Bartok is a fun and entertaining game of the Stops family which is played similar to Crazy Eights. However, in Bartok (and some of the other variants listed below), the rules of the game can drastically change as the game progresses. This is because this game features the addition of player created rules which can make for a very unpredictable and hilarious game. This game is sometimes known by a variety of other names, including Bartog and Last Man Standing. Bartok is also quite similar to games such as Mao and Mau Mau, both described in the variants section below.
The game uses one standard 52 card deck. There is generally no real concept in this game of ranking amongst the individual cards in the deck (unless, of course, a player creates a new rule during the game to enforce this in some manner). The game is intended to be played by 2 to 8 players. Even larger groups can be accommodated (up to about 12), however two standard decks should then be used.
To begin, the players usually all sit at the table in no particular arrangement. One player then shuffles and mixes the cards together. This is usually not an organized pile but rather a kind of disorganized pool of face down cards in the center of the table. Each player then takes five cards from this pool, creating their original hand. The player who mixed the cards then selects any one card from the pool and flips it face up. This starts the discard pile.
Whichever player then makes the first play to the discard pile becomes the first player. This must, of course be a legal play. After this first play, whichever of the two players to either side of the first player makes the next legal move becomes the second player. The game then continues in whichever direction was started by these first two players. If neither of the players to the left or right of the first player can make a legal move, the game then rotates in a clockwise rotation from that first player.
The legal plays a player can make on his turn are as follows (these rules are subject to change on the second and subsequent hands as winners add new rules to the game):
- A player may, on his turn, play a card to the top of discard pile if the card played is of the same suit as the top card on the discard pile.
- A player may, on his turn, play a card to the top of the discard pile if the card he plays is of identical rank as the top card currently on the discard pile.
If a player on his turn is able to play a card, his turn ends and the turn rotates to the next player in whichever direction was determined by the second player to make a valid play to start the hand.
If a player is unable to play (or elects not to) on his turn, he must draw one card from the discard pile, which also ends his turn.
As soon as a player finds himself in the situation in which he only has one card remaining in his hand, he must clearly state "Bartok" such that all other players can hear. Failure to do this is a breach of the rules, and if any other player notices this and calls attention to it, the player who failed to state "Bartok" must immediately draw a card from the draw pool, adding it to his hand.
When a player is able to legally play his last card to the discard pile, he is declared the winner. If the pool runs out of cards before any player has managed to play their last card (winning the hand), all but the top card of the discard pile are gathered up and reshuffled to start a new draw pile.
What makes this a rather hilarious and unpredictable game is that the winner of each hand then adds their own rule which is then enforced for the remainder of the game. The variety of rules a player can create is practically unlimited. However there are a few basic guidelines that should be followed when creating a new game rule. A rule should never be directed at or biased towards a specific player or groups of players. New rules usually take the form of a condition and event (if x then y). The new rule immediately takes effect when the next hand begins. A few example rules are described further below. At the time the rule is created it must be clearly described to all players. However, once a rule is described, players may not ask about the rule during gameplay. In fact, questions are strictly prohibited during play of the hand. This includes any questions about the current rules for the game. By mutual consent of the players, however, a timeout may be called in which a rule or rules may be clarified. During a timeout, the players may ask questions of the creator of a specific rule. Also by unanimous consent of all players, a previously created rule can be repealed. In addition to creating a new rule, a player may elect to modify a previous rule (either a core rule or a rule created by another player).
If a player breaks any rule during the game (whether it is his turn or not) he is obligated to draw one card from the stock pile. However, the rules infraction must be pointed out by at least one opponent. If a player makes a false accusation that another player has broken a rule when they have not, the player who makes the accusation must draw a card instead.
If the draw pool runs out of cards, all but the top card of the discard pile should be shuffled, turned over and spread on the table to start a new draw pool. The game usually continues from hand to hand until the number and type of rules becomes so confusing that play is almost impossible to continue.
There are almost an endless variety of rules that a player can make. Below is just a small sampling of some such rules:
- Players must complete their turn in 3 seconds or less. Failure to do so causes a Too Slow Penalty of one card.
- Any Jack played to the discard pile causes the direction of play to reverse.
- Two cards of the same denomination played to the discard pile in succession causes the next player to skip their next turn.
- Playing a King allows the player who played the card to trade hands with any other player at the table of his choice.
- Playing a "2" causes the next player to be required to draw two cards. However, if he has a "2" of his own then the obligation to draw advances to the next player would have to draw four unless he also has a 2. This continues until a player does not have a 2, who must then draw two cards for each consecutive 2 played.
- Playing any red "5" forces the player to play the rest of the hand standing up, unless he plays another red "5" when he can sit back down.
- Players may not address any other player by name.
- After playing a card on his turn, a player may play all other cards of the same denomination to the top of the pile.
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