Shlla'at Fishing Games

Shlla'at Fishing Games



This game may well have originated in Sudan, and was very popular there in early years of the 21st century. Although it is usually played by children, it can also be enjoyed by adults. Its usual Arabic name "shlla'at" (شَلَّعَت) means 'uprooted', but some groups call it "sanaht" (Arabic: سَنَحَت), meaning 'the opportunity'. "Shlla'at" could also be translated as 'blown away', in the sense that a strong wind could blow away a cover or a fragile roof.

Shlla'at is a fishing game with some unusual features. A player can make a series of captures in a single turn, drawing a new card from the deck after each capture and continuing until a card is played that captures nothing. Captures can be made both from the central layout or pool and from the capture piles of other players. The names of the game reflect these characteristics.

This page is based on information from Ali Hassan.

Players, Cards and Objective

In theory any reasonable number could play, but the game works best with 3-5 players. The direction of play is clockwise. There are no teams, though temporary informal alliances often emerge during the game.

A full international pack with two Jokers is used, 54 cards in all. The Jokers and Aces are special cards, and the other 48 cards are normal cards. The card values are as follows:

Jokers:50 points each
Aces:25 points each
Jacks:2 points each
All other cards:1 point each

The total value of the cards in the pack is 252 points.

Before beginning, the players should agree the target score - the number of points required to win. This could be 500 points for a short game, or a multiple of 500 such as 1000 or 1500 for a longer game.

Capturing Cards

The aim is to capture cards and the players score at the end of each hand according to the value of the cards in their capture pile.

The captured cards, including the card that made the capture, are stored face up as a set on top of the player's capture pile. Only the top card of this pile should be vsible. If the captured set contains a special card along with two or more normal cards, it is customary to put the special card(s) in the middle of the set with normal cards at the ends. If a special card is used to capture a singe normal card, the normal card should be placed on top of the special card.

The reason for captured cards to remain face up is that other players, at their turns, may 'steal' or capture the topmost set from any opponent's pile. The sets of cards on top of all your opponents' capture piles are available for capture along with the cards in the pool in the centre of the table. Removing the top set of cards from a player's pile will reveal the captured set directly beneath it, which only then will be at risk of being captured. These are the 'uprooting' and 'opportunity arising' aspects of the game.

It is possible for a single card to capture several separate cards or sets of cards from the pool or the other players' capture piles at the same time, provided that these cards and sets are all of the same rank. The cards captured in this way are combined into a single set.

It is possible for a special card (Ace or a Joker) to capture just a single card from the pool on the table if the player wishes to do so. It is also possible for a player to discard a special card to the pool and leave it there, capturing nothing. A special card in the pool can subsequently be captured by any normal card, but not by another special card.

When a card is played that can capture one or more available cards or sets, the player is not obliged to capture all these cards. The player of a normal card can choose to capture just some of the matching cards in the pool or from other players' capture piles, or may choose to capture nothing at all, leaving the played card in the pool. When capturing a set of cards from an opponent, the whole set of equal cards must be captured along with any special cards it contains: it is not possible to capture just a part of a set.

If a player chooses not to capture all the cards they are entitled to, or fails to notice some cards that could be captured, the cards cannot be claimed later. In particular, as soon as the player draws a new card from the draw pile or the next player begins their turn, the missed capture is no longer possible - it is said to be 'burnt'. In some circumstances a missed capture can be declared burnt even before the next card is drawn or played - see Customs and Etiquette below.

It sometimes happens that a player captures cards of the same rank as the cards that are on top of their own capture pile. This will result in sets of equal rank stacked directly on top of each other. For the purposes of stealing, these equal cards are then treated as a single, larger set, which can be only captured together as a single unit.

The rules of capture and special capture can be summarised as follows.

  1. A card or set of cards can always be captured by a normal card of the same rank regardless of whether the set contains special card/s or not.
  2. A normal card or a set of cards can be captured by a Joker regardless of whether the set contains special card/s or not.
  3. A normal card or set of cards that contains a Joker cannot be captured by an Ace. An Ace can capture a set of normal cards or a set that contains one or more Aces.
  4. A special card in the pool can be captured by any normal card but not by a special card.

Deal and Layout

It doesn't matter who deals the cards. Each player is dealt a hand four cards face down, which they pick up and look at. Then four cards are dealt to the centre of the table where they are placed separately face up to form the starting pool. The rest of the deck is stacked face down as a drawing pile.

If one or two of the initial face up cards happen to be special cards (Aces or Jokers), they must be buried inside the drawing pile spaced away from one another, and then replaced by an equal number of cards from the top of the drawing pile. If the initial face up cards or any player's hand includes three or four special cards or three or four ordinary cards of the same rank, all the cards are thrown in, shuffled and redealt.


In the first hand the first player is chosen by any convenient random method. In subsequent hands, the turn to play first rotates clockwise.

There are two phases of play.

1. When there is at least one card in the draw pile. The player first draws a card from the draw pile without showing it to the other players, and then plays one of their five cards face up on the table. If this card is used to make a capture (see above), the player draws another card and plays again. If the player is not able to or does not wish to make a capture, they simply play a card face up to the table capturing nothing. The player's turn ends and the played card remains in the pool where it is available to be captured by later players. The turn passes to the next player to the left.

2. When the draw pile is empty. From the moment when a player draws the last card of the draw pile, everyone will be permitted to play only one card per turn, regardless of whether they make a capture or not. This will start with the player who drew the last card from the pile and now holds 5 cards. This player plays one card and, whether it captures anything or not, the turn will pass to the next player in clockwise order. From now on each player in turn plays just one card from hand without drawing. The player who took the last card from the drawing pile will always be the last to run out of cards, which is often an advantage. The last player who had made a capture takes any uncaptured cards that remain on the table at the end of a hand after all the cards have been played.

End of the Play and Scoring

A cumulative score is kept for each player, beginning at zero. At the end of each hand, each player counts the total value of the cards in their capture pile and and adds this to their score. If any player's score has reached or passed the agreed target (for example 500), the player with the highest score wins the game. In the extremely rare event of a tie for most points, the players should either accept that both (or all) tied players win, or agree a higher target and continue the game to the new target to decide the winner.

Customs and Etiquette

When capturing cards from the pool the custom is either to place the capturing card on top of the cards to be captured, or to use the capturing card to scoop up the captured cards, then pick the cards up and add them to the top of your capture stack. Alternatively you may place your capturing card on top of your capture stack and then collect the cards you want to capture and put them on top of it (of course you can't do this if you intend to make no captures at all)

When capturing cards from an opponent's pile, you should place the capturing card or top of your own stack and ask for the cards that you want to capture, which the opponent must then give to you. It is considered impolite to reach out and take cards from an opponent's pile. When stealing using a special card the player usually keeps the special card in their hand as they are waiting for the captured cards to be handed to them. Usually the player who just lost his/her cards will create a gap in the middle of the set so that the special card holder will place it in the gap and then stack the set on top of his/her capture stack.

Capture piles must be neatly stacked so that only the topmost card, showing the rank of the most recently captured set, is visible. Players are not allowed to inspect the cards buried in the capture piles of other players, nor in their own pile. Furthermore, players are not allowed to comment on the number of type of cards in players' capture stacks or about what cards remain unplayed. Instead, players must rely on their own memory to keep track of such information.

When a player misses a possible capture, opponents may declare the capture 'burnt' even before the next card has been drawn. For example if a player places their played card in the pool rather than on top of their own capture pile, that is taken as a sign that they do not intend to steal any cards from opponents' capture piles, so a player who has a matching set on top of their capture pile can immediately declare that capture burnt. Or if you play a Joker and two of your opponents, A and B, have 8's on the top of their capture stacks, but you ask or gesture only to player A to hand you his 8's, player B could immediately declare her 8's a missed capture.

When the topmost set of a player's capture pile is taken by another player, everyone is entitled to see what the stolen set contains - how many normal cards and what special cards. The 'stolen' cards may be fanned out to make this clear. Commenting on stolen cards as they are fanned out and being handed to the player who stole them is not against the rules, since the cards are already visible for everyone to see, but in some groups such comments might be slightly discouraged since they might alert inattentive who could otherwise remain oblivious.

The draw pile must be kept neatly stacked at all times. During the game players are not allowed to fan out the cards in the stock so as to count how many remain to be drawn.

Note. The rule that a player with 3 or 4 equal cards or special cards should throw the hand in and have the cards redealt is not strictly enforceable. A player with such a hand could keep quiet and play it as dealt. Because new cards are drawn each time a card is played, it could not be proved that the hand should have been cancelled. However it is obviously a disadvantage to begin the game holding 3 or 4 equal ranked cards since this severely reduces the player's options to capture cards, so a player with this hand will be happy to throw it in. Experience shows that holding 3 or 4 special cards at the start is also a liability, but in practice a player with such a hand could keep it and play it if they wished to.


Ali Hassan reports that his uncle, along with the rest of his generation, played Shlla'at in their youth after having learned it from the previous generation. He said they used to play it in a group of 4 or 5 players and with two standard decks without the Jokers. The card values remain the same, so there are 304 points in the pack.