What Is Scabby Queen?
When I was at school (in around the year 2000) some of my contemporaries enjoyed playing cards for “raps”. Whoever lost had to clench their fist and got hit on the knuckles with the edge of the pack of playing cards. This is a traditional British card game, “Scabby Queen”, a version of the well-known game Old Maid.
Here are the rules, background, and some variations on play.
What You Need
- A standard (inexpensive) pack of cards with the Queen of Clubs removed
- 3 or more players
How to Play Scabby Queen
- Deal out all the cards one by one to each player.
- Players then go through their hand and match up any pairs and place them facedown on the table. Pairs are cards that are the same value of the same colour.
- The dealer offers their cards to the player on their left by spreading them out in a fan. The player on the left chooses a card. If it matches a card in their hand they place the pair on the table.
- The next player to the left takes their turn in the same way, and so on.
- Once a player has no cards left in their hand, they sit out of the game. The game keeps going until a player is left with the single Queen of Spades (the Scabby Queen). This player is the loser and receives the raps.
Deciding the Number of Raps
- Reshuffle the pack of cards, and the loser draws a card.
- The loser receives the same number of raps as the card. If it is a royal card, it is 10 raps for Jacks or Kings, and 21 raps for a queen.
- If the loser draws a red card they receive soft raps.
- If the loser draws a black card, they receive hard ones.
Remember the focus of Scabby Queen is on not losing. It doesn’t really matter if you come second or third as long as it isn’t last. At the beginning of a game, it is not usually worth worrying about tactics.
However, towards the end, these tactics might help:
- Attempt to get an idea where the Scabby Queen is based on body language. Some players may be unable to hide their negative emotions when they receive the Scabby Queen.
- Try and influence the player to your left to take a specific card, for example by placing it near the middle when you fan them out. Players are more likely to take cards from near the middle then a card you keep at the side, obscured by the side of your hand. However, this is far from foolproof. Certain players will actively try to avoid any psychological tricks like this.
- If you pick the Scabby Queen, try to keep it until very close to the end of the game. If someone takes it from you near the end when they have only one card left, they or the next player after them, are likely to lose.
Or just see what happens—it is mostly a game of chance.
Did You Ever Play Scabby Queen or Similar?
As far as I can tell, Scabby Queen was most popular amongst British teenagers in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
I played Scabby Queen a couple of times when I was at school. I recall the threat of raps made me focus on not ever losing. Depending on how you see it, I was either too much of a wuss/too sensible (or both) to be truly enthusiastic about hitting people on their knuckles with packs of cards. However, some of my classmates really enjoyed the raps and were proud if blood was drawn.
If you ever played Scabby Queen, please comment. I would like to know if other people played this.
Other Names for Scabby Queen
The game is not always called Scabby Queen. It is sometimes known simply as ‘Raps” or as ‘Scabby Annie’. I wonder who Annie was?
Variations on Scabby Queen
You should always agree on rules in advance (and not seriously hurt each other), but you can play how you like.
Here are some ideas for variations on play:
Variations on the Queen of Spades Being the Scab
- Rather than having to pair the same value cards with the same colour, you just need to pair cards of the same value. This means you don’t know for sure which Queen will be the last unmatched card.
- Instead of removing the Queen of Clubs from the pack at the beginning, you remove a random card which no one sees, so no one knows what the losing card without a pair will be.
The Version Without a Card Game
Players who are particularly keen on the “raps” part, could skip the playing cards altogether and go straight to the drawing cards part. The person who draws the highest cards receives the raps.
Other Games for Raps
You can play just about any game for raps where a loser is identified. My favourite card game to play at school was the classic Bastard. This works well for raps as there is a losing player.
You can play the game without playing for raps. If you are not doing raps, play with an appropriate forfeit in mind.
Here are some suggestions:
- Loser has to perform a forfeit decided by the group, or perhaps chose one from a hat where everyone has written down a forfeit at the beginning
- Truth or dare
- You could make this a drinking game, so have a punishment involving shots
- Loser must freeze and not move for 5 minutes
- Put an ice cube down the loser’s t-shirt
- Loser must wear a stupid hat, dress, sign etc.
Ghostly Forfeit for Superstitious Players
The loser must go to a room with a mirror, turn off the lights and say, Bloody Mary, 3 times. According to legend if you do this, a ghost will be summoned and curse the loser for life. Only effective if you play with people that believe that sort of thing.
Version for Young Children
Of course, you can play this game without any punishment at the end. This is best for young children. I first played this game when I was about 7 or 8 years old (no suggestion of raps then!). You can purchase specially designed packs of cards with pictures which are easier for kids to pair up. Donkey is a common child-friendly version (loser ends up with a card with a donkey, after matching the other farm animals).
© 2018 Anna Sherret
Cerys on June 30, 2020:
Played this in the late ’80s or early ’90s. My so-called friends rigged the game so I got the raps a *lot*. I still have a scar – but I forgave them. We laughed a lot.
Vladimir Rosskov on December 28, 2019:
I have plaid raps for a long time,it is vicious, the loser will receive a number of raps depending on the card is black or red, red cards are feathered down the knuckles but black cards will be hard and are straight down the knuckles and your hand must be over the table,I have plaid raps in the forces and it is illegal,if you get court playing raps then you will be find.
bryn bardsley on May 08, 2018:
I played ‘scabby queen’ with my cousins way back in the early seventies. Those games got viscious!