Black Maria

Black Maria is a card game which is similar to Hearts. It uses a standard deck of cards and makes an enjoyable evening when played with some friends. You don't want to win any of the penalty cards. (For some other variations of Black Maria see, Hearts, Black Bess and Black Lady.) Players try to avoid winning tricks which contain penalty cards, with Aces High.

Age: Adults and older children

No. of players: 3-7

Equipment: One standard deck of cards (remove the jokers)

Time: 20 minutes+

Aim: To be the player with the least number of points at the end of the game.

(See Glossary if you are confused about any card game terms. The Glossary will open in a new window.) Depending on the number of players you may need to remove some cards from the deck.

    3 players - Remove the 2♠
    4 players - No cards removed
    5 players - Remove both black 2s (2♠ and 2♣)
    6 players - Remove all four 2s (2♠, 2♣, 2 and 2)
    7 players - Remove 2♠, 2♣ and 2

1. The dealer is chosen by cutting the deck. Lowest card becomes dealer. All cards are dealt, one at a time, face down in a clockwise direction starting with the player on the dealer's left.

2. After the cards are dealt but before play starts, each player chooses a number of cards to pass to the player on their left. The number of cards passed depends on the number of players.

    3 players - 4 cards
    4 or 5 players - 3 cards
    6 or 7 players - 2 cards

Players usually choose to pass any high hearts or other penalty cards (A♠, K♠, Q♠), but could also choose to pass other cards, especially Aces or suits with only a few cards (in order to short suit their hand) so they have less chance of winning hearts.

3. Player One (to the dealer's left) leads the first trick by putting any card from their hand face up in the middle of the table. Player Two must follow suit (if possible) but can play offsuit if necessary. Other players also play their cards to complete the trick.

4. The player with the highest card of the suit which was led wins the trick. If the trick contains any penalty cards, they are placed face up in front of the player who won the trick. The penalty cards in Black Maria are all the hearts, the Ace of Spades (A♠), King of Spades (K♠) and the Queen of Spades (Q♠, known as Black Maria). All other cards are placed in a pile at the side of the table, ready for the next hand.

5. The player who won the trick leads the second trick, and so on. Players must follow suit if they can, but it is good strategy to play their highest heart (e.g. A) if they offsuit (since they cannot win that trick with an offsuit card). Likewise, if you must lead a heart make it small (e.g. 3), hoping that another player will win the trick with a larger card.

6. Once the hand is finished, each player adds up their score, depending on the penalty cards in the hands they won. Each heart is worth one point, so you can score from zero (if you won no hearts) to thirteen (if you won every heart) in each hand. The Ace of Spades (A♠) is worth 7 points, the King of Spades (K♠)is worth 10 points and the Queen of Spades (Q♠, Black Maria) is worth 13 points. Players who renege (play off suit when they should have followed suit) score ten points extra.

7. The player to the left of the dealer becomes the new dealer for the next hand. Play continues for either;

    (i) a certain time period,
    (ii) an agreed number of hands, or
    (iii) until one player exceeds a certain score (say 50 points).

(Players should agree how the game will finish before the game commences.)

8. The overall winner is the player with the lowest score at the end of the game.


A player cannot lead a heart until another player has 'broken hearts' by offsuiting.

Click on the links below for more Card Games such as ...
More card games for two players
Card games for children of all ages
Crazy Eights
Go Fish
Hockey Card Game
Old Maid
My Ship Sails
Clock Patience (for one player)

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