Lohai was invented by me (Jake Zukowski) while I was laying next to a pool in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2009. After years and years of testing and designing and redesigning the game, I finally released it in 2013. It's an easy game to pick up but difficult to master. There are numerous variations to change up the play if you and your group desires.
Lohai is a trick-taking game where trump varies from hand to hand. It is a four-player game where everyone plays for themselves, but there are also versions for three players or four players in fixed partnerships. More variations are being created every day. If you would like to keep abreast of new variants, like the Lohai facebook page, follow Lohai on Twitter, or subscribe to the Lohai newsletter.
Thanks to Matt McElvogue for creating and testing some of these variants.
The object of Lohai is to take either the least or most number of tricks per hand. This is where the name of the game comes from. The person taking the least number of tricks is the "Lo" and the most number of tricks the "Hai".
The four players are playing for themselves. Deal and play happens clockwise.
A modified deck of 52 cards is used which you can either purchase or create yourself. 44 of the cards are regular suited cards and 8 are unsuited special cards. There are two types of special cards. Black cards affect the current trick's winner and are named the Giver and the Taker. Red cards bring randomness into the game and are named the Mover and the Shaker. The 44 suited cards rank from highest to lowest: K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Note that there are no Aces or Tens in the deck.
The first dealer is chosen by the players and the turn to deal rotates clockwise. The cards are shuffled and then dealt singly clockwise beginning with the player on dealer's left until each player has 9 cards. The remaining cards are used in the game, so keep them close. From the remaining stack, flip up the top card from the for everyone to see. This card shows two things. First, the point value in the upper-right corner is the score for the hand. Second, the suit of determines what is trump for the hand. If the card flipped up is a special card, there is no trump suit in the hand.
The player to dealer's left leads any card. Clockwise, each player singly in turn must either play a special card or a card of the same suit. Note that a special card can be played at any time, even if the player could follow suit.
North leads a 5 of Spades. East follows suit and plays an 8 of Spades. South has spades in her hand but chooses to play a special card, the Giver, instead.
Players only play one card from their hand per trick. If a player is unable to follow suit, the player may play any card. For the purposes of following suit, the first suit shown in a trick is the lead suit.
If the South player leads a Taker, the West player can play whatever she chooses. If she plays a 9 of Clubs, the North and East players must follow suit playing a club or, optionally, could play a special card even if they have clubs in their hand.
Once everyone plays a card for the trick, the winner of the trick is determined. A trick containing a black special card is controlled by the last player to play either a Giver or Taker. (More about what is meant by "controlled" later.) A trick containing a trump but no Givers or Takers is won by the highest trump card played. If neither a Giver, Taker, or a trump card was played, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
It's important to know how many tricks every player has. You can not hide, obfuscate, or otherwise deceive another player about how many tricks you currently have. When you win a trick, it's best to sweep them up into a tidy pile and make little "books" in front of you.
Special cards affect the play and can be extremely useful in winning Lo or Hai for a hand.
Black special cards affect who will win the current trick. They are the ultimate trump and can only be defeated by another black special card.
The Giver gives the current trick to another player. The trick can not be given to yourself. The only thing that beats a Giver is another Giver or Taker played after it. Whoever plays the last Giver controls who gets the current trick once everyone has played. The recipient of the trick leads the next trick.
The Taker takes the current trick for the player. Like the Giver, the only thing that beats a Taker is another Giver or Taker played after it. Whoever plays the last Taker takes the current trick and leads the next trick.
Red special cards inject randomness into the current trick and can equalize the game. They are very powerful when played at the right time.
The Mover can hang some folks up but it's actually quite easy. If you are currently in a non-scoring position, meaning you do not have nor are tied for the most or least number of tricks, playing the Mover allows you to immediately move a previously won trick from any player to any other. You can move a previously won trick to or from yourself. Once you move a trick, take a random card from the remaining stack and place it on top of your Mover. This is your play for the current trick.
If you are currently either Lo or Hai in the hand or are tied for Lo or Hai in the hand, the Mover does not allow you to move a previously won trick on the table. You can still play the card, but you only get to take a random card from the remaining stack and place it on your Mover as your play for the current trick.
North has three tricks, East has one trick, South has one trick, and West has zero tricks. North currently is Hai for the hand and West is Lo. North leads a Jack of Hearts and East follows suit by playing a 4 of Hearts. South plays the Mover. Because South is in the middle of the pack, she can move a previously won trick on the table. She decides to move her one trick from herself to East. A random card is drawn and placed on top of the Mover (a 2 of Spades) and West plays a 9 of Hearts. North wins the trick.
The Shaker steals a card in play for the trick as makes it your own. Whoever plays the Shaker takes a card on the table and places the card on top of the Shaker as their play for the trick. Then, a random card from the remaining stack is drawn and placed it in front of the player whose card was stolen as their play for the trick.
South leads the 8 of Diamonds. West plays a Taker. North plays a Shaker. North steals West's Taker and places it on top of her Shaker. A card is taken off the stack for West ... it's a 7 of Hearts. East plays a Queen of Diamonds.
If you lead with a Shaker, no cards are in play to steal. Just take a random card from the remaining stack and place it on the Shaker. This is the lead for the trick.
At the end of the hand, the two players that have the least tricks (the Lo) and most tricks (the Hai) score points. If two or more players tie for either Lo or Hai, no players score those points.
The person who reaches 1,500 points first wins the game. If two players reach 1,500 points in the same deal, the side with the higher score wins. If the two players are tied, both players win.
There are some special cases which might cause some arguments. I've added some plays below to help clear up any ambiguities. Let me know if you run into any weird cases and I can help you work through them.
If you play a red special card as the lead, the random card from the stack you put on top of it to replace it is the lead suit.
South leads a Mover in the first trick. Because she is tied for both Hai and Lo (everyone has zero tricks), she can't move a trick. A random card from stack is drawn and placed on top. It's a 4 of Diamonds. Diamonds is now the lead suit.
If a black special card is played first, the next player is free to play whatever he would like. If he chooses to play a suited card, that is considered the lead suit.
If the South player leads a Taker, the West player can play whatever she chooses. If she plays a 9 of Clubs, the North and East players must follow suit playing a Club or, optionally, could play a special card even if they have Clubs in their hand.
Remember that red cards are dealt with immediately and black cards aren't resolved until the end of the trick. Players can make for some crazy tricks by playing multiple Givers, Takers, Movers, and Shakers.
Imagine that trump is Diamonds and South and West are going for Hai. East plays a King of Clubs. South plays a 9 of Diamonds. West plays a Shaker and steals the 9 of Diamonds for himself. A random card is drawn off the stack for South and it is a Shaker. She now can steal a card in play. She steals back her 9 of Diamonds from West. West gets a card off the stack (a 6 of Hearts) and North follows suit and plays a Jack of Clubs. South wins the trick.
I'm probably not one to give strategy tips because, for a guy who invented the game, I seem to lose at it quite a bit. But here's what I've learned from the people who play better than me.
This version just changes scoring slightly. If two or more players tie for either Lo or Hai, those points are carried over into the next hand instead of discarded. Make sure you are recording the score for both Lo and Hai on your scoresheet if you do this. You may also want to increase the winning score to 2,000 points.
Let's say a hand is worth 200 points. At the end of a hand, North has two tricks, East has one trick, South has one trick and West has five tricks. West scores 200 points for Hai and no one scores for Lo. The next hand is dealt and 250 points is shown in the turned up card. That means Hai is worth 250 and Lo is now worth 450 points. (200 from the previous hand, 250 for this hand.)
One additional rule is needed for this version. Points for getting Lo or Hai peak at 25 points below a winning score. For example, if you are playing to 1,500, no one hand can score you more than 1,475 points. This way, no player can win the game by just winning one hand.
Instead of every man for himself, Partnership Lohai puts you in teams. The object of the game is for each teammate to score 800 points independently. The first team to have two players scoring 800 points or more a piece wins the game.
While you are allowed to speculate aloud with your partner about the intentions of the other team, you can not talk about your strategy. Doing so deducts 25 points from your score for the first offense, 50 points for the second, and 100 points thereafter.
If you reach 800 points, you keep playing the game but your strategy for winning changes. Your objective then is to ensure your partner gets to 800.
This version is for very experienced Lohai players and not for the faint of heart. Instead of Shakers stealing a card in play, Shakers flip all of the cards' values for the trick. That means the lowest card played wins the trick. The next trick, everything reverts back to normal.
When a Shaker is played, instead of stealing a card in play, just draw a random card from the remaining stack and play it on top of the Shaker as that player's play for the trick.
The rules for who wins the trick change as follows:
Trump is Diamonds. South leads with a 6 of Clubs. West plays a 4 of Hearts, North plays a 9 of Diamonds, and East plays a Shaker. He draws a random card from the stack and it's a 8 of Clubs. Because the 4 of Hearts was the lowest sluff card, West wins the trick.
If two Shakers are played, they negate one another and the normal rules for who gets the trick applies. If two players happen to play the same value sluff card on the trick, the person who played the last sluff card takes the trick.
Instead of going for Hai or Lo, the objective is to be the player who is either the middle trick taker or the one who did not tie the other two players. Typically, this means each hand will have two players with three tricks and the scoring player with four tricks.
All rules are the same except 10 cards are dealt instead of 9 and the Mover only works if you are either Lo or Hai. If you are tied for either Lo or Hai, the Mover does not work.