2 of Cups (the cow) from a 19th-century deck
|Alternative names||Luettes, La Vache|
|Skills required||Tactics, Strategy|
|Playing time||45 min.|
|Put, Truc, Truco|
Aluette is an old, plain trick-taking card game played usually by four people divided into two teams that is played on the west coast of France. It is unusual in using a unique pack of 48 Spanish playing cards and a system of signalling between playing partners. The French colloquial names for the game, jeu de la Vache or Vache, refer to the cow depicted on one of the cards.
This game is apparently very old with references to the game of "luettes" by François Rabelais in the early 16th century. As the cards use Spanish suits, it may even predate the invention of French playing cards around 1480. "La luette" means uvula in French and may refer to the fact that it is played with codified signs that allow team members to provide information on their cards during the game. The game is also called "la vache" (the cow) because of the illustration on the 2 of cups card. Due to similarities it has with the game of truc, aluette may have been imported by Spanish merchants.
Aluette was traditionally played in rural and coastal areas in France between the estuaries of the Gironde and the Loire, that is to say, in the western part of the language area of the Saintongeais and Poitevin dialects, especially in its centre, in the department of the Vendée and in the Pays de Retz as far as Saint-Nazaire, as well as in Brittany. It was also played on the overseas islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon near Canada.
Aluette was played as a family game, in tournaments, in clubs and very commonly in cafés until the 1960s. At that time, it was still played around the Brière and in the Guérande peninsula. It was also played a lot in the ports of Cotentin, where it has now died out.
Aluette uses a unique deck of 48 Spanish playing cards where certain pip cards depict figures to show that they outrank their face value. These figures provide the card with their nicknames and are associated with certain gestures players pass to their teammate. The card ranks are as follows:
- 1: Three of Coins (Monsieur/Mister) - look upwards
- 2: Three of Cups (Madame/Misses) - tilt head to the side
- 3: Two of Coins (Le borgne/the blind) - wink
- 4: Two of Cups (La vache/the cow) - pout a "moo"
- 5: Nine of Cups (Grand Neuf/Great Nine) - show the thumb
- 6: Nine of Coins (Petit Neuf/Small Nine) - show the little finger
- 7: Two of Clubs (Deux de chêne/Two of Oaks) - show the index and middle finger
- 8: Two of Swords (Deux d'écrit/Two of Writing) - mime writing
- 9: Aces - open your mouth
- 10: Kings
- 11: Knights
- 12: Knaves
The "Bigailles": The remaining pip cards from the Nines of Swords and Clubs to the Threes of Swords and Clubs. The Five of Coins also includes a depiction of a couple kissing (believed to represent the Catholic Monarchs) and the traditional signal is to "kiss hard" but it has no special value.
Many of the illustrations on aluette decks appeared in other early Spanish packs but have since disappeared like the six-pointed stars on the Four of Coins.
Grimaud, a subsidiary of Cartamundi's France Cartes, is the only producer of Aluette decks at present. Since 1998, cards have included the nicknames, hinting gestures, and game ranking indices on their cards.
The cards are dealt clockwise with each player receiving nine cards and twelve cards should be left over. Alternatively, if all players agree, the remaining 12 cards can be dealt to the dealer and the player to his left. Each would then discard the six lowest cards in their hand. This is known as chanter (singing).
Each deal consists of nine tricks. The tricks taken are counted per person and not per team. At the end of the deal, the player who has taken the most tricks earns a point for his team. If two players have won the same number of tricks, the first to have reached the winning number of tricks wins the deal. The player to the dealer's left becomes the next dealer and starts the next deal. A game comprises five deals.
The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. Any card can be played but only the highest will win. If there is a tie, then the trick is 'spoiled' (pourri) and no one wins that trick. The player that wins or spoils the trick will lead to the next. Players may only communicate to their partner using signals and gestures as described above.
A special rule is that any player who wins the last three tricks without having won the previous six, will win the deal and score 2 points. This is making mordienne. Players can signal their intention to make mordienne to their partner by biting their lips. Players who feel that they may have a bad hand can raise their shoulders signalling to their partner that they should give up. Surrendering is an option as it will award only one point to the opposition rather than two if mordienne was achieved.
Example of an Aluette pack
The images below come from an Aluette pack published in the second half of the 19th century by cardmakers, Grimaud: