Written by Howard Fosdick © BestFreeNewGames.com

Overview: Zetema was invented about 1871, published in an 1881 games book, then quietly forgotten. While based on a novel concept, Zetema has minor defects that likely led to its demise.

In 1969, game expert Sid Sackson rediscovered Zetema and recognized the game's potential. He corrected its rules and modernized it. Then he published it in his book, A Gamut of Games. This led to renewed interest in this novel game among the games enthusiasts.

Like Bezique, Zetema features a game lifecyle. Scoring ebbs and flows. The game feels like a cross between Bezique and Rummy.

Zetema is probably not one of the world's great games, so perhaps it doesn't earn its place on this web site, since our goal is to unearth fantastic little-known games. But it's interesting to step back into the minds of the Victorians through a game that reflects their love of the ornate. The game also provides strategic interest.

Players: Zetema is flexible -- from 2 to 6 can play. 3 works especially well. 4 or 6 play best in partnerships. The partnerships for 6 may be either 2 partnerships of 3 each or 3 partnerships of 2 each.

Goal: For two or three players, the goal is to be the first to score at least 300 points across as many hands as necessary. If four or more play, the winning total is 200 points.

Deck and Deal: Zetema uses a 65 card deck. This is a regular deck of 52 cards, plus one "duplicated suit" from another deck. Make the Zetema deck by taking the 13 Spades from a second deck and shuffling them into a regular 52 card deck. The duplicate suit is called the imperial suit. Use Spades as the imperial suit for consistency and convenience.

For two to five players, deal 6 cards each. For six players, deal 5 cards each. (In the game description that follows, we assume a 6-card hand).

Play: In each turn, a player performs these three steps:

  1. Draws as many cards as necessary to bring his hand up to six cards
  2. Plays one meld or combination (if possible and if desired)
  3. Discards one card to the tableau

Tableau: A player ends his turn by discarding one card to the tableau. The tableau is rather like the layout of a solitaire game. There are 13 different piles of cards, one for each rank. Discards are placed face-up in skewed stacks so that every card is visible.

Scoring Combinations: A player can score for one combination in each turn. The combinations that may be scored are:


Sequence6 cards in numerical order10
Flush6 cards of the same suit30
Flush Sequence6 cards of the same suit in numerical order50
Assembly5 cards of the same rankSee chart below
MarriageKing and Queen of the same suitSee chart below


Kings or Queens 130
Jacks 120
Aces or 5's 110
All other ranks 100


Number of Marriages:Score:
   1   10
   2   30
   3   60
   4  100
   5  150

Any marriage in the duplicated suit scores an extra 10 points when fewer than 5 are declared.

You can score for one combination in a turn. To do so, display the meld to your opponent, write down the score for the combination, then end your turn by discarding one card from the combination to the tableau. The tableau consists of 13 piles of face-up cards, one pile for each rank.

If the combination is a marriage, special rules apply. A marriage consists of a King and Queen in the same suit. You can declare any number of marriages in one turn (the more you declare at once, the more points you score). Of these one or more marriages, only one card need be from your hand. Any other cards required may be taken from the tableau. So marriages consist of one or more pairs of same-suit Kings and Queens, any number of which may be from the tableau, as long as at least one card is from your hand.

Declare marriages by showing them to your opponent. Score them, then place them all face-up in their own marriage discard pile. This face-up discard pile is for marriages only (it is not part of the tableau).

Scoring Zetemas: After a player declares his combination for a turn (if any), he discards one card, face-up, to the proper pile in the tableau. If this card is the fifth one for that rank, the player scores points for a zetema. Zetemas score these points:


Kings or Queens   50
Jacks   20
Aces or 5's   15
All other ranks     5

After a player scores a zetema, he places those cards face-down in a special zetema discard pile. These cards no longer participate in the hand.

Ending a Hand: Once the stock is exhausted, players can no longer draw cards at the start of their hands. They continue to play by discarding cards to the tableau and scoring zetemas. Any player who can not continue simply drops out while the other players finish. In a two-player game, any player completing a zetema is required to continue playing as long as he can do so. He continues to discard and complete any zetemas he can. Then he discards one card to end his turn, as always.

Strategy: First, note a couple elements of play. If a single marriage is declared, no one will ever score a zetema for Kings or Queens because scoring even one marriage makes it impossible to ever accumulate 5 Kings or Queens in the tableau. This is because declared marriages are placed in their own discard pile.

Assemblies are statistically difficult to attain. Remember that an Assembly consists of 5 cards of the same rank. Assemblies tend to tie up your hand while you seek the necessary cards. Their high scores may not counterbalance these downsides.

If you seek marriages, you must decide whether to accumulate a large number of them for one large score, or to score for them piecemeal. The scoring chart shows that declaring a larger number of marriages at once increases the points awarded per marriage. The downside is that the larger number of marriages is harder to achieve and ties up your hand while you chase them. Kings and Queens in the tableau you might want to use are exposed to your opponent while you try for the larger number of marriages.

An very effective Zetema strategy is to try for flushes, sequences, and flush sequences in the imperial suit. Since the suit is duplicated, your chances of getting cards in this suit are higher. After a score, you discard one card from the combination you just declared. This opens up the flush or sequence for you to reconstitute and score for again, just by adding a single card. The likelihood of getting such a card is high in the duplicated suit.

An important decision is whether to go for assemblies, marriages, or flushes, sequences, and flush sequences. Assemblies are tough to get, since you must draw all five cards of one rank from the deck. Marriages are much easier, but your strategy may be exposed to disruption by your opponent if he marries any Kings or Queens on the tableau before you meld them.

The flushes-sequences-flush sequences strategy offers multiple scores using the same cards. It is especially statistically inviting when you work with the imperial suit.

Whatever combinations you try for, watch your opponent's discards to the tableau. This information tells you what cards you'll never draw and gives strong clues as to what cards your opponent has. It even discloses the combinations he may be striving for.

Enhanced Rules: The rules above are standard Zetema with this one enhancement -- play stops immediately in standard Zetema once a player attains the game score of either 200 or 300 points. This happens even if players are in the middle of a hand. We've simplified the game by allowing players to fully play out the last hand. Otherwise you must keep running point totals while playing.

Sources: These rules are those published in Sid Sackson's A Gamut of Games and David Parlett's Oxford A-Z of Card Games. Their rules differ in minor but vital respects from those of the original game as published in the late 1800's.

Copyright © 2023 by H. Fosdick.      HOME