Clay's strategy for ZAR

Basic Strategy

Sort Your Hand

You should sort your hand as soon as the dealer gives you your final card. Avoid picking up your cards before the dealer is done, so that the dealer doesn't lose track of the deal. The idea behind sorting is that you can find and play a card faster from a sorted hand than an unsorted one. Try sorting by color and then by symbol within that. If some other way allows you to play faster, then do that instead.

Drawing cards

Remember that if the player before you tries to sting you with Wasps by matching a Wasp you just played, that drawing for the Match happens before drawing for the Wasps. If the card you draw for the Match is a Wasp, you can avoid being stung.

If you have to draw due to Wasps and it is possible for someone to play a Match, pause briefly to increase the chances that a slower player will match the Wasp on top of the Playpile. If anyone other than the player before you plays the match, you've just avoided being stung.

Playing cards

Usually, there is the possibility that two players will want to play a card at the same time — the current player and someone playing a match. Unless you know for certain that you are the only one who can play or for tactical reasons would like to have someone else play, then you want to get your card down on the Playpile first. This is a fast-paced game and the rules are designed to reward fast players.

There are a few hazards to avoid as best as possible in this situation:

  • Physical contact with the other player or his card.
  • Knocking over the Playpile.
  • Having the other player's card end up under yours on the Playpile.

Physical contact results in bent cards and bruised knuckles. The latter two hazards result in not making your play due to the Close Call rules. To preserve your card deck, your skin, and get down first, I recommend the following:

  1. Move your hand close to the Playpile, but not actually over it.
  2. Bring your hand in very low to the Playpile, this will give you the opportunity to slip your card underneath a card being played from above.
  3. The card itself should not be more than half way over the Playpile at most while you are holding it. Lightly throw the card the remaining 2″ onto the Playpile. Don't overshoot — a card thrown over the Playpile doesn't count.

With a little practice, you'll find that you can quickly move a card into place while avoiding the hazards.

Basic Play Order

Play higher point value cards and doubles first. The idea is that if someone other than you goes out that you will be caught with a lower number of points in your hand.

Calling "GOTCHA"

Watch for other players to play down to, or draw up to, one card in their hand. If you see this happen, call "GOTCHA" and point to them. If you finish saying "GOTCHA" before they start to say "ZAR" they will have to draw a card. To avoid being "GOTCHA"ed yourself, you should declare "ZAR" as soon as your hand is in motion to play down to, or draw up to, one card.

Advanced Strategy

Everything above, except Basic Play Order, applies to advanced strategy.

The rules state that the object for each hand is to go out first and cause the other players to accumulate points. Although true, this is an oversimplification. Your ultimate goal is having the lowest total score at the end of the game regardless of how many hands you go out on. It is quite possible to win the game without having won a single hand!

You have some control over who the next player will be and can influence the probability that they will have to draw cards or go out. Using this control to selectively increase other players' scores at a faster rate than your own is the key to advanced strategy. One of the most common and important applications of this control is to prevent another player from going out while you're holding a lot of points in your hand.

Important observations to make

It is not possible to decide which plays are optimal in a vacuum. Keeping track of the following things at all times can give you the edge.

  • Everyone's score at the beginning of each hand, especially relative to your own.
  • What cards are currently in the Playpile.
  • What colors / symbols were called for the last several recently played Power cards and by whom.
  • What card was on top of the Playpile if a player "PASS"ed on his last turn.
  • How close is each player to going out.
  • Approximately how would each player's score change if someone were to go out now.
  • How likely is this hand to be the last hand in this game.

Advanced Play Order

Keep in mind that the higher the point value of the card, the more risk that you could be caught with a lot of points in your hand if someone goes out, but that the higher value cards are precisely the same cards that are most useful to be able to play near the end of a hand — Wasps and Power cards especially. A good deal of strategy depends on finding an optimum between these two conflicting goals.

In general, if you think that you will get few or no more turns before someone goes out, you probably want to dump points from your hand as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, if you think that you will get several more turns before someone goes out, it is often advantageous to play lower value cards first. This lets you get cards out of your hand that may be harder to play later on and leaves you with more powerful cards to play near the end of the hand. For example, Power cards can almost always be played. Also, a Wasp is an extremely handy thing to have when you're suddenly facing a large accumulated draw count — even more so if other players are about to go out and thereby deny you the opportunity to get your newly acquired cards out of your hand.

Controlling who plays next

You can directly control who plays (or who does not play) next, by playing a Crab, a Frog, or doubles of these.

You can also strongly influence the next player's ability to play by playing a Power card. When you play a Dragon, there are at most 7 cards out of 61 that can by played. A Peacock has at most 19 out of 61. If you have any of the playable cards in your hand or know them to be in the Playpile, the odds can go all the way down to zero.

If a player recently played a Power card, then you have a good guess of a color / symbol they likely have in their hand. If a player passed on his last turn, then you know a color and symbol which he most likely doesn't have in his hand. Use this information to help select a card or call a color / symbol for a Power card.

Passing when you can play

Sometimes you may want to pass even if you have a playable card in your hand. The most common case is when the top card on the Playpile is a Power card and you don't want the player after you to be able to play or go out. If you leave the Power card alone, the next player has a much higher probability of having to draw and possibly pass.

Another case is where you'd rather hang on to your only playable card(s). For example, you may really want to help the next player because he has the highest score in the game and/or save a Wasp for the player with the lowest score.

To Double or not to Double

Playing a double should not be automatic. Deciding whether to do so should be based on your current strategic priorities. The following tips can help you decide.

  • Playing a double Basic Symbol card is virtually always a good thing to do, unless you have a pressing reason to play some other card(s).
  • Playing a double Crab or Frog should be determined based on who you want to play next, unless dumping points is more important now.
  • Playing a double Wasp should be determined by how much you would like to keep a Wasp in your hand verses how much you want to sting the next player or dump points now.
  • Playing a double Power card should be determined by how much you would like to keep one in your hand verses dumping points quickly.
  • Playing only one card from a matched pair of Command or Power cards gives you the option of altering your play by matching yourself.

There are two places in the rules that place a prohibition on playing a double. First, you can't go out on a double. Second, you can't "skip out" of a small game. Both of these can be partially mitigated in the situation that you want to dump points. For example, your hand consists of a matched pair of playable high value cards and you don't think you will get another turn this hand. You can't just play them and go out, but you can take Turn option B and draw a card first and then play the double. You're not out, but at least you've probably reduced the value of your hand. You can do the same thing with Frog(s) and a high value card in a small game.


Before you play a match on a Power card, wait for the player who played it to declare the color / symbol. Although waiting at this point is not required by the rules, knowing their declaration will help you in deciding what color / symbol to call.

If you have multiple Frogs and want to skip to yourself twice in a row, you must pay attention as to whether the Frogs match. Skipping to yourself and then playing a matching Frog will probably not have the desired effect. For example, if in a 2 player game you play a Yellow Frog, then it is your turn. But if you play a 2nd Yellow Frog on top of the first, then it is the other players' turn — not yours again. This is because you have just matched yourself! You can avoid this by playing a Frog of a different color or by drawing a card (Turn option B) just before playing the 2nd Frog.

Preventing another player from going out

If you have a lot of points in your hand, you usually don't want another player to go out at that time. This becomes much more important if someone going out now would cause the game to end and your score would not be the lowest.

In these cases, you want to skip that person's turn with Crabs or Frogs, make them draw cards due to Wasps, or play a card which they will be unlikely to be able to play on. You want to keep the hand going until you're holding few or no points. If this would be the last hand in the game and your score is still too high, you should help the player(s) who are about to end the game so that you get to play another hand.

Helping another player go out

Keep in mind that you are always trying to improve your score relative to the other players' scores. It is not uncommon that another player going out now would do this almost as effectively as you going out now. For example, you and another player both have low value hands, but everyone else is holding a lot of cards. If you can't go out now, but you can help the other player to do so, you should help and both of your scores will improve compared to all of the others. If you're helping someone that has a high score — all the better. Otherwise, you'll just have to try and assist that player in gaining a bunch of points in subsequent hands.

Player cooperation

Players can achieve results beneficial to themselves and others by occasionally cooperating. A common example is when players with higher scores cooperate to increase the score of a low score player. This can be a simple as a request to "Please keep the color red" when a player has a red Wasp and the player after them has a low score. If someone requests "Please play a Wasp on me", this is a good indicator that they will be hitting the next player with at least a "DRAW 4". If you want this to happen, you probably want to cooperate.

Although cooperation is most fun when Wasps are involved, it also can work well when you want to alter who plays next.


Good players will be keeping track of your plays looking for information to use against you.

Passing when you could have played automatically has the added benefit of providing some misinformation.

You can also provide misinformation when playing a Power card. If you are not actively trying to prevent someone from playing and you think it is highly probable that someone else will be able to play on your Power card, consider calling a color / symbol which would not normally be your first choice. This will actually increase the probability that other players will change it to something else you do have in your hand by the time it comes back to your turn.

Strategy for Extended rules

Multideck ZAR

The timing for playing matches becomes trickier with Multideck ZAR. Because a match may itself be matched, playing a match first does get that card out of your hand, but you risk being matched and drawing a new card. On the other hand, if you wait too long, the current player may play or a player who was just matched may draw for that match. Either case prevents you from playing your match. So, what you really want is to play the match last, before the current player plays or anyone draws. If you know for certain that your match cannot be matched, then play as quickly as possible, otherwise you'll just have to guess at the optimum timing (probably some fairly short delay).

The Chameleon card

Note that if you are playing a Chameleon with one or more other non-Chameleons, that the card which ends up on top of the Playpile may be important.

Example: The player before you plays a Blue Wasp ("DRAW 2"); and you play a Blue Wasp and a Chameleon ("MATCH-DOUBLE-DRAW 6"). If you know something about where the other Blue Wasps and Chameleon cards are, then you probably want to intentionally place one or the other on top of the Playpile to influence the odds of it being matched.