The Fanucci Deck

What, pray tell, is a Fanucci Deck?

A Trebled Fromp

There exists a very peculiar class of game which one might call the “Impossible Imaginary Game.” Probably the most famous of these is “Fizzbin,” invented by Captain Kirk to confound and befuddle some aliens. The general idea was to keep adding rules upon rules until it all became impossible to actually figure out how to win the game. There have been other such games. Dragon Poker, for instance, appears in Robert Asprin’s “Myth Adventure” novels. The one dearest to my heart, however, is Double Fanucci, from Infocom’s “Zork” series of adventure text games.

I Want One!

If you'd like to have a Fanucci deck of your own, my deck is now available at The GameCrafter web site.

The game is only mentioned in passing in the early games, but one actually gets to sit down (or rather, one must sit down) and play Double Fanucci in “Zork Zero,” the last of the series. In fact, it’s part of Infocom’s very clever copy-protection scheme. If you bought the real game, it came with a hilarious calendar featuring biographies of famous members of the royal Flathead family. For the month of Dismembur, we get the biography of Babe Flathead, Athletic Superstar, who was good at everything he tried except Double Fanucci. Why? His “failure to remember that three undertrumps after an opponent’s discard of a Trebled Fromp is an indefensible gambit.”

So when the player sits down to play Double Fanucci, unless they’ve read the calendar, they’re pretty much hosed. There’s 15 suits of 11 cards plus trump cards, and eleven different actions (e.g. “undertrump,” “overpass,” “ionize,” “muttonate,” and such) you can do on your turn.

I played Zork Zero in 1990, and in the process, decided that I really wanted to have an actual, physical Fanucci Deck of my very own. This meant figuring out what was in a Double Fanucci deck. So I went back to that spot in the game and played hand after hand of Double Fanucci, until I was pretty certain of the contents.

Common Misconceptions and Errors: Deck Size

The #1 biggest mistake people make about Double Fanucci is how many cards are in the deck. Up through 2009, every entry I found online claimed that the deck contains 174 cards: 15 suits x 11 ranks = 165 ‘regular’ cards + 9 ‘trump’ cards = 174. That is how many unique cards are in a Double Fanucci deck. However, Double Fanucci is played with at least three of each card, and probably more. The version played in Zork Zero involves holding a hand of four cards. I managed to get 3-of-a-kind in my hand on a couple of occasions; I never managed to get all four the same before I ‘lost’ the hand and had to start over. (In all probability, the programmers weren’t bothering to keep track of an actual deck, but were choosing cards from the set with a random number generator.) In May of 2010, I contacted the Chief Historian of the Zork Library, and he updated the entry on Double Fanucci to reflect my analysis. In September of 2010, another Zork fan updated the Wikipedia entry on Zork Zero, including the fact you could have multiples of the same card, and he told me in email that he had drawn a hand of four Snails while doing a screen capture for the article.

A Double Fanucci deck with four of each card would have nearly 700 cards in it, and be nearly unusable for any real game play. It would also be an incredible pain in the paper-cutter to make. I decided that the game was called “Double Fanucci” because it was played with a double deck, so a single Fanucci deck should only have two of each card. Then I decided I would just make half a Fanucci deck.

Common Misconceptions and Errors: Trump Cards

The other big mistake a lot of people have started making recently is calling the trump cards “face cards.” It’s an understandable error. After twenty years, suddenly hordes of new people are being introduced to the Fanucci deck through Activision’s new casual game site, Legends of Zork. The site, like the original game, doesn’t (or at least didn’t as of this writing) ever name the class of cards in the deck that don’t go into suits, so people have started calling them ‘face cards’ because the fancier cards in a French playing card deck are called ‘face cards.’ Of course, they’re called that because those are the cards with faces on them, and there’s simply the highest cards in a suit.

But the Fanucci deck already has cards with faces on them. That would be the suit called “Faces.” The Fanucci deck is much more like a Tarot deck, which has four suits and a bunch of cards that aren’t in those suits, and those cards are called “trump cards.” Since the original Zork games didn’t give us a name like “Overcards” or “Megaboz cards” or such, we have to adopt some other term. Calling them “face cards” is confusing, and they don’t function like nor fit into a Fanucci deck the way face cards do in a playing card deck. (And in case you’re wondering, ‘declaring trump’ in modern trick taking games does indeed come from the trump cards in a Tarot deck.)

Deluxe Fanucci

The Suits

Books, Rain, Tops, Zurfs

“Zork Zero” was the first time Infocom had actually incorporated any sort of graphics into their games, and since it was still really a text adventure, they weren’t pushing the envelope for artwork, even by the standards of the time. The original cards had just a number and a symbol for the suit, and the symbols were created on a 10 by 11 pixel matrix. You can see some of the original suit symbols on the right.

Just as ‘regular’ playing cards (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades) vary somewhat in appearance between manufacturers, I felt no reason to exactly duplicate the original Zork symbols in my deck. I went for whatever seemed to me to nicely embody the name of the suit, and that provided a strong and distinctive graphic distinction from the other suits.

The Colors

My original scheme was to make this Fanucci deck, and then just play familiar card games with it. I figured it would be possible to play games fairly similar to Hearts or Canasta or Crazy 8’s without too much trouble. Once I had my first deck, I discovered that this wasn’t true at all. Any game that normally deals out the whole deck (like Hearts or Spades) fails catastrophically. You can’t deal out the entire Fanucci deck. Games that involve following suit also become unplayable, because they sorta depend on 25% of the cards being in the same suit. The Fanucci deck’s ratio is less than 7%. So the only way I was going to get to use this deck to play games would be to invent some new ones. Which I did.

In the process, though, it became clear that being able to lump some of the suits together in sub-groups would help a lot, so I decided to add color. Here are my Fanucci suits.
















The overall look is intended to mimic that of playing cards to a certain degree. Although modern printing presses have made full-color printing remarkably affordable, our playing cards date from a time when anything other than a single solid color was very expensive and difficult to print. Face cards (Kings and Queens and such) have artwork that features just a few solid colors: black and red (just like the other cards) plus yellow. So I stuck with solid colors for my Fanucci deck as well, and only used the five suit colors for the nine trump cards, with one exception: Beauty.

The Games

So far, I’ve got three games for the Fanucci deck that I’m really happy with. “Twisty Passages“ is a nice easy game for 3 to 10, suitable for kids but not bad for adults. It feels to me like the sort of thing I could play with a group that might otherwise be playing “Uno.” The second game, “Flathead Rummy,“ is definitely trickier, and, in fact, has become my favorite rummy game of any sort. The third one is called "Trophy Case," and it’s a weird blend of trick-taking and bluffing.

As I (or other people) develop more games for the Fanucci deck, I’ll add them to my web site.

The Expanded Fanucci Deck

I  learned from the Zork Library that shortly before 945 GUE (I don’t know if it’s even possible to figure out the equivalent year “A.D” in our calendar), the Rules Committee of the Greater Gaming Guild in Port Foozle issued Amendments #494 through #575. These amendments greatly expanded the size of a Fanucci deck. The surviving material related to these amendments is a bit unclear. It apparently added some new suits, and grew the deck to 250 cards. However, there are too many new suits to keep the deck below 290 cards, so the contents of those amendments are still not known for certain.

However, based on what we know of the existing game, and on game theory in general, I suspect that the post-945GUE deck added eleven new suits: Ales, Caves, Corbies, Edible Rocks, Loaves, Lyres, Rat-Ants, Ships, Slugs, Talismen, and Yipples; and seven new trump cards, one of which is Insecurity, and probably resulted in a deck of around 302 cards. The names of the other trump cards (or even how many others there might be) is currently unknown.