits. Books are laid down in columns so that all cards in the book show. A book containing one or more wild cards is called a "dirty book." A book with no wild cards is a "clean book." To start a book, you must lay down at least 3 cards all of the same denomination (for a clean book); or at least two of a kind plus a wild card (for a dirty book).

A book must remain clean or dirty according to its status at the end of the turn in which it was first laid down. This is to say, you can't play a wild card on a clean book that was laid down in a previous turn. No more than half of the cards in a dirty book at any time can be wild cards. A dirty book can contain no more than 3 wild cards at any time.

When a book contains 7 cards, it is designated as "closed." This is indicated by folding up the book so that either a red card (for a clean book) or a black card (for a dirty book) shows on top. After it is closed, no more cards may be added to a clean book. However, any number of cards in the same denomination may be added to a closed dirty book. No wild cards may be added to a closed book.

A book containing 6 cards may be designated as "waiting," if the player so chooses. This can be done by turning the top card in the book face-down.

In order to win a round, or "go out," a player must use up all the cards in both his hand and his foot, and close at least 2 dirty books and 2 clean books.

Before a player can lay down any cards, he must be able to meld. This means, in Round 1 of the game, he must be able to lay down 50 points worth of cards to meld. It takes 90 points to meld in Round 2, 120 in Round 3, and 150 in Round 4. Points are assigned as follows: 4's through 9's are worth 5 points; 10's and face cards are worth 10 points; Aces and 2's are worth 20 points; Jokers are worth 50 points. To count as points, cards must be laid down in books. To count toward the meld, the player can use at most the top card from the waste pile, if he drew the waste pile at the start of his turn.

3's may not be made into books. Black 3's are good for only one thing: they "freeze" the waste pile when discarded, so that the next player cannot pick it up. Wild cards also have this effect. But if you are holding any black 3's in your hand or foot when another player "goes out," you lose 100 points for each 3.

Red 3's are another story. When you find one in your hand or foot, or draw it from the pile, you can lay it down at any time (provided it is your turn), then draw another card from a stock pile to replace it. At the end of the round when you count points, each red 3 you have laid down adds 100 points to your score. However, every red 3 you are still holding in your hand or foot will cost you 300 points. Red 3's do not count towards meld.

Picking up the waste pile is sometimes risky. Why? Because another player may "go out" soon afterward and leave you holding a colossal number of cards, each of which will count against your score for the round. Nevertheless, good players covet an opportunity to pick up a big, fat waste pile, because it can add many points to their score. Certain conditions must be met in order to pick up the waste pile: 1) You must have already melded, or be able to meld using at most the top card in the waste pile along with other cards in your hand. 2) The previous player must discard a denomination of which you have at least 2 in your hand. 3) You cannot pick up the pile if a wild card or a black 3 is on top.

After picking up the waste pile, you must immediately play the top card plus at least 2 cards of the same denomination from your hand, either to start a new book or to add to an existing book in your tableau. Beware of picking up the pile when you have already played more than 4 cards in a clean book of the same denomination. You will end up with two books of the same denomination, since a clean book can carry no more than 7 cards. There is no rule against this, but it can make it difficult to close a book. If you pick up the waste pile and meld during the same turn, you must complete your meld from cards in your hand before continuing to play. Then you may add the rest of the discard pile to your hand, and continue to lay down cards as long as you like before ending your turn.

Once you have used up all the cards in your hand, it is time to pick up your "foot" and play it in the same way. If you are able to use up your hand without discarding, you may immediately begin playing cards from your foot on the same turn. If you discard the last card in your hand, you must wait until your next turn to play cards from your foot. Likewise, if you "go out" by discarding the last card from your foot, you immediately win the round; but if you play your last card onto your tableaux, each of the other players is allowed one more turn to play.

After a player "goes out," scores are tallied. Each closed, clean book is worth 500 points. Each closed, dirty book is worth 300 points. Players are advised to note down the total score from their closed books and red 3's before counting the point value of all the cards they have laid down. Unplayed cards remaining in a player's hand or foot are then subtracted from his score. The "winning" player may not achieve the highest score in each round. Whoever has the most closed books - generally also the person who was most successful in picking up the waste pile - will usually score ahead of the other players, regardless of who "went out."

The most delicious moments in the game are those tension-filled turns when each player is hoping the player ahead of him discards something he can pick up, while trying not to discard something the next player can pick up. Or then again, maybe it's those moments when one player is hoping to "go out" before an opponent picks up his foot - the one hoping to draw the cards he needs to go out, the other hoping for another turn. Thus, the game can be filled with suspense and intrigue, subtle ruses, and daring surprises. It also allows players to create enjoyable patterns in game-play that combines elements of strategy, skill, and chance. But be prepared to have your grand strategems thwarted, and to see disastrous losses as well as phenomenally high scores. It's all part of the fun!

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