Ziggurat — a card game of time travel and knowledge

sean f. smith / he, him
4 min readOct 26, 2023

It is the near-future and science has invented time-travel — small, semi-stable portals allow teams of researchers to travel back to ancient times to gather knowledge. Each player is the head of a research team and needs to gather as much information as possible before the time portal closes.

The portal opens on a Mayan pyramid: the race for knowledge is on!

ZIGGURAT is a competitive card game for two to four players. Each round takes about ten to fifteen minutes of play.

Although ZIGGURAT was envisaged with custom-printed cards, you can play it with a complete deck of playing cards without jokers.

concept art by Nathan Redland — speak with an owl or bat or West Midlands amphibian to contact him


The aim of the game is to collect as many cards as possible.

You collect a cards by pairing up a scientist and a Mayan who each care about the same thing:

  • A & Q — literature
  • 2 & J — war
  • 3 & 10 — architecture
  • 4 & 9 — science
  • 5 & 8 — medicine
  • 6 & 7 — language

You can also collect Kings on their own (tablets of information) without having to pair them up.

If you pair up two cards that share a suit, you take another go.

If you cannot collect any cards as an action, you must take one of the active cards from the pyramid and add it to your hand.


The game ends when:

  1. any player runs out of cards in their hand, or
  2. the pyramid is depleted.

At the end of the game, the player who has collected the most cards wins. In the event of a tie, the player who ended the game is the winner.


Take all of the cards and shuffle them together. Deal them out in a tableau of increasing width from the first pile of one to the seventh pile of seven, like the image below. This will be a grand total of twenty-eight cards.

If a card’s lowest two corners are each uncovered, the cards is considered active.

The remainder of the deck is dealt equally to all players — six cards each for four players, eight each for three players, twelve each for two players. The player who owns the cards is the first to begin. For subsequent games, the winner of the previous game is the first player.

Two-player “offhand” rule

At the start of the game, each player deals half of their cards into a second pile. This becomes their offhand and does not count as being in a player’s hand.

At the point where the first player depletes all cards in their hand, all players add the offhand to the cards in their hand.

This provides a late-game spike in pace and speeds up the early game.

This rule is played in two-player games and may be played in games with three or four players.


On each player’s turn, they may pair two cards (a Mayan with a scientist who care about the same thing ─ linked numbers adding up to 13) from either their hand or the pyramid. Players may pair cards that are both from their hands, both from the pyramid, or from both zones.

A king / tablet may be collected without pairing.

If a player does not wish to collect any cards, or cannot, they take any active card from the pyramid and add it to their hand.

If the paired cards match suit, the player takes another turn. This extra action cannot be forfeited.

Once a player’s turn is over, play passes clockwise round the table. Play continues until either one player’s hand or the pyramid is fully depleted.

Call for remote playtesters!

If you play this and want to be credited if/when this reaches commercial release, please answer the following questions by way of email.

  • What are the names of the playtesters as they want to be credited?
  • How many games did you play?
  • Were there any parts that felt unnecessary?
  • Were there things you wished you could do?
  • Did the first player seem to have too powerful a position?
  • Did you feel there was enough interaction between the players — perhaps in the sense of getting in the way of others’ tactics?