Royal AssassinTM Solitaire

A patience card game

History

I'm a big fan of a collectible card game called Magic: the Gathering, which is a variant of the venerable Dungeons & Dragons type games. However, to play MTG you need one or more opponents; nobody has ever come up with a decent set of solitaire rules using Magic cards. Besides, I often found myself away from my massive collection of Magic cards, without an opponent and hankering for a game.

Since playing cards are as ubiquitous as oxygen, I decided to come up with a set of rules for a Solitaire game that would have some of the flavor of Magic.

I immediately focused on the Joker as a centerpoint of the game, and called him the Royal Assassin after a Magic card of the same name. Numerous trials involving some kind of melee among Royal (face) cards failed miserably, and I finally came up with a theme that involved something more like diplomacy and intrigue than outright bloodshed. (It even fit right in with an old back-of-the-book Marvel comic book story I remembered where the king's jester turned out to secretly be his best advisor. Stan Lee's brother Larry Leiber was the artist for that story; it's amazing what you remember after so many years.) After quite a bit of hit-and-miss, Royal Assassin was reluctantly born.

I began playtesting different rules for Royal Assassin in early 1996, and settled on a playable set of rules in March of that year. I liked the game much better than regular Solitaire and played it often, but I was never really totally happy with the gameplay. Last October I went into the hospital for several weeks, and with plenty of time on my hands I began working on rules variants. I'm now pretty happy with the rules presented here, though I've included many of the other rules I've tried as "Alternate Rules".

These are the major differences between Royal Assassin and most other Solitaire games:

  1. This game has nothing whatsoever to do with the incredibly boring process of placing cards in order in alternating colors.
  2. You aren't deadlocked for half the game waiting for empty spots to put your Kings, or sweating it out while all the Aces hide forever in some godforsaken pile, or staring stupidly at four of seven columns that have an unplayable four sitting there on top while all of your other cards just keep turning over, and over, and over...
  3. Color matters, but so do suits. Suits almost never matter in regular Solitaire games.
  4. Somebody always wins. In most Solitaire games, you win once in a blue moon, but when you lose nobody wins. In Royal Assassin, somebody always becomes the ruler, even if it isn't you. That is the one thing that tickles me most about this game. I don't know why.

The Story

Your father, the king, united four small fiefdoms into a mighty kingdom. Now that he is dead, the former royal families of those fiefdoms are plotting to take over the throne that is rightfully yours. You are outnumbered, but in your struggle to defeat them you have a powerful ally: your court jester, the Joker, who as your father's friend and advisor was always much more than he appeared to be. He is highly skilled at court intrigue, and can help set them all against one another so that you can retain your throne. He is your secret weapon - your Royal Assassin!

Setup

Use a deck of 53 cards, including 1 Joker. Keep the Joker in reserve face-up and shuffle the rest, then place the deck face-down on the table. This is your stockpile.

Alternate Rule: Play with both Jokers, but shuffle them into the deck like all other cards. Then they can only be played when they come up, and they can sit buried in the stockpile or reserve pile for what seems like forever - sometimes they never come into play. This makes it lots harder to kill Pretenders to the Throne. Lots.

Turn cards face-up one at a time, placing numbered cards (including Aces) into a face-up reserve pile. Put any Royal cards you encounter face-up into four columns by suit. When you play a Royal card, look at the next number card that you turn up from the stockpile; if its number is equal to or less than the number of Royal cards you have face-up, you're done with the setup. Ignore Aces. You will have 2-10 Royal cards face-up when you are done.

Note:The Discard pile is shown in the example just to indicate the complete gameplay layout. In the setup phase, the discard pile will be empty.
Alternate Rule: Just turn cards over until you place a set number of Royals. Four seems to work well, but I like the variety afforded by the above method. This game becomes extremely challenging when you have 10 Royals in play and most of your good attack cards are stuck in the reserve pile!
Note:Notice how in the example setup we had to lay out eight Royals before we turned over a low enough card (the deuce) to stop the setup process? Ouch!

Gameplay

Turn cards face-up one at a time from the stockpile onto the reserve pile.

When you turn up a Royal, add it to its suit column.

When you turn up a number card, you can use it to attack the topmost Royal (the "Pretender to the Throne") in any column of the opposing color (red attacks black, black attacks red). To kill a Pretender you must successfully attack it with cards equaling or exceeding its value. Kings are worth 13, Queens 12, and Jacks 11 points. Numbered cards are worth their face value; Aces are worth 11. Once attacked, a Pretender can defend by pulling a card of its own suit from the top of the reserve pile, if there is one. This is repeated as long as the total of its defending cards is less than or equal to the total of your attacking cards. You can also continue an attack using a card from the top of the reserve pile, but only if no Pretender can first use that card for defense. An attack must always be begun from the stockpile, never the reserve pile.

Alternate Rule: Aces are only worth 11 when they are first played, then immediately revert to 1. This makes Pretenders quite a bit harder to kill...
Note: You must let a card on the reserve pile be used for defense, if possible, before you are allowed use it to attack! You don't have to continue an attack from the reserve pile if you don't want to, but it's almost always advantageous to do so.

You may attack a column with only one opposite color suit at a time. For example, if you attack Hearts with Clubs, you may not also attack Hearts with Spades. You also may not attack two columns with the same suit. For example, you cannot attack both Hearts and Diamonds with Clubs.

When a Pretender is killed, it and all attacking and defending cards on it are placed in the face-down discard pile. Any Royals and attacking or defending cards beneath the Pretender remain in play and the topmost Royal thus exposed (if any) becomes the new Pretender for that suit.

Gameplay Example #1: In Clubs, the setup has turned up a Jack first, followed by a Queen. The Queen is the Pretender in Clubs. On top of the reserve pile is a Deuce of Clubs. When you begin play, you turn up a Six of Diamonds. You play it on the Queen to attack. She began with 12 points and you attacked with 6, so she is at 6 points. She then pulls the Deuce of Clubs from the reserve pile to defend for 2 pts., so she is at 8 pts. Her defensive move reveals a Nine of Diamonds on top of the reserve pile, and you pull and play it to continue your attack on the Queen, reducing her to -1 which kills her. The Queen of Clubs and all of the cards used in attack and defense are removed to the discard pile, and the Jack becomes the new Pretender in Clubs.
Note: If you are already familiar with all the rules, you'll notice that in this example we skipped an opportunity to play the Joker. That's just so the Newbies won't be confused!

Whenever any combination of attacking and defending cards on a Pretender have an equal value, or whenever the total of all defending cards is greater than that of all attacking cards, those cards are placed in the discard pile.

Alternate Rule: Only remove and discard cards from a column when attacking points are exactly equal to defending points. If this leaves the Pretender with more defending points in play than you have attacking points, well, that's just too bad. This gives Pretenders a huge advantage. In addition, you are often stuck with your choice of attacking suit longer, which can be another disadvantage.

If a number card turned up from the stockpile can't be used to attack, it is placed on top of the reserve pile.

Gameplay Example #2: You turn up a Six of Hearts from the stockpile and attack, playing it on the Jack of Clubs. (You attacked Clubs with Diamonds before, but you can start over with Hearts for this attack. For this example, we're assuming that you haven't got any Hearts attacking Spades right now, either. Otherwise you would have to use the Six of Hearts to continue your attack on Spades.) The Jack began at 11 pts., so he is now at 5 pts. However, there is a Four of Clubs on top of the reserve pile, and he pulls it for defense to bring him back up to 9 pts. You turn up a Three of Clubs from the stockpile. You can't use it to attack another Pretender because there aren't any red Pretenders in play, so you must put the Three of clubs onto the reserve. The Jack immediately takes it for defense, bringing him up to 12 pts. However, since the Three and Four of Clubs total more than the Six of Hearts you attacked with, all three cards are removed and placed into the discard pile. You next turn over a Seven of Diamonds from the stockpile, and since you haven't attacked another Pretender with Diamonds, and since Hearts have been removed from the attack on Clubs, you attack the Jack of Clubs with the Seven of Diamonds to bring it down to 4 pts. There is a Ten of Diamonds on top of the reserve, so you pull and play it to decisively kill the Jack and end the threat from Clubs... at least until the King shows up!
Note: Have you figured out what a bad example this is? Spades are a much bigger threat than Clubs at this point in the game, and it would have made much more sense to do all that battling with the mighty King of Spades rather than the wimpy Jack of Clubs. Besides, we would have been able to play the Joker and... oh, wait, that's not until the next section, is it?

If a Pretender is under attack and a new Royal of the same suit is turned up from the stockpile, it is placed on that column and interrupts the attack, becoming the new Pretender. It must then be killed before the attack on the previous Pretender can be resumed.

Alternate Rule: Place the new Pretender beneath any attacking and defending cards already on the column. This is a real advantage for you. In some cases you can have, say, 11 pts. against a Queen and a Jack will come into play already dead! Sweet.

The Joker

At any time when you have attack cards played against a Pretender in a column that contains more than one Royal, you may place your Joker above that column if it is not already in play. If the Pretender in that column is killed, all other Royals in that column also die. (Remember: the Joker is the "Royal Assassin"!) The Joker cannot be moved to another column until the column it is on is destroyed.

Alternate Rule: When the column is killed, the Joker goes to the discard pile, too - big disadvantage for you.
Gameplay Example #3: The setup phase has resulted in the Queen of Hearts on the table. There is a Seven of Spades on top of the reserve pile and you turn up a Three of Spades from the stockpile. You attack the Queen of Hearts with the Three of Spades, reducing her from 12 pts. to 9 pts. You can now continue your attack with the Seven of Spades from the top of the reserve pile, reducing her to 2 pts. On top of the reserve is now a Six of Diamonds, which does neither you nor the Queen any good, so you return to the stockpile, turning up the King of Hearts. He goes onto the Hearts column, ending your attack on the Queen. You next turn up a Five of Clubs. You can't attack the King with it, because you have an ongoing attack on Hearts with Spades, even though the King of Hearts has no attacking cards played on him. Your next turn is a Deuce of Spades, and you can attack the King with that. Since Hearts now has more than one Royal in play, and since the Pretender has been attacked, you can move your Joker to the top of the Hearts column. Now if you can kill the King, the Queen dies, too! If the Jack comes into play before you can do so, you just add it to the Hearts column and the Joker stays in play right where it is. (It was legal to place it when you did, so it stays even though the Jack is unattacked.) Now if you kill the Jack, all of the Royals in Hearts die! And when they do, you can move the Joker onto another suit (as long as it's a legal move) and repeat the process! BWAH, HA, HAAAA!

Endgame

If you kill all of the exposed Royals in play you win (even if there are still unexposed Royals in the stockpile).

If you run completely through the stockpile without killing all the Royals in play, you lose.

Alternate Rule: You may continue to play by turning over your reserve pile and using it as your stockpile until no more legal plays remain.

If you lose, the strongest, highest-ranking Pretender on the table wins and becomes the kingdom's ruler in your stead. Here's how you figure out who wins the throne:

  1. The highest ranking Pretender wins. For example, if the Queen of Hearts, the King of Spades, and the Jack of Diamonds are all surviving Pretenders in their suits, the King of Spades gets the throne.
  2. If there are two or more Pretenders left of the same highest rank, the strongest wins. For example, if the Queen of Diamonds and the Queen of Clubs are the highest ranking Pretenders, but the Queen of Diamonds is unattacked and is therefore at 12 pts., and the Queen of Clubs has been attacked and is at 9 pts., the Queen of Diamonds ascends to the throne.
  3. If there are two or more Pretenders left of the same high rank, and they are of the same strength, the one with the largest and most powerful entourage wins. For example, let's say the Queen of Diamonds and the Queen of Clubs are the highest ranking Pretenders left, and each is at 7 pts. If the Queen of Diamonds has the King behind her, but the Queen of Clubs has only the Jack behind her, the Queen of Diamonds wins.
  4. If two or more Pretenders are left and are equal in rank, strength, and entourage, then the Joker takes the throne.
Note: When the Joker wins*, he declares a Royal Holiday and you are obligated to go get drunk. Stick the Joker in your hatband, go to your favorite bar, and toss back drinks all night. Toast loudly "Long Live the King!" Buy rounds and insist that everyone toast the new Joker King with you. Tell everybody that the new King is your best friend and you can get their parking tickets revoked and get them invitations to sit in the Royal Box at jousts. Once you're really schnockered, belligerently tell the more obnoxious people at the bar that you can have them locked up in the Tower and/or beheaded. Ask women if they'd like to go with you to "see the ceiling" in the Royal bedchamber. Tell the bartender to put your bill on the King's tab. Insist that they call for the Royal Coach to take you home. When the police come, threaten to have the King assign them to a post way out in the swamps somewhere. Just go with it.

*I have been playing since 1996 and have never seen the Joker win. Not once. Nada.


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The rules to Royal AssassinTM are licensed under Creative Commons License and are copyright © 1996-2004 by Mark R. Brown.