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One And Thirty - A Medieval Card Game

Updated on February 25, 2015
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

The badge of the Avacal Games Guild
The badge of the Avacal Games Guild | Source

The Game

The game of thirty one is still a common game played, I know I played it as a child quite often. The Oxford Dictionary of Card Games claims that this game has been around since at least the fifteenth century (Parlett, 1996). The simplicity of the game lends credence to the fact that the game has probably been around for a very long time.

One and Thirty is played with two or more players using a traditional 52 card deck. Three cards are dealt to each player. Once the cards are dealt each player is asked if they will stick or if they want another card, if they want another card the dealer draws one from the bottom of the deck for them. Once all players have stuck then the players lay down their cards in order they were dealt. If a player is over 31 points then they are out. The player closest to 31 points without going over wins the game.

The Gambling Variant

As with almost any medieval game, gambling was a big part of One and Thirty. Played much like blackjack when gambling is involved however there was no doubling down just simply bet at the beginning, Willughby seems to imply that the dealer was not actually playing. When gambling a player that hits 31 exactly is hitter and wins double (Willughby, 2003). Why anyone would play as a dealer when they are simply paying out is beyond me, I would have to assume that the dealer was playing, but as a banker and against all players and winning all bets if the dealer hits exactly 31 before any player does.

Bon Ace

Bon Ace is a One and Thirty variant in which you deal the last card of the three cards dealt to each player face up. This is the players’ first scoring opportunity. The player with the highest turned up card wins a counter from all other players, this indicates the game would be played as a betting game or with counters such as poker chips.

This is also one of the rare circumstances in medieval card games in which the ace is a high card. In Bon Ace an Ace beats all other cards during the face card counting, but is still only worth one during gameplay, the Ace of Hearts is the “Bon Ace” and beats all (Willughby, 2003).

The rest of the game is played the same as a normal game of One and Thirty.

Hannikin Canst Abide

Hannikin Canst Abide it is a One and Thirty Variant in which you only count up to fifteen instead of thirty one, you are also only dealt one card at a time. The dealer than asks each player “Hannikin Cans’t Abide it” to which the player says “he can” if he wants another card, or “he cannot” if he does not want another card. (Willughby, 2003).


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