OBJECT OF VATRA: The object of Vatra is to not be the loser at the end of the game.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 3 to 13 players. 

MATERIALS: A standard deck of 52 cards (some games require at least one joker), a way to keep score, and a flat surface.

TYPE OF GAME: Matching Card Game



Vatra (meaning Fire) is a card passing card game for 3 to 13 players. The goal of the game is to avoid being the loser at the end of the game and being punished.

This game is traditionally played by young boys but can be modified to play any age group as long as the punishments are agreed upon before the game begins.


The deck is modified based on the number of players. The deck consists of a complete set of 4 cards of rank for each player. For example, in a 3-player game, you can use all Aces, King, and Queens for the deck. In a 13-player game, all 52 cards are used.

The dealer is chosen randomly and shuffles the deck and deals each player four cards facedown.


The game starts with the player to the left of the dealer. This player chooses one card from their hand to pass to their left. The player who receives this card will then check their hand for a four of a kind and may then pass any card from their hand to the left as well. This continues around the table until a player receives a four of a kind in their hand and will then slam their hands on the table revealing their cards and yell “Fire!”. Other players once they realize what has happened must follow suit, slamming their hands on the table and yelling “Fire!”, the last player to do so loses the game.


The game ends when a player loses, and they will be punished. For a traditional game the winner of the hand (the one who called fire), will shuffle the full 52 card deck. The loser will then name any card within the deck of a suit and rank. Starting with the top card of the deck the winner will reveal cards until the declared card is revealed. Each card that is not the declared card results in punishment for the loser by the winner.

The loser will put his hand on the table down and is punished by the suit of each non-declared card revealed.

For a spade the winner will hit the hand of the loser, using his sift like a hammer. For a club, the winner rubs his knuckles against the loser’s hand twice in the shape of a cross. For diamonds, the winner pinches and twists the back of the loser’s hand, and for hearts the winner pets the back of the loser’s hand like a dog.

Once the declared card is revealed the loser’s punishment is over.


There is a special variation of the rules called the traveling card. The traveling card is added to the deck during setup and is a single card of a suit not used in the deck. If a full deck is being used, then a joker will be needed to be the traveling card. The deal is normal except the player to the dealer’s left will receive a 5th card in their hand.

The players will look at their hands and the player who has the traveling card must reveal it to all other players. The card is then taken back into their hand and they must secretly shuffle their cards.

Only a few rules change for this game type. Now when players receive a card, they will have a hand of 5 cards before passing. When a player is passing a card, the receiver may choose to refuse the first card the player attempted to pass, before they have seen it. The player passing must then chose another card to pass to that player which cannot be refused.

If a player has a hand of four of a kind but also has the traveling card, they cannot call Vatra unless they can successfully pass the traveling card. if they can do this then they may declare Vatra.  

Amber Crook
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