A card game for 4 or more players
By Thorin N. Tatge

INTRODUCTION: Above Water is a game of trading, negotiating, and trying to stay afloat under pressure.  Its rules are simple, but through ingenuity and shrewdness the players have the ability to make the game as interesting and rich as they wish.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED: One deck of cards with jokers.  One ten-sided die for each player (ordinary six-sided dice will do if necessary).  A large collection of small objects such as pennies or go stones.  An object to designate the starting player.

SETUP: The small objects represent money and are called “stones”.  Each player takes 15 stones.  Shuffle the deck and deal three cards face-down to each player.  Each player takes a reference sheet.  Give one player the starting player token.

OVERVIEW: The object of the game is to avoid elimination.  Every turn ends with an ante being paid to the bank; if you lack enough stones to pay the ante, you are eliminated.  The game centers, therefore, on collecting as many stones as possible.  Aside from the fifteen stones that each player receives to begin with, stones can be obtained from the bank only by turning in groups of cards for payment.   In general, the more difficult a combination of cards is to obtain, the more stones it is worth.  In addition to being paid as ante, stones can be spent to buy cards during the auction phase which begins every turn, and can also be exchanged between players as currency.

The types of groups that can be turned in for payment are described in a later section.

ORDER OF PLAY: The game consists of turns in which the following events occur in order:
These events are described in detail below.

Deal cards for auction: To the center of the table, deal out one card for each player remaining in the game, face-up.  If the deck is exhausted, or if the deck was exhausted between auctions, deal out a second card next to each card you just dealt.  In these special auctions, the players do not bid on single cards, but on pairs.
Bid on cards: The players now place bids, in turn, for the cards on the table.  Each player will end up with one card (or one pair of cards, in the case of a special auction).  The starting player bids first, and the bidding proceeds clockwise.  To bid, place your bidding die on one of the cards, and orient it so that it shows the number of stones you are willing to pay for that card.  Bids of 0 are allowed.  It is not permissible to bid more than nine stones.  If you choose to bid on a card that has already has someone’s bidding die on it, you must bid more than that player did.  The player you have outbid must immediately bid again, either for a same card or for another one.  (This may force another player to rebid, and so on.)  Once this is done, the next player in rotation who has not yet bid does so.  This continues until all players have placed a bid, and no two players are bidding on the same card.

Collect cards: All players pay the amount they bid to the bank and take the cards for which they bid.  It is not permitted to turn in a card that you have just bought as part of a group in order to pay for that card.  Any players unable to pay for the cards they have bought are eliminated from the game.  Each player also takes his or her bidding die back and sets it to 0.

Spending Phase: Now comes the phase where deals are encouraged to occur.  As soon as all the players have paid for and collected their cards, the Spending Phase begins.  Each player uses his or her bidding die to keep track of how many cards he or she has turned in so far this turn.  The value of the cards and the amount of payment received for them are not relevant to this calculation: only the number of cards turned in matters.  Once no one has any more deals to make, the Spending Phase is over.  (It may be helpful for the player who has turned in the most cards during the Spending Phase to declare how many cards he or she has turned in and ask if anyone else wishes to contest this by turning in more cards.)

Award Big Spender Bonus: At this point, the player who has turned in the most cards (and thus has the highest number showing on his or her die) collects a Big Spender Bonus of one card from the deck.  If there is a tie for the most cards turned in, all players who are tied collect the Big Spender Bonus.

Pay ante: Now all players must ante stones to the bank in order to remain Above Water and stay in the game.  The number of stones each player must ante begins at 4, and goes up by 1 each time the deck is exhausted.  You may wish to use a separate 10-sided die or some other marker to keep track of how high the ante is.  If any player cannot pay ante, he or she is eliminated from the game.

Rotate starting player: The player with the starting player token passes it one place to the left.  The new starting player will begin the next auction.

TRADING: At any time during the game, it is legal to talk and negotiate with other players, show other players your cards, exchange stones, cards and/or promises with other players, and turn in groups of cards to the bank.

GROUPS: There are four basic types of groups of cards that you can turn in for payment, as well as a special bonus.  These are listed below.

Sets: A set is defined as two or more cards of the same denomination.  The payment for a set is 4 stones for each card beyond the first.  For example, two jacks would be worth 4 stones, and four 5’s would be worth 12 stones.

Runs: A run is defined as two or more consecutive cards of the same suit.  The payment for a run is 4 stones for each card beyond the first.  For example, the 6 and 7 of hearts would be worth 4 stones, while the 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of clubs would be worth 16 stones.  Aces can be counted either high or low when used in a run, but not both at once.

Straights: A straight is like a run, but the cards do not have to be of the same suit.  The payment for a straight is slightly less than that of a run: 3 stones for each card beyond the first.  For example, a 10 and a jack would be worth 3 stones, while a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 would be worth 18 stones.

Clouds: A cloud is a set of five cards of the same color.  The payment for a cloud is 10 stones.  For example, the 2, 3 and jack of clubs, together with the 5 and ace of spades, would be worth 10 stones.

Synergy bonus: If two or more sets are turned in together, and they each include cards in exactly the same suits, the player receives a bonus of three stones for each set beyond the first.  For example, the 3 of diamonds, 3 of hearts, and 3 of spades, together with the 7 of diamonds, 7 of hearts and 7 of spades, would be worth a total of 19 stones (8 for each set, plus 3 for the synergy bonus).  If the 10 of diamonds, 10 of hearts and 10 of spades were included as well, the whole collection would be worth 30 stones (24 for the three sets, plus 6 for the synergy bonus).

Note: You may turn in multiple groups at once, but no card may be part of more than one group.  Thus, if you have the 5 of diamonds, 5 of clubs and 6 of clubs, you must decide whether to turn in the clubs as a run or turn in the 5’s as a set; you cannot do both at once.  This is why the example above under “Clouds” is worth only the standard 10 stones even though the example contains a run.

ACES: The aces are special cards with unique powers.  These are listed below.  An ace can be turned in for its special power or as part of a group, but not both.  If an ace is turned in during the Spending Phase, it counts as one card toward the Big Spender Bonus.

Ace of clubs: The ace of clubs may be turned in along with one or more groups. It allows you to change the suit of 1 or 2 of those cards to whatever suits you like.  Thus, this ace is useful for turning straights into runs, collecting synergy bonuses, and creating clouds.

Ace of diamonds: The ace of diamonds can be played face-up on the table.  In this state, it may be traded to other players, but may never be picked up again.  Whenever the players pay ante, put one stone on the ace of diamonds.  Whoever owns the ace may discard it at any time in exchange for all the stones on it.  It does not count toward the Big Spender Bonus when it is played to the table, but does count when it is discarded for stones.

Ace of hearts: The ace of hearts may be played any time in exchange for three random cards from the deck.

Ace of spades: The ace of spades may be played during the auction in exchange for any card (or in a special auction, any pair of cards) up for auction, with the exception that it may not be used to collect a joker (or a pair containing a joker).  The card (or pair) taken is immediately replaced from the deck.  If any player’s bidding die was on the chosen card (or pair), that player immediately makes a new bid.  The person who played the ace of spades will still participate as normal during the auction.

THE JOKERS: The two jokers are wild.  When you turn in a group containing a joker, you may declare it to have any denomination and suit you wish.  You may declare a joker to be an ace, but you may not use a joker to copy an ace’s special power.

EXHAUSTING THE DECK: If any action causes the deck to be exhausted of cards, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck and continue dealing.  This causes two things to happen.  First, the next time there is an auction, it will be a special auction and the players will bid on pairs of cards instead of single cards.  If the deck is exhausted while dealing cards for an auction, the current auction becomes a special auction.  Second, the ante goes up by 1 for the rest of the game.  Thus, the ante is 4 during the first time through the deck, 5 during the second time through, 6 during the third time, and so on.

If you wish to keep a record of how many times the deck has been exhausted, one possibility is to use a large die as the starting player token, and to have the die show a 1 during the first time through the deck, a 2 the second time, and so on.

In the very unlikely happenstance that some action requires that more cards be dealt than remain in the deck and discard pile combined, all players must immediately pay a round of ante.  They may not make use of cards dealt for the partially completed action in doing this.  Since the deck was exhausted in the process of partially completing the action, the increased ante rate applies.  Players must continue to pay rounds of ante at that rate until either enough cards are turned in to complete the action or one player becomes the winner.

WINNING THE GAME: When only one player remains in the game, that player is the winner.  If all remaining players are unable to pay an ante, the player who is short by the fewest stones wins the game.  If the players are tied in this regard, the player with the most cards remaining is the winner.

VARIANTS: Beginners or shy players may wish to start the ante at 3 instead of 4 to keep the game from ending too soon.  The number of stones each player receives at the beginning can also be adjusted upward or downward to change the length of the game.

Another interesting variant is to deal out cards in sets of increasing size for each auction.  An auction for a five player game would then contain one lot with one card, one lot with two cards, one lot with three cards, one with four, and one with five.  There are no special auctions.  This variant puts a lot more cards into the game, so players using this variant will probably want to increase the initial ante level to 6 or 7.  It may also be advisable to use a double deck, so that the deck does not run out too often.

Above Water is Copyright 2004 by Thorin N. Tatge.

Above Water Reference Sheet