The ruleset of Spite is complicated by design, and players receive penalties and rewards for misplaying or identifying others who misplay respectively.
In a round of Spite, the winners and losers are determined by the ordering in which players got rid of all the cards in their hands, through playing valid combinations of cards in a series of tricks. The round is played until there is only one player with cards remaining.
The winners and losers from each round receive rewards and penalties for the next round. Therefore, the typical objective is to finish each round amongst the winners, although sometimes players may choose to lose for strategic or spiteful reasons.
In keeping with the name and spirit of the game, players should endeavour to make spiteful plays whenever possible for maximum comedic effect.
The Spite deck is approximately 3 "six-handed 500" decks combined (63 cards each, a total of 189 cards). Each 63-card deck includes:
- A regular 52-card deck
- 11s and 12s of each suit
- 13♥ and 13♦
- A joker
Addtionally, at least 5 cards (of arbitrary suits and face values) from a deck with a different card-back design should be set aside from the main deck for use as fake jokers.
The Initial Deal
At the start of a round, each player is dealt 11 cards face down. The top card of the deck is revealed as the bounty card, then game play proceeds clockwise from the first player.
The First Player
The first player is determined by:
- If it is the first round being played: any player who was dealt any 3s may play a hand that includes one of more of them. The first player who plays such a hand becomes the lead of the first trick. If no player has any 3s (or those with 3s do not wish to play them) then the round may begin by applying the same rule to 4s, then 5s, and so forth, until someone is willing to lead.
- Otherwise: the player with the most negative score shall lead the first trick by playing any valid hand. If there are multiple players with the same negative score, the player who most recently lost a round shall lead.
On their turn, each player must decide to play or pass. Once a player passes, they may no longer participate in the trick unless they buy back.
A player has 5 seconds to make a decision when it is their turn. If the player has just picked up extra cards, they get one extra second for each card they picked up. Any player at the table may start a countdown, and if the player fails to play a valid hand before the countdown finishes then they shall be deemed to have passed.
The last player to have played before everyone else has passed in that trick is the winner of that trick and shall lead the next trick. If that player has gone out by playing their final card(s) while winning the trick, then the next player in clockwise sequence shall lead the next trick.
Valid Leading Hands
- A single card.
- Two, three, or four cards of the same value (pairs, trips, or quads).
- Poker hands (i.e. exactly five cards) of a straight, full house, flush, or four-of-a-kind (i.e. four cards of the same value, plus another card of a different value).
- A joker hand.
Valid Following Hands
After a valid leading hand has been played, all plays in the trick must follow the arity, and must be strictly better than the previous hand, unless permitted elsewhere within these rules.
For example, if the leading play was a pair of 5s (5♠, 5♦), subsequent plays must be a better pair.
If a player who has passed during a trick wishes to re-enter into play of that trick, they must "buy back" by picking up additional cards. They must first announce "buy back X" or "BB X" where X is the number of cards they intend to pick up, play the hand they wish to play, then pick up the additional cards from the deck. In other words, the buy-back cards shall not be used to allow them to re-enter into play.
The number of additional cards they must pick up is a global counter shared by all players on the table and follows the Fibonacci sequence (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, ..., and so on). The count resets at the beginning of each round. It is a misplay to buy back for an incorrect number of cards.
Once a player has bought back into a trick, they may continue to play on their subsequent turns within this trick without buying back until they pass again.
If the number of cards in a player's hand reaches or exceeds 20, they instantly lose the round.
Individual cards are ranked by their face value, with 3 being the lowest and 2 being the highest (i.e. 3 to 13, J, Q, K, A, 2), with all suits being equal.
A hand consisting of multiple cards of the same value (pairs, trips, quads) are ranked by the value as above. Two hands with the same face value are ranked by the "similarity" of cards within the hand, from low to high:
- Mixed (a hand consisting of both black and red cards)
- Coloured (a hand consisting of cards of the same colour, but different suits)
- Suited (a hand consisting of cards of the same suit)
Poker hands shall follow the usual poker ranking rules, except:
- Flushes are ranked higher than full houses.
- Poker hand values are modified to the extent that allows 2 to be the highest card. For example, J-Q-K-A-2 is a valid (and the highest) straight.
Whilst 13 is ranked between 12 and J when played in a hand that consists solely of 13s, they can also be used as wildcards when played in combination with other cards. For example, any card X plus a 13 is considered a pair of Xs.
When 13s are used in a poker hand, it shall always form the lowest valid hand. For example, a full house with 4-4-J-J-13 is always considered to be 4s full of jacks; a straight with 8-9-10-11-13 is always considered to be 7-8-9-10-11.
A hand that includes one or more 13s is ranked lower than the "natural" version of that hand (i.e. without 13s), and a hand with more 13s is ranked lower than the same hand with fewer 13s.
In addition to the ranking of hands, the game may be played either in the higher or lower direction, which dictates whether each subsequent hand in a trick must be higher or lower in ranking than the previous hand.
Each round starts in the higher direction. When a player plays a hand of natural 7s (e.g. a single 7, a pair of 7s, etc., without any 13s), the player may choose to change the direction by verbally announcing "higher" or "lower". However:
- If a player does not announce a direction, the direction remains unchanged.
- If a player chooses to announce a direction, it must be the opposite of the current direction. It is a misplay to announce the same direction as what is currently in play.
- A player may play a 7 (or a hand of natural 7s with the same arity) on top of a 7 (or a hand of natural 7s), which will immediately reverse the direction, regardless of whether a direction change was made by the previous hand of 7s. It is a misplay to make any announcement regarding direction in this case.
If a hand consisting solely of natural 3s is played while the game is going lower, the direction "bounces" back to higher.
Joker hands can be played without following the arity of the trick when there are no consecutives in force.
A natural joker is the lowest ranked joker hand. It can beat any non-joker hand and other natural jokers.
Five or more natural cards of the same value are also joker hands, and are ranked higher than natural jokers. These joker hands are ranked by hand size, and then by numeric value within the same hand size.
If a joker hand is played during a trick (except when leading):
- When the game direction is higher, joker hands can beat any non-joker hands, and can only be beaten by higher joker hands.
- When the direction is lower, joker hands reset the ranking in play such that any valid hand that follows the trick's arity may be played on top of it.
If a joker hand is lead:
- When the direction is higher, joker hands are the highest ranked hands and can only be beaten by higher jokers.
- When the direction is lower, the arity of the trick is indeterminate. The next player may play any valid hand, and that hand shall determine the arity of the trick.
Joker hands are not allowed to be played as the last or second last play of a player, to encourage their usage earlier in the round. If a player plays a joker hand as their last or second last play, the play stands but they immediately become the loser of the round.
The extra cards with a different card-back design are "fake jokers". Players can earn fake jokers by:
- Being the quickest to call another player's misplay correctly.
- If two or more players correctly call a misplay at the same time, a coin flip or other randomisation mechanism shall be used to determine who shall receive the reward.
- However, fake joker(s) are not awarded if a misplay was only called after the table has reached a consensus about the validity of the play in question through discussion.
- Going out of a round by playing a hand consisting solely of natural cards with the same value as the bounty card.
- It is a misplay to claim an incorrect number of fake joker(s) from the common pile. If this happens and is called out by another player, the mis-claimed fake joker(s) shall remain in (or be returned to) the common pile and do not form part of the reward that is transferred to the caller.
Fake jokers are not part of a player's regular hand. A player is considered to have gone out of a round when their regular hand is exhausted, regardless of whether they still hold any fake jokers. Fake jokers persist across rounds until they are played or lost. Once a fake joker has been played, it shall be returned to the fake joker pile and may be earned by other players.
Fake jokers can be played either face-up or face-down:
- When played face-up, they will take on their natural face value and can be used whenever that face value is valid.
- When played face-down during a trick, they reset the ranking in play such that any valid hand that follows the trick's arity may be played on top of it.
- When played face-down to lead a trick, the arity of the trick is indeterminate, regardless of current game direction. The next player may play any valid hand, and that hand determines the arity of the trick.
Fake jokers are not allowed to be played face-down as the last or second last play of a player. The same penalty as playing joker hands as the last or second last play shall apply. However, fake jokers may be played face-up as the second last play.
If the fake joker pile is exhausted, further actions that would have caused a player to earn fake joker(s), including any shortfall in the current reward, shall cause that player to earn the next card(s) from the deck. Such cards are also not part of the player's regular hand, but can only be played face-up as their natural face value, and are not considered fake jokers for the purpose of card ranking or game restrictions.
A hand consisting of 5 or more face-down fake jokers can beat any hand and is not subject to any game state restrictions such as lower or consec. Such a hand can only be beaten by a hand consisting of a larger number of fake jokers, regardless of current game direction. This does not affect the requirement to announce "unbeatable" by preceding players when appropriate. A player may not come-at-me or announce "unbeatable" when playing such a hand.
The Bounty Card
If a player finishes by playing a hand that consists solely of natural cards with the same face value as the bounty card, that player "claims the bounty" and gains a number of fake jokers equal to the number of bounty cards in their final hand. The bounty card is immediately discarded and a new bounty card revealed, so that other players may continue to claim the bounty within the same trick.
If a joker is revealed as the bounty card, it shall be shuffled back into the deck and a new bounty card is revealed.
During a trick, when the last 3 hands that were played form certain patterns, a consecutive restriction (a.k.a. "consec") shall come into force. Consecs only apply to hands that consist of cards of the same value (i.e. single cards, pairs, trips, quads, etc., without any 13s) and not to poker hands.
13s and joker hands may not be played when any consec restriction is in force.
There are two orthogonal consec restrictions that may be applied. If, while one consec restriction is in force, the pattern for the other consec restriction emerges, then both restrictions shall be applied simultaneously from that point.
Numerical consec occurs when three hands with an equal gap between their ranks have been played, regardless of suit(s). The most basic case is three hands of consecutive numeric value, e.g. if the last 3 hands played were 3♦, 4♣, 5♣ , the next valid hand is a 6 (of any suit).
13s are not part of the ranking when determining numerical consecutiveness, i.e. the card ranked immediately after 12 is J.
When numerical consec is in force, the trick may "wrap around" to continue the sequence. For example, if the last three hands played were 11, Q, 2, the next valid hand is a 5, because the difference between each hand is 3 ranks.
If the game direction is lower:
- Numerical consecs may be formed via bouncing on 3. For example, if the last three hands played were 4, 3, 4, the next valid hand is a 5.
- If numerical consec is in force when the direction is lower, the direction shall only bounce if a 3 is played. Otherwise, the trick shall wrap around and continue from the top end. For example, if the last three hands played were 8, 6, 4, the next valid hand is a 2.
Suited consec occurs when three hands of the same suit(s) have been played. From this point, only hands of the same suit(s) can be played.
If the trick's arity is greater than 1, then suited consec refers to hands with the same combinations of suits. For example, if three pairs of X♦ X♣ have been played, then all subsequent pairs must also consist of ♦ and ♣.
Because joker hands are not allowed during any consec, a 2 is the highest card during a suited-but-not-numerical consec when the direction is higher. When a player plays the 2 (or 2s), they must announce "unbeatable", otherwise it is a misplay.
Come At Me
During a trick, a player may announce "come at me" when they play a hand, to indicate that they think they will win the trick. The trick shall continue as normal (typically at heightened spite levels). If the player who announced the come-at-me successfully wins the trick, they are rewarded by being allowed to discard several cards from their hand and draw the same number of cards from the deck. If they fail to win, they are given misplay penalties. Any number of players are allowed to come-at-me during a trick, but only one player can be successful (obviously). A player can also come-at-me multiple times within the same trick as more hands are played, and their reward/penalty shall be increased for each additional come-at-me.
It is a misplay to come-at-me when the hand played can only be beaten by joker hands (e.g. a single 2 when not under numerical consec) or cannot be beaten (e.g. a 2 when under suited-but-not-numerical consec), or if the player wins the trick by playing a joker hand. It is also a misplay to come-at-me when there are only 2 active players.
The base reward for a successful come-at-me is being allowed to discard and draw between 1 to 3 cards. The upper bound increases by 1 for each additional come-at-me by that player during the same trick, and decreases by 1 for each successful previous come-at-me by that player with no tricks being won by other players in between. For example, if a player:
- Wins a trick during which they come-at-me'ed twice;
- Wins a trick without come-at-me;
- Wins a trick during which they come-at-me'ed once;
Then their reward upper bounds shall be 4 (base reward + 1 for the additinal come-at-me) and 2 (base reward - 1 for a subsequent come-at-me without a trick won by other players in between), respectively. If the reward becomes negative, that number of misplay penalties shall be applied.
Discarding zero or too many cards, or drawing an incorrect number of cards, is a misplay.
The base penalty for a failed come-at-me is a misplay penalty, and it increases by 1 for each additional come-at-me during the same trick.
Winners and Losers
At the end of each round, winners and losers will gain and lose points in their scores, respectively. The first player to finish their hand gets +2, the second player to finish gets +1, the second last player to finish gets -1, and the last player (the loser) gets -2. A player's score accumulates across rounds and is calculated as follows:
- Decay their current score by 1 towards 0. For example, if their current score is -3, they shall decay to -2; if their current score is 4, they shall decay to 3.
- Reset their score to 0 if they did not finish in the same half as the last round. For example, if there are 6 players at the table and a player finished among the top 3 players last round, and was among the bottom 3 players this round, their score is reset to 0. If there are an odd number of players at the table, the middle player is always considered to be "in the other half".
- Add the reward/penalty points from this round.
When a late joiner comes to the table, they become the loser and gets -2, and the rankings of other players are shifted up by 1 place.
At the beginning of each round, cards are swapped based on the players' scores. Players with positive scores shall put down their lowest ranked card(s) into a pile, and those with negative scores shall put down their highest ranked card(s) into another pile. The absolute value of a player's score indicates the number of cards they shall put down.
Then, players with positive scores shall pick up cards from the high cards pile, and players with negative scores shall pick up cards from the low cards pile, equal to the number of cards they previously put down.
If there is an imbalance between the number of cards in the two piles, random cards from the top of the deck shall be added to the short pile. If there are excess cards remaining after card swapping has occurred, they shall be revealed and discarded.
A key reason for Spite having such a complicated ruleset is to induce misplays. A misplay occurs when:
- Playing an invalid/malformed hand;
- Playing a hand that does not beat the previous hand in the trick;
- Incorrectly calling "misplay" on another player;
- Dropping card(s) on any food, liquid, sticky, or greasy substance (also known as a "misplate" if they were dropped onto a plate containing such substances), or dropping card(s) on the floor (except when dealing);
- and any other misplay situations already mentioned elsewhere in these rules.
Any card(s) dropped face-up on the table (accidentally or otherwise) shall be considered to have been "played" for the purpose of determining misplays. If the dropped card(s) form a valid play then they shall stand and the player is not allowed to rescind them.
If a player plays out of turn, all player(s) who could have played shall still have the option to play. If, after those players have played or passed, the out-of-turn play is still valid then it shall stand, otherwise it is a misplay. The skipped players are strongly encouraged to play hands that would cuase the out-of-turn play to become invalid.
If a player has misplayed:
- Any fake jokers held by that player are immediately transferred to the player who successfully called the misplay, or returned to the common pile if the misplay was determined through discussion.
- They are not allowed to play in the current trick, without the possibility of buying back, if the misplay occurred during a trick.
- They must skip the number of turns in the next trick(s) equal to their misplay penalty count. They may then choose to buy back into the trick, or resume play as normal in the next trick.
If a misplay occurs due to incorrect buy back, and the player has already seen some or all of the buy-back cards, those cards shall be discarded.