Setback is another pretty old European game — also known as “Pitch” in Europe, some version of this game has been played since at least the 1600s in France.

Setback is a game of strategy and scheming with many similarities to Whist, Spades and Hearts.

The Object of the Card Game Setback

The point of the game of Setback is to make your bid or to stop your opponent or opponents from making their bids.

In Setback, it is possible to win up to four points each hand — the four points refer to four different types of hands that you can win. These hands are known as High, Low, Jack, and Game. We’ll get into what these games compose in a moment.

Although there are as many variations to this game as there are to any older card game — such as the game of draw/no draw, deal six, etc. — we’ll take a look at the standard 7-card draw version.

Winning Setback Hands

Now — the four different types of winning hands:

High means winning a book containing the highest trump card of the hand.

Low means winning a book containing the lowest trump card of the hand.

Jack means winning a book containing the Jack in the trump suit.

Game means winning the highest number of �points towards the Game.� These points are made by winning Tens of any suit (worth ten points), Aces of any suit (worth four points), Kings of any suit (worth three points), Queens of any suit (worth two points), and lastly the lowly Jacks of any suit (worth one point).

These Game points should not be confused with points (one through four for each hand) gained to win the game as a whole. Keep two seperate running point counts — one for “hand points” (High, Low, Jack, and Game) and one for “game points” (points toward Game). Confused? Just watch a round, and the game will seem as natural as a round of draw poker.

Playing Setback

To start the game of Setback, you have to determine how many are going to play. You must have an even number of players, anywhere from four on up. Players are required to from two teams with even numbers on a team. Next, choose a dealer. Tradtionally in Setback, the deck is cut until one player pulls a Jack. The first player to cut a Jack deals.

After shuffling and cutting again, deal seven cards to each player.


The player sitting to the dealer’s left starts the game by making a bid. He should bid on the number of points (High, Low, Jack, Game) he believes he can win. This will be a number between two and four — if a player can not bid at least two, he must pass.

Bidding moves clockwise. You cannot bid the same number as the player before you, meaning you have to bid one higher or pass.

When bidding returns the dealer, he has to bid one point higher than the last bid or give the highest bidder the first turn.

If all players pass to the dealer, the dealer is REQUIRED to take the first bid of two points.


The highest bidder then announces a trump suit. A bit of strategy here — declare a suit trump if you have a ton of cards in that suit or if you have the Ace, King, and Queen. Remember that the trump suit beats any other suit when taking tricks, as in other games like Spades and Hearts.


At the start of play, players can choose up to three cards to discard. Some house rules versions of the game allow you to discard your entire hand and earn a fresh hand, but it is up to you and the other players how many cards you can discard.


Once each player holds six cards in their hand, the game is ready to start. The highest bidder plays first. He must lead with the trump suit of his own decision.

Each player plays — gameplay moves clockwise.

High trumps always win a trick — remember that Aces are high.

Any trump card always beats a non trump card.

High cards of a neutral suit always beat lower cards of that same suit.

As with other “trick” based games, if a suit is lead you have to follow it unless you play a trump, which can be played at any time during the game on your turn, even if you have cards matching the suit that is lead. That’s right — you can trump without reneging on a suit.

The winner of a trick leads the next trick and so on.


Remember that the point of Setback isn’t to own the greatest number of tricks. The point is to collect the four points: Ace or King of trumps is usually High. Two or Three of trumps is usually Low. Jack of trumps will earn you a Jack point. To get Game, you want to collect Tens (of any suit), Aces and high face cards.

Once all the cards have been played, each team should count the number of books they have won. The point of Setback is to make your bid or set your oppponents bid.

A player or team who makes his bid receives that number of points — for a bid of three the team wins three points.

Scoring for Setback is simple — you receive the number of points you win.

If, however, a player or team does not make their bid, they are set, and they lose the number of points bid — for example, a bid of three that only wins two books will lose that team three points.

Gameplay continues until a team has reached eleven points. If the opposing team has zero or fewer points, the team with eleven points wins the game. Otherwise, play continues until twenty-one points.

The name “Setback” refers to bidding and losing — probably where our popular card playing term “set” comes from.