Mariglia

Recently it occurred to me to do some light research about the indigenous card games of Sardinia. There isn’t much available on the topic in English (quite a lot about Italy, but nothing about Sardinia in particular), but in Italian there are actually several sources for games I’ve never heard of, claimed to be unique to the island.

Below I offer a description of one of them, Mariglia. This description was begun by translating the available Italian sources and attempting to piece together a consistent account of the game through them. No source was exhaustive; however, I’ve had the good fortune to make contact with a number of sources who play the game and have been generous with their time as I have tried to fill in the gaps in my understanding.


I’m very grateful to Nicola Setta, /u/bainjio on Reddit, and Antonio Camarda for their time and patience.

I’m also extremely grateful to John McLeod, proprietor of Pagat, who has been kind enough to offer his own researches and guide me with a few key observations.


Overview

Mariglia is a member of the Manille group, and clearly shares an etymology with the members of that group: Manille, Manillen, Malilla, et cetera. It is known, at least according to some of the popular literature, in Sardinia as Sardinian Bridge.[1] It is by far at its most popular in the North of the island, in and around Sassari. Also in the North, it’s attested in Olbia and Nuoro.

The game is played with a standard Italian 40-card deck. The game is, or has been, commonly played with either the sarde (Sardinian) style deck or the genovesi (Genoese) pack[2]; the Genoese, however, seems more common, especially at the tournament level. It’s played by four, in two fixed teams.

Mariglia is a fairly straight-forward example of the Manille family and exhibits most of the characteristics common to that family. Players score points by taking tricks containing valuable cards. The two teams play until one team has reached an agreed-upon final score.

Structure

Each hand of Mariglia consists of ten tricks. A single game of Mariglia consists of a series of hands until one team reaches an agreed-upon score.

There are conventionally a few options for structuring a session of play:

  • two games to 35;
  • one game to 45;
  • one game to 70.

In a tournament setting, these might be combined; for instance,

Le partite si disputano al meglio di tre partite: 2 da 35 punti e la bella da 45 punti.

REGOLAMENTO TORNEO DI MARIGLIA

trans.:

Sessions are played best of three: 2 to 35 and a tiebreaker [if each team wins one game] to 45 points.

These values are not arbitrary. As is established below, the total amount of points in a single hand is 35; thus, it’s possible to win a game to 35 in a single hand while a game to 45 will require at least two or more.

In any case, a single game will be conducted over a series of one or more deals. The teams maintain a score sheet of two columns, tracking their respective scores over the course of the game. The sheet is added to on two occasions:

  • when the dealer reveals the trionfo (see Il Trionfo, below);
  • when a hand of ten tricks is finished.

Cards

The card values are as follows:

card value
7 5
Ace 4
King 3
Jack (or Queen)[3] 2
Queen (or Jack)[3] 1
6 0
5 0
4 0
3 0
2 0

The sevens are called Mariglia (plural Mariglie) and the number cards, which are not worth any points, are called frillo (plural frilli).

The Deal

There are two conventions for how the cards are dealt. Far from being mathematically equivalent (though they end up with the same number of cards to the same players), they can have quite an impact on the game; therefore it should be determined ahead of time which convention is being followed. I’ll refer to them as the orthodox and scoperto conventions.

I’ll omit details about cutting the deck and how specifically to distribute the cards unless they’re mathematically material to the play.

The dealer deals to their right, proceeding counterclockwise.

Orthodox Dealing

The dealer deals 10 cards to each player.

The dealer then turns over their last card for all to see; it is known as il trionfo and its suit will be trumps.

Scoperto Dealing

Before dealing, the dealer exposes the bottom card of the deck for all to see; it is known as il trionfo and its suit will be trumps. It’s also understood that this will be the last card dealt and thus will always end up in the dealer’s hand.

The dealer now has to distribute 10 cards to each player, in packets of 5; thus, there will be two rounds of dealing until all the cards are distributed.

Let the dealer be South, dealer’s partner be North, and opponents be East and West.

The dealer has the option to deal the first card, in either of the two rounds, face-up to either opponent, both opponents, or neither opponent. If they do so, they need to do the same for the next player (who will be a member of the dealer’s own team; either their partner or the dealer themselves). In other words, the dealer can decide to deal face-up to East & North, to West & South, to all, or to none.

If the card which was dealt face-up is trumps, the dealer will continue to deal face-up until the exposed card is not trumps. In this way, each player gets a potentially variable number of face-up cards.[4]

The face-up cards are left on the table until the dealer has completed the deal. As mentioned above, the dealer can freely decide when to deal face-up, provided that each team has been dealt to face-up an equal number of times and each player is dealt face-up at most once. The dealer doesn’t need to decide this ahead of time; they may even want to use the value of the trionfo to inform their decision.

Il Trionfo

In both cases, the bottom card in the deck, which will be the last card the dealer deals to themselves, is known as the trionfo, and it has two purposes:

  1. it determines trumps for that hand;
  2. the dealer’s team scores a one-time bonus to their score sheet equal to its value.

For example, if the turned card is the K♠, then spades will be trumps for the hand, and the dealer’s team immediately scores themselves 3 points on the score sheet.

If that puts them above the agreed-upon match score, their team wins immediately without playing the hand. If the card is a frillo, their team adds nothing to the score sheet.

The Play

After the deal, the cards are played out in tricks; one card from each player per trick. The first trick is led by the player to the dealer’s right.

The first player to a trick may lead any card; the winner of a trick captures the cards for their team and leads to the next.

Subsequent players must follow the suit led if possible. The trick is taken by the highest trump card played to the trick, and the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played.

Mariglia is in line with the other members of its family in observing a single additional rule of play:

If the card that is currently winning the trick was played by an opponent, you must beat this card if possible (subject to the requirement to follow suit).

Malilla

This includes, of course, trumping if possible. If the trick is currently headed by the player’s partner, the player doesn’t need to beat the high card. If they can follow suit, they can play under; if they can’t, they can discard.

The Count

After all ten tricks have been played, each team counts their points.

Tricks should be kept together after being won, for easy scoring. Each team counts the value of the cards taken in their tricks according to the table above; they also score one point for each trick taken.[5] Thus, as the cards in a deck add up to 60 and there are 10 tricks, there is a total of 70 points to be won in each hand.

To determine their game score, the team which scored more points subtracts 35 from their card points and adds that to their game total.[6]

Communication

Though conventions once again vary and should be determined beforehand, in general Mariglia offers a fairly wide leeway for teammates to confer during play. There is one rule which absolutely must be observed: any information given by one partner to another must be understood equally by their opponents. In other words, information can’t be conveyed by code or previously agreed-upon sign without letting the opponents in on it.

Secondarily—and even this is subject to differing conventions— if a player asks their partner for some information about that player’s holding, they must answer truthfully[7].

There are mutually exclusive conventions governing which team has the right to speak at a given time:

  • only the “leading” team—that is, the player who will lead to a trick and that player’s partner—may speak. Their opponents may not speak during the play of that trick.

  • the right to speak starts off with the team that leads to the trick; however, if the defenders play over the leaders (by trumping or otherwise), they also win the right to confer.

Commonly, if their team is able to speak, the player who is about lead will ask about their partner’s holdings in order to decide what to play.

There generally don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules about what a player is allowed to ask their partner. Some examples I’ve seen:

  • asking how many of a certain suit they hold;
  • asking how many of a certain rank they hold;
  • asking about how many points are contained in their hand.

Finally, it is often advantageous for partners to work out, at the start of play, which of them should direct the play—to gather information from the other and instruct the other in which card to play, when. John McLeod adds that this

is a normal tactic in games that allow this sort of communication. The partner with stronger cards does not reveal their own strength but asks questions and directs the play.

In general, as can be seen above, every detail of the convention and obligations around communication within a team is subject to extreme variation, both regional and according to the seriousness and rigor of the environment.


A full list of online sources can be found here, the information found therein being significantly enriched by conversations with the above-named individuals.


  1. Mariglia, especially in what I refer to as its “orthodox” or “classical” form, is considered by its players to be an intellectual game of skill and strategy; it’s reasonable to presume that the allusion to Bridge is along these lines.  ↩

  2. The specific style, of course, doesn’t affect the play. Any 40-card deck will do, as will a 52-card deck with 8s, 9s and 10s removed.  ↩

  3. By some conventions, Jacks are treated as 2 points and Queens as 1 (ie, reversed from the Anglo-French ordering); other groups play with the more familiar ordering.

    Of course, it doesn’t affect the gameplay as long as whatever convention is used is stuck to throughout a session. But it’s best to establish the ordering at the start of play.  ↩

  4. This seems to be the chief innovation of this game. The effect, of course, is to unevenly distribute information about who is holding what, though the effect is much subtler than something like the Dummy in Bridge. The effect is bound to be quite subtle; every player is guaranteed to have at least 1 out of 10 of their cards face-up, with a roughly 1/4 chance that further cards will be dealt face-up. In fact it’s slightly less than 1/4, since one of the ten trumps is guaranteed to be at the bottom of the deck—I believe the odds start at 3/13.

    Nevertheless, the fact that cards are dealt face-up means that the effect is more interesting than simply communicating what trumps everyone is holding, as they’re almost always guaranteed to have exposed one non-trump - the one that stopped the face-up dealing.

    The scoperto style (as I’m calling it) of dealing is not universally known to all players of Mariglia. At least one correspondent was entirely unaware of it. Those sources or correspondents which were aware of it, or even preferred it, generally recognized the orthodox style as “normal”.

    We might also infer from tournament rules where dealing face-up is explicitly prohibited that in those circles where this convention is recognized, it’s considered less serious or prestigious than the orthodox style. My thanks to John McLeod for this insight.  ↩

  5. Interestingly, though this is the mathematical reality of the game, it’s not the conventional scoring method. Instead, players determine points like this:

    a) if a trick contains 1, 2, 3 or 4 frilli, those are all worth 1 point in total (which is added to the value of the rest of the cards).

    b) if a trick contains no frilli, then the values of all the cards are added together, and then 1 point, called the punto di fase, is added.  ↩

  6. The team which took fewer points will have necessarily taken less than 35 points and thus scores nothing for that hand.  ↩

  7. At least one source calls out a single, notable exception to this rule: the respondent may conceal the fact that they hold the mariglia of trumps. For example, if asked how many mariglie they have, and they hold the 7 of trumps along with one other 7, they may legally respond “one”.

    Needless to say, this is exactly the sort of convention that should be established beforehand!  ↩