Hosenabe, or Pants Down


This is a game taught to me by my Swiss exchange brother, Juerg. It's a traditional game in Switzerland, and is called "Hosenabe," which translates to "Pants Down" in English.

It is best played with 4-10 people, although as few as 2 and as many as you can fit around a table can play. Fewer than 4 and there aren't enough cards in play to make for a fun game. More than 10-12 people and it can be too chaotic, although it's worth trying. If you have 10 or more people playing, use two decks rather than one. If you have a truly collosal game going on, add one deck for every 10 people in the game.

Hosenabe is closely related the German game 31.

Setting up

  • Set up a deck which has no Joker, 2, 3, 4, or 5 cards. This game is played with only the 6-10, J, Q, K and A cards. Any full deck of 52 playing cards is a good candidate. Use two decks if you have 10 or more players.
  • Each player starts with 3 tokens -- coins, matchsticks, candies, whatever. I've typically used pennies, poker chips or 10 Pfennig pieces (German small change).


  • Dealer deals three cards face-down to each person, and three cards to his hand. If he likes his cards, he puts the next three in the middle. If he doesn't like his first hand, he may lay it out in the center and take the next three cards. Once the dealer has set the first three cards in the center of the table, he must use the next three cards. Players may look at their cards. Undealt cards are set aside.
  • Dealing shifts to the next player to the right after each round. Once the cards are dealt, the dealer acts as a normal player.
  • Starting with the person to the right of the dealer, each player in turn may exchange either 1 or 3 cards with the face-up cards on the table, but not 2 cards. Each player should always have 3 cards in their hand.
  • Card exchange goes on until someone calls STOP or gets a Pants Down. If someone calls STOP, then exchanging continues through to the person before the one who called STOP. If the round was stopped by a Pants Down, the round is over. The player with the Pants Down immediately lays down his cards, and everyone else counts their points. STOP may not be called in the first round.
  • Any player may call PASS rather than exchange cards, but at the next round of exchange, that player MUST exchange 1 or 3 cards, and cannot PASS or STOP.
  • Allowable actions on a player's turn are one of:
    • Exchange 1 card
    • Exchange 3 cards
    • Call PASS
    • Call STOP
  • Once STOP has been called, and everyone has finished their turn, or a Pants Down has been played, all players reveal their cards, calling out how many points each has. Remember that STOP may not be called in the first round.


Each player determines how many points their hand is worth by adding together the values of their cards which share a suit. Cards have the following values:

  • number cards (6-10) are worth their face value
  • face cards (J, Q, K) are worth 10
  • A is worth 11

Only cards of the same suit (hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds) may be added together. A hand which has an A of hearts, a 7 of diamonds and a 10 of clubs is worth 11 (the value of the highest card, the A). The same hand with matching suits would be worth 28.

There are normally two special hands:

  • Three of a Kind: three matching values (three 6s, three Ks, etc.) -- worth 30.5 points
  • Pants Down: two 10-valued cards (10, J, Q, K) and an A all of the same suit. This is worth 31, and wins the round.*
  • Optionally, three Aces: when a player lays down three aces, everyone must put in a token, and three Aces is worth 32, beating Pants Down. This is an optional rule, and should be agreed upon by all players before play starts.

* Anyone achieving a Pants Down must call it immediately, and it immediately ends the round. Anyone failing to immediately call Pants Down (ie, laying down a 31-point hand at the end of the round) automatically loses the round and must forfeit a token, although leniency should be shown to beginning players on the first infraction or two.

Winning and losing

In each round, the goal is to avoid having the lowest-scoring hand. There is no single winner of each round, there is just one loser. The person with the lowest-scoring hand must forfeit a token to the pot. Everyone else keeps their tokens that round.

A player may lose all their tokens, and still remain in the game. At the point where a player has no more tokens, they are said to be Swimming, and they can continue playing until one more losing round puts them out of the game. That is to say, any given player may lose four rounds before they're out.

The first person out of the game buys the next round of drinks.

The last person with a turn remaining (ie, has tokens or is Swimming) is the winner.

Strategies and Traditions

Since the goal of the game is to avoid losing each round, this game is different from many other card games. You don't need to have a fabulous hand, you just need to have a hand that's better than at least one of the other players' hands.

It can be advantageous to call STOP early, even if you don't have a very good hand, in order to prevent other people from building up good hands. Any strategy you can think of which prevents other players from surpassing you is worth pursuing.

Like many other card games, this one is as much about what you don't exchange as what you do. If you have a card in your hand which is going to give the next player a Pants Down, you probably don't want to exchange it. It can also be helpful in a longer round to "deceptively" exchange cards, concealing your true goal by exchanging cards which lead to false conclusions, or don't reveal anything (exchanging an 8 for a 7 when you don't care about the suit, for example).

Always keep in mind while playing Hosenabe that your goal is to avoid losing. Don't be blinded by pursuit of a high hand if you've already got a good enough hand. You'll probably quickly develop a feel for how many points it takes to avoid losing -- in a game with experienced players, it's around 17-22 -- and play accordingly. If you spend all your time trying to build a three of a kind, but in the mean time give another player time to build his Pants Down, that was potentially an avoidable loss.

If there's one person who mysteriously still has all his pennies despite being deep into a game, I was taught to construct an "evil arrow" out of pennies, pointing at that person. Use the pennies in the pot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. This is not a tradition to pull out with a group of thin-skinned players.

Created by Ian Johnston. Questions? Please mail me at reaper at obairlann dot net.