OBJECTIVE OF CHARLEMAGNE: Fulfill your bid and/or score 32 points first to win!
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 4 players (fixed partnerships)
NUMBER OF CARDS: 34 card deck (A to 7 + 2 Jokers)
RANK OF CARDS: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (non-trump)
TYPE OF GAME: Trick-Taking
INTRODUCTION TO CHARLEMAGNE
Charlemagne is an Eastern (French) Canadian trick-taking game that is also played, although less commonly, in Maine. Judging from the card rankings, it appears Charlemagne is a variation of Euchre, to be more exact Bid Euchre. The Canadian version is played with two jokers as the top trumps in the game, out ranking jack of trump suit. Since the game is of Canadian origins, that is the version to be described in this article.
The game utilizes a 34-card deck. The deck has cards Ace through 7, omitting 6s, 5s, 4s, 3s, and 2s, plus two Jokers. It is important that you can distinguish the Jokers from each other, either by color or some other feature. This is because one Joker is “bigger” than the other.
In the trump suit, Jokers are the highest ranking cards, followed by Big Jack or the jack of trumps. The Jack of the other suit of the same color is called Little Jack and ranks next. After, the cards rank as follows: A, K, Q, 10, 9, 8, 7. En Français, Big Jack is called “Le Bar” and the Little Jack is called “Le Petit Bar.” Bar having been adapted from bower, which is a term used in Euchre to reference the trump Jacks. The word itself is descended from the German word “bauer,” meaning peasant.
Non-trump suits rank as follows: A, K, Q, (J), 10, 9, 8, 7
Any player may deal first, that is at the discretion of the players. After the deal, the turn passes to the left with each hand.
The player to the right of the dealer cuts the deck once it has been shuffled, the dealer passes each player 8 cards. Dealing methods vary, they may be dealt two at a time, for example. During the deal, the dealer must deal 2 cards to the kitty. These cards should be dealt face-down to the middle of the table.
Prior to play, there is a single bidding round. The bidding begins with the player to the left of the dealer and closes with the dealer. One at a time, players either pass or place a bid. Bids placed must be higher than the previous one. Below is an outline of the possible bids and what they mean:
- 5: You bid that your team will win (take) at least 5 tricks.
- 6: You bid that your team will take at least 6 tricks.
- 7: You bid that your team will take at least 7 tricks.
- 8: You bid that your team will take at least 8 tricks.
- Mulot: Play alone, without the kitty, and try to lose every trick.
- Charlemagne: Bidder plays alone, with the kitty and one card from their partner, and tries to win every trick, also called “Petit Charles.”
- Gros Mulot: Mulot with exposed cards.
- Gros Charlemagne: Like Charlemagne but the bidder may use the kitty or ask their partner for a card. However, they may not do both.
Starting the Tricks
If the bid was 5, 6, 7, or 8, the bidder grabs the two cards from the kitty and discards two unwanted cards. After, they name the trump suit. Cards from this suit will beat all others, use the card rankings discussed above for further detail. The player to the left of the bidder leads in the first trick.
If the bid was a Mulot, there are no trumps BUT the two Jokers. All other suits rank A down to 7. The kitty remains untouched. The bidder’s partner discards their hand and does not play. The bidder leads the first trick. Gros Mulot is played the same, except after the first trick the bidder’s hand is revealed and play continues.
If the bid was a Charlemagne, the bidder grabs the kitty and the single card from their partner. Without discussion, they then discard 3 unwanted cards and names the trump suit. The bidder leads in the first trick. The partner of the bidder, after passing them a single card, discards the rest of their hand and does not play. Gros Charlemagne works similar to Charlemagne, except the bidder takes either the kitty OR their partner’s single card, not both. After, they discard the equivalent number of cards that they procured (either 2 or 1) and proceeds in naming trumps and leading in the first trick.
During the trick-taking, players must try to follow suit if possible. Little Jack is considered a part of the trump suit. Players who cannot follow suit must play a trump or any other card in hand. The highest ranking trump card wins or takes the trick. If no trumps are played, the highest value card from the suit led wins. The winner of a trick leads in the next one. For more information on Trick-taking games click here.
In Mulot and Gros Mulot, Jokers take on different rules. If a player has a joker and cannot follow suit, they must play the joker. If a player leads with a Joker, the holder of the other Joker must also play theirs, and other player may play whatever card in hand.
Teams keep cumulative scores. Scores are dependent on if bids were fulfilled or not. If the bid is met, the bidding teams adds the particular number of points won to their running score. Below are the rules for scoring bids:
- 5, 6, 7, 8: Score the amount of the bid if met. If not met, the other team wins those points.
- Mulot: 15 points if successful, if not the opposing team scores 7 points.
- Charlemagne: 16 points if successful, if not the opposing team scores 8 points.
- Gros Mulot: 30 points if successful, if not the opposing team scores 15 points.
- Gros Charlemagne: 32 points if successful, if not the opposing team scores 16 points.
The first team to score 32+ points wins the game.
9 thoughts on “Charlemagne”
I was delighted to find this. My folks in Maine played this card game all the time I was growing up, but we never learned how to play it. I was like finding a piece of history that I lived as a child.
Barbara that is so awesome to hear. Comments like this motivate us to do what we do. Hugs to you and happy game play!
What part of Maine are you from?
We are Pelletier family from Eagle Lake Maine
I’ve played Charlemagne all my life .. I’m 63 … Southern New England …
My French parents from northern Maine … Fort Kent and Lille … plus relatives all throughout Maine … We ALL played the same …
My grandmother played an awesome game, right up to 3 days before passing on at nearly 101 …
We played way different rules … And we called some of the parts of the game different than what you have …
We NEVER played with Jokers … and for a trump bid … 9 is high, then Big Jack of trump, Little Jack, Ace, K, Q, 10, 8, 7
It would take me an article the size of yours to explain the Charlemagne rules that all of us French people played … Yours is totally foreign to me …
Hi Willard, thank you for reaching out and telling me about your experience with Charlemagne! The version you play with sounds very interesting and I will have to look into it and see if I can find anything similar online to add to the rules here. Thank you again for enlightening me to this other version! Happy Gaming.
We played charlemagne years ago like willard. My husbands parents were from fort kent. I can’t remember all the rules.if anyone has time would you send them to me. I would like to play it again thank you.
Hi Roger, I am actually working on uploading this variation to the site. I will more than likely be up on the site next week and will be titled Maine Charlemagne.
We play similar to you. We’re in Central Maine. We learned from our parents and uncles. I’m 58. We never used Jokers either. We also start bidding with 4, not 5. We don’t use a Kitty. We also can bid “no trump” but the same numerical bid calling for trump beats a “no trump”bid
Hi Rick, thank you for sharing!