Atom (card game)

Atom (card game)

Atom is a popular card game played in China. Atom is usually played with four people with three packs of cards, including the jokers. The objective of the game is to run out of cards as soon as possible AND get as many points as possible.

Atom is described as easy-to-learn but hard-to-master requiring mathematic and strategic thinking as well as intended execution. Suits are partially necessary in playing Atom.

Game play

Three shuffled packs of 162 cards are dealt to four players. Two players are dealt 41 cards each, and the other two 40 cards each.

Just like in Upgrade, two opposing players form a team, as well as the fives, tens and kings are point cards, worthing 5, 10, 10 points each. Moreover, before dealing, one of the cards is turned face-up, and all cards of the same rank become the trump, or "Blade" card of this game. If a Joker is turned, then another card is turned. The "Blade" changes from game to game.

The player who got the turned-up card leads. The players play in a counterclockwise turn, when it's your turn, you can play a card or cards that beat the previous combination, or simply pass. If all the other players pass consecutively, you get the points in the trick (if any), and get lead to the next trick. If a player's last hand is unbeaten, he still gets the points, but the next player in turn gets the free lead.


A few fundamental and exceptive rules are essential for understanding the game play of the game. Some rules are structured differently from the other popular card games.

* Individual cards are ranked. Blade (trump) > 2 > Ace (A) > King (K) > Queen (Q) > Jack (J) > 10 > 9 > 8 > 7 > 6 > 5 > 4 > 3. Jokers are wild, if played on their own, they are treated as the lowest.

* Suits have no value, except for nukes and atoms.

The Blade and the Joker

The Blades and the Jokers are special cards in the game, and should be used wisely.

The Blades rank highest, can beat any non-Blade cards of the same category. Blades (even a single Blade) can only be beaten by Nukes and Atoms, and not by ordinary Bombs.

The Jokers are wild cards, can represent any non-Blade card and only form pairs, triples and Bombs. If played on their own and not forming Atoms, they're treated as the lowest cards.

The Nuke, the Atom, and the Bomb

The Nuke, the Atom and the Bomb are worth specific mentioning since they are a very different breed in terms of game play. They defy normal category rules. Players may gain a better understanding of the rules by studying them separately as a special category.

* A Nuke consists of eight cards of the same rank, with two of each suit. The cards must be real - i.e. no wild cards allowed. Beats everything in the game except another Nuke of a higher rank. For example, with sevens as Blades, 7♦-7♦-7♣-7♣-7♥-7♥-7♠-7♠ is the highest playable combination possible, followed by 2♦-2♦-2♣-2♣-2♥-2♥-2♠-2♠, etc.

* An Atom consists of three cards of the same rank AND suit. The cards must be real - i.e. no wild cards allowed. Beats everything in the game except a Nuke, or another Atom of a higher rank. For two Atoms of the same rank, the suits are compared, with the spades highest, followed by hearts, clubs and diamonds. A Joker Atom rank just lower than a Blade Atom, and a Red Joker Atom beats a Black Joker Atom. For example, with sevens as Blades, 7♠-7♠-7♠ is the highest Atom possible, followed by 7♥-7♥-7♥, etc. The lowest Atom possible is 3♦-3♦-3♦.

* A Bomb consists of four or more cards of the same rank. Note that even if it contains a Nuke or an Atom, it's still treated as a normal Bomb. A bomb of more cards beats a non-Blade bomb of fewer cards. Bombs can also beat non-Blade single cards, pairs or triples. A bomb containing wild cards is treated the same as pure ones. For example, 4♦-4♦-4♣-4♠-4♠ beats 3♣-3♥-3♥-3♠-Red Joker, which beats 2♦-2♣-2♣-2♥, etc.

Category of hands

* The only playable hands are single cards, pairs, triples, Bombs, Atoms, and Nukes.

* For the single cards, pairs and triples, even if they're Blades, can only beat another hand of the same category with a lower rank, i.e. a single Blade can only be used to beat a single card, and a triple Blade can only beat a triple card.

* Cards of different ranks cannot be played in the same hand, i.e. "straights" or "full houses" are disallowed. Nor can Blades and Jokers be played in the same hand.

* Only Atoms and Nukes take account of suits.

Scoring rules

Atom is a shedding game with points, therefore, both the order the players run out of cards and the points the players get take account into scoring.

* If both players of a team run out of cards prior the both players of the opposing team, then they win a double score automatically, regardless of how many points each player has got.

* Otherwise, the "downstream" player is penalized by giving the points he has got to the "upstream" player, and the points he is left with to the opposing team.

* If a team has fewer than 60 points, then the opposing team wins a double score. Otherwise, another game is played, a new Blade card is determined, and the "upstream" player of the previous game leads. The team to get a total of more than 300 points in the two games win a single score, even if they double-win the second game. In the case of a tie, the team containing the "upstream" player of the first game wins a single score.

Basic strategy

* Make good use of Blades and Jokers because of their special functions.

* Nukes are rare, and therefore, make use of Atoms wisely. A well-placed Blade Atom can grab a massive amount of points.

* Running is important, because if an opposing team member runs first, and you're last, then your points become theirs. It's not good to get lots of points without having the ability to run, but nor to run fast without getting a good amount of points.

5-Player Game

The five-player version of Atom uses five packs, each player takes 54 cards. It differs the 4-player version in the following places:

* Since there are an odd number of players, partnership is fluid. The player who gets the turned-up card calls a card that he doesn't have, excluding Blades and Jokers, e.g. aces of spades. Then any player who has at least 2 aces of spades becomes his partner, and the players who has only 1 or none form the opposing team. It's not known at the beginning of a game that which team has 3 players.

* Scoring is similar to the 4-player version, except that only one game is played to score. The "downstream" player give the points he has got to the "upstream" player, and the points he is left with to the opposing team. If a team get all the points, or all members run prior to the opposing team, they win a triple score. If a team gets a total of less than 60 points, the opposing team win a double score. Finally, if neither of the conditions above happen, the team that gets an average of more than 100 points win a single score, in the case of being exactly 100 points, the team that contains the "upstream" player wins a single score.

* Since there are more packs, there can be more copies of an individual card. An Atom can contain more than three cards of the same rank and suit, and an Atom of more cards beats an Atom of fewer cards regardless of rank. A Nuke can contain more than two - but must the same number of - cards of each suit, and a Nuke of more cards beats a Nuke of fewer cards regardless of rank. An 8-card Nuke beats a 4-card Atom, but loses to a 5-card Atom. A 12-card Nuke, which is extremely rare, beats a 5-card Atom.

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