Welcome to the second edition of Jocu Game Night! We will be sharing with you how to play our favourite card games and how to pair them with your favourite Jocu decks.
Scala Quaranta is a game I’ve heard about constantly since moving to Italy. Italians typically play with a deck of 40 cards, (and we’ll be checking out the incredible game ‘Scopa’ in a later edition adapting a 52-card deck easily to play it!) but one of the most popular national games is actually played with a pair of 52-card ‘poker’ decks and is called Scala Quaranta. It’s essentially a unique variant of rummy, with some added complexity that makes it much more a game of skill than the variants you may be used to.
What’s more – it uses two decks so it’s definitely a good justification for picking up both variants of whatever catches your eye next time 😜
Not just any two decks will do though, and we’ll explain why we think The Heritage Series is a great shout for your first games. Let’s get into how to play right away and as always, let us know what you think in the comments!
Deck(s) of the Night – The Heritage Series
Scala Quaranta requires two decks to be in play, all mixed together in chaotic glory. For reasons that will become clear, we recommend two decks with identical faces but different backs. The former is for playability, the latter for putting everything back together afterwards. What’s more, it’s a game that makes good use of jokers and these are Ale’s favourite that she’s designed, so why not?
The Heritage Series is our most classic deck series, and its nods to Italian traditional suits of Swords, Coins, Clubs and Cups are a nice touch for your first games. Most importantly, the suits are strictly red and black. This makes more outside-the-box decks like last week’s Essential a little less suited – the hearts and diamonds of Lavander are purple whereas in Calendula they are orange, and this makes it easier to mistake two identical cards for differing suits.
More on this below, let’s get into it!
What you need
- 2x The Heritage Series decks (or any 54-card decks!) We recommend Hearts and Clubs or Diamonds and Spades as their faces are paired identically
- You will be using all four jokers!
Scala Quaranta (Which can be pronounced as Scala 40 if you wish) is the most popular game in Italy with a 52-card deck, although Scopa is by far the ‘official’ game which utilises a traditional 40-card deck. It is similar to rummy, so you will be aiming to make melds with running suited cards in series of 3 or more (the eponymous ‘scala’) or trips and four-of-a-kinds. Jokers are wild.
Cards, Players and Objectives
From 2-6 players can participate, and this is a great game even for 2.
You need two decks of 52 cards plus jokers, and we recommend that they have identical faces but different backs.
As with most games, dealing and play moves clockwise.
Scala Quaranta is a rummy-type game. This means you will be drawing and discarding from a stock and discard pile, to make sets of three or more equal cards (which we will call melds during these instructions) with the ultimate aim of playing all your cards but one which will then be turned face down on the discard pile to signal victory.
The value of cards during melds and scoring are as follows:
- 2 – 10: face value
- J, Q, K: 10 points each
- Ace: 11 points in a set of Aces or a high sequence (QKA) or in a player’s hand, but only 1 point in a low sequence (A23).
- Joker: 25 points in a player’s hand, but when used as a wild card in a meld it takes the point value of the card it represents.
Melds come in two types – sequences and sets.
A sequence is a run of 3 or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Aces can be high or low, but never both. For example:
A set consists of 3 or 4 cards of the same value but different suits. For example:
BE CAREFUL – you cannot make a set with two cards of the same value and identical suit – you are playing with two decks after all! You cannot, for example, have 2x King of Hearts in one set. It must be Ks Kd Kc Kh.
Sequences and Sets cannot be combined. Melds must be one or the other.
Jokers are wild, and can be used in place of any card in a set or sequence. A player who actually owns the card represented by a joker, can swap their card for a melded joker during their turn and then re-use the joker as they see fit. For example, if the meld Kh Joker Jh has been played, where the Joker is representing the Qh, a player with the Qh can replace the Joker with the Queen and keep it for their own use.
The Joker rules and variants can get pretty complex, so play with these rules for now and feel free to consult the official Scala Quaranta rules* for further clarity.
*Yes, that’s a thing!
Before we go into the deal and the order of play, which is pretty standard clockwise playing with hands of 13 cards, there’s an important aspect to point out in advance and this is called opening.
Opening is the first thing a player must do before they can create melds, add to melds and even pick up from the discard pile.
A player who has not yet opened, ie, not yet placed a combination of melds worth 40 points or more, can only draw from the stock pile and discard.
Players who have not yet opened can NOT:
- Draw the face-up card from the discard pile. They must draw only from the stock pile.
- Place melds (unless the meld is worth 40 points or more, in which case they have opened and can continue as normal)
- Add to or remove from (in the case of a joker) existing melds
It’s important to stress this going into the deal. Players can only truly participate once they have ‘opened’ with a hand of 40 or more. Examples of an opening hand could be:
10h-10c-10s-10d = 40 Points
10s-Js-Qs-Ks = 40 Points
7c-8c-9c-10c-Jc = 44 Points
5h-5c-5s-5d + 7s-8s-9s = 44 Points
10s-Js-Qs-Ks + 5s+5c+Joker = 65 Points (Joker represents a 5 of diamonds or hearts in this case, valued at 5 points)
The first dealer is chosen however you wish and the turn to deal passes to the left after each round.
Players are dealt a hand of 13 cards in the normal manner. The remaining deck is placed face-down as a stock/draw pile and the top card placed face-up as a discard pile.
The player to dealer’s left plays first, and the players take turns clockwise. A single turn plays like this:
- Draw a card from the stock pile and add it to your hand
- Lay down a meld on the table, if possible (as long as it is worth 40 points or more or you have previously opened – see above!)
- Discard one card face up on the discard pile, leaving you with never more than 13 cards in your hand and ending your turn
A player can draw from the stock pile.
A player who has opened can instead choose to draw the top card from the discard pile as long as it can be immediately melded, but only after having previously opened (see above). This means they cannot take a card from the discard pile and keep it for later.
As previously stated, melding is the taking of sets of sequences from your hand and placing them face-up on the table. Your first meld must value at least 40 points (see opening above).
Once you have opened, you can also add to sets and sequences currently on the table.
Players who have opened can therefore:
- Draw the face-up card from the discard pile if they wish and meld it (see above)
- Place as many melds as they can during their turn
- Add to or remove from (in the case of a joker) existing melds
Melds on the table belong to everyone, and can be exploited for everyone’s benefit.
At the end of every turn you must discard one card from your hand face up onto the discard pile. If you still have not opened, you cannot discard a Joker or a card which could be used to extend a meld on the table.
You may however discard the card that you just picked up from the stock pile.
Closing is when you discard your last card, and you do this face down on the discard pile to show you have won.
However you must always discard and thus close to win. You cannot, for example, meld your last three cards to win. For example, if you have 2h-2c in your hand and draw 2d from the stock pile, you cannot close and must still discard a card. However, if you have 2h-2c-3h and draw 2d, you can meld the set of 2s and close by placing the 3d face up on the discard pile.
For this reason, it is best to avoid being left with only two cards, as you are counting on someone else’s meld or perhaps a lucky joker to proceed!
Players are not allowed to close during their first turn. Everyone must have one complete turn before anyone is allowed to close. This will rarely occur, however.
Running out of Stock
In the unlikely even the stock pile is depleted (not is two decks after all!) the discard pile is reshuffled and play continues from a new stock and discard pile until someone closes.
Remember the aim is to have the lowest score at the end of the game, so keep an eye on those high cards in your hand – after you have opened, you’d be wise to avoid higher cards in fact!
When someone closes, players count their hand values (as above – Jokers 25, Aces 11, pictures 10, number cards face value).
The player who closed has no cards and thus scores zero. Each of the other players adds the value of their remaining cards to a total and the group makes a note of running scores.
Any player who reaches 121 points over various rounds of Scala 40 has lost. Gameplay can be stopped at this point, with the lowest scoring player declared the winner, or the player can be eliminated and play can continue until all players are eliminated.
Scala 40 seemed daunting at first, but like most games it became second nature within a few minutes and is now one of our favourite games. It’s more tactical and strategic than most, relying less on random chance and being dealt good cards, and more on skill than many other games.
There are a few little rules here and there that are easily forgotten so it bears playing a few times and re-reading the rules to be sure. If you’ve got this far, here are a couple of the most commonly forgotten rules when we play:
- Cards taken from the discard pile must be melded
- Players cannot discard jokers or other cards that could continue a meld on the table, even if they’ve yet to open
- Aces can be high or low but never both
- You cannot meld your final cards – you must always have one card left to discard to close
I really hope you give this a shot – it’s Italy’s most popular game for a reason and there’s even an official rulebook for professional tournaments! It’s a really great, complex and rewarding rummy variant that’s suitable for all ages once you get the hang of it.
Have a great Game Night and let us know in the comments what you think of Scala 40!
Do you play this game already? What do you call it in your country? And do you have any recommended variations on the rules? Let us know below!
- To pick up The Heritage Series, click here!
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- Did you know that The Heritage series comes in a luxury gilded variant? Its beautiful display box is befitting of every serious games room – take a look here!