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Aurum is the Latin word for gold, and gold is at the heart of this clever trick-taking card game from Pandasaurus, where notionally players are turning base metal (low ranking cards) into gold (trump cards with an end-of-hand score value). Designed by Shreesh Bhat, with stylish art by Steve Torres, Aurum is primarily a four-player (two partners) trick-taking card game, tho' you can also play with three players using modified rules. It's played using a deck made up of five suits of cards ranked 1-10, plus a trump suit of 15 gold cards (two each numbered 1-3; one each numbered 4-8; plus a zero card that each player is given at the start of each hand).

Using just the non-gold cards, players are each dealt a hand of 12 cards plus the zero rank gold card. There'll be two cards left over, and these are openly displayed. The gold trump cards are also openly displayed as they form the supply used during each round. Players each use one card as their bid/prediction of how many tricks they and their partner will win. Both partners are bidding, so there'll be two cards for each partnership and it's the higher of the two that becomes that pair's bid. At the end of the hand, if your partnership has taken fewer tricks than your bid, you get no points for your tricks. If you take more tricks than you bid, you get the number of points equal to your bid. If the number of tricks you've taken exactly matches your pair's bid, you score double the value of your bid.

Unlike the vast majority of trick-taking games, in Aurum you must not follow suit. That means you cannot play a suit of any card played that hand, tho' you can follow with a gold (trump) card even if one has already been played. Assuming no gold cards have been played, the player who plays the highest ranking card takes the trick. If two or more players have played the same highest ranking card, it's the later played card that is deemed the winner. The player who played the lowest card for the trick takes a gold card from the supply equal to the rank of the card they played; if there are no gold cards left in the supply that match the rank of your card, you get nothing. The lowest card player also leads the next trick.

Tho' players aren't communicating with their partner over their initial bids, the cards they play are bound to complement each other: if my partner leads high and hasn't been beaten, I know they'll want me to play low to try to win us the gold as well as the trick. The hand ends instantly when a player cannot play to a trick (ie: they only have cards in their hand that match the suits of those already played), and players are never forced to play a gold card, so you may find players engineering an early end to a round in order to deny their opponents success in hitting their bid target. When a player cannot make a legal play to a trick and chooses not to use a gold card, the trick is abandoned and so doesn't count for scoring.

And in Aurum there are decisions to be taken not just over what cards to play for each trick but also how to use your gold cards because they are multifunctional. Obviously they can be used as trump cards for a trick, but when you play a gold card to a trick it goes to the supply not to the winner of the trick. Aside from the zero card you have at the start, the gold cards add 1-3 points to your team's score at the end of a hand, so when you play a gold card you're effectively sacrificing its points value... You can also spend a gold card to alter your team's bid (substituting another card from your hand for your team's current highest bid card). You can do this at any point during a hand but before any cards have been played on the current trick. Given that your team scores double for exactly hitting your bid, this can often prove to be a more profitable use of a gold card than merely saving it for its own score value.

The game includes three (plastic) gold nuggets with the idea that one is awarded to the pair that had the highest score for a hand, and the game then continues so that overall victory is determined on the best of three. The rules tho' suggest the option of dispensing with the nuggets and instead recording and carrying over actual scores for three hands. We've enjoyed both versions. We've also graduated to playing in 'expert mode' by not including the zero gold cards. The rules suggest these are used only in 'training mode'. When you play without them, every single gold card has to be won and every gold card you use during the game means a sacrifice of points...

There's been a renaissance in trick-taking games in recent years and Aurum is up against stiff competition, but still it shines!

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