I’ve got a new story out! This one is on Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a market I’ve been trying to break into for a while. It’s about a desperate man planning to cheat the undead at cards – nice and dark and bleak and with just a dash of hope. Perfect for Halloween, I’d say. Buy it here!
How to Play Tithe
Now, it just so happens I was obsessive enough with this story to actually draw up the rules for the card game that Cedric plays with the dead, called Tithe. I even went so far as to play a few hands (against myself, granted) to see if the game would work and, if it worked, how would it go. Nothing like an actual test of the game, of course, and I’m hardly the best card player in the world, but I did enough for it to pass basic inspection. Curious? Well, here are the rules.
The Deck and Play Area
Tithe is played with a deck of 60 cards with five suits of 12 cards – a Tomb, numbered cards 1-10, and a Lord. The suits are Skulls, Swords, Crowns, Coins, and Hearts.
The game is played on a five-pointed star, with up to five players, each at a vertex of the star. The game can also be played with as few as two players, but the rules shift a little bit to make that possible. Generally, play with a full table is preferred.
Sequence of Play
At the start of a hand, each player puts their ante in the center of the pentagram and are dealt 5 cards by the dealer. The dealer then lays five cards at the five intersections at the center of the pentagram – this is called “the Circle.”
The first round of betting happens just after the Circle, starting with the left of the dealer and moving clockwise. Players with poor starting positions or poor hands fold, anyone else has to match the highest bet at the table or go all-in with whatever they have remaining to play out the hand.
Remaining players must then play a card by matching or beating a card on the Circle adjacent to their starting point and placing it on top. Lords are high, but are beaten by Tombs. Additionally, the suits have a pecking order: Skulls over Coins over Swords over Crowns over Hearts over Skulls.
All suits are therefore dominant over one suit and servile to another. This affects what happens when a card is played on the Circle. It goes like this:
- A card played on another card that is neither dominant or servile wins, meaning the card beneath is out of play (covered entirely by the winning card).
- A card played on a card of a dominant suit merely buries, meaning the card beneath is still in play and the card above (the one you played) can be disregarded. (the top card is placed so the buried card is still visible).
- A card played on a card of a servile suit takes, meaning the player takes the card beneath (and any other cards it has covered) and puts them in your hand.
End of the Hand
Bets are taken every two turns of the circle until everybody but the winner folds OR no remaining players can play cards. The pot is then split between the remaining players (assuming there is more than one left) and the deal moves clockwise and a new hand is begun.
Observations from Games Played against Myself
First, I’ve found it’s super unlikely that more than one person wins a hand. I played a few dozen hands of this thing (looking like a lunatic in my office, believe me), using a suit from a second deck with a different design to represent the 5th suit. The basic strategy circles around knowing or guessing what cards everybody else has based upon what has been shown already. Most hands did not go more than four turns.
Does it work as an actual, playable game? I have no goddamned idea. I am not much of a gambler or a card player (though I am an inveterate gamer), so whether this would make a good way to lose money to card sharks is sort of beyond me. However, the rules are just plausible enough to pass basic inspection. Yes, this seems like a playable game, and that’s what matters.
Also, if any of you ever want to try it out at a convention someday, I’m happy to try – you just have to figure out how to get our hands on a 5-suit, 60-card deck.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed this one! And check out my story in BCS this month!
My story “The Masochist’s Assistant” is now up on PodCastle. It’s a free audio production of my work and it, more generally, a fabulous site if you dig fantasy (and check out companion sites PseudoPod and Escape Pod for all your horror and scifi needs, too). I’m very proud of this story (which was originally published in F&SF) and narrator Matt Dovey has done an excellent job reading it! Do check it out if you’ve got a chance!
Also I’m going to be in Dublin for WorldCon very soon! If you’re there too, I hope we cross paths. I’ll be sitting on a couple panels (both on Saturday – one on Improv and its uses for Writing and one on Luddites of SciFi) and it should be a great time. I’ll be traveling a lot leading up to the con, so I won’t be posting here until afterwards. I’ll see you all in Dublin and, barring that, I’ll let you all know how it goes!