Zarcana

by John Cooper

Equipment
● A deck of tarot cards (failing that, a deck of regular of playing cards) ● Number of players: 2 - 4 (best with 4) ● Playing time: about an hour

Overview
Zarcana is a game of war, journeys, growth, life, and death. Icehouse pieces are your minions, spreading out across a world composed of tarot cards. You move these minions across the board, trying to occupy valuable cards. The board can change, grow and shrink, so be prepared to defend your holdings, invade enemy territory, and colonize new lands. You will also have a hand of cards, drawn from the tarot deck. Each card has a power, and you can make use of the cards you occupy on the board in addition to the cards in your hand. Use them wisely. Whoever occupies the most valuable set of cards on the board will be the winner, when the end of the game is finally declared.

Basics
Each player has a stash of fifteen minions (pyramids) – five small, five medium, and five large, of one color. All these minions start off the board. You can bring your minions onto the board by various means; but you can’t have more than fifteen minions on the board, because that’s all you have. By the same token, you can’t have more than five small minions on the board, and so on. The fifteen minions in your set are it. It's also possible for your minions to be destroyed. When a minion is destroyed, you just take it back off the board, into your stash of unplayed pieces. You can bring it back into play later. The board is made of cards; you can imagine it as a grid, with cards in each space. Minions on the board sit on cards. Initially, there are nine cards, in a three-by-three grid, but more cards can be placed later; the board can grow in any direction. Cards can also be removed from the board and discarded. The board can therefore develop holes, or even split completely in half. The horizontal-vertical tile pattern in these diagrams isn’t really important. It’s just aesthetically pleasing. It also helps remind players that cards do not touch diagonally; cards are considered to be next to each other only if they lie edge-toedge.

Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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In actual fact, a minion on the board doesn’t have to sit on a card. A minion can sit in an empty grid space. Such a minion is considered to be “in the wasteland” it's on the board, but outside the fertile territory of the cards. However, minions can only inhabit wasteland spaces which are next to at least one card. If a minion is somehow caught in a wasteland space which is not adjacent to any cards at all, the minion is immediately destroyed. When a minion is on the board, its orientation is important. A minion can be standing up (pointing upward), or it can be lying down, pointing in one of the four cardinal directions. Minions cannot point diagonally. More than one minion can share a space. Even minions owned by different players can sit on the same space. However, there is generally a population limit of three minions on a single card (or wasteland space). If a space has three minions on it, you can't put another there. Certain trump cards let you violate this rule. For example, the power of the Hermit lets you move a minion into a space, ignoring the population limit. If you get four or more minions in a space, you can leave them there as long as you like. There’s no rule against leaving more than three minions in a space; only on placing new minions there. Each player starts with a hand of three cards. There is generally a limit of six cards in your hand. If you add new cards to your hand, you may not take so many as to push you over the hand limit. You must stop at six. Once again, there are certain trump cards that let you violate this rule. For example, the power of the Star lets you draw four cards from the deck, no matter how many you have in your hand already. Again, you can stay over the hand limit without using any special power. The hand limit says that you can’t acquire any new cards when you have six or more already. Various rules and powers allow you to draw cards from the deck, or discard them to the discard pile. If you need to draw cards and there are none left, reshuffle the discards to form a new deck, and draw from there. This can happen more than once in a game. (It is certain to happen at least once. See the section on ending the game.)

Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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Powers
The tarot deck contains four suits: Cups, Wands, Swords, and Discs. Each suit is numbered from one to ten, plus four royalty cards. (Again, you don’t have to worry about the names of the royalty, or their order.) There is also a fifth “suit,” the trumps or Major Arcana. There are twenty-two of these, numbered from zero to twenty-one, and each has a special title. In Zarcana, each card has a power. The cards in each suit share a common power -- for example, all Cups have the power of growth, and all Swords have the power of attack. The twenty-two trumps each have their own special powers. The powers are described in detail later on. For now, know that you can use card powers two ways: by playing a card from your hand, or by having a minion on the board use the power of the card it’s sitting on. When you play a card from your hand, it’s discarded. But you can use a card on the board turn after turn after turn… as long as you have a minion on it. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that a minion uses a card power. When you play a card from your hand, indicate the minion that's using the power of that card. When you use a card on the board, indicate which of the minions on the card is using that power.

Setup
Everyone gets a stash of fifteen pieces. Shuffle the deck and lay out nine cards in a three-by-three grid. Then deal three cards to each player. Leave the rest of the deck face-down, within everyone’s reach, and make space for a discard pile as well. Now decide who will go first. Roll dice, cut the deck, play rock-scissorspaper, play Fluxx – whatever is your tradition.

Optional Rule: Deciding Who Goes First
Here is a more strategic rule for deciding who goes first. Each player optionally chooses one card from his hand, and holds it face-down. All players holding cards reveal them simultaneously; the lowest card goes first. (Aces are low, trumps count as whatever number is written on them; royalty counts eleven.) Regardless of who goes first, all the revealed cards are discarded. If there is a tie, the players involved in the tie must select and reveal a second card. If they tie again, they must reveal their final cards. If there is still a tie, flip cards from the deck. If nobody chooses to select a card to “bid” to go first, and you’re all staring at each other waiting for someone else to go first, it becomes mandatory. Everyone must select a card. With this rule, you have a choice. If you choose to “bid” in this way, you might get to go first, but you’ll definitely start the game with fewer than three cards. If you choose to keep all your cards, you definitely won’t go first.

Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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The Play
On your turn, you have eight options. You can do exactly one of them. ● Place a small minion on any card territory, standing up. You can only do this if you have no minions at all on the board. This will usually be your first move, but it may happen later in the game if all your minions are killed. Note: the population limit applies here, so you can’t put the minion on a card that already has three or more minions on it. ● Select a minion to use the power of a card played from your hand. You play the card and pick a minion to use it. The card is then discarded. ● Select a minion to use the power of the card it occupies. Just pick a minion and say that it’s using the card it’s sitting on. ● Reorient any or all of your minions. This is the only option that lets you affect all your minions, instead of picking just one of them. You can orient each minion however you like -- standing, or pointing in any of the four directions. ● Draw up to three cards. Remember, you can only have six cards in your hand, so if you already have four, you can only draw two. ● Discard your entire hand. …but you can’t draw new cards on the same turn. ● Pass, and do nothing. Occasionally, this is useful. ● Declare the final round of the game. You can only do this if the deck has been used up and reshuffled. Once someone declares the final round, everyone gets one more turn. This means whoever declares the final round gets the very last turn. After that, the game is over; count up the score and see who won. Remember that you can only use one option per turn. If you decide to draw cards, you can’t play a card on the same turn. If you discard, you can’t also draw. If you declare the final round of the game, you can’t do anything else on that turn.

Optional Rule: Land Rush
For a compelling Zarcana variation, try this change to the “initial placement” turn option: You can place a new small minion on the board on any turn (instead of when you have no others on the board already). You may only do this on an empty card territory, and only until the first time the deck is reshuffled. After that, if all your minions on the board are destroyed, you are eliminated from the game.

Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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Scoring and Winning
The goal is to have the highest score at the end of the game. You score points for each card on the board that your minions occupy. You must occupy the card by yourself. If two players have minions on the same card, neither gets points for it. You do not get any points for cards in your hand. The value of a card is its number. Numbered suit cards score their own number, from one (ace) to ten. Any royalty card scores eleven. A trump scores its number, from zero to twenty-one. The game ends after someone declares the final round (see the Turn Options section above). Nobody can declare the final round until the deck has been used up and reshuffled, so there’s a certain minimum length to a Zarcana game. However, there’s no maximum length; if nobody decides to end the game, it keeps going. The deck could be reshuffled a second time, or even more. Naturally, you will want to end the game as soon as you are sitting on more points than anyone else. But remember: once you declare the last round, everyone gets one more turn. They will probably spend those turns trying to pull ahead of you – or knock you down. Can you hold onto your lead?

Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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Card Powers
In these descriptions, “this minion” refers to the minion that is actually using the power. “This space” is the space that the minion occupies. The “target space” is the space that the minion is pointing at. If the minion is lying down, this is the adjacent space that it points at. If the minion is standing up, the “target space” is the same as “this space:” a standing minion points at its own space.

Legend:
This card may only be used by a minion which is standing up. This card may only be used by a minion which is lying down. This card may be used by a minion of any orientation. This card may only be used by a minion on a card territory, not in the wasteland. This card may be used by a minion in the wasteland or on a card territory. The population limit of three minions per space must be obeyed while using this card. The population limit may be ignored while using this card. The hand limit of six cards must be obeyed while using this card. The hand limit may be ignored while using this card. This card does not need to be used by any particular minion. It may be played by any minion, or played straight from your hand if you have no minions on the board. The requirements of this card vary; they are the requirements of whichever power is being copied.

Suit Powers
Cups: Grow or Clone This minion may either grow or clone. To grow, replace this minion with a minion one size larger. To clone, place another minion of the same size or smaller in this space. Watch the icons in these power definitions. In this case, they say that a minion must be standing to use the power of Cups, and it cannot be in the wasteland. Watch out for the population limit: if a card has three minions of any color on it, you cannot clone them, although you can still grow. Wands: Move
(think: “wander” as a mnemonic)

Move this minion into the target space, and place it standing up. A minion must be lying down to move. It moves into the space it’s pointing at, and arrives standing up. If you want to move it again, you’ll first have to take a turn to reorient minions.
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Swords: Attack Minion or Territory This minion attacks any minion in the target space. (A minion may not attack itself, but it may attack other minions of the same color.) If the attacking minion is smaller than the target, the target is reduced one size. If the attacker is the same size or larger, the target is destroyed. If there are no minions in the target space, the top card in the space is removed and discarded. You cannot choose whether to attack minions or cards. If there are minions in the target space, you can decide to attack any of them, but if there are none, you must destroy the card. Remember, a standing minion points at its own space, so it can attack other minions on the same card as itself. A minion standing alone cannot use Swords at all, because a minion cannot attack itself and cannot destroy the territory it occupies.

Note: Invincible Minions
Normally, when a smaller minion attacks a larger one, the target is reduced in size. Rarely, this may occur when the targeted player does not have a smaller minion in his stash. Such a target is said to be “invincible;” it is unaffected by the attack. However, if the attacker uses Death (see the Trump Powers later in the rules) the combined attacks are successful. Nothing can escape Death. Discs: Build Territory This minion builds new territory in the target space. Draw a card from the deck and place it on the target space. If any other player has minions in the target space, you may not use this card. However, if the target space contains only your minions, they are unaffected and the new card goes underneath them. You can build territory in wasteland spaces, extending the board; or you can build territory on top of existing cards, stacking the cards higher. Only the top card in a space ever counts for anything. An upright minion can build territory under itself, but only if it’s already on a card. Remember, a minion in the wasteland can’t use Discs at all. Royalty: Wild Suit from Hand If this card is played from your hand, it may be played as if it had any of the four suit powers. On the board, this card has only its own suit power, as described above. All Royalty are treated the same in Zarcana, no matter what their titles.
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Trump Powers
Fool: Play Two Random Cards Draw a card from the deck and play it as if playing from your hand. You must perform the action if any of your minions can use it at all. Then discard the card. Then repeat the process a second time: draw, play if possible, and discard. (Royalty cards may not be played wild; they must use the power of their suit.) You decide which minions use the two cards you draw. They do not have to be the same minion, or even the minion that invoked the Fool’s power. Magician: Play as Any Suit This card is used as if it had any of the four suit powers. Yes, in your hand, it’s just like any Royalty, but on the board, it’s still a wild suit. High Priestess: Draw Two Cards and Go Again Draw up to two cards, and then take another turn (any of the eight turn options.) You may not reuse the same card you used to invoke this power. No, you can’t use the High Priestess on your second turn, getting a third turn. But you might be able to copy the power of the High Priestess by using a different card. That’s allowed. Be creative. Empress: Grow or Clone, Ignoring Limits This minion may either grow or clone, just as in the power of Cups. You may ignore the population limit. This card may be used by a minion in the wasteland. Emperor: Attack and Demand Cards This minion attacks, just as in the power of Swords. However, if you attack an enemy minion, you may (at your option) demand up to three cards from the enemy player's hand. The other player chooses which cards to give you. Hierophant: Attack and Convert This minion attacks, just as in the power of Swords. However, instead of being destroyed or reduced, the target minion is replaced by a minion from your stash. The replacement minion must be of the same size as the target or smaller, and it is oriented standing. This card may not be used to destroy territory. Lovers: Create Minion in Wasteland Place one minion of any size from your stash into any empty wasteland space. You must choose a wasteland space which is adjacent to at least one card.

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Zarcana is an Icehouse game (http://www.wunderland.com/icehouse) – © 1996 by John Cooper

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Chariot: Move Twice This minion moves, just as in the power of Wands, either once or twice. The moves may be in any directions, regardless of the minion’s starting orientation. Even a standing minion can use this power. You do have to obey the population limit on both of your moves, however, so you can't move through a space that has three minions on it. Strength: Grow or Clone Twice This minion grows or clones, just as in the power of Cups, either once or twice. (You need not choose the same option both times.) Remember, it’s more efficient to grow first and then clone. Hermit: Move Ignoring Limits This minion moves, just as in the power of Wands. The move may be in any direction, regardless of the minion’s starting orientation, and you may ignore the population limit. Wheel of Fortune: Build Hidden Territory This minion builds new territory, just as in the power of Discs. However, you draw the card, look at it secretly, and place it face-down. No player (including you) may look at it thereafter. Minions on a face-down card may not use it as a territorial power. When the game is over, turn the card face-up to reveal its scoring value. Justice: Trade Hands Trade hands with any other player. It’s legal to trade with a player even if one of you has no cards at all. It's also legal to trade with a player who has more than six cards. Hanged Man: Destroy This Territory All minions in this space, including this minion, are destroyed. The top card in the space is also discarded. A minion can use this power while lying down, but it does not affect the pointed-at space. The Hanged Man is always suicide. Death: Attack Twice This minion attacks, just as in the power of Swords, either once or twice. The same minion must perform both attacks, but you do not have to choose the same target twice. Temperance: Build Territory Ignoring Limits This minion builds new territory, just as in the power of Discs. However, this card may be used by a minion in the wasteland, and it may be used even if the target space contains enemy minions. All minions in the target space are unaffected, and the new card goes underneath them. This is the only power that lets you build land “under the enemy.” The normal Disc power does not allow this.
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Devil: Reorient Nearby Minions You may reorient any or all minions in this space and the four adjacent spaces, regardless of whose they are. Tower: Destroy Occupied Territory This minion attacks, just as in the power of Swords. However, instead of attacking a minion, you may choose to destroy the top card in the target space, even if there are minions in the space. You may also use this card exactly as a normal card. Star: Draw Four Cards Draw four cards, ignoring the hand limit. Moon: Transport Territory Pick up the top card in this space, and all minions on it, and place them on top of any unoccupied wasteland space or unoccupied territory card. If you choose a wasteland space, it must be adjacent to at least one card. As with the power of Wands, all transported minions arrive standing up. Sun: Build Territory from Hand This minion builds new territory, just as in the power of Discs. However, you choose the new territory card from your hand, instead of drawing it from the deck. If this card is played from your hand, you may not choose it as the new territory card. Judgement: Resurrect Three Cards Draw up to three cards from the top of the discard pile. If this card is played from your hand, it does not count against your hand limit, nor as one of the top three cards on the discard pile. World: Play as Any Face-up Trump This card is used as if it had the power of any trump card which is face-up on the board.

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Extra Powers
Many tarot decks have a few extra cards -- a title card, a card of instructions, a blank or joker. You can add these to your Zarcana games, using any of the following powers. Extra trumps score zero at the end of the game, unless otherwise noted. Doppelganger: Mimic Last Discard This card is used as if it had the power of whichever card is on top of the discard pile. At the end of the game, the scoring value of this card is the value of the top card on the discard pile. If the discard pile is empty, this card has no power and zero value. Gateway: Teleport This minion moves to any other territory on the board which is of the same suit as this territory. The minion arrives standing up. For the purposes of this card, trumps count as a fifth suit (and hidden territory created by the Wheel of Fortune is a sixth suit). Assassin: Attack in Any Direction This minion attacks, just as in the power of Swords. However, it may attack targets in this space or any adjacent space, regardless of its own orientation. Evil Eye: Devalue Territory The top card in the target space is cursed. At the end of the game, its value will be negative two. (Place a counter, such as a penny, on the card to indicate the curse.) If a cursed card is discarded or covered by another card, the curse is removed. Harvest: Pick Up a Card Pick up the top card of the target space, and put it in your hand. If any other player has minions in the target space, you may not use this card. However, if the target space contains only your minions, they are unaffected and the top card is removed from beneath them. Miser: Discard Cards of Your Choice Draw three cards and discard down to six. Plague: Destroy Minions and Territory Every player, including you, immediately destroys one of his own minions from anywhere on the board. You then remove and discard the top card in any space that has no minions on it.
Holy Grail: Grow or Clone Regardless of Position or Orientation

This minion may either grow or clone, just as in the power of Cups. You may use this card even if this minion is in the wasteland. You may use this card regardless
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of this minion's orientation. (The grown or cloned minion keeps the same orientation as this one.)

Strategies
● Spend your first few turns growing and cloning (unless you see a once-in-alifetime opportunity). If you put your initial piece on a Cup, you have an advantage, since you can use the Cup power over and over. Otherwise, you'll have to play Cups and Royalty from your hand. ● You might want to draw cards early on, as well. You can hold up to six, and you start with only three. ● You want to occupy more cards. This means you have to clone new minions and send them out, while still leaving minions on your starting cards. Don’t abandon a valuable card. ● Since you can only take one turn option on your turn, it may take several turns to accomplish something. For example, moving a minion to attack may require you to reorient, move one space, reorient again, and then attack. ● But by the same token, turns are very short. Once you’re familiar with the game, you can plan a couple of turns in advance, and the game zips right along. ● To mobilize your forces as quickly as possible, grow large minions, then clone them, and then reorient all your minions at once. It’s inefficient to take a reorientation turn every time you get a new piece on the board. ● A fine defensive strategy is to use Discs to build a peninsula on your side of the board, which nobody else can easily reach. But watch out for the Moon, the Chariot, the Lovers, and the Gateway. ● It is possible to share a card with another player, but it can be an uneasy truce. If both pieces are standing, either can attack the other. And neither of you can score points for the card when the game ends... unless one player is somehow removed from the card. Beware the last-minute betrayal. ● Watch for the unexpected. Since the deck will be reshuffled at least once, every card should turn up. If one doesn’t appear, someone might be hoarding it. ● Initiative is critical. If two players have minions pointing at the same valuable card, whoever moves in first will probably be destroyed. But if either player is distracted for a turn, or lacks a Sword, the other player may be able to occupy and defend the target. ● One minion on a card can be destroyed. If you have two, you can respond to any attack by cloning... as long as you are sitting on a Cup, or you have Cups left in your hand. Beware Death. ● In any multi-player game, there is diplomacy. If two players get into a tussle, the others may spread unchecked over the board. A non-aggression pact can keep you in the running. On the other hand, if you get too far ahead, you may face a devastating cooperative attack. ● If someone points minions at you, it may not be a prelude to an attack. She might be defending herself, preventing you from gaining the initiative in pointing at her. ● On the other hand, it might be a prelude to an attack...
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Zarcana with Standard Playing Cards
If you don’t have a tarot deck, you can use regular playing cards. Clubs are Wands, Spades are Swords, Hearts are Cups, and Diamonds are Discs. You can leave the trump powers out entirely – This is a simpler variant and it may be useful for learning the game mechanics, but it lacks much of the excitement of the standard trump-laden deck – or you can use the jokers and give them both the power of the Fool.

Highlights to Remember
● A minion can be standing up, or lying down in any of the four cardinal directions. ● You can only do one action on your turn. Most actions involve just one minion, but reorienting minions is an exception. ● There is a population limit of three minions per space, unless some card power says otherwise. ● There is a hand limit of six cards in each player's hand, unless some card power says otherwise. ● A minion can only inhabit a wasteland space if it is next to at least one card. ● A minion cannot use a Sword to destroy the territory it occupies. Only the Tower can destroy occupied territory. ● You can only declare the end of the game after the deck has been used up and reshuffled at least once.

Credits
Game design and author of the rules – J. W. Cooper, whose favorite territory is the Moon. Minions who became addicted to playtests – Kristin Looney, Andy Looney, and Keith Baker. Additional minions who weren’t so addicted – Bruce Beard, Dave Choat, Dan Russett, Paul Johnson, Larry Schroder, Rick Dutton, Gina Mai Denn, Leah Spevak, Rob Bryan, and Michael Cusick. Written rules playtesters - Ian “Tusky” “Cheez-O-Man” McCowen, Tapas “Mo” Misra, Nick Fung, and Albert Mao. Assorted editors and kibitzers – Andy Looney, Chris Welsh, and Keith Baker. Chaotic game tweaker – J W Cooper (sorry Zarf). Demon with deadline and illustrations – Andy Looney, whose favorite territory is also the Moon. Patient goddess – Gina Mai Denn, whose favorite territory is, after much meditation, the World. Amazing minion who put the gist of the rules on one sheet of paper – Andrew Plotkin! Other minions I forgot to mention – I don’t know, I forgot. But Jacob Davenport is one.

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