How to Play Japanese Napoleon

Japanese Napoleon is a fun Japanese trick taking card game. While this game is relatively rare in Western Countries it is very common in Japan and the surrounding region. It is, in fact the most popular trick taking game in those areas. Japanese Napoleon should not be confused with the European game Napoleon (or Nap) which, while both being trick taking games are unrelated. The game rules page for Nap can be found by following this link. Both games are named after the powerful French leader, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Bobtail's favorite game is Japanese Napoleon
Trivia: Japanese Bobtails are a cat breed which is highly prized in Japan as well as many other locations. The breed is noted for it's short, stubby tail.
This game is designed for five players with variations for more and fewer players described in the Variations section below. Japanese Napoleon uses the standard 52 card deck. The standard ranking of the cards in the each suit of the deck follow the standard ranking in each suit as follows (from high to low); Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. However, the ranking of the cards in the trump suit is somewhat different, as follows: Jack, Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. For bidding purposes, the suits in this game also have a relative ranking which is as follows (from high to low); Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. There are several special designated cards (sometimes called Power cards) used in this game, as follows: After these three special cards, the remainder of the designated trump suit ranks as described above. Note that if Spades is the trump suit for the hand, the Ace of Spades still ranks as the highest card in the deck, followed by the Jack of the Trump suit, the Jack of opposite suit, King of Trump suit and so on.

Determination of the first dealer can be performed in a variety of ways, with one common method is having all players cut a card and the player cutting the highest card set as the first dealer. If there is any dispute as to seating arrangements, the players may also select seats in the precedence of their cut card. The deal rotates in a clockwise direction around the table after each hand.

Once the first dealer is determined, he distributes the cards one by one and face down around the table in a clockwise rotation. He continues this until each player has 10 total cards. He places the last two remaining cards of the deck face down in the center of the table, called the blind.

After the players examine their hands, the bidding begins, starting with the player to the immediate left of the current dealer and moving clockwise around the table. A player's bid is a specific number of points and a specific suit. The minimum bid is 11 and the maximum bid is 20, which is the maximum points (to be described shortly) that can be earned during a hand. A player may pass or make a bid higher than any previous bid. A bid is considered higher if it names a higher number of points or, if the bid names the same number of points as the last highest bid but in a higher ranked suit. A player may also pass, but once passing, that player may make no further bids in the current hand and must state "pass" each time he is to bid during the same hand. The bidding continues until the last high bid is followed by four passes, with the player making that bid the winner of the bidding and considered the Declarer for the hand (known as Napoleon). If all players pass, the cards are thrown in, reshuffled and then redealt by the next dealer in turn with no scoring occurring on that hand.

Determination of Napoleon's General The Napoleon of the hand then attempts to win (with the help of a secret partner) the number of points bid, using the declared suit as trump for the hand. The opponents attempt to prevent him from scoring enough points to fulfill his high bid. Before starting play of the hand, Napoleon names aloud any card. The player who has that card in their hand then becomes Napoleon's secret partner for the hand (called Napoleon's General, Secretary or Adjutant). The player holding the card should not say anything or give any indication he is the secret partner until the called card is played which will then make it evident to all players. This player thus has the same goal as the Napoleon, with any card points he wins during the hand contributing towards the required number for Napoleon's bid. If the Napoleon calls a card which happens to be in the two card blind, or intentionally calls a card he holds in his own hand, he plays the hand alone with no helper (this is called hitori-dachi). He does not, however, state this fact, which will nonetheless be revealed once the called card is played by Napoleon himself.

After calling the card to determine his potential secret partner, Napoleon then picks up the two card blind adding it to his own hand. He then takes any two cards from his hand and discard them to the side. If he discards any of the point scoring cards in the deck, these cards must be displayed face up and score for the opponents. After the discard Napoleon leads any card from his hand to start the first trick.

Scores in Japanese Napoleon are usually kept with the use of chips or other tokens. Before the start of the game, each player should be given an equal number of chips. A pile of unused chips should also be kept in reserve in which players will add or remove chips depending on their scores at the end of each hand.

Point scoring cards in Japanese Napoleon
The higher ranked cards in each suit are each worth one point when captured in a trick.
Play of the Hand: Each player in turn, in a clockwise rotation, then plays one card to the trick. If a player has a card of the same suit as led to the trick, he must play it. If the player has no card of the led suit he may play any card. On the first trick, the trump suit and the special cards have no special capabilities, and the trick is simply won by the highest card of the suit led to that trick.

However, on the second and every subsequent trick during the hand, the Trump suit is in full force. The winner of the last trick leads to the next and each player must play a card of the led suit. If they do not have such a card, they may play any card, including a card of the trump suit or one of the special cards. The highest special card or trump card played to the trick wins the trick. However, if no trump or special cards were played to the trick, the highest card of the suit led to the trick wins it. The winner of each trick leads to the next. For this second trick and all remaining tricks, there are also a few special cases which can occur during a trick in this game, as follows: If none of these special cases apply to a trick, the usual rules are used for determining the winner of each trick (as described above) is followed. All point scoring cards from each trick are placed face up in front of the individual who has won them to assist with determining the score at the end of the hand. All non-point scoring cards are turned face down and set to the side. After all 9 tricks have been played, Napoleon and his General then look through their cards won in tricks to determine if they were able to capture enough card points to fulfill their bid. Each Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten captured in tricks has a value of one point. If the total card points captured by Napoleon and his General (unless Napoleon plays alone) are equal to or greater than his high bid, he wins the hand. However, if Napoleon and his General are not able to capture at least as many points as bid, they lose the hand instead. The following table shows the possible game point scores for the Napoleon and his General:
Points BidPoints CapturedNapoleon's ScoreGeneral's ScoreEach Opponent's Score
20Less than 20-4-22
Less Than 2020-2-11
11 to 19Less than number Bid-2-11
11 to 19Equal or higher to bid
but less than 20
If Napoleon plays the hand alone (without a partner), all scores and penalties for each player are doubled as per the chart above.

Note from the chart, that if Napoleon bids less than 20 and actually wins all 20 tricks (with the aid of a secret partner or not), he actually loses the hand and the opponents earn points while Napoleon loses points for the hand. This is commonly known as the Siberian Rule.

After a set number of hands, the player with the highest accumulated total of game points or chips is declared the game session's overall winner.

Variations and Optional Rules

Differing Numbers of Players: There are several variants of Japanese Napoleon which feature differing numbers of players. The following descriptions detail the rules for additional versions for 3, 4 and 6 players.

The Mighty: The Mighty is a game that is believed to have been developed by Korean College Students in the 1970's. It plays very similarly to Japanese Napoleon so was probably derived from that game by the inventors. It is highly popular with College Students and Alumni in Korea.

The Mighty is designed to be played by five players with no set partnerships. This games uses the standard deck with the addition of one Joker. The normal ranking of the cards in each suit is as follows (from high to low); Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Unlike Japanese Napoleon, there is no relative suit ranking in The Mighty. This game, does, however, like the parent game contain several special cards as follows:
Special cards in The Mighty
The three special cards in The Mighty.
Seating positions and first dealer can be determined in a variety of ways, with drawing for low cards a common method. After each hand, the player who becomes the dealer's secret partner deals the next hand. If the declarer plays alone, the declarer becomes the dealer for the next hand.

Once determined the dealer shuffles and the player to his immediate left. He then deals out the cards in a clockwise rotation, face down. They are usually distributed in packets of one card, two cards, three cards, and finally four cards. Each player should receive a total of 10 cards and the remaining three cards in the deck are placed facedown in the center of the table to make a blind.

Once the players receive their cards and examine them the bidding begins. Normally the declarer from the last hand is designated the first bidder, however on the first round the dealer starts the bidding. A player makes a bid stating the number of points he, with the help of a secret partner, intends to capture in tricks if he becomes the high bidder as well as a trump suit to be used for the hand. A player may also declare to play the game in No Trump. The minimum bid is 13 and the maximum is 20 (which consists of all the points in the deck). In this game the suits have no relative values, although a No Trump bid is higher than a suited bid. Thus, a player must either bid a higher number than the previous high bid or a bid of the same number, but in No Trump. In the case where the highest bid already is in No Trump, the player must simply make a higher bid. A player may also pass on any of his turns to bid. Once a player passes, however, they may make no further bids in the current hand. The bidding progresses in a clockwise rotation until all players but one have passed. The last player to make a legal bid is the declarer for the hand. If every player passes before any bidding has occurred, a second round of bidding then occurs. If all players pass on this second round of bidding, the cards are thrown in, shuffled and the same dealer deals a new hand.

After the Declarer (high bidder) is determined, that player then exposes the three card kitty face up on the table and then adds them to his own hand. He then discard three cards from his hand face down to the side. Any point scoring cards discarded will be scored for the declarer at the end of the hand.

After this discard, the Declarer may opt to change his selected trump suit for the hand (including No Trump). However, doing this forces the Declarer to automatically increase the value of his bid as follows: The Declarer then names any card in the deck (usually one he does not have). Whichever player holds this card then becomes the secret partner (or friend) of the Declarer for the hand. However, this player does not state this or make it known in any way that he is the secret partner. This secret partner than plays as a partner to the Declarer on the hand and his score is directly dependent on the outcome for the Declarer. If the Declarer wants to play the hand alone (without a partner) he may also say No Friend or may declare a card in his own hand or one that was discarded. In the case where the Declarer made the highest possible bid (Twenty No-Trump) he may before playing his first card state the suit he would like his secret partner to lead the first time that the secret partner has the lead during the hand. The identity of the Secret Partner will become obvious to all once the called card is played, of course.

As in Japanese Napoleon, the object of the Declarer and his secret partner is to capture at least as many points in tricks during the hand as bid. Each ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace captured in tricks is worth 1 point. All other cards have no scoring value when captured.

The Declarer leads the first card to the first trick and the winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick. On the first trick, the leader is not permitted to lead the Joker, Ripper or any card of the designated trump suit (unless he has no other cards in his hand, in which case he may lead a card of the trump suit). Each other player in a clockwise rotation then plays one card to the trick. After the first trick, there is no restriction on specific cards that can be led to a trick. The following shows the hierarchy used for winning a trick in this game:
  1. The Mighty wins any trick to which it is played to.
  2. The Joker wins any trick in which it is played unless the Mighty was played or the Ripper was led to the trick.
  3. The highest trump played to the trick wins it (unless the Mighty or an unripped Joker is played to it).
  4. The highest card of the same suit as that led to the trick wins the trick if the Mighty, unripped Joker or trump card was played to the trick.
Scoring cards are piled face-up in front of the winner of the cardsTo assist in determining the points scored in the hand, all point scoring cards captured in tricks are usually placed face up in front of the player who captures them, while all other cards are set aside face down.

After the last trick has been played, it is determined if the Declarer and the secret partner were able to accrue the needed points to equal or exceed their contract. The usual way this is done is for all the opponents to combine their point scoring cards won in tricks and total the point count. They would then subtract that amount from 20.

If the result equals or exceeds the Declarer's final bid, the Declarer and his partner win the hand. In this case, the Declarer earns 2 game points for each point his team captured during the hand above 12. The secret partner earns one point for each point his team captured above 12. Similarly the opponents each must subtract one game point from their current total for each point the Declarer's team scored above 12. If the Declarer played alone and wins the hand, he collects any points that would normally have been distributed to his partner.

In the event that the Declarer was not able to equal or exceed his high bid, he and his partner instead lose game points. In this case, the Declarer must subtract 2 game points for each game point bid above 12 (regardless of his actual number won) and the partner loses one game point for each point the Declarer bid above 12. The opponents then each win one game point per point the Declarer bid above 12. If the Declarer had played alone and been unable to make his bid, he also loses any amount that would have normally been subtracted from a secret partner.

There are also several special bonus scoring situations that can occur in this game:

- If the Declarer and his partner are able to capture all 20 point scoring cards in a hand, the scoring for all players is doubled (both positive and negative). This is called a Run.

- If the opponents of the Declarer and his partner manage to capture 11 or more points during the hand, all positive and negative scores for the players is doubled (called a back run).

After a set number of hands, the individual player with the highest total score in game points is declared the game session winner. If two or more players tie for the highest total, the game session is said to have ended in a draw.
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