House rules for card games

One of the most beautiful things about the standard 52-card deck of cards is its flexibility. Not the physical flexibility the cards have when you bend them—though it comes in handy when you try to shuffle, of course! Rather, what makes playing cards so great is their flexibility to be used for many different sets of rules. We tend to think of card games as discrete entities, saying we’re playing “Whist” or “Poker” or “Cash” or “Canasta“. In reality, these are just names given to a certain set of rules dictating the course of game play. When you look closer, however, you discover each of these labels covers a fair bit of ground, and there are a few different versions of each game in circulation.

Unfortunately, card games’ flexibility can also be their downfall. A lack of clarity regarding the rules can cause chaos at game night. Disagreement over rules and accusations of cheating can cause hard feelings between old friends. If not handled properly, this can break up a long-standing game group!

Fortunately, avoiding such a scene is easy with a little forethought. All you need to do is establish a set of house rules to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the game.

Why are card game rules so tricky to get right?

When a new board game is created, an inventor or team of designers usually sits down and creates a brand new game from scratch. Often, this is done under the supervision of a company planning to sell it. While some traditional card games are created this way, like Contract Bridge or Triple Play, most evolve incrementally over time. A player learns the game somehow, then introduces it to their group of friends. Over time, they might make a few changes to the rules to suit their tastes. Then, someone from that group teaches their version of the game to another group, and the process repeats.

Over time, this creates a few different versions of the game under the same name. After the changed version of the game has drifted far enough away from the original game, it might receive a new name to distinguish it from the original. 

Of course, this drifting will, over time, result in the library of card games expanding and giving players new games and new variations in the rules to try out. As it’s going on, though, we’re left with a problem. What people call “Whist” might be played under different rules in Chicago than it is in Charlotte. While this wouldn’t matter if everyone always played with the same group of people, inevitably someone who learned the game one way is going to play with someone who learned another. That sets the stage for conflict.

Choosing your house rules

A few games, like Contract Bridge, have governing bodies enforcing a single set of rules for professionally-organized play. Casinos also have a specific set of rules they train their dealers to follow, backed up by surveillance officers who ensure the dealers are following them to the letter. But the vast majority of games aren’t played in an organized fashion; they’re played in homes, between friends and family members. As the host, you are the one who is responsible for choosing the rules that govern. These rules are your house rules.

The easiest course of action is to bless an existing set of rules as the official rules for your game group. The game rules on our website are a good place to start. The descriptions on this site are designed, as much as possible, to provide a straightforward and easy-to-teach rules set. That makes them a good base for your house rules. There are, of course, hundreds of card game books with other, possibly more complex, rules sets you can choose from. After all, that’s where the phrase “according to Hoyle” came from.

Don’t be afraid to include your players in the discussion. Getting input from everyone goes over a lot better than “my house, my rules”. You may find some players prefer a different set of rules you hadn’t considered.

Using your house rules

Once you have chosen a set of rules, it’s time to play. Before you deal the first hand, make sure everyone knows which set of rules are your official house rules. (Be sure to inform new players of this when they join the group, as well. You may need to give them time to familiarize themselves with the rules.)

It’s crucial the rules are on hand all throughout game play. If the rules are in a book, have the book in the room. If they’re online, give everyone a link to the page they’re on. A printed copy of the webpage might be nice to have on hand as well. Some people read faster on paper than on a screen, and it’s nice to have a copy if the wifi (or the website!) goes down.

Any time there is a question as to the rules, stop and consult the rules you have made official. Not only will this prevent arguments about what the rules are, it will mean the rules stay consistent from game to game.

Customizing and updating your house rules

The great thing about card games is there is no wrong way to play them! The only thing that matters is everyone having fun. If you want to change up your game, all you have to do is update your official house rules.

As you become more comfortable with a game, you may seek out more information about it and come across a variation you want to try out. You may even come up with an idea for something you want to add, and write a new rule yourself.

Another reason you might want to edit your house rules is because the way they’re written is ambiguous. If the rules don’t make it clear how a particular situation should be handled, let the group come to a conclusion about the fairest way to resolve the situation. Then, document the group’s decision in your house rules. Next time it arises, you’ll know what to do, and the rules will be consistent with what you did last time.

Whenever you update the rules, again, be sure to get the group’s buy-in. Make sure everyone is aware of the changes, especially members of the group who may not have been there when it was discussed. Keeping everyone informed will keep your players happy and your game fair.

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Toepen

Toepen is a simple and quick trick-taking game for three to eight players, although it is most frequently played with four. In Toepen, only the last trick counts—whoever wins it wins the entire hand! However, it’s possible the game may not even get that far. A player who feels confident can raise the value of the hand in the middle of play, and if everyone else decides to drop out rather than keep playing, they can win the hand that way, too!

Toepen is most frequently played in the Netherlands, where it is often played as a drinking game. Accordingly, the game is set up so that one player loses rather than one player winning—the losing player is the one who buys the next round of drinks!

Object of Toepen

The object of Toepen is to win the last trick of each hand.

Setup

To play Toepen, you’ll need a 32-card pack identical to the one used for Piquet. To make such a pack, start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards—if you’re drinking, the waterproof plastic will be invaluable in guarding against spills! Remove all of the 2s through 6s. The remaining 32 cards will be the 7s through aces in each of the four suits.

Toepen scoring is easiest using the hard score method. Distribute the same number of tokens (chips, bottle caps, drink stirrers, condiment packets, whatever is on hand) to each player. Ten tokens for each player is the usual number, but you can adjust if you want a longer or shorter game. If there’s nothing handy to use as tokens, they can be represented as points on a score sheet.

Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Card ranking

One thing making Toepen unusual is the number cards ranking higher than aces and face cards! Other than that, however, cards rank in their usual order. That makes the full rank of cards (high) 10, 9, 8, 7, A, K, Q, J (low).

Game play

Discards and declarations

Before game play begins, if any player’s hand consists of only aces and face cards, they may discard it, face down, and draw a new hand of four cards from the stock. Another player may challenge the discard, if they wish. The discarded cards are then exposed. If the challenger was correct, and there were any number cards in the hand, the discarding player loses one token. If the discard was correct (the hand contained no number cards), the challenging player loses a token instead. In either case, the player keeps the new hand they drew from the stock. When the stock is exhausted, no further player may discard their hand.

When any discards have been taken care of, any player holding four 10s must stand up for the rest of the hand. Likewise, a player holding three 10s must whistle or sing (probably badly and obnoxiously, since this is a drinking game). This indicates to the other players the strength of the player’s hand. However, a player holding three or four jacks may, if they wish, take the same action as if they instead had the same number of 10s in order to mislead their opponents.

Play of the hand

The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick, playing any card they wish. Each player in turn, proceeding to the left, plays one card to the trick. They must follow suit if possible; if they cannot do so, they may play any card. Whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. They then lead to the next one, with the cards played in the first trick remaining on the table.

Game play continues until the players have played all four of the cards from their hand. The winner of the fourth and final trick wins the hand. The other players lose the number of chips the hand is worth. By default, the hand is worth one chip, but this can be changed over the course of the hand by knocking, described below. Lost chips are put out of play, not given to the winner of the hand.

The deal for the next hand passes to the player that wins it.

Knocking and folding

A player who is happy about how the hand is going may knock at any time. When a player knocks, they propose adding one chip to the value of the hand. For example, the first knock proposes to raise the hand’s value from the default of one chip to two; the second would raise it from two to three, and so on.

If a player does not wish to continue playing at the raised stakes, they may immediately fold by laying their cards face down on the table (or calling out “fold” if they have no cards in their hand). A player who folds must immediately pay the prior hand value. For example, if a knock raises the hand value from three to four chips, a player who folds would pay three chips. A player who folds takes no further part in the hand. If a player does not immediately fold upon hearing the knock, they commit to playing on at the increased hand value.

If all of the players fold except for the knocking player, that player automatically wins the hand and pays nothing. They then deal the next hand, as usual.

A player cannot knock if doing so would cause the hand to be worth more than the number of chips they have. They may, however, choose to stay in if another player knocks, even if this would cause the hand to be worth more than they could cover.

Ending the game

Game play continues until one player runs out of chips. This player loses the game. If you’re playing Toepen as a drinking game, the loser is responsible for buying the everyone the next round of drinks.

If you find it preferable to find a winner rather than a loser, have players drop out as they run out of chips. The last player with any chips wins the game.

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Schnapsen

Schnapsen is an Austrian two-player game where players score points both by melding and by taking tricks. It’s a cousin of the classic American game Pinochle, having likewise descended from the German game Sixty-Six. Thus, like its parent game, it plays a lot like a pared-down version of Pinochle.

Schnapsen forces players to rely on their memory of cards they’ve won—a player can go out when they have scored 66 points over the course of a hand. However, a player has to keep a mental tally of what they’ve scored to know when they’re able to go out. Schnapsen can be a very exciting game because a player is rarely completely out of the game—big come-from-behind wins are always possible!

Object of Schnapsen

The object of Schnapsen is to be the first player to reach and declare a hand score of 66 by melding marriages and winning tricks.

Setup

Schnapsen is played with an absolutely tiny deck of cards—only 20 cards are used in a Schnapsen deck! You’ll only need the aces, face cards, and 10s in each of the four suits. To ensure your cards last as long as possible and never become too damaged or dirty to play with, always make sure you start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You will also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper, or a scorekeeping app.

Shuffle and deal three cards to each player, then deal one card face up. The suit of this card, the upcard, determines the trump suit. Then, deal each player two more cards. Place the stub on top of the upcard at right angles, so its indices can easily be seen. The stub then becomes the stock.

Card ranking

In Schnapsen, 10s are the second-highest ranked card, just below the ace. The rest of the cards rank in their usual. This means the full card ranking is (high) A-10-K-Q-J (low).

Game play

The non-dealer goes first by leading a card to the first trick. The dealer then replies by playing any card they wish. There is no requirement to play a card of the same suit, even if the dealer has one. Whoever plays the higher card of the trump suit, or the higher card of the suit led if no trumps are played, wins the trick. That player takes both cards and places them in a won-tricks pile in front of them. The winner of the trick then draws one card from the stock to restore their hand to five cards, after which the other player does as well. The winner of the trick then leads to the next one.

After winning a trick, but before leading to the next one, a player holding the jack of trumps (the lowest trump) may exchange it for the upcard. A player does not necessarily have to do this on the first trick they win after they draw the jack; they may hold it until later, and exchange it upon winning a later trick.

Before leading to a trick, a player may meld a marriage, a king and queen of the same suit. To do so, they reveal the two cards, then lead one of them to the trick. The next time they win a trick, they score 20 points for the marriage, or 40 points for a royal marriage (a marriage in trump). If a player melds a marriage and goes the rest of the hand without capturing another trick, they do not score for the marriage.

Closing the stock

After drawing but before leading to a trick, a player may close the stock. To do so, they take the upcard and turn it face down on top of the stock. For the remainder of the hand, neither player may draw cards; instead, the rest of the hand is played with only the five cards in the players’ hands.

After the stock is closed, special rules apply. The player who does not lead must follow suit if possible. Further, they must play a card that will take the trick (head the trick) if they can. This means if a player has a higher card of the same suit as the lead, they must play it. If they cannot follow suit, they must play a trump. The player who did not close keeps any cards they capture after the close separate from the other cards in their won-tricks pile.

If the stock is exhausted before either player closes it, the same rules apply as if the stock were closed.

Ending the hand

When a player believes they have scored 66 points for the hand in melds and tricks taken, they may declare this immediately after winning a trick, ending the hand immediately. Each player then adds to their scores for the marriages the total of the cards in their won-trick pile, as follows:

  • Aces: 11.
  • Tens: 10.
  • Kings: 4.
  • Queens: 3.
  • Jacks: 2.

If the player who went out did in fact score 66 or more points, they win the hand. The number of victory points they score depends on the opponent’s hand score. If the opponent…

  • …scored 33 or more, the player who went out scores one victory point. (If the opponent also scored more than 66 points, they simply missed the opportunity to go out first.)
  • …scored 32 or less, it is a schnieder, and the winning player scores two victory points.
  • …didn’t win a single trick, it is a schwarz, and the player scores three victory points.

If the player who went out captured 65 or fewer points, the opponent scores two victory points, or three if the opponent had nothing in their won-cards pile.

In the event the hand ends with neither player having closed and neither player going out, instead simply exhausting their hands, the winner of the last trick scores one victory point.

When the stock has been closed, if the player who closed it successfully went out with 66 or more points, they score the same number of victory points as described above, but counting only the cards the opponent captured before the close. If the closer does not go out, or their opponent goes out before they do, the opponent scores two victory points, or three if they had not captured any tricks. It’s important to note that a player can only go out upon winning a trick. If the closer plays to the last trick without going out, and loses that last trick, they can no longer go out; the opponent wins the hand and scores appropriately!

Ending the game

After the hands have been scored, the non-dealer collects the cards and deals the next hand. Game play continues until one player scores seven or more victory points. That player wins the game.

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Machiavelli

Machiavelli is a rummy game for two to five players. Unlike most rummy games, where melds can only be expanded upon once they’re made, Machiavelli is a manipulation rummy game. That means that all of the players’ melds are placed on the table together. Any player can rearrange the cards into new melds, no matter who originally played them to the table!

Object of Machiavelli

The object of Machiavelli is to get rid of all of your cards by playing them to the table in melds.

Setup

Machiavelli is played with two standard 52-card decks of playing cards shuffled together, for 104 cards altogether. To make sure that your game never has to come to a premature end due to drink spills or damaged cards, always be sure to play with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. Place the remaining cards in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Game play

On a player’s turn, if they cannot or do not wish to do anything else, they may draw one card from the stock. The turn then passes to the player to the left.

Instead of drawing, a player may form one or more melds. There are two different types of melds. One is a set of three or more cards of the same rank and different suits. A set cannot contain more than one card of the same suit.

The other type of meld is the sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Aces may be either high or low in a sequence, but not both; a sequence of K-A-2 is not allowed.

If there are melds already on the table, a player may use cards from those melds to form new melds with cards from their hand. They may rearrange the cards in any way they wish; however, when they are done with their turn, all of the cards on the table must form valid melds. If they do not, the player must take any cards they played that turn back into their hand, return the table to the way it was before, and draw three cards from the stock as a penalty.

Game play continues until one player successfully plays all the cards from their hand onto the table. That player wins the game.

See also

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Bura

Bura is a trick-taking game for two players. It has the rather unusual feature of allowing a player to lead multiple cards to a single trick. Players can even lead three cards at once to wrest control of the lead from the other player! Another oddity is that the hand ends when a player thinks they have reached a winning point score—and they have no way of knowing they have, other than their memory of the cards they’ve captured!

Bura is a game of Russian origin. It is said to be particularly popular among inmates passing the time, and among ex-convicts who keep on playing it once they get out.

Object of Bura

The object of Bura is to be the first player to correctly declare they have reached a score of 31 or more points in tricks. Another way to win is to hold a bura (three cards of the trump suit).

Setup

Bura is played with a 36-card deck of playing cards. To make such a deck, start with a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Then, remove all the 5s through 2s. You’ll be left with just the 6s through aces in each of the four suits.

Bura is typically played with hard scoring. You will need some form of token, such as poker chips, matchsticks, or beans. If you’d like, each of these can represent some amount of real money, which you and your opponent should agreed upon. Give each player the appropriate number of tokens according to their buy-in. If not playing for money, simply give an equal number of tokens to each player.

Each player antes one token. Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Turn up the next card and place it in the center of the table. The suit of this card is the trump suit. Place the remainder of the deck on top of this card, at a right angle to it, forming the stock.

Card ranking

In Bura, the 10 ranks as the second-highest card, just below the ace. The rest of the cards rank in their usual order. Thus, the full rank of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7, 6 (low).

Game play

The non-dealer leads first. They may lead any card they wish. Their opponent then plays any card they like to the trick; they need not follow suit. If either player plays a trump, the higher trump wins the trick. If both cards played are of the same suit, the higher card takes the trick. When both cards in the trick are of different non-trump suits, the person leading to the trick wins it.

A player may lead as many as three cards, provided they are all of the same suit. The opponent must then play the same number of cards in response. In order to win the trick, the opponent must play cards that would beat each of the cards led if a trick was composed of only those two cards. For example, if a player led a 7 and a 9 in a non-trump suit, the opponent would have to play an 8 or better of the same suit, or a trump, to beat the 7 and a jack or better, or a trump, to beat the 9. If they cannot beat both cards, they lose the trick.

After the winner of a trick has been determined, that player takes the cards and places them face-down in a won-tricks pile in front of them, then leads to the next trick. Then, each player draws from the stock, starting with the winner of the trick and alternating, until their hand once again contains three cards. If there will not be enough cards left in the stock to replenish the hands, the players do not draw at all, instead simply playing on with their hands as they are.

Special leads

If a player has one of the following three-card hands, they may lead them to the trick, even if they did not win the previous trick (and thus would not normally be entitled to lead). These special leading combinations are:

  • Bura: Three cards of the trump suit.
  • Three aces
  • Molodka: Three cards of the same non-trump suit.

To play one of these hands, the player holding it announces it prior to the player who won the last trick leading. If both players hold one of these combinations, a player with a bura takes priority, then one with three aces, then one with a molodka. If they announce the same type of combination, the player who won the last trick retains the right to lead.

When a bura is played, the winner of that trick wins the hand and claims the pot. That is, if only one player has a bura, that player will win the hand. If both players hold a bura, the leader’s opponent must have cards outranking all three cards in the leader’s bura.

For all other combinations, the trick is played out as usual, and game play continues.

Ending the hand

Game play continues, with both players mentally keeping track of the cards they have captured in tricks. Cards score as follows:

  • Aces: eleven points.
  • 10s: ten points.
  • Kings: four points.
  • Queens: three points.
  • Jacks: two points.
  • 9s through 6s: no points.

When a player believes they have reached a score of 31 points, they declare this to their opponent. Note that the won-tricks pile must remain face down at all times, and a player cannot look through it to aid in their declaration. Once the declaration is made, the player turns the cards face up and calculates the score. If they did, in fact, capture 31 or more points in tricks, they win the hand and collect the pot. Otherwise, they must pay into the pot an amount equal to whatever it already contains.

If the players run out of cards before either one makes a declaration of collecting 31 points, the hand is a draw. Neither player wins the pot, and both players ante again to start the next hand.

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Chicago

Chicago (not to be confused with the Low Chicago rule that is sometimes added to Seven-Card Stud games) is a unique game for two to four players. In Chicago, players form the best poker hand they can through a few rounds of Draw Poker-style play. Then, they use these cards to play through a trick-taking game. However, the only trick that matters for scoring purposes is the last one!

Despite bearing the name of an American city, Chicago is a Swedish game. It first gained popularity in Östergötland province in southern Sweden. From there, it spread throughout the country.

Object of Chicago

The object of Chicago is to be the first to score 52 points. Players score points by having the best poker hand, and by capturing the last trick.

Setup

To play Chicago, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Make sure you never have to worry about beaten-up or dirty cards by always playing with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper, or a smartphone scorekeeping app.

Shuffle and deal five cards to each player. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.

Game play

First draw and showdown

The player to the dealer’s left goes first. They may discard any number of cards, from zero to five. They keep these discards face down, and placing them in a discard pile in the center of the table. The dealer then deals the player the same number of cards they discarded, bringing them back to a five-card hand. The next player to their left then has the chance to discard as well, and so on around the table to the dealer.

After all players have had a chance to draw new cards, the player to the dealer’s left may declare that they hold a poker hand of at least a pair or better. Initially, they name only the type of hand they have, not the rank of the cards. If the player does not have at least a pair, or they do not wish to disclose the content of their hand, they may pass. The next player to the left may then declare a higher poker hand, or likewise pass. This continues on around the table.

If a player holds a poker hand of the same type previously declared by a previous player, the first player must declare the rank of the relevant cards (for example, “two pair, kings high”). The other player may then pass or declare a higher combination. If the combinations remain tied, they continue going back and forth until one of the two passes, or it is established that the combinations are in fact equal.

Note that the showdown is conducted entirely through verbal declarations. At this point, nobody reveals their hand to the other players.

Once it has been established who holds the highest poker hand, that player scores as follows:

  • Royal flush: 52 points
  • Straight flush: 8 points
  • Four of a kind: 7 points
  • Full house: 6 points
  • Flush: 5 points
  • Straight: 4 points
  • Three of a kind: 3 points
  • Two pair: 2 points
  • One pair: 1 point

If two players tie for the highest poker hand, nobody scores for that showdown.

Second draw and showdown, and third draw

After the first showdown has been settled, the players then go through another drawing phase, conducted the same way as before. If the player (or players) holding the highest poker hand in the previous round wishes to discard any of the cards used to form that hand, they must expose all five of their cards to the other players to prove that they indeed held that combination.

After the second drawing round, a second showdown takes place. After that, players draw for a third and final time. No showdown takes place after this draw, however.

If, at any time, the stock is depleted, the discard pile is immediately shuffled to form a new stock.

Trick play

After the third drawing round, the player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick. A player must follow suit, if possible; if they cannot, they may play any card. The player who plays the highest card of the suit led wins the trick, and leads to the next one.

As tricks are played, rather than collecting them into won-tricks piles, as is common in other games, the cards are left face up on the table in front of the person who played them. This allows the hands to remain easily identifiable for end-of-hand scoring.

The player who captures the fifth and final trick scores five points for doing so. The player holding the highest poker hand at the end of the hand scores for it, as above.

Ending the game

The cards are then collected, and the deal passes to the left for the next hand.

When a player starts a hand with 46 or more points, they are no longer allowed to discard cards and draw replacements. They must play the hand all the way through with the cards they started with. Note that if a player reaches 46 points in the middle of a hand, this restriction does not apply until the start of the next hand.

Game play continues until one or more players reach a score of 52 or more points. The player with the highest score at the end of that hand wins the game.

Penalties

Should a player declare a poker hand that it cannot be proven they actually held, because it is not present after the trick-taking and they did not reveal it prior to discarding cards, that player forfeits the game.

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Aggravation

Aggravation is a simple game of quick reactions for two players. As in California Speed, players each have half of the deck they’re trying to get rid of by spotting two or more cards of the same rank and dealing new cards to cover them. However, in Aggravation, the number of cards in the layout— and thus the possible number of matches—keeps going up and up!

Object of Aggravation

The object of Aggravation is to be the first to play all of their cards to the tableau.

Setup

To play Aggravation, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Since you’re going to be moving quickly and placing cards as fast as you can, cards can get damaged very easily in this game. Make sure you have a deck of cards which can escape even the most boisterous games unscathed by always playing with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.

Shuffle and deal 26 cards (half the pack) to each player. Players may not look at their cards. Instead, they hold them in their hand as a squared-up, face-down pack.

Game play

On the count of three, each player simultaneously plays one card from their deck, face up, in front of them. If these cards are not of the same rank, the players turn up another card, again at the same time. The players should place their cards on the table so they form a neat grid. The cards played by one player should form one horizontal row near them. Meanwhile, the cards played by the other will line up vertically with their opponent’s cards. These cards collectively form the tableau.

So long as no cards in the tableau are of the same rank, this continues, with players adding more and more cards to the table. Whenever a player notices two or more cards of the same rank, they quickly cover the matching cards with cards from their deck, hoping to beat their opponent to doing so. If this forms any new matches, then whichever player notices it first may likewise cover the matching cards. This continues until all cards in the tableau are of different ranks. Players then resume simultaneously turning over cards, as before.

If both players spot a match and try to cover it at the same time, whoever has played cards to cover it may leave them there. It is fine if a match is partially covered by one player and partially covered by their opponent.

Running out of cards

When a player is reduced to having one card or less left in their deck, their opponent continues turning cards over, one by one, on their own row. A player with only one card can play it to cover part of a match.

When a player has no cards remaining, the next time a match forms, they touch two of the cards and call out “Aggravation!” That player wins the game.

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Setting up a partnership card game

Not every card game makes you go it alone. Many of the world’s great games are designed around partnership or team play. Working together with a partner toward a shared victory can be extremely satisfying. Succeeding in such a game often involves not only attention to the game itself and its strategy, but learning how to determine the strengths and weaknesses of your partner’s hand, and adjusting your play to accommodate them.

However, there are a few important considerations that you need to be aware of before you can start playing any partnership game. These aren’t difficult to resolve, but a little bit of thought put into them will ensure that your game goes smoothly and everyone has fun.

Determining partners

The first thing that needs to be established when playing a partnership game is who will be partners with who. There are two ways of handling this: by leaving it up to chance, or intentionally pairing players with one another. Which works better will depend on your players and the type of game you’re wanting to play.

Random draw

One method of establishing teams is to do so by a random draw. If you’re doing a normal two-teams-of-two arrangement, take two red cards and two black cards out of the deck. Shuffle those four cards and let everyone pick one. The two players drawing red cards will play against the two who drew black cards.

For other numbers and sizes of teams, adapt accordingly. For example, for three teams of two, use three different suits with two cards each.

The benefit of the random-draw method is that it is unlikely to cause hurt feelings regarding who is playing with who. If you don’t like your partner, well, it’s the deck’s fault, not yours.

However, choosing randomly may result in unbalanced teams if there is a big disparity in skill or experience between players. If the draw pairs two highly-skilled players against two that have never played the game before, nobody’s going to have fun. Another downside is that it may pit close friends or significant others against each other, which may not sit well with some people.

Mutual agreement

Another option for choosing teams is to simply work out through discussion who will be with who. Sometimes, this is easy to decide. If two pairs of spouses get together to play a friendly game, it’s natural for the couples to play against each other. A group may choose to pair an inexperienced player with a strong player to help them learn the game. In Contract Bridge, some partners work together so well that they never play the game unless it’s with their established partner.

However, there are some pitfalls to this approach. Remember the kid in gym class that was last to get picked for a team? Nobody wants anyone at their game night to feel that way. Also, losses or disagreements over play can spark tensions between partners. Such escalations can lead to hard feelings, or even worse, as happened in the famous Kansas City Bridge Murder in 1929.

Seating

Once the teams have been decided, you need to determine where everyone will be sitting. For most games, players should sit so that there is an opponent to the left and to the right of them. As the turn of play goes around the table, players of opposing partnerships will alternate in taking their turns. For four-player games, this also means that players will be sitting across from their partner.

For six-player games using two teams of three, players should sit A-B-A-B-A-B. When playing with three teams of two, they should sit A-B-C-A-B-C.

Scorekeeping

A practice especially common in Contract Bridge that has spread to other partnership games is to have one scorekeeper on each partnership. This promotes fairness by not allowing one team to have total control over the score. It also permits the two scorekeepers to check their scores against each other, preventing errors.

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Polignac

Polignac is a French trick-taking game for three to six players. In many respects, it is a rather straightforward example of the trick-taking genre. However, much like Hearts, the aim is to avoid taking certain cards, in this case, jacks. Watch out for the Polignac, the J♠. Capturing him is twice as bad as any other jack!

Object of Polignac

The object of Polignac is to avoid taking tricks containing jacks, especially the J♠.

Setup

To play Polignac, you’ll need a 30- or 32-card deck of cards, depending on how many you’re playing with. Starting from a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the 2s through 6s. If you’re playing with any number besides four players, also remove the black 7s. You’ll be left with a deck of aces through 8s in each of the four suits, making 28 cards. Then you’ll also have either the two red 7s, making 30 cards, or all four of them, making 32 cards.

You also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper works well, but tokens will also work. You’ll need at least ten tokens for each player.

Shuffle and deal the entire deck out, as far as it will go. Each player should have the same number of cards.

Card ranking

Polignac uses a somewhat unusual card ranking. The ace ranks below the jack and above the 10. This leads to a full card ranking of (high) K, Q, J, A, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).

Game play

Game play starts with the player to the dealer’s left. They may lead any card they wish to the first trick. Each player in turn plays a card to the trick, following suit if able, and playing any card they wish if they can’t.

After everyone has played, whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. They take the cards and place them into a won-tricks pile in front of them. Then, they lead to the next trick.

Scoring

After enough tricks have been played that the players’ hands are exhausted, the hand is over. Players look through their won-trick piles for the four jacks. Capturing the Polignac, the J♠, is worth two points. Each other jack is worth one point.

Game play continues until at least one player has scored ten or more points. Whoever has the lowest score at that point wins.

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Speculation

Speculation is a light and simple betting game. While the main goal of the game is straightforward—you just have to end the hand holding the highest-ranking card of a certain suit—more money can change hands by players selling potentially valuable cards to each other! A player may not win the game, but can still come out ahead by making a deal with another player to sell off a high-ranking card.

Speculation was most popular in the late 1700s through about 1880. During this time period, it was mentioned in works by several prominent authors, including Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. The producers of a film of Austen’s Mansfield Park called in card game author and historian David Parlett as an advisor for a scene involving a game of Speculation. Parlett’s research on the game resulted in him publishing this reconstructed set of rules, allowing card players everywhere to rediscover the classic game.

Object of Speculation

The object of Speculation is to hold the highest card of the trump suit at the end of the hand.

Setup

To play Speculation, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Keep all of your risk limited to that in the game—don’t risk your cards failing you in the middle of the game! Always make sure to play with Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.

Players should decide if real money will be wagered, and if so, the value of each chip. If chips have real-world value, each player buys in for their desired number of chips. Otherwise, give each player an equal number of chips. All players ante, forming the pot.

Shuffle and deal three cards, face down, to each player. Players may not look at their cards. Instead, they should keep the three cards in a squared-up stack. Then, deal yourself one card, face up, in front of you. The suit of this card, the upcard, becomes the trump suit. The stub takes no further part in game play.

Game play

Cards rank in their usual order, with aces high.

The upcard

The upcard belongs to the dealer. If it is an ace, there is no way it can be beaten, so the dealer automatically wins the hand and takes the pot. Otherwise, they may choose to keep this card, or sell it to any other player. The form such a sale takes is up to the dealer to decide; they may offer a firm price, or negotiate a price with a buyer, or even auction it off. Payment is made directly to the dealer, not the pot.

Play of the hand

The player to the left of whoever ends up with the upcard (the player to the dealer’s left, if they did not sell the upcard; otherwise, the player to the left of whoever bought it) takes the first turn. They turn up the first card of their stack of cards. The turn then passes to the left, and that player turns up a card, and so on. When the turn reaches whichever player is showing the highest trump, that player is skipped over and does not have to reveal any cards.

When a new highest trump is revealed by any player, they may choose to keep it or to sell it, in the same way the upcard could be sold. Again, this money goes to the player turning up the trump, not the pot. Once the owner of this card is decided, play picks up with the person to that player’s left.

Between turns, a player may also offer to buy one of another player’s face-down cards, sight unseen. This is normally done by the current holder of the high trump, to reduce the number of opportunities for higher cards to be revealed. Again, the other player may refuse the deal, or haggle with the buyer over the price.

Ending the hand

As players run out cards to reveal, eventually the ultimate holder of the highest trump will be known. This player takes the pot. They then serve as dealer for the next hand.

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