Tempting Fate: an asymmetric card game for psychics

John Ohno on 2017-05-31

Tempting Fate is a game for two players.

Game layout


The querent is the player who takes an offensive position.

Fate is the defensive player.

A path is a line of cards set in front of Fate. The goal of the game is for the querent to defeat Fate by attacking and extinguishing paths.

A token is an item, such as a bead or coin, used to indicate that a card has been attack. One token per attack point is used. The bank is a pile of unused tokens.

A zener card is a card containing one of five symbols: a circle, a cross, three wavy lines, a square, and a five-pointed star. Decks of zener cards were historically used to test for ESP.

A tarot deck is similar to a typical playing card deck, but with an extra suit (the trumps or major arcana). Tarot decks are well-known divination tools. The four non-trump suits in a tarot deck are called the minor arcana, and they are coins (or pantacles), cups, swords, and wands.


One player, the “querent”, takes an offensive position and plays with a standard 78-card tarot deck. The other player, “fate”, takes a defensive position and plays with 100 zener cards (20 of each type, or five sets).

Normally, one is expected after a game to switch roles and play again.

Before each game, both players shuffle their respective decks. Each player has a five card hand.

Players alternate turns. Fate moves first.

Each of Fate’s turns consists of three actions. Acceptable actions are:

  1. Add a card from the hand to one of the five possible ‘paths’. A card cannot be added to a path with tokens on it. The cards are placed face down.
  2. Add a card from the top of the deck to one of the paths, without looking at it. (The same rules apply as in action #1.)
  3. Remove a token from a card.

Each of the querent’s turns consist of one action: ‘attack’ the furthest-out card in any path, using a card from his hand or the first card from the top of the deck (without looking at it).

At the end of each turn, the players bring their hands up to five cards by taking cards from the top of their decks.


The points for zener cards are as follows:

Circle — 1 Cross — 2 Wavy lines-3 Square-4 Star-5

The points for tarot cards are:

Cards one/ace to five correspond to their face value Cards six to ten correspond to their face value minus five Page — 1 point Knight-2 points Queen-3 points King-4 points Fool-0 points Magician-1 point Papess/High Priestess-2 points Empress-3 points Emperor-4 points Pope/Heirophant-5 points Lovers-1 point Chariot-2 points Strength-3 points Hermit-4 points Wheel-5 points Justice-1 point Hanged man-2 points Death-3 points Temperance-4 points Devil-5 points Tower-1 point Star-2 points Moon-3 points Sun-4 points Judgement-5 points World-1 point

In other words: the minor arcana are all worth their rank modulo five, while the trumps are worth their rank modulo five, excluding the Fool, which is worth zero.

Attack rules

The only cards that can be attacked are the ones in their paths furthest from Fate (i.e., closest to the querent).

When the querent attacks a fate card, he chooses a tarot card from his hand or from the top of his deck and lays it in front of the card he is attacking, before flipping the fate card face-up. If the tarot card is worth a greater or equal number of points than Fate’s zener card and the zener card is not immune, Fate’s card is defeated and both cards are discarded. Otherwise, tokens equivalent to the value of the querent’s card are placed on Fate’s card and only the querent’s card is discarded.

If a card is attacked that already has tokens on it, the point value of the querent’s card is added to the number of tokens; if this is greater than or equal to the point value of Fate’s card, then both cards are discarded and the tokens returned to the bank.


Each zener card has immunity to a particular suit:

The circle is immune to the suit of coins/pantacles The cross is immune to the suit of swords The wavy lines is immune to the suit of cups The square is immune to wands The star is immune to trumps

Furthermore, each zener card is immune to any trump with exactly its point value.

The Fool

The Fool can attack and defeat a Fate card without turning it over. Such a card will be returned to the bottom of Fate’s deck. The Fool is worth zero points against any Fate card that is face-up.

Ending conditions

The game ends when either the querent removes the last card in any path or any path becomes more than five cards long. If the querent removes the last card in a path, the querent wins. If a path becomes more than five cards long, Fate wins.

The game also ends when all cards are extinguished, in which case Fate wins, or when one player extinguishes all of his or her cards, in which case the other player wins.

If a player refuses to take all of the actions associated with his or her turn, that player throws the game.

For shorter games, players can agree to end the game when the number of discarded cards exceeds some number. In this case, the winner is the one whose discarded cards have the greatest combined point value.

Post-game divination

You can treat a game of Tempting Fate as a way to jointly cut the deck, and then use your favorite tarot layout.

Alternately, you can perform a reading with only the discarded cards.

You can also shuffle your hand and produce a 3-card spread.