Elements: Official Card Game Rules
In the first card game designed by mages and for mages, 3-7 players battle
it out in a mad scramble for matching cards. Fast-paced simultaneous
play, a continuous free-for-all in the center of the table, "islands" of
defended cards that can be upended by "whirlwinds," and the meta-game of
spellcraft make this a game of deep strategy, quick wits and unexpected
One standard 52-card deck of playing cards, no jokers. We cannot in good
conscience recommend a Tarot deck's minor arcana for this game.
Get four of a single type of card in your Flame. First player to do so
wins the round. "Card type" refers to the card's number; suit has no
effect on the game.
3 to 7 mages.
- EARTH - Every player possesses an equal-sized Island of
cards on the play area in front of them:
- 3 players - 6 cards each.
- 4 players - 4 cards each.
- 5 players - 3 cards each.
- 6 or 7 players - 2 cards each.
- FIRE - Every player also holds a Flame. This is where you
collect cards toward your four of a kind. Your Flame can only have one
type of card in it at a time.
- WATER - All other cards are spread out face down in the
Ocean, a communal area between and within reach of all the players. We
recommend you define the physical limits of the Ocean before the game;
leave room on the play area for the Islands. A typical Ocean is "within
three vertical feet of the tabletop, and at least six inches from any of
its edges" (which are marked for convenience).
- AIR - Under certain circumstances, players can be forced to
exchange cards. See Gameplay.
- Your "Hand" is the thing with the fingers. The group of cards
that you hold is not your hand, it's your Flame. Players with two hands
have a Flame Hand (to hold the Flame; even if the Flame is empty, that
hand may not be used for anything else) and a Play Hand. Players with
more than two hands must limit themselves to two, e.g. by putting the
extras behind their back.
- Your Play Hand may only touch one card at a time. The first player
whose Play Hand touches a card claims it, and it is under their sole
control until they add it to their Flame, add it to their Island, or
voluntarily let go and release the claim. (This rule may not be used to
delay play; you must immediately forfeit cards you cannot legally add to
either your Flame or Island.)
- All Flames start out empty.
- Before the game, each Island is filled with random cards face-down.
Players may not look at these (with eyes or otherwise) until the game has
begun. The dealer fans out the remainder of the deck face-down in the
- STARTING OR RESTARTING: All players move their play hand to touch the
center of the Ocean. The dealer then counts down "3, 2, 1, go," at which
time play starts. All players' first actions must be to move their play
hand to touch one of the cards in their Island; play then proceeds
- You may not use magic to physically affect any player, including
yourself. No action you take may cause harm or pain, or the illusion
- You may not mentally affect any player in a way that continues
beyond the end of the round. You may not mentally affect other players in
any way that constrains their free will (note that altering perceptions is
specifically not a constraint of this type). It is your own
responsibility to guard against incoming mental effects.
- You are the only player allowed to affect your Island or see its
cards (this includes scrying or remote vision). You are the only player
allowed to affect your Flame, but there is no rule against other players
seeing it -- guard it well! You are the only player allowed to affect a
card you have claimed. If you are maintaining a continuing effect on a
card that another player claims, you must stop that effect.
- Any number of players may magically affect any number of unclaimed
Ocean cards at any time, in any combination. You may magically affect
unclaimed Ocean cards even if you currently have a card in your Play Hand.
- At all times, there must be 52 cards in play and there must be
four cards of each type. Cards may not be transformed into cards of other
types, but obfuscation or surreality is quite permissible (such as
transforming every four into the Four of Hearts, or changing a Jack of
Spades into a Jack of Dragons). Transforming two cards so as to swap them
is legal, as long as it breaks no other rules.
- Any card transformation must leave all affected cards' type
unambiguous and leave a legible number or letter identifier in at least
one corner of each card. Jacks' faces must have moustaches and no beard;
Kings' faces must have full beards; Queens must have neither.
- Ocean cards may only be claimed by your Play Hand. You may only
cause them to leave the Ocean by claiming them. You may otherwise affect
cards within the Ocean in any non-destructive way you want, including but
not limited to swapping, scrying, illusions, flipping, shuffling, drawing
toward you, moving away from other players, or invisibility.
- Cards not in the Ocean may only be moved by your Play Hand, and may
not be magically affected except for "vanity" transformations (those that
leave the type unchanged), illusions, and scrying (where legal). Cards
not in the Ocean must remain visible at all times.
- If any action you take (it'll probably be magic, but any action
counts) causes you to be in violation of a rule, you must stop and take no
other game actions until you have reversed your rule violation. After
that, move your Play Hand to touch one of the cards in your Island, then
resume play as normal.
- In exceptionally confusing circumstances, players may agree to a
temporary game halt to determine who's in violation of what, and how.
Once that's sorted out, restart the game by using the communal
center-touching method described in Setup. Do not fix any rule violations
until the game is restarted, unless players cannot agree on whose fault a
violation is. We suggest having an impartial judge handy.
- Play is in simultaneous real time. There are no turns. Actions
may be taken as quickly as desired.
- You may add or remove cards from your Island at any time. Cards
removed from your Island may be placed in your Flame or the Ocean. You
may have fewer cards in your Island than the number you started with, but
you may never have more. If your Island currently is full, you must move
a card from it to the Ocean or to your Flame before you can add a new one.
- You may add or remove cards from your Flame at any time. Cards
removed from your Flame must be placed in the Ocean. If your Flame has
any cards, you may only add cards of that type. You can "light a flame"
(add the first card) with a card of any type.
- Every time you place a card in the Ocean, your Play Hand must touch
a card in your Island before touching the discarded card again. You may
magically affect the discarded card just like any other unclaimed card.
- Any time your Play Hand is empty and your Flame has at least one
card, you may invoke the power of Air. To do this, take EVERY card in
your Flame and place them in the Ocean. (Do this with all cards at once;
this is a specific exception to the one-card-at-a-time Play Hand rule.)
Immediately announce "Whirlwind!" to the table. All players (including
yourself) must immediately finish their current action, empty their Play
Hand if necessary, and then take their entire Island into their Play Hand
and pass it one player to the left. (Do this with all cards at once; this
is a specific exception to the one-card-at-a-time Play Hand rule.) They
then continue play as normal.
- During a Whirlwind, you may create or continue magical effects as
normal, but you may not claim or move any cards until you have passed your
Island to the next player.
- When you add a fourth card of the same type to your Flame, say
"Fire!" (We cannot endorse playing this game in crowded theaters.) Play,
and all magical effects, immediately stop. Once your foursome has been
verified, you win the round and a new round may begin from scratch.
Adaptation for Non-Mages
This card game was designed specifically for people with the skill to push
a deck of cards far beyond its ordinary limits. However, a simplified
version can be played that gives a partial flavor of the original:
- Give everyone a chance to look at, and arrange, their Island
before the game starts. Start with the Ocean face-up, although players
may of course turn these cards face-down or otherwise move them around
during the course of the game.
- Non-mage games are far more vulnerable to "instant win" situations,
where everyone blitzes for one of the types with all four cards showing in
the Ocean and at least one player manages to get it. To prevent this, you
may want to double the Island size (and, optionally, force each player to
reduce Island size by one after each Whirlwind).
- The non-mage game is a great deal more visual, so attempt to keep the
cards evenly spread out and face-up. Players may rearrange these cards
with their Play Hand, and touch multiple cards at a time as long as they
all stay within the Ocean, but extreme actions such as stacking all the
cards together into a pile will just annoy everyone playing.
- If a player wants a specific card but activity in the Ocean is making
it hard to see or reach, they may call out the card name (including suit);
this dibs-calling is outranked by a physical touch made before the entire
card name is stated, but otherwise counts as a valid claim. A verbal
claim can only be made if the player's Play Hand is empty and if the
stated card is currently in the Ocean. It is nullified if the player
(verbally or physically) claims any other card.