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Scarab 21: A Simple Game... I Think Not

by terragainsborough


LOST DESERT - Scarab 21 is an easy game to learn how to play, but requires a little luck and a lot of strategy to master.

There are five columns in which you can place cards. To clear a column, you either need to get the cards to add up to twenty-one exactly or to have five cards in one column be equal to or less than twenty-one. Aces are worth either one or eleven point(s) and all face cards are worth ten. Once you use up all the cards in the deck, they reshuffle, you get some points, and you can use them again.

Generally, a score above 2000 is enough to earn a bronze trophy, above 2300 for a silver, and above 2500 for a gold. Every time you go through the deck, you earn an average of 220 points. That means you only need to go through the deck a little over nine times for that bronze. In the first two days of the month, you can probably get a gold trophy with only a score of 1300, or around six decks. Whenever playing, check what the current high scores are so you know what your goal needs to be.

Let’s start with the basics. The best strategy is to use your cards as efficiently as possible. You want to pair up the cards 2 through 9 so that they add up to eleven. This is so a 10, the most common card in the game, will be able to clear the pile. So you always want 2 and 9 to be together, 3 and 8, 4 and 7, and 5 and 6. Aces should be left by themselves. Once you have a pair of cards or an ace, which should equal eleven, you want to play a 10 on it as soon as possible to clear the column. If you can’t keep the cards paired up the way they work best, that’s okay. Even if you set the cards up perfectly, you’ll always have four sets of pairs or aces with no companion 10 card in each shuffle. If you have a 10 and no ready eleven to put it on, put it wherever you’d like. A 4, 7, and 10 is exactly the same as having a 4, 10, and then 7. If you have some of your columns ready to go with elevens and don’t get a 10, put in on one of the columns that isn’t ready (i.e., higher or lower than eleven). You always want to protect the elevens you have made. And you always want to clear a column with exactly twenty-one as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

Ready to get a little more advanced? You also want diversity in the totals you have in each column. If you have a column with a 9 in already and get another 9, place it in another column. Then if you also have a column with a 6 in and get another 6, put it with one of the 9’s. This will improve your chances of getting a card that can get you to eleven or clear the column.

As often as possible, avoid making twenty. There are only four cards in the deck (the aces) you can then play to clear it. Many times you’ll get a twenty because of the way the cards come. Don’t panic. One twenty is usually easy to clear. If you get more than one, you may be in trouble.

Try to clear aces as soon as possible. If you have a 10 and a choice to put it on a pair equaling eleven or an ace, choose the ace. You always want your aces to be available when the deck resets because they are the only way to clear a twenty. Any cards on the board during the reset will be left there and not available to use until the next reset. In the same vein, if you have three or more cards equaling eleven, clear them quickly. You want to have lower cards available after the reset.

Aside from the most efficient way of scoring, there are other ways to earn points, but only try these if you have mastered the earlier techniques. I don’t recommend them, though, because they will quickly cause you to run out of the right cards you’ll need and usually force you to lose. I mentioned earlier that you can have five cards under twenty-one. This is a bad idea because it forces you to use up so many small denomination cards. Near the end of your deck shuffle, you will sorely need those low cards to clear any eighteen, nineteen, and twenties you might have. The examples on the side of the game square show 6-7-8 and 7-7-7. Even though these give you more points than the efficient method, they will cause too many problems as you near the end of the deck.

There are two ways to clear all the rows at once. One is to have every row equal the exact same number. If you have four rows equaling nineteen and play a 3 on your last row that has sixteen, all the rows will equal nineteen and everything on the board will be cleared. You can also get a straight. That means that in your five rows, one equals sixteen, one seventeen, one eighteen, one nineteen, and one twenty. The rows do not have to be in order. This will also clear the board. Both combinations give you one hundred points. I only recommend these if you are near losing and it is a last ditch effort. Even if you can pull them off, you’ll probably lose before the next deck shuffle because your card partners have been unbalanced.

There are also two ways to score two hundred points from one column. It involves getting a “full house” for the column. You either need 5-5-5-3-3 or 3-3-3-6-6. I have never gotten outside of a practice game and would have to advice against it. When I tried to get it, I would lose before hitting fifty points and only got it once every thirty or so games.

The Jack and Ace of Spades together gives fifty points, but I don’t recommend actively trying to get it. If you happen to see that you can do it, go for it. Otherwise, treat them like you would any other ace or 10.

My final hint for getting a high score is to let your mind wander. I’ve found that when I’m not concentrating on the game, but instead listening to the radio or watching a movie, I do a lot better. Even though there’s a lot of strategy to think about, you never want to start second-guessing yourself. That’s when you make mistakes.

Just remember, you probably won’t get a great score the first time you play. In fact, even with the best strategy, it is common to not even get through the deck once. It usually takes me a few days of playing to get onto the high score list each month. With some luck and the help of this guide, you should be able to get a shiny new trophy in no time.

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