The Game of Zar


Zar is now back in print! - buy a copy while they last.
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Zar is an out of print game a friend brought with her from California. It can be played using a subset of an Uno deck; I have never seen an original set. Some of the rules herein may in fact be house rules; some of them definitely are.

Cards

There are three colors. With an Uno deck, use yellow, green, and blue. In each color, use the following cards:
two 1s
two 2s
two 3s
two 4s
two 5s
two 6s
two skips
two draw twos
two reverses
Additionally there are these non-color cards:
two type I wild cards (use Uno wild cards)
two type II wild cards (use Uno draw fours)
two type I "dragons" (use Uno red 8s)
two type II "dragons" (use Uno red 9s)
Note that the "draw four" wildcards do not, in this game, involve drawing four cards; they are just different to distinguish them from the other wild cards. There is no difference between type I and type II of each of these except that they're different, which matters for matching (see below).

Skip cards cause the next player to be skipped. Draw twos cause the next player to have to draw two extra cards (but not always, see below.) Reverses change the order of play. Wild cards can be any color; dragons are "wild cards" that can be any number.

Rules

The dealer deals out cards to the players. The number to deal is 10 - (number of people playing) but no less than 3. The winner of one hand is the dealer of the next.

Play is basically like Uno. The dealer begins by turning over the top card and placing it in the discard stack. This is treated for all purposes (matching, reverses, etc.) as if the dealer had played the card. Therefore, if the first card gets matched, the dealer must take a card. (See below.) If the first card turned up is a wild or dragon, it is a "botch"; the dealer should insert the offending card back into the deck and try again.

Play proceeds downwards (clockwise) to begin with. Each reverse card played alters the direction of play, naturally. If a skip card is played, the next player is skipped and does not play; play proceeds to the player afterward. Matching can skip several players at once; see below.

The object is to get rid of all your cards; playing consists of discarding a card onto the discard pile. The card must match the top card there, either in type or color: that is, if the last card played was a blue 2, you can play a green 2 or a blue 4, but not a green 4. Likewise you can play a blue skip on a green skip, etc. You can play a wild on anything except a dragon, and you can play a dragon on anything except a wild. If you cannot play, you must pass your turn by drawing a card. If the card supply runs out, keep the topmost card of the discard pile as the new discard pile and reshuffle the rest.

"One"

Whenever you have one card in your hand you must declare "one". If you don't, and somebody asks you how many cards in your hand, you must draw a second card; thus the correct response is "two". If you go down to no cards and must draw a card due to matching, thereby having one card, you must still say "one".

Wilds

When you play a wild you must declare the color it will be; then only cards of that color can be played on top of it. Likewise, when you play a dragon, you declare what number it will be, and only cards of that number can be played on top of it. You cannot declare a dragon to be a non-number card. Declaring a dragon to be a particular number when all cards of that number have already been played, thereby causing everyone to draw heaps of cards, is known as "pulling a Dave", after yours truly.

Draw Twos

When someone plays a draw two, the next player must draw two cards. However, if they have a draw two themselves, they can play it instead, in which case the next player has to draw four cards. If that person plays another draw two, the person after draws six, and so forth. Since there are six draw twos, and matching can lead to drawing still more cards, under adverse circumstances the number of cards ultimately drawn can be rather unpleasantly large.

Note that when you get hit by a draw two you draw two cards and then proceed to play normally; you do not lose your turn. This is apparently different from Uno.

Matching

There are exactly two of each card. Any time someone plays a card, if you have the other identical card you can interrupt and play it, even if it's not your turn. This means the first person "got matched", and they must draw a card. Play then continues with the person after you. The people in between get skipped. Needless to say this makes timing rather important. If the next player plays before you get your matching card down, you're out of luck. Likewise, if you get your match in before he plays, he's out of luck. In a close situation, the person whose card comes out on top is presumed to have lost the race. If the cards don't end up on top of each other and nobody can figure out who went first, choose randomly.

You cannot match yourself; if you have both copies of the same card you can play them together, and you don't have to take a card. Likewise, if you play one of them, and play goes all the way around without anyone else playing anything so that card's still on top, you can play the other on top of it without having to take a card.

However, you cannot go out (and thereby win) by matching. If you match someone with your last card, you must take another. This does mean that you can't go out by playing a pair. What's contested is whether if it's your turn anyway you can go out or not: suppose you have one card and it's a blue 2. The person right before you plays a blue 2. You play yours and go out. Does this constitute going out by matching, or by playing on your turn? Opinion seems to be divided and people play both ways. My feeling is that in this circumstance you are matching, so you can't go out and need to take a card. Other people claim that's crazy and you should win in that situation. Be sure to figure out which way people are playing before it happens.

Matching special cards

If you match a skip both are cancelled: play continues with the player immediately after you. But if you play two skips at once, two players get skipped. Matched reverses cancel also; two reverses inherently cancel anyway. (Though note that it is easy to get mixed up with whose turn it is after a bunch of reverses get played and matched: the rule is that after matching play goes to the next player after the one who matched, in whatever direction is *then* current with all the cards played so far considered.)

When you match a draw two it works as if you played another draw two on it: the person after you must draw four. You may also, however, match a draw two after its victim has already drawn; in that case that draw two is expended and the person after you draws two. Each draw two only "fires" once. Note that if the person immediately after you plays a draw two and you match it, that person himself draws five - four from the draw twos and one for being matched. So if each of you has one draw two in each color and they all come out at once, he ends up drawing fifteen... or possibly more if the deck gets reshuffled in the middle... which is a lot of cards.

If you match a wild or dragon you choose a new color or number that must be played next.

Other considerations

If you ever encounter a situation where one person has so many cards that the card supply runs out and there aren't any cards to shuffle back in, that person loses. Deal a new hand. This shouldn't ever happen though.

If someone messes up (plays out of turn, makes an incorrect match, plays illegally, etc.) and it's too much trouble to unwind what happened afterwards, the offender must, as a penalty, draw a card. This is known as a "Vincent" card.

There is no green 9 in the deck. Really. If it turns up, nail it to the wall.

Scoring

At the end of each hand you receive points for the cards you have remaining. The object, of course, is to accumulate as few points as possible. The point values are as follows:
Number card 1
Reverse or Skip 2
Draw two 3
Wild 4
Dragon 5
It is not necessary to keep score if you don't want to.

Variant Rules

Triple Zar ("Zar++")

Instead of two of each card, put three of each in the deck. Everything works as before, with the addition of a triple match: if player B matches player C and player A then matches player B, player C must take two cards, and player B must take one card himself.

Transparent cards ("+/- Zar")

Since when playing with two people reverses aren't very interesting, this rule was proposed as an alternative function for reverses. If playing with more than two players, zero cards (that is, cards numbered 0) can be added to the deck to serve as transparents.

Unfortunately, nobody seems to be able to agree on what the precise rule was, so I'm not going to post it for the time being.

March 10 1997