Anyone familiar with the classic game of Hearts will easily catch on to the rules for Black Maria. This is a trick-taking game that requires as few points as possible to win. The Queen of Spades delivers the most points, and is referred to as Black Maria. Additionally, all cards in the suit of hearts add points to a score as well.
To play a game of Black Maria requires a traditional deck of 52 cards and a way of keeping score, such as a pad of paper. The game requires four players, and the order of play is determined by dealing out cards until one player receives a jack. Play will begin at this person’s right and continue in a clockwise direction throughout.
The dealer distributes 13 cards to each player, and each gets to pick three cards to pass to their neighbor on the left. There is no debating over the cards received.
The first player leads the trick by laying down a card of their choice. This is where the rules deviate from traditional Hearts. This is because the player can lead with any suit they wish. They lay this card on the table, and the remaining players either follow suit, or if they do not have any cards in the leading suit they can lay any card on the table. The player with the highest card in the lead suit then takes the cards in the trick and leads the next.
After all thirteen tricks are played; each player is responsible for adding up their scores. This too is where Black Maria varies widely from Hearts, because there are several different points scales that can be followed. The most common is:
• 1 point for each heart and 13 points for the queen of spades; or
• 1 point for each heart, 13 points for the queen of spades, 10 points for the king of spades, 7 points for the ace of spades; or
• Face values for the 2 through 10 of hearts, 10 points for the jack, queen and king of hearts, 15 points for the ace of hearts, 25 points for the queen of spades.
Additionally, players can opt for a one hundred point cap, or they can go as high as five hundred points before the game ends. The goal, however, will always remain to gain as few points as possible.
A player who gathers all of the point cards during any given round is not penalized for their bad luck, however, but instead sees all of the other players receive 26 points. Alternately, they can have their existing score reduced by 26 points instead.
Any new hand will be played in the exact same fashion as the first, with the cards always heading to the right or left. Whichever direction is selected by the players at the beginning of the game is the one that must be maintained throughout.
Black Maria can also be played by only three players as long as the 2 of clubs is removed from the pack, and 17 cards are provided to each player.