Mortal SwordsA sword fighting card game for 2 - 4 players.
- Updated on
- 1 Dec 2021
- Trick Walls (v6) / Civil War (v5), Limbo (v2)
2 - 4 players.
A normal deck of 52 playing cards.
- In the beginning, each player is dealt 6 hand cards, and a Strong Suit is declared (see below).
- The game progresses by sword attacks in which one player attacks the other players.
- First the attacker plays a card (and draws a new one), and then each defender plays (and draws) a card to defend.
- The attack is defended by a higher card of the same colour (see Strong Suit exception below) or a card of the same number. Otherwise the defender takes damage: loses a hand card, or if lucky only a suitable armor card (= a hand card lost earlier).
- After each attack, the played cards are discarded (face down aside). When the deck runs out, it's reshuffled from them (by the player needing the next card).
- After losing all hand cards, the knight dies and the player is out of the game. The game is played until there's only one knight standing.
Normally, only the colour of the card matters, so there are just red cards (♥, ♦) and black cards (♤, ♧) - same colour suits being interchangeable.
However, for each game a Strong Suit is declared that acts as its own suit that cannot be substituted by the same colour (must be the same suit). However you can use cards of the Strong Suit as substitutes for its neighbour suit (of the same colour).
- For example, if spades (♤) is the Strong Suit, then there's no difference between hearts (♥) and diamonds (♦). And similarly clubs (♧) can be substituted by spades (♤). However spades (♤) are the only suit that cannot be substituted (by its neighbour suit: ♧ clubs).
- One way to put it is that there are three suits in the game: the Strong Suit, its neighbour suit and the other colour.
1. After dealing hand cards, the dealer draws one extra card and puts it face up sideways under the deck defining the Strong Suit for the game.
2. Optional: In the Warrior's Vow extension, each player puts 1 hand card face up as an armor card in clockwise order (leaving each with 5 cards).
3. The first attack of the game is started by the player on the dealer's left.
In a sword attack, each player plays one hand card or a random card (= the topmost card of the deck) face up. If a hand card was played, a new replacement card is drawn from the deck right after.
The attacker starts and each defending player responds to the attacking card individually in clockwise order:
- BLOCK: Any higher number card of the same colour blocks the attack fully - or in the case of the Strong Suit, a higher card of the same suit.
- PARRY: Any card of the same number parries the attack, but doesn't give you the attacking initiative.
- TAKE DAMAGE: Anything else results in damage: either losing a hand card or turning an armor card face down (see below).
- All the players play (and pick) first, and the potential damages are delivered after (in clockwise order, if many).
After the sword attack (with potential damages) is completed, the next attacking turn goes to:
- The first player clockwise who was damaged (c.).
- If no one was damaged, the one that blocked (a.) with the highest number gets the turn - if many, the first one who played it (= clockwise).
- If no one blocked nor took damage (all parried: b.), the attacker gets a new turn.
- When attacking aces are number 1 (the lowest), when defending they are 14 (the highest). This also means you can never parry an ace (1 is not 14).
- It's not allowed to attack with a high card (J, Q, K) of the Strong Suit except by random choice. (Ace is fine, since it's number 1 when attacking.)
DAMAGE & ARMORS
When taking damage, the player must do one of the following:
- Put a hand card face up on the table as a face up armor card. The player does not pick up a new card (and so has 1 hand card less).
- Steal the the attacking card as a face up armor card. When doing so, the player must also discard 1 hand card (does not need to be shown).
- Use an existing face up armor card to take the damage by turning it face down (cannot be used again). The armor card must be of the same colour as the attacking card (number does not matter), or in the case of the Strong Suit the same suit.
When a player loses the last hand card, he/she plays it face up as the last 6th armor - indicating that the knight is now dead.
- When checking who gets the next turn, the last played card of the dead knight is simply ignored. (The logic stays the same.)
EXTRA INFO: About the number of cards
- The total number of cards per player is always 6 (hand cards + armor cards): First all are hand cards, then they can turn into face up armor cards which can be turned face down.
- The choice of armor cards is permanent: The armor cards are never reshuffled back to the deck again (just turned face down).
- The Warrior's Vow (and with it the Gentleman Rule) extension for all player modes (2 - 4 players). Especially recommended with just 2 players.
- With (3 or) 4 players the game can sometimes be a bit unfair. To counter balance this, play Expanded Dodging, Damage-To-Stop or Steal-To-Stop.
- All the extensions and variations below are mutually compatible. The variations only affect the 3- and 4-player aspects of the game.
- Most variations counter balance the multi-player-unfairness aspect.
The only change is that in the beginning each player performs a Warrior's Vow (= to fight until death) by dropping one hand card face up as the first armor card leaving each with 5 hand cards. Traditionally each player puts their chosen card face down, and all reveal them simultaneously.
- This variation skips the corteous beginning part of the game and jumps right into action - making the game shorter but more dynamic.
The players are not allowed to attack with a card of the Strong Suit nor with a high card (J, Q, K of any suit) on their first attacking turn. (So this only affects the beginning.)
- If unable to do so, the player should play a random card as his/her first attack.
- This variation is usually used with Warrior's Vow because it makes the beginning shorter while this makes it a bit softer.
EXPANDED DODGING (for 3 - 4 players)
This variation simulates distance by allowing the furthest knights in the cycle (3rd and 4th) to potentially dodge the blow:
- DODGING: The attack is dodged by playing the same number as another blocking card - so any card except the ones that lead to damage.
- For example, the attacker plays a black 4 and the next player blocks by a black 7, the 3rd player can now parry with 4 or dodge with 7. If the 3rd player also blocks, say with a black 8, then the 4th player has 3 numbers for escaping the blow: 4, 7 and 8.
- This variation makes the multi-player-game less unfair by expanding defensive options (with a cyclical imbalance).
- In this new light, the knight on your right is your archienemy: You're the easiest target (= next clockwise) for him/her to attack, and he/she is the hardest target (= furthest away clockwise) for you to attack.
DAMAGE-TO-STOP (for 3 - 4 players)
In this variation, the attack stops immediately after a defender has failed to defend. The damaged player then starts the next attack.
- Note. This variation counter-balances taking damage by always granting the damaged one with the next attacking turn. However, it also makes it harder for you to attack players further away from you clockwise - but for them, you become the easiest target.
STEAL-TO-STOP (for 3 - 4 players)
This is an alternative to Damage-To-Stop. In this variation, the attack can be stopped by choosing to steal the attacking card (when taking damage):
- When the defender fails, he/she must take the attacking card as armor right away, and start the next turn without picking up a new card.
STEALING COSTS (for 2 - 4 players)
In this variation the details of stealing the attacked card are changed:
- If the player wants to steal the attacking card, he/she must instead play a hand card face down already when defending (as to accept damage) and not pick up a new card from the deck after (nor use random).
- Upon taking damage, the player takes the attacking card as an armor and does not discard a hand card (as one was already lost by not picking up a card).
Note. This variation changes the flow a bit, and as a result effectively punishes the act of stealing the attacking card.
HECTIC KNIGHTS (for 3 - 4 players)
This variation changes the sword attack into a hectic battle where speed matters.
The only change is that after the attacker plays the first card, the others respond in free order.
- Accordingly, the rules about who gets the next turn are based on who played first - not on clockwise order.
- The players do not immediately pick up a replacement card, but it's done only after all have played - in the playing order.
- If intending to steal the attacking card, the card must be played face down. If many did, only the first one counts as face down.
- The players must play their cards overlapping an already played card to be valid (otherwise it's not played yet) - so the order is visible. In the cases the order is still not clear, the first one clockwise is played earlier - often the other players are consulted first.
- Note. After a card has been played validly you cannot unplay it. When playing Elevated Swords variation this can sometimes result in embarassing outcome - on the other hand, it might give you a winning advantage. To soften this aspect, use the Expanded Dodging variation as well.
THE 3 SUITS
It's best to think of the colours and suits in three categories: 1. the Strong Suit, 2. its neighbour suit and 3. the other colour.
- The Strong Suit is the most important channel of attack, because it cannot be protected by its neighbour suit like other suits can.
- In particular, the high cards (J, Q, K) and the ace (A) of the Strong Suit are used for defense, and the lower cards for attacking (10, 9, ... but even low ones).
- Cards of the neighbour suit are less important but useful:
- They can be used for attacking the Strong Suit by eating away the opponent's defensive cards - even low cards of the neighbour suit might be very useful.
- The neighbour suit cards are also useful because (unlike the Strong Suit) they can be attacked by high cards (J, Q, K). Often an attack against the Strong Suit is finished off by an attack on the neighbour suit.
- Half of the deck consists of the cards of the other colour, so they are abundant.
- Accordingly they are the easiest to protect and least useful in attacks. The other colour cards are often used for dodging (by the same number).
- However, because attacking with high cards of the other colour is allowed, you can deliver very deadly combos with them.
- The higher the number the more powerful the card is. For the Strong Suit, the high cards (J, Q, K) can only be used for defense, but on other suits dangerous attacks can be delivered with them.
- Aces are meant for defense. The only time you'd use an ace for an attack (as number 1) is by attacking the Strong Suit and being fairly certain your opponent cannot defend it (typically near the end).
- The lowest numbers are typically unwanted cards. However, they are sometimes handy for dodging attacks by the same number, and even low cards of the Strong Suit are useful in attacking combinations.
- For suits:
- You'd always like at least one armor of the Strong Suit: it's the only protection against Strong Suit (and protects against 50% of cards).
- The next best is an armor of the opposite colour (also 50% protection). With opposite colour and Strong Suit armors, you're fully protected.
- The neighbour suit armor only protects against the neighbour suit (25%) so it's least useful.
- Because the number of the armor card makes no difference, it's best to sacrifice low number cards as armors.
- However, sometimes you might also consider giving up a high card (J, Q, K) or an ace (A) of the Strong Suit as an armor for strategic reasons. Because, if the card is out of play, this makes Strong Suit more vulnerable, while you get a protecting armor against it. This is especially true if your target is weak on the Strong Suit, or if there are more vulnerabilities: if it's done again, or the original Strong Card is a high card.
- It's good to periodically check your and your opponents' weak suits: ie. any suit that is unprotected by the armor cards.
- These suits are called weak, because an attack on them hits a hand card instead of the armor. So you're likely to be attack on your weak suits.
- Conversely, in regards to your own armor, it would be best to attack with your protected suits: because you're less likely attacked there, and if you are, the armor can take the hit.
ART OF ATTACK (collected wisdoms)
- When the armors start popping up, look for weak suits (= unprotected by armor) - your own and opponents.
- When attacking, use combos of the same suit (often ascending number), don't just attack here and there. With the colour of the Strong Suit, use the neighbour suit in combination with the Strong Suit (see above).
- Whenever you have a high card (of other than the Strong Suit), think about attacking with it. Especially with many high cards, because you also have something against counter attacks, and on the other hand, can deliver longer combos.
- Some players even go with the strategy of never attacking with low cards but instead recycle them away when taking damage (or by lucky dodging). Often to the extreme of attacking by random cards instead of using off bad cards in attacks.
- Remember to counter attack: When an opponent attacks on a particular suit (especially the higher the number), his/her defences on that suit are also weakened. It's not uncommmon to take a hit and then deliver a hit right back on the same suit.
- Near the end (with 2 players left), it might even be a good idea to willingly take a hit and use the last card that could have protected to deliver a hit back instead. This is more favourable if: 1. you know your opponent is weak on that suit, 2. you have many bad cards, 3. you have an armor of that suit, 4. the opponent has fewer hand cards than you.
- Openings for attacks are revealed by seeing opponents play away defensive cards (especially J, Q, K and A) or knowing that they cannot have them (not yet shuffled back, you hold them, or used as armor) - so it's good to keep track of them and when the deck gets reshuffled. Always be aware of openings on the Strong Suit.
- If you can dodge an attack with a very low card (of the same number), it might be a good opportunity to trash it away (especially if not Strong Suit) and let the opponent keep the initiative. You might also prefer dodging when you know you can't get the next turn anyhow.
- When faced with almost certain damage, it's often best to just take the hit and trash a bad card instead of trying your luck against the odds. If you're weak on the attacked suit, also consider stealing the attacking card as an armor.
THE 4 PHASES OF THE SWORD FIGHT
1. The beginning / opening lasts until a few armors have appeared.
- The situation is very equal and no long term weaknesses have appeared.
- It's advantegous to avoid taking your first hit, as you have no armor and you lose a hand card immediately (unless playing Warrior's Vow). This makes it common to try to stay well protected as long as possible, which in turn can make the beginning phase longer - but nothing's forever.
2. The middle game comes after the opening stage:
- It's characterised by the presence of armors which bear important strategical meanings (both your own and opponents, see above).
- There are more hand card weaknesses due to lost hand cards, but not so much as to go crazy: It's better to focus attacking past the armors.
- With 3 or 4 players, it's best to be aggressive rather than play safe.
3. The killing game begins when one or two players (of the 3 or 4 players) have only 1 or 2 cards left.
- The focus of the healthy knights goes to making sure they'll stand well when the end game starts. They also want to attack the players doing well and even sometimes protect the dying knights (especially with Elevated Swords extension) before entering the end game.
- The focus of the dying knights is merely in staying alive, as they tend to have very few options anyhow.
4. The end game starts when there are only two players left and they have only a few (1 - 3) cards left.
- Typically this stage is characterized by survival tendencies but also on fierce attacking against the potential weaknesses. Obviously the one with more hand cards has an advantage, but things are far from clear, and suitable armors can easily turn the situation around.
- If possible, the aim is to attack with suits that get past the opponent armor (if any) while keeping other suits for defense, but of course having hand cards to balance your armor weaknesses is important.
- The Strong Suit is the most important channel of attack, because it cannot be protected by its neighbour suit like other suits can.
Special thanks to Ville Viitala for important ideas, testing and feedback.
FOR IDEAS, HELP WITH DEVELOPMENT & PLAYING
Ville Viitala, Johannes Aho, Emmi Viitala, Rosanna Viitala, Tomi Laine and Antti Mannila.
Rosanna Viitala was the first (and currently the only one) to have won a (2-player) game without taking any damage (against Mikael Saurén, 2021).