Rules of Tahimi

Tahimi is a card game based on life in feudal society, where the social hierarchy is perpetuated by unfair rules that advantage those at the top and oppress the masses. Unlike most card games, Tahimi doesn't try to be fair.

That might sound like an awfully grim premise for a card game, but it works surprisingly well. The very unfairness of the game is what makes it so fun. When you're at the top, the rules are so stacked in your favor that you almost can't help but win. When you're at the bottom, there's just enough hope of escaping your miserable circumstances through luck and clever play that you can't help but try.

A Tahimi session is a series of short rounds. A round takes a matter of minutes, and there's no fixed number of rounds you need to play, so the game easily scales to fit the time available. Beware, though: Tahimi is addictive. The rules don't set a minimum playing time, but you might find yourself insisting on playing just one more round, again and again.

The deck

Tahimi is played with an ordinary Poker deck, sans jokers. The cards are ranked in the normal Poker order, with Aces high and 2s low. Suits are ignored.

Initial setup

For the first round, each player picks a card at random from a shuffled deck. The players arrange themselves around the table in order of their picks, highest ranking card first. Break any ties with a second card pick among the tied players only.

Shuffle the cards back into the deck once everyone knows where they're sitting.

Ranks

The seating order is also the rank order for the players. The first player, who has the highest rank, is called the Tahimi. The second player is the Vice Tahimi. The lowest ranking player is the serf, and the second-lowest is the master serf. If there are more than four players, those in the middle ranks are Merchants.

If you wish, the Tahimi can be given a special chair that's taller and more comfortable than anyone else's, as a visible status marker. And the serf can be relegated to a hard stool - or no chair at all - as a reminder of his humiliating position.

The deal

The Tahimi is the dealer by default, but if she wishes, she can designate any other player as the dealer. (This is in keeping with the Tahimi's exalted status: if she wishes to delegate menial labor such as shuffling or dealing cards, that's her privilege.) The dealer shuffles the deck, offers it to another player to cut, then deals out the whole deck round-robin, face down. In a standard four-player game, this means each player gets thirteen cards.

Players may now pick up their cards, keeping them hidden from the other players.

Note: we're assuming the round has exactly four players. If not, see below before dealing.

Play

Now that the cards are dealt, the Tahimi has the lead. This means that she selects one or more cards from her hand and plays them, by placing them face up in the center of the table. The cards played can be of any rank or suit, but they must be a matched set, all of the same rank. You can play a single card, a pair, a three of a kind, etc. You can't play a 5 and a 6 together, since they're of different ranks.

Now it's Vice Tahimi's turn. He likewise selects a matched set of cards to play, but the cards must be higher in rank than the cards on the table and must be an equal number of cards. For example, if the Tahimi played a pair of 5s, the Vice Tahimi can play a pair of 6s, a pair of 7s, etc. But he can't play a pair of 3s (because he's required to play a higher rank than the cards on the table), and he can't play a single 7 or a three-of-a-kind of 7s (because he has to play the same number of cards as are on the table). He also can't play another pair of 5s - a higher rank is required, and ties don't count as higher.

He also has the option to pass, meaning that he doesn't play any cards at all. To do this, he simply says "Pass" aloud to let the next player know it's her turn. If you don't have any cards that satisfy the requirements about higher rank and equal number, you must pass. However, you always can pass even if you have cards you can play, and you don't have to reveal whether you're passing by choice or by necessity.

After the Vice Tahimi plays cards or passes, play passes to player 3, the master serf.

If the Vice Tahimi did play any cards, those cards become the new cards on the table, superseding the Tahimi's cards. At any given time, the only cards on the table that matter are the ones most recently played. So if the Tahimi pays a pair of 5s, and the Vice Tahimi follows up with a pair of 6s, the master serf must now play a pair of 7s or better.

After the master serf plays, play passes to player 4, the serf, and then back to the Tahimi. Play continues around the table like this until someone "takes the trick."

Taking the trick

There will obviously come a point where no one can (or will) top the cards on the table. When this happens, the player who played the last cards takes the trick.

For example, suppose player #2 puts down a pair of Kings on the pair of 5s that player #1 played earlier. Player 3 doesn't have any Aces so she passes. Player 4 is equally impoverished so he passes as well. Player 1 does happen to be holding two Aces, but she decides to hang onto them for now, so she passes, too, and we're back to Player 2. Play has gone all the way around the table without anyone playing on Player 2's Kings, so Player 2 takes the trick.

When a player takes a trick, remove the cards from the table and set them aside. These cards are now out of play for the rest of the round - you can just put them in a discard pile off in a corner. (There's no rule against anyone looking through the discards, but it's considered bad etiquette.)

The player who took the trick now leads. This is just like when the Tahimi had the initial lead at the start of the round. There's nothing on the table - nothing to top - so the trick-taker can now play any cards in any number, as long as they're a matched set.

(There's no rule against passing when you have the lead, but this never actually happens, since there's no situation where it's advantageous.)

Going out

Playing your last card is called going out. The goal of the game is to go out as quickly as you can, because this determines your rank for the next round. The first person in the round to go out becomes the Tahimi for the next round. The second person to go out becomes the Vice Tahimi, and so on.

After a player goes out, the other players continue to play until only one player is left holding cards, who becomes the serf.

Going out and the next lead

When a player plays her last card or cards, the next player can play on those cards or pass, exactly as normal.

However, if the player who went out takes the trick, there's a special rule. Normally, the player who takes a trick gets the next lead, but in this case this is impossible since the player who took the trick has no more cards to play. In this situation, rank privilege applies: the highest ranking player still in the round takes the lead.

“One card”

As soon as your hand is down to a single card, you must announce this by saying "One Card" aloud. This gives the other players a chance to make a last-ditch effort to keep you from going out. For example, if the player before you leads with a pair, it will be impossible for you to play on it, given that you obviously can't play a pair if you're holding only one card.

Other than the "One Card" announcement, you never have to reveal how many cards are in your hand. If another player asks, you may answer simply "one" or "more than one". No announcement is needed if you got out by playing a pair or larger set, because you're never holding just one card in this case.

Finishing the round

The round continues until there's only one player left holding cards. Once it's down to one player, the round ends.

The next round

As soon as a round ends, the next round begins.

At the start of each new round, players get up from their chairs and rearrange themselves around the table in order of their new ranks, as determined by the order in which they went out in the last round. The first player who went out is new Tahimi, the second is the new Vice Tahimi, and so on.

After the players are seated in the new order, the new Tahimi shuffles the cards and deals them out, just as in the first round.

Taxation

Before normal play commences on the new round, the players must first exchange cards, as follows:

  • The serf must select his two highest ranking cards and pass them to the Tahimi.
  • The master serf must select his single highest ranking card and pass it to the Vice Tahimi.
  • The Vice Tahimi selects any one card from her hand, and passes it to the master serf.
  • The Tahimi selects any two cards from her hand, and passes them to the serf.

So the Tahimi and serf exchange two cards, and the Vice Tahimi and master serf exchange one. The exchanges are done in secret: no other players can see the cards changing hands. The low-ranking players must pass their best cards to their high-ranking counterparts. The high-ranking players can pass back whatever cards they want to get rid of. The low-ranking players must pass their cards before their high-ranking counterparts return theirs, and the high-ranking players are free to inspect the cards they receive before deciding what to return.

For the purposes of figuring taxes, the low-ranking players need only consider the rank of the cards. Don't consider pairing, or anything else. (Some people find this counterintuitive. If you have an Ace and a pair of Kings, you might wonder if you should pass the pair of Kings to the Tahimi, since the pair is arguably more powerful than the King and Ace combo. The answer is no. Just pick the two highest cards by rank. Pass the Ace and the King, not the pair of Kings.)

After everyone has exchanged their cards, normal play begins, as described in the Play section.

No taxes on the first round

The first round of a session is tax-free.

This is a small concession to modernity and meritocracy. Taxation is probably Tahimi's most powerful mechanism for entrenching the status quo. Suspending taxes for the first round creates a slightly better chance that skill might overcome fortune in determining the initial rankings. Strict traditionalists might wish to reverse this rule to strengthen the feudal metaphor: after all, in a proper feudal society, one's station in life is determined by the circumstances of one's birth, which might as well be a throw of the dice or a random card pick.

Joining a game in progress

A new player can join a game in progress at the start of a round.

The new player will need a rank, obviously. The new player should be seated in the middle of the existing players, on the low side of the halfway point if joining an odd number of players. For example, if the new player is joining four others, make the new player the Merchant. If joining a threesome, make the new player the master serf.

Scoring; winning and losing

Tahimi doesn't have any score-keeping, or any rules about how to win the game overall. If you really wanted to, you could keep track of who wins the most rounds and spends the most time as Tahimi, but in practice no one usually feels the need. The brilliance of the game is that being Tahimi is its own reward.

Variations

The standard game as described above is so addictive that we've rarely felt the need to mix things up with rule variations, even over the course of a long evening's play. For the sake of completeness, though, I'll describe a few variations that we've tried at one time or another. Of course, it's the Tahimi's privilege to decree any of these variations she should wish to put into play - but always at the start of a round, to ensure everyone knows what game they're playing.

No Rank Privilege

When a player goes out, and no one tops that player's hand, the normal Tahimi rule is that the highest ranking player who's still in the game leads. I call this Rank Privilege (see the section above on Going out and the next lead). A variation is to eliminate Rank Privilege, and instead give the lead to the next player in line after the player who went out.

Rank Privilege (like most Tahimi rules) tends to reinforce the status quo, so if you want the hierarchy to get shaken up a little more often, it helps to eliminate this rule.

Jokers

Add the two jokers back into the deck, and treat them as wild cards. There are several sub-variations once jokers are in play:

  • Jokers are the lowest rank. A Joker by itself has the lowest rank of all cards - below even a 2. When played along with a non-Joker, though, the Joker takes on the rank of the other card. For example, a Joker can be added to a pair of Aces to make three Aces.
  • Jokers are true wildcards. You can play a Joker as though it were any other card, with or without pairing it with a "real" card. In practice, this means that a lone Joker or a pair of Jokers played by themselves would almost always be played as Aces, but on occasion a player might for some reason want to declare a lone Joker to have some other value.

    This is the standard way we've always handled Jokers in Tahimi, when we've used them at all.

  • Jokers are high/low for taxation. There are two options for the treatment of Jokers during the tax exchange round: a low-ranking player can be required to treat a Joker as the best card (it arguably is the most valuable card in actual practice, thanks to its chameleon abilities), or not.

    It's up to the Tahimi to decree which option applies in a given round, but my recommendation is to couple this to the Lone Joker value. That is, if lone Jokers are low cards, low-ranking players should treat them as such on their 1040s, meaning they can keep them. Conversely, if a lone Joker is wild, it's effectively an Ace and should count as such for taxes, meaning low-ranking players have to hand them over. (On the other hand, it's arguable that when lone Jokers are true wildcards, a low-ranking player should be able to assign a value of his choice for tax purposes, which would make it a 2, even if he assigns it another value when playing it.)

Note that adding the jokers makes for a 54-card deck, so you'll want to compensate by removing 8s to make the deck divide evenly among the players. For four players, remove two 8s, and for five, remove all four 8s.

Deuces high

According to lore, Tahimi is based on a Japanese or Chinese card game that was played with the local playing cards, which aren't quite like Poker cards. That deck's highest card happened to resemble a Poker "2" visually, so when the game was translated to Poker cards, the Deuce was used as the high card. In this scheme, the ranks are, high to low, Deuce, Ace, King, Queen, down to Trey (3) as the low card.

If you're adjusting the deck for different numbers of players, remove 9s rather than 8s in this variation, because the rank inflation makes the 9 the middle rank.

I personally prefer the Aces High version, just because I'm more used to it - playing with Deuces high messes with my intuition by throwing off my sense of the value of a given card. In terms of game mechanics, though, the change to Deuces high is purely superficial; it's just a relabeling of the ranks. But the Deuces High system does add some color to the game, and if you play this way frequently enough to get used to it, it's a great way to haze newbies (and keep them stuck in the serf's chair), thanks to that intuition-breaking effect it has.

Joining a game in progress

When a new player joins mid-session, or someone steps out for a while and later returns, our rule is to give the new player a rank in the middle of the existing players. This maintains the status quo among the existing players, and gives the new player a neutral initial position. We consider this more of a house rule than an official part of the Tahimi rules, though. Your group might prefer a different approach, though. Some possibilities:

  • A new player starts as serf
  • Everyone draws cards and starts over with brand new ranks
  • Everyone keeps their current relative position, but the new player is inserted at a random position based on a card pick: 2-3-4 makes her the serf, 5-6-7 the master serf, etc.

Three players

Tahimi doesn't work nearly as well with three players as with four. If you can't find a fourth and really must play, though, adjust the deck before dealing by removing one "8", so that it divides evenly among the three. The Tahimi and serf should still exchange two cards for taxes, but the middle player obviously has no one to exchange cards with.

More than four players

Tahimi with larger groups is still entertaining, but the hierarchy doesn't tend to be as stable as in the four-player game, which makes the game slightly less addictive. Some adjustments to the rules can mitigate this, although we still haven't figured out how to fully reproduce the dynamics of the four-player game with larger groups, even after a lot of experimentation.

The key to getting closer to the four-player experience is to adjust the deck layout as you add players. Here are some options we've tried, and their relative merits.

Use a regular Poker deck: The naive approach is to use the standard deck. To make the deck divide evenly, you'll want to remove some cards:

  • For five players, remove two 8s
  • For six players, remove all four 8s
  • For seven players, remove three 8s
  • For eight players, remove all four 8s

We remove 8s because they're the middle rank, which seems to have the least overall impact on play.

This approach is simple, but it's not very good at preserving the character of the four-player game. Dividing the deck by more than four players makes for small initial hands, which makes the game a lot more random. This approach does have the advantage of making the round fast for large groups, though.

Add extra suits: To keep the hand size constant, we need to add more cards to the deck as you add more players. An easy way to do this is to grab a second Poker deck, and add one full suit from the second deck for each player beyond four. It doesn't matter which suits you add, since suits are irrelevant in Tahimi. For the same reason, it doesn't matter that there will be two of each Heart or two of each Club in the combined deck. What does matter is that there are now five (or more) of each rank. This makes it possible to form larger sets, and also means there are more Aces to be played as trump cards.

This approach keeps the initial hand size constant at 13 cards, which gets us closer to the four-player game. But the larger number of trump cards and the ability to form larger sets makes a big difference to the game play, so it still doesn't quite achieve our goal of preserving the four-player dynamics.

Add suits and ranks: Our preferred approach is to add extra suits and extra ranks, using a custom deck created especially for Tahimi. Our special deck adds ranks 11 through 16, which slot in between 10 and Jack. The deck also has two new suits, Stars and Moons. Suits are irrelevant in Tahimi, but it's nicer on a purely aesthetic level for each card to have a unique suit and rank. For four players, we use the standard Poker deck, which is a subset of this expanded deck. For more than four, we have a formula we developed through experimentation. For each new player, we add one or two new ranks and "half a suit" - that is, we add in roughly half the cards from another suit, choosing more or less every other rank.

Our custom Tahimi deck has markings on each card that indicate whether or not it's used in a round with a given number of players. Constructing a deck for an N-player game is just a matter of selecting the cards with the N-player marking and setting aside the rest. If you don't have an official Tahimi deck handy and you want to improvise with a couple of Poker decks and a marker, here are the deck configurations for each group size:

PlayersCards
4Standard poker deck (2-10, J, Q, K, A of Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, and Spades)
5Four-player deck, plus ranks 11 and 12 for the standard four suits, plus 5, 7, 9, 11, and J of Stars
6Five-player deck, plus rank 13 in each of the five suits, plus 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, Q, K of Stars
7Six-player deck, plus rank 14 for the five suits, plus 2 of Stars, plus 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, Q of Moons
8Seven-player deck, plus rank 15 for the six suits, plus 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, J of Moons

Progressive taxes

If you're using one of the expanded deck configurations above, it's a good idea to increase taxes. With a larger deck, there are more high-ranking cards. Higher taxes are needed to compensate for the increased odds that lower ranking player will have good cards in their hands.

Here's the tax schedule we use:

  • Five players: no changes
  • Six players: Tahimi and serf exchange three cards, Vice Tahimi and master serf exchange one card
  • Seven players: Tahimi and serf exchange three cards, Vice Tahimi and master serf exchange two cards
  • Eight players: Tahimi and serf exchange three cards; Senior Vice Tahimi and junior assistant to the master serf exchange two cards; Junior Vice Tahimi and master serf exchange one card

Note that in the eight-player game, the top and bottom three players exchange cards with their counterparts. This means the third-highest and third-lowest players aren't Merchants, so we rejiggered the rank names accordingly. The ranks in order are Tahimi, Senior Vice Tahimi, Junior Vice Tahimi, Merchant, Merchant, master serf, junior assistant to the master serf, and serf.

Related Games

President

There's a family of card games called climbing games, among which are a group of apparent Tahimi cousins known variously as President, Asshole, Scum, Landlord, and many other names. Interestingly, most of these games use Deuces high. None of the more widely known variants seem to use precisely the same rules as Tahimi. We find that a little surprising, because Tahimi is such a finely tuned game. (For which we take no credit - we play it almost exactly as we learned it.) If you're familiar with any of the other climbing games, you might want to give the Tahimi rules a try and see if you agree that it's the best variant of the basic game.

The climbing games page has lots of ideas for additional variations beyond the ones I've described here. Most of these should translate easily to Tahimi, if you're looking for a little more variety.

The Great Dalmuti

There's a commercial game called The Great Dalmuti, by Richard Garfield, published by Wizards of the Coast around 1994. Dalmuti is so strikingly similar to Tahimi that I'm certain it's a knock-off, if not of Tahimi itself then of one of those cousin games. (And from the timing of when I learned Tahimi, I'm pretty sure Dalmuti is the knock-off of Tahimi and not vice versa.)

Dalmuti is in many ways a kinder, gentler version of Tahimi. Most of the differences in the Dalmuti rules tend to mitigate the Tahimi's iron-fisted grip on power, so players end up changing seats a lot more often. I personally think this reduces the addictive power of the game compared to Tahimi, but that might be more to some players' taste: if your group is looking for something casual to play for a few rounds, rather than something to play obsessively late into the night, Dalmuti might be the better choice.

Unlike Tahimi, Dalmuti can only be played with its own special deck of cards. If you're interested in the game, you should seek out a copy from your favorite game store. The last I looked it was still in print and available for sale (try Amazon.com, for instance).

Tarot-Himi

Tarot-Himi is a variant of my own that combines Tahimi with some elements of the collectible card game genre. As you'd guess from the name, it's played with a Tarot deck. It starts with the basic Tahimi rules (which map easily to a Tarot deck, since the core of the Tarot deck is just like a regular Poker deck), then adds "special power" cards with unique abilities that override the normal rules. The cards with special powers are, naturally, the occultish "Major Arcana" cards - The High Priestess, The Hanged Man, Death, etc.

Links

Jens Alfke has his own Tahimi rule sheet here. Jens's rendition is more entertaining than my prosaic version. He also includes strategy pointers, which new players especially might appreciate, and thoughts on the game's social commentary.

As of this writing, I don't know of any mention of Tahimi on Wikipedia, let alone a page of its own. I'll certainly add a link here as soon as someone lets me know that this oversight has been corrected.

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