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Laugh and Lie Down is a fishing game for five (or four) players from the 17th century.By 1784 it was being described as “old-fashioned”.A[p. 134] The only known description of the rules of this game is from Francis Willughby’s Book of Games.B[p. 138] but also appears that same year in a humourous tract.C

An early reference to the game appers in a 1603 pamphletD[116] where it is mentioned as “laugh, and lye downe”.

In some cases the name is implied to have sexual meaning, for example in the pamphlet Serious reflections on the dangerous tendency of the common practice of card-playing; especially of the Game of All-Fours, as it hath been publickly play’d at Oxford (13), which says:

There are other Games, which seem compos’d on Purpose to shock the Modesty, or, at least to give an unlucky Bias to the Ideas of the younger Part of box Sexes. To name two of these will be sufficient, as my own Delicacy will not suffer me to dwell long upon them. And, indeed, I could not have persuaded myself to have gone thus far, but that I think any Female Reader, into whose Hands this Letter may happen to fall, will easily be intreated to suffer her Eyes to jump over the following Words in Italics, viz. Laugh and lie down, and My Lady’s Hole.


The game is played using a standard deck of 52 cards. The standard game is for five players.

The goal of the game is to capture at least 4 pairs (8 cards).

All players put 2 stakes into the pot; the dealer stakes 3 instead (so that the pot contains 11 stakes).

Deal out 8 cards to each player one at a time. The remaining 12 cards are turned face-up upon the table to form the central pool. If there are four cards of the same suit (a ‘murnivall’) amongst the pool cards, the dealer takes it.

Starting with the player to the dealer’s left, each player in turn plays a card from their hand that matches one of the face-up cards in the pool by rank. They then capture the pair of cards. If a player is unable to capture a card on their turn, then they Lie Down all the cards in their hand to add to the central pool and are out of the game for the remainder of the round (presumably, as everyone else Laughs at them).

If there are three cards of the same rank in the pool (a ‘perryall’), all three may be captured by the fourth card.

Cards from the hand may be placed directly into a player’s captured cards in the following situations:

  • If a player has a pair in hand when another pair of the same rank is captured, they may place it into their captured cards.
  • If a player has a ‘perryall’ in their hand they may place a pair from it into their captured cards.
  • If a player has a ‘murnivall’ in their hand they may place both pairs into their captured cards.

When only one player is left with any cards, the round is finished. That player may not play any more cards even if they are able. All the remaining cards in the pool as well as that player’s hand are given to the dealer as captured cards.

Whoever matched the last pair of the game wins 5 from the pot.

Any player who failed to obtain 4 pairs must pay one stake to the pot for each pair they missed the target by. Any players that took more than 4 pairs take one stake from the pot for each pair they exceeded the target by.

The pot should be empty after scoring is complete.


If a player makes any oversights in play, whoever first spots the mistake may benefit from it and take the cards:

  • the dealer fails to spot a ‘murnivall’ in the face-up cards; the spotter may take it instead
  • a player captures only one of the cards from a ‘perryall’ on the table; the spotter may take the remaining pair
  • a player still has a pair in their hand when they are forced to lay down their cards, and the other pair of the same rank has been captured; the spotter may take the pair
  • a player has a ‘perryall’ in their hand when forced to lay down their cards; the spotter may take a pair
  • a player has a ‘murnivall’ in their hand when forced to lay down their cards; the spotter may take both pairs

For Four Players

Deal 10 cards each and 12 to the table. Take 3 stakes instead of 5 for winning the last pair.


  1. Anonymous (). ‘⁨⁩’. The Weekly Entertainer vol. 3 (58), : page 133.  This is a later adaptation of the 1750 piece included in the bibliography as “A Letter from a Lady”/“A Letter from Mrs Midnight”.

  2. , , and (, originally published 2003). ⁨Francis Willughby’s Book of Games: a seventeenth-century treatise on sports, games and pastimes⁩. Routledge⁩: London & New York. ISBN: 978-1-85928-460-5.

  3. Anonymous (). ‘⁨⁩’. The Rambler’s Magazine vol. 2, : page 180. London.

  4. (). ⁨⁩. Iames Roberts⁩: London.

  5. (). ⁨⁩. London, England, UK.


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