Cactus

Cactus is a card game for two players where memory plays a crucial role. Initially, all of a player’s cards are face down, so they will have no knowledge of the value of their hand. However, as the game continues, the initial, unknown cards will be replaced with cards the player does know the identity of. They still can’t look at the cards, though—so they have to remember which card is which to make sure they don’t accidentally discard or reveal the wrong card!

Cactus is part of a small family of games collectively referred to as “Golf” (distinct from the better-known Golf solitaire game). They carry this name because, like in the sport of golf, the goal is to end with the lowest score. Cactus is a Golf variant hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Object of Cactus

The object of Cactus is to end the game with the lowest point total. Players try to reduce their point total by selectively discarding and drawing cards.

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Setup

To play Cactus, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. To make sure that your cards are always durable enough to stand up to your game, always use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards.

Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. Players may not look at their cards. Each player arranges their cards in a two-by-two grid in front of them, making sure to keep them face down. Place the stub face down in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Game play

Game play in Cactus revolves around players trying to reduce the total point value of the cards in their hands. The values of each card are as follows:

  • Aces: one point.
  • Kings: zero points.
  • Queens and jacks: ten points each.
  • All other cards: pip value.

The non-dealer goes first. They draw a card from the stock and look at it, keeping it hidden from the dealer. They may then swap it with any of the face-down cards in front of them. The player may not look at the face-down cards before deciding which to swap. The player then turns the card they wish to remove face up and places it next to the stock, forming the discard pile. The card drawn is placed face down in the vacant spot in the layout.

Once a card has been placed on the layout, a player cannot look at it again. Instead, they must remember which card is which for the rest of the game!

After the non-dealer has discarded, the dealer plays. On this and all subsequent turns, a player may choose to draw the top card of the discard pile rather than from the stock.

Matching cards

At any time, even if it’s not their turn, if a player believes a card in their layout matches the top card of the discard pile, they may turn the card face up. If the card does indeed match, they may discard the matching card. Their layout will now be one card smaller. If the card does not match, they turn the card back face down, then draw two penalty cards from the stock and add them to their layout without looking at them.

Power cards

Queens through 6s are called power cards, allow a player to invoke a special move when drawn from the stock. Instead of swapping the power card with a card from the layout, a player can simply discard it, then perform the appropriate action, according to the card’s rank:

  • Queen: Swap any card from your layour with a card from your opponent’s layout. You may not look at either card before swapping.
  • Jack, 10, or 9: You may look at any one of your opponent’s cards. They don’t get to know what it is.
  • 8, 7, or 6: You may look at any one of your own cards.

A player may also choose to play a power card to their layout, as normal. Doing so does not invoke the special power associated with the card.

If a power card ends up in the discard pile without having been used, that is, if it is discarded from a player’s layout, the opponent may draw it off the discard pile. They may then immediately re-discard it and invoke the power.

Ending the game

Game play continues until one player is satisfied with their layout. At the end of their turn, they call out “Cactus!” Their opponent then has one more turn in which to act. After the opponent takes their turn, both players turn up all of their cards. Whichever player has the lower total score is the winner.

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