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The Game of Jonola Canasta

Special Features

Jonola Canasta has been carefully planned to keep the interest of all the players throughout the game.

One feature of the game is the maximum of five cards allowed to be picked up from the discard pile at any one time. 

Players hand increases at every turn. This allows the game to progress quickly.

The game uses 3 decks of cards (including 9 jokers).

The close scoring means each player has the chance to win the game right up until the last card is played.

Jonola Canasta has other variations that eliminate the lopsidedness and predictable play that occurred in the original 2-pack canasta

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Gameplay outline

The object of the game is to make up the required canastas and “go out” by melding all the cards from your hand. A canasta is 7 cards of the same rank. The game is won by the player or team having the most points past the target.

At each turn, players draw cards from the stacks or the discard pile. The player then has the option of melding or adding to tabled cards. The turn is ended by discarding one card.

For 2 or 3 player games each player competes against the other and have their own collection of cards in their hand and on the table.

For 4 players, partnerships are made up of 2 teams of 2 players. Each play their own hand but partners combine their tabled cards.

A game consists of 3 or 4 hands, each about 20 minutes.  A game takes 1 – 1.5 hours.

NB. The complete Official Rules for Jonola Canasta are included in your game box.

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What makes Jonola Canasta better?

For those who have played the original 2-pack canasta – here’s the good news. Remember when…

Original Canasta Jonola Canasta
Someone picked up the huge discard pile? Your heart sank and you thought “it’s all over”.

Pick-up from discard pile limited to the top 5 cards – plenty of cards left for the others

They took forever to sort their cards, usually made high scores and often went out quickly, sometimes without any other players having another turn

Turns are quick – maximum of 5 cards to sort.

The majority of us were bored or frustrated while the “lucky one” dominated the whole game?

Most players acquire a similar number of cards throughout the game – anyone can win.

We got stuck with all those cards in our hand that became negative points?

No more bad luck - players use strategy to win.

It took too long to get enough points for the initial meld and great opportunities to “pick-up the middle” were lost?

Three decks of cards and 9 jokers - quick to meld and get the game going.

We weren’t lucky enough to pick up the discard pile and often didn’t have enough cards to complete melds or canastas?

Each player picks up between 2 and 5 cards every turn - a more even card distribution.

We got penalty points against us for innocent mistakes?

This is a happy game - most of the penalties have been removed.

Partners got upset with each other for throwing out a card and “giving away the middle” to the opposition?

No longer “giving away” the whole middle - maximum 5 card pick-up

Some players disagreed over rule interpretations?

There is only one set of clear rules (and we wrote them). You are welcome to contact us for clarification at any time.

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Tips on how to play

  • For 4 players (partners) meld as soon as possible.  This lets your partner know what you want to save.
  • Plan to have a “safe” discard to avoid giving the next player the advantage of picking up from the discard pile.
  • Scheme to gain the discard pile. This way you get more cards and usually make canastas faster.
  • The best discard is a black three.
  • As soon as a red canasta is made up (by any player) beware! The game usually proceeds very quickly from this point.

NB. More tips are included in your game box

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John Murphy created the game

New Zealand born John Murphy enjoyed a good game of cards, particularly canasta. However, he was continually frustrated with the lopsidedness of the original 2-pack canasta game (which had become very popular worldwide during the 1950’s).

“It was a lucky person who picked up the middle (discard pile), got lots of cards and often went on to win the game usually by a large margin (very exciting for them, but not very fair). The remaining players waited and waited and waited some more, for the lucky person to sort all their cards (yawn, boring) and then lost the game as well!”

John decided to modify the game.  He added another deck of cards and more jokers. He increased the stack pick-up to 2 cards each turn, and limited pickup off the discard pile to 5 cards. He changed the game’s target values to higher levels. He also changed the power of some cards and removed most of the negative rules. Then he added some subtle enhancements and asked his friends and family to test it out.

The response was overwhelming and in the early 1970’s he was encouraged to go into production so more people could enjoy the game. He called the game Canasta Five (based on the maximum number of cards allowed to be picked up from the discard pile).

Over the next 20 years, he produced several small production runs in New Zealand (totaling about 4,000 games) that he sold to family, friends and some local shops.

At the age of 87 he relocated to Australia’s Gold Coast with his wife Ola and they continued to play the game for several more years.

In 1995 his daughter and son-in-law (Bonnie & Garry Royle) took over production of Canasta Five in Australia.  In 2002 the name was changed for trademarking purposes and Jonola was chosen to pay tribute to the games’ inventors.

The result is the Jonola Canasta game as it is today.

Since that first production run, more than 25,000 games have been sold worldwide (mostly by word of mouth recommendation).

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Our Guarantee

If, for any reason, you are not satisfied with your Jonola Canasta game, return the complete set in good order (along with your receipt) to our postal address, within two months from date of purchase, for a full refund.

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"No longer is there the uneven play that occurred in the original canasta.  We never play that old game now."

"Jonola Canasta is the only game that my husband and I don’t get into an argument about."

"We wanted to spend more leisure time with the family, and Jonola Canasta was perfect for us!"

"I played canasta as a child and now I’ve taught my own grandchildren (aged 9 & 10) to play Jonola Canasta.  They love it!"

"Our friends were reluctant to try a new game – now they’re beating us at it."

"Much more fair – gives everyone a chance of winning, often right up to the last card played."

"We’ve played Samba, Bolivia and various versions of Canasta but Jonola Canasta is definitely our favourite!"

"We love it.  The game continues to offer new challenges and variety that makes us keen to play again and again."

"Our group meets every week to play Jonola Canasta. We get more people at this game than at any other."

"Please pass on our thanks to John for turning a good game into a brilliant one."

"We have played this game for more than 20 years and are constantly amazed that we are still experiencing different hands that we have not encountered before."

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If you were looking for the Canasta Five card game, you are in the right place.

It’s still the same great game, just the name has changed.


All prices on this site are quoted in Australian Dollars ($AUD).

We accept orders from all around the world

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