Laugh and Lie Down

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The information about this SCA-period game was provided by THL Meala Caimbuel.

For three to five players using a French-suited 52 card deck.


The OED records mention of Laugh and Lie Down as early as 1522, these rules are inspired by Francis Willughby's Volume of Plaies, c1665. It is the earliest known example of a game of the Fishing family, as Willughby rightly remarks, "There is no other game at cards that is anything a kin to this." The name seems to come from the fact that the first player or two who “lays down” their cards is met with laughter from the others still in the game.


The original rules have very specific instructions for dealing and paying-out that changes depending on the number of players and how many pairs each has scored. I have modified these in a manner to simplify play that, I think, is still true to the spirit of the original game.

Goal of the Game

To take cards in pairs of the same rank (two Aces, two Kings, etc.)


To pair a card from your hand with one in the middle of the same rank.
Four cards of like rank
Pair Royal
Three cards of like rank
Play Down
Put pairs, face up, in front of you.
Lie/Lay down
Place cards face up in the middle.


This is a gambling game for between three and five players. One player is the dealer, and he puts up a stake that the winner will get. (There are advantages to being the dealer.)

The dealer deals all the cards. The game uses a “widow’s hand” so there will be one more hand than there are players.; deal any extra cards into this hand. The widow’s hand is then turned face up in the middle of the table. If there are any mournivals face up, the go to the dealer before play starts.


Play rotates around the table, and on your turn you must mate a card from the table with one in your hand. If you can not, you must lie down, and pay a stake to all players remaining in the game. When there is only one player left, he make take one last turn, and then lays all remaining cards down. The dealer takes the remaining pairs for score. (This is the advantage mentioned earlier.)

A pair face-up, on the table must be mated one-by-one, but a pair royal on the table can be gathered all at once.

Playing out-of-turn

You may play down out-of-turn under the following conditions:

  • If you have a mournival in your hand, (since it can't match with anything on the table).
  • If you have a pair in your hand, and someone else has played down the other pair. (Since it can no longer be mated from the table.)
  • If you have a pair royal in your hand, you may play down a pair. (Since only one card of it can ever be paired from the table.)


Willughby recommends that this be played as a fast-paced game, and notes that mistakes are common. In general, if you catch someone else's mistake, you can benefit from it.

  • If the dealer overlooks a mournival on the table, the person who notices it first can take it. (Give the dealer a chance to notice it, though.)
  • If a pair royal is on the table, and a player takes only one of it, the player who notices can take the other pair.
  • If a player lays down when he could have mated, resulting in a pair being on the table, and the other two cards of that rank have already been played down, the player that points that out may take that pair at any time.


When all cards are played down, the player with the most pairs wins and get the original stake put up by the dealer.


Willughby notes a number of strategy points. The general thread is that if you have a certain mate, leave it for last -- you want to get as many chances to mate as possible.

  • If you have a pair royal in your hand, and the fourth is on the table, leave it for last -- no one else can take it.
  • Similarly, if you have a pair in your hand, and the corresponding pair is on the table, leave it. If a pair is on the table, and you have a third, you are guaranteed one of the pair on the table, so leave it.
  • However, if you have a simple mate -- you have a single card which matches a single card on the table -- take it as soon as possible.

This was heavily influenced by Justin du Coeur's page [1]

Back to The Widow's Hand