*Hoof and Mouth* is a card game.
It's a variant on canasta (and if you don't know what canasta is,
don't worry).
It's very much a social card game,
in that it leaves plenty of brain cells left over to
heckle your opponents, drop blatant hints to your partner,
and drink lots of beer and wine before your playing skills degrade.
If you're looking for intense intellectual effort, go play bridge.
And don't call me.

Hoof and mouth has all the features that make for a good social game:

We've successfully taught it to kids as young as eight, and computer programmers pick it up in seconds but still enjoy it. It's the official card game of the Dorsai Irregulars, and from them is beginning to make inroads into the computing community.

It's also occasionally called Hand and Foot.

You always sit opposite your partner.

You are dealt two sets of 11 cards. You choose one and look at it; this becomes your hand. The other you leave face-down in front of you; this is your hoof.

The remaining undealt cards are divided roughly evenly and
placed face down in the center of the table with a gap between them.
These we call the *stacks*.
Discarded cards are placed face up between the two stacks,
and this is called *the pile*.

You play by drawing two cards, one from each stack. You place them in your hand, and then discard any card from your hand into the pile. Periodically you may be able to play cards from your hand onto the table. The point of this play is to get rid of all the cards in your hand. When you do this, you can then pick up your hoof and start playing the cards in it. When someone has the right cards on the table and and has gotten rid of his entire hoof, the round is over and everyone counts points and gloats.

A game consists of four rounds. Whichever team has more points at the end of four rounds wins.

Of course, things are somewhat more complicated than that....

Each player takes roughly one quarter of the cards and shuffles them a few times. Then each player takes half the cards they have and gives them to the player to their left. Assuming everyone is in sync, this means you are receiving cards from the player to your right just as you give away cards. You then shuffle all those cards together.

This is repeated 3 or 4 times, or until you all feel comfortable that the cards are sufficiently mixed. Note there is nothing sacred about any of this. If you've got a mechanical shuffler, fine. If three of you shuffle all the cards while the fourth refills the beer, that's fine too. Whatever makes you comfortable with the shuffle is OK by me.

Once the cards are all shuffled, the dealing starts. Each player deals out two sets of 11 cards and gives both sets face down to the player to the left. Once all four players have received their two sets, all the remaining cards are placed in the two stacks in the center of the table. Leave enough space between the two stacks to form the discard pile.

Pick up one of your two sets of eleven and place the other aside as your hoof. You're now ready to begin play.

When it is your turn to play, you select one card from each of the two stacks in the center. Once you touch a card from either stack or the discard pile, your play has begun. You place these cards in your hand and mull it over. You select the least useful card from your hand and discard it by placing it on the discard pile face up between the two center stacks. Once the discard hits the pile, your play is over.

Play moves clockwise around the table. Once the round is over, cards are shuffled and dealt again. With each new round, the person who goes first also rotates clockwise. Thus after four rounds, all four players have gone first once.

An *open book* is a set of three to six cards of the same number
(three fives, three jacks, whatever).
Once you are holding enough books in your hand to open
(we'll define `enough' in a minute)
you lay your books down on the table face up.
We call laying down a set of three (or more) *opening a book*.
Thus if you lay down three jacks, you've opened a book of jacks.

Twos and jokers are wild cards, and are very useful in starting books (but there are reasons not to, as we'll see soon). However, you must always have more natural cards than wild cards in a book. For example, three queens and a wild are OK, three queens and two wild are OK, but three queens and three wilds are not.

You cannot make a book of wild cards, nor can you make a book of threes. Threes are special in other ways too, as we'll see in a minute.

A book with wild cards is called a *dirty book*,
a book without wild cards is called a *clean book*.

Once books are on the table, play changes somewhat. If you or your partner has opened, once you draw your two cards you may add cards to any open books you or your partner have on the table. Typically one partner keeps all the cards for both in front of him. It's a good idea to have the neater partner keep the cards.

While the books are open on the table, they should be cascaded much like playing solitaire. This lets everyone see how many cards are in each book and if the books are clean or dirty.

After a book is opened, you can add more of the same to it or add wild cards to it. However, once there are seven cards in the book it is closed. To signify closed books you stack them up straight rather than cascade them. If the book is clean, you place a red card on top. If dirty, place a black card on top.

You get points for closing books. Clean books are 500 points, dirty books are 300 points.

Once a book is closed, you can no longer add wild cards to it. But you can add natural cards.

But that's only for the first round. On the second round, you must have 90 to open. The third requires 120, and the last requires 150.

The exact way you get rid of that last card is important.
If you get rid of it by discarding it, your play is over
and you start playing from your hoof once play gets around
to you again (and yes, you will have to draw two cards from the stacks).
But if you are lucky or skillful enough to draw your two cards and
play *everything* in your hand onto your books,
you pick up your hoof and continue playing.
The rationale here is that since you've not discarded,
your play isn't over.

When you buy a card, you do *not* pick two cards off the stacks.
Once you've successfully used the card you bought and are open,
you complete your play by taking the next six cards on top of the discard
pile.
You *must* take those six cards.

Since you haven't discarded a card yet, it's still your play. So if any of these cards can be used to make or add to your books, you may do so. Once done, you discard a card from your hand and your play is over.

This is an important strategic point in many ways.

Threes being special is a major part of what makes the game interesting.Before going out, you must ritually ask for your partners' permission. If you don't there is no penalty, but rather like the case of an improper buy you will suffer humiliation in the face of your peers. Deeply personal razzing is encouraged.

Let's say you closed with clean aces (seven), dirty queens (five queens, two twos, one joker), clean eights (nine of them), and an open dirty book of fives (four fives, two twos). Your points from closed books are 500 for the clean aces, 500 for the clean eights, and 300 for the dirty queens. Thus the value of your closed books is 1300 points.

Now we count the value of the individual cards, both in open and closed books. Jokers are 50 points. Aces and deuces are 20 points. Kings through nines are ten points. Eights through fours are five points. Black threes are zero points. Red threes are 500 points.

Your seven aces and four twos are
20 points each (180), your five queens are 10 points each (50), your one
joker is 50 points, and your nine eights and four fives are 5 points
each (85).
The total *card value* 180 + 50 + 50 + 85, or 365.
Added to the book value, we get 1665 points.

Now we subtract the point value of what you have left in your hand and your hoof. If we had one queen and two fours, we would subtract 20 points. If we had one queen and one red three, we would subtract 510 points. You now see the value of trying to go out before the other teams gets into their hooves!

A typical scorecard looks like this:

This is of course only one round; you'll have three more before reaching the end of the game.Us Them 1300 2300 closed books +365 +560 points in books ----- ----- 1665 2860 -510 -20 points in hands ----- ----- 1655 2840 total

Add another deck or two of cards and play in two teams of three. This wound up with whatever team went down first going out in very short order.

Add another deck or two of cards and play in three teams of two. This almost always winds up with one team going out before one of the others has even gotten down.

So it's possible to play in groups of six, but the rules might need some tweaking. Groups of three can play, but the game loses its social flavor. Five and seven are right out.

Thanks are due to Ellen McMicking and Colin Lamb for advice on the writing of this page. Special thanks to Wes Plouff, who tightened up my terminology tremendously.

Back to Steve's home page.

Contact, License and Copy Issues.