Introduction: Tense and puzzly

Brigadier is an outstanding two-player card game. It’s packed with tension and will have your head buzzing from working out card manipulations in your head. Who will win and who will have the ‘moral victory’?

How to play Brigadier

Set up

You need two decks of standard playing cards with the jokers removed. Shuffle each deck separately and give one deck to each player.

Each player counts thirteen cards from the top of their deck and gives these to the other player. This becomes the other player’s claw.

Now each player reveal the top four cards off their own deck, each placing them in a column, which forms parts the start of the tableau. The two columns are lined up with each other, with space for two more cards in between. You will also need a good space to the side of each column as you will place cards on top but offset, so all cards in the tableau can be seen.

Look at the first card that each player revealed. Whichever player has the highest ranked card will go first, which is an advantage. If both cards are the same rank, look at the second card to determine the starting player, and so on. If all four cards happen to be tied (which is really unlikely), reshuffle and go through the set up process again.


The aim is to be the first player to get rid of all of their cards. That’s all the cards in their deck, their discard pile and their claw. 

The play

Players alternate in taking turns.

On your turn, do the following things: 

  • You may play (just) the top card of your discard pile. You are not required to play this card, unless it will go on a foundation pile.
  • You may play cards from your claw, if they go.
  • When you are ready you may reveal the next card from your deck and place it face up on top of the deck. It’s important not to place this card on the discard pile by mistake as that indicates the end of your turn.
  • You may continue to play cards from your deck and your claw, revealing the cards below as you do so. 

Cards may be played in four possible locations:

  1. On a foundation pile (see important note below). Foundation piles go up in rank within the same suit. So a queen of clubs must be played onto a jack of clubs.
  2. On a tableau pile. Tableau piles go down in rank and alternate in colour. So you may place a red six onto a black seven, for example. When you play cards onto tableau piles make sure they are slightly offset so that you can always see all the cards below. Each pile must be splayed outwards.
  3. On an empty tableau space. There are always eight spaces in the tableau. If you have a space you may fill it with a card from another tableau pile or a card from your claw or deck. 
  4. On one of your opponent’s face up cards. You may place a card on top of your opponent’s claw or on top of your opponent’s discard pile. Cards placed in this way must be of the same suit and may be one higher or one lower in rank. So if a two of hearts is revealed a three of hearts or ace of hearts may be played on top. Please note: It is only considered to be ‘in the spirit of the game’ if by putting cards on top of your opponent’s, it is benefitting you. It may be that it helps you to get a space or it helps you to discard a card from your own deck so you can continue your turn. Just giving them more cards to have to put out isn’t a good enough reason!
  • You may always move the top card of any tableau pile onto any of the four locations mentioned above. But you may only move one card at a time. You are not permitted to pick up multiple cards from one tableau pile and move them all. 
  • When you get to a point at which you are unable to place the card at the top of your deck, discard that card face up onto your own personal discard pile. That indicates the end of your turn. At that moment, you cannot change your mind and go back into your turn. 

When you get to the end of your draw deck, you may turn your discard pile over to form a new deck. Do not shuffle the discard pile!

IMPORTANT: Foundation piles

It’s crucial to always check if you can play any cards onto the foundation piles. This is the most important thing and you can’t lose sight of it for a minute.

At the start of the game there are no foundation piles. These will go in between the two columns of the tableau. To start a foundation pile you need an ace. As soon as an ace is revealed on someone’s turn, they must place the ace out in a new foundation pile. 

For example, at the start of the game, if one player has revealed an ace in the initial set up, the starting player must place that ace onto a foundation pile before doing anything else – before revealing a card or moving any other cards. 

Once an ace has been played, keep a sharp eye out for the two in the same suit, when that is available it must go on top of the ace. The foundation piles build up in rank within the same suit. So a 7 of hearts must go on a 6 of hearts.

If a player doesn’t place a card out on the foundation piles when they are able to, the other player can ‘knock’

The knock

If a player is knocked by the other player, their turn is immediately over. They will usually discard the card on top of their deck that is currently in play and the knocker will take over their turn and show them how they should have played out the turn to get a card on a foundation pile.

As the game progresses, some cards that would go onto foundation piles will be stuck under other cards in the tableau – but because all cards are splayed, they can be seen. You must do everything you can to get these cards out. This might involve using lots of spaces to move tableau cards about. It will often take multiple steps, but you need to make sure you do it in the fewest steps possible. If you only need 3 spaces, don’t make a fourth space because your opponent could knock you.

The other player will be watching beady-eyed just waiting for a mistake so they can pounce!

End game

The game ends when one player has got rid of all their cards (all the cards in their deck and claw). This player is the winner. 

However, you can also compete over the ‘moral victory’. The player who has knocked the fewest times wins here. That’s just really for smugness… it doesn’t mean they’ve won the game

Final thoughts

Oh this is a wonderful game that requires systematic manipulation of cards and a sharp focus – but it’s not for the faint-hearted!  The tension of waiting for the knock is too much for some. This game requires huge concentration and a steely focus on the foundation piles. Woe betide anyone who comes into the room and wants to have a chat. They’ll get short shrift or frustrated grunts from the two players.


Are you looking for new games to play with the family? Check out the Dark Imp games – all designed for families. 

Video: How to Play Brigadier

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In The Dark Imp Blog you’ll find all sorts of games you can play at home with regular playing cards or just with pen & paper. If Brigadier is too taxing or tense, try Slam – a fast-paced 2-player game where you might get a bruised hand! Slamming not knocking.