[Note: This blog post was originally published in 2011, but has been extensively rewritten several times. Particularly in 2015 when the game that it describes was revised, playtested and named.]
[Note #2: I have a more recent blog post, published in 2016, which describes a modified version of the game traditionally played with Ganjifa cards.]
This is the second of two blog posts about Ganjifa cards. In the first I showed sample cards from my own deck (which I bought from a playing card museum in Germany), suggested suitable English names for the eight suits, and shared some thoughts on how to shuffle them. In this sequel, I’ll describe my own idea for a game that could be played with the cards.
In contrast to Western playing cards — which are used for hundreds of games of many different types, the accumulated inventions of many generations — the traditional playing cards of India are used for only a small number of endangered games, and there is no active tradition of inventing new ones. This is not a difference in inherent worth but an accident of history, and in my opinion regrettable. To realise the potential of Ganjifa and revitalise them for today’s world, I propose we invent new games for them, perhaps by adapting elements of familiar Western games to take advantage of cards that are circular rather than rectangular and come in twice as many suits. Let us also feel free to build on each other’s inventions to create families of related games.
Not all Ganjifa are circular, but the fact that most are provides a point of contrast with Western cards, which in my opinion is part of the appeal. Herein, circular cards are assumed and indeed required. Also, there are several types of Ganjifa, but the type intended below is the Mughal variety, which consists of 96 cards in twelve ranks and eight suits. Some other types may be usable but I know less about them. See the end of the post for notes on obtaining a deck.
Introduction to the game
The game described below was unnamed until mid-July 2015, but I have now settled on an Indian name to go with the Indian cards. That name is केंद्र कड़ी, which is Hindi for Central Link and in English can be spelt either Kendra Kari or Kendra Kadi. Credit to Kishor Dabke for confirming that the name is appropriate and means what I thought it did.
(In case you’re curious I’ve added a footnote on pronunciation — but this is a card game, not a linguistics lesson, so it doesn’t really matter.)
As for the game itself, it is inspired by the Eights family, though it lacks the wild cards that give that family of games its name. It is a true Ganjifa game in the sense that it could not easily be adapted to non-circular cards. The game is reasonably simple and should be suitable for players who are new to Ganjifa.
Preliminaries and Deal
The game is suitable for 3-6 players. I will assume that play proceeds clockwise. (Card games in India are traditionally played anticlockwise, so if that is the custom of your group, replace “clockwise” with “anticlockwise” throughout.)
Throughout the game, cards are played to seven distinct positions on the table. Six of these positions form a ring (we’ll call them Positions 1 to 6, proceeding clockwise), and the seventh is in the centre of that ring (we’ll call this Position 7).
Six cards are dealt to each player, and another card is dealt face-up to Position 7. The remaining cards form the stock.
The first player, if able, selects from their hand a card with either the same suit or the same rank as the card on Position 7, and places that card face-up on Position 1.
In the normal course of the game, each player who can plays a card with either the same suit or the same rank as the most recently played card, and does so by placing it on the next position around from that previous card. So if the previous card was played on Position 1, you play on Position 2. If the previous card was played on Position 2, you play on Position 3. Position 7 is not ordinarily played to, so if the previous card was played on Position 6, you play on Position 1, and round it goes.
A player must play if they have a playable card.
A player who is unable to play picks up a card from the stock. If the card drawn is playable it must be played immediately, but cannot be used to build a bridge (see Special Play below). Otherwise it is added to the player’s hand. Play then proceeds to the next player.
So far, I have addressed only what happens in the normal course of the game, but we must now discuss special moves that players can perform when the opportunity arises.
First I must make it clear that when I refer to two cards as directly opposite each other, I refer simply to the layout of the six outer positions. The card currently sitting on top of Position 1 is directly opposite the card on Position 4, and vice versa. The card on Position 2 is directly opposite the card on Position 5, and vice versa. The card on Position 3 is directly opposite the card on Position 6, and vice versa.
A player may play a card to Position 7 if that card not only shares its suit or its rank with the most recently played card, but also shares its suit or its rank with the card directly opposite the most recently played card. Such a move I will refer to as building a bridge, because it connects two opposing positions, metaphorically speaking.
Moreover, a player may play two cards in the same turn if the second one builds a bridge, the first having been played from their hand in the usual way. (Be sure to plan both moves before performing the first, as failure to do so is at least a breach of courtesy.)
After a bridge is built, all cards played so far are gathered up and taken out of the game. The player who built the bridge begins a new phase by playing any card to Position 7, and may, if able, play a second card with the same suit or rank to Position 1. (The first card to be laid down is deemed to be the one at Position 7.) This means it’s possible to play four cards in a single turn: two to build a bridge and two to start the next phase.
Normal play resumes with the next player’s turn.
A player wins by getting rid of all cards in their hand. Specific ways to win include:
- Using up your last card during normal play.
- Using your last card to build a bridge.
- Building a bridge with one card remaining (as this would be used to start the next phase).
- Building a bridge with two cards remaining that share a rank or suit (as these would be used to start the next phase).
Notes on play
The question may arise of what to do if the stock is entirely depleted. There are two obvious possibilities: either declare the player with the fewest cards to have won, or else create a new stock by shuffling all the cards that have been captured by building bridges. I suspect most people will opt for the former, rather than allow the game to go on indefinitely. However, in my experience this is extremely unlikely to happen if everyone plays well: if the stock does run out before someone wins, it’s probably a sign that players have yet to master the strategy and are missing opportunities to play cards.
Describing a game is hard — it’s often like describing a tower or sculpture that looks simple and elegant when you can see the big picture, but complicated and arbitrary when you can see only one piece at a time. Here are some crib notes that might help when explaining the game verbally to others.
1. Match suit/rank. Play to next position. Aim: get rid of cards.
2. If cannot play, pick up card. Play it immediately if can.
3. Build a Bridge = play to centre position.
4. Can play 2 cards if latter builds a bridge.
5. Cannot do (3) or (4) with card just picked up.
6. After building bridge, begin new phase with 1 or 2 cards.
The name केंद्र कड़ी consists of two Hindi words — केंद्र (Kendra) means centre, and कड़ी (Kari or Kadi) means link. It refers to the card in the centre that builds a bridge by linking two opposing positions. I hope the alliteration makes the name punchy and memorable.
The spelling Kari more accurately conveys the pronunciation in English, but there are two distinct sounds in Hindi that the English letter ‘r’ can represent, and if you use the wrong one you’ll be saying Curry, not Link. The alternative spelling Kadi reflects the fact in Hindi the sound is related to a d-like sound, which the Devanagari spelling also reflects. Please see this video and this link for more information about this sound. (For linguists: the ‘r’ in Kendra is an alveolar trill [r] while the ‘r’ in Kari is a retroflex flap [ɽ].)
None of this matters unless you want it to. You can pronounce Kendra Kari any way you like and the game will be exactly the same.
For readers who are interested in obtaining a Mughal Ganjifa deck, here are the sources I’m aware of:
- I have a copy of the deck produced by Grubbe. It is apparently available online, but the site is in German (which may or may not be an obstacle for you). I can vouch for the durability of the cards, but because some of them are visually confusing it takes time to learn how to identify the suits and ranks. Happily, the deck comes with a reference chart. Another negative is that the box they come in is very bulky.
- Tab Creations, an American company, has been producing a deck since 2013, and it is available on Amazon. I have not seen these cards, and feel duty-bound to point out that customer reviews (both on Amazon and on the original Kickstarter) have reported that the cards are not sturdy enough to withstand repeated shuffling. On the other hand, the artwork looks simpler, reducing the learning curve for first-time players, and depending on shipping costs in your location this may be a more accessible option for you.
Naturally, I would like to see more options become available in the future. I will add more if I become aware of them, and I’m open to including varieties other than Mughal as long as they’re fit for the same purpose.