Big Two

Big Two is a Chinese climbing game for two to four players. Although it plays much like Thirteen (tien len), it is unique among the climbing games in that it allows for the use of standard poker hands as valid combinations. For example, while most climbing games will let you play a five-card straight, only in Big Two could that straight be beaten by a flush or a full house!

Object of Big Two

The object of Big Two is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards. This is achieved by discarding cards as parts of valid combinations.

Setup

Anyone wanting to play a game of Big Two needs a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Of course, we’d absolutely love it if you chose a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for your game. You should also have something handy to keep score with, like pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. Set aside any unused cards; they will have no effect on game play.

Card ranking

Big Two uses the card ranking order usually found in other climbing games of Asian origin: aces are high, and 2s are even higher than the ace. This gives a full ranking of (high) 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 (low).

Ties in rank (as when single cards or pairs are played against each other) are broken by suit. Suits rank in the following order: (high) spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds (low).

Game play

Combinations

Play of the hand in Big Two revolves around different combinations of cards. The valid combinations that can be played fall into four categories, which have no rank or standing relative to each other. These four categories are:

Within the category of five-card combinations, there are a number of valid combos based on poker hands, which do have ranks relative to each other. These combinations are more or less what you’d expect if you’re familiar with poker, with some caveats. From highest to lowest:

1. Royal flush
A royal flush consists of A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. Ties are broken by the suit of the royal flush, thus the best five-card combination is the spade royal flush.
2. Straight flush
Five cards of the same suit, in sequence (example: 4-5-6-7-8♠). In straight flushes, 2s rank below 3s, as they do in most climbing games, and aces can be either high or low, but not both, so 6-5-4-3-2 is fine, but 2-A-K-Q-J and 4-3-2-A-K are not. The highest-ranking card is used to determine the rank of the straight flush; if two straight flushes have the same top rank, then the tie is broken by the suit of the highest-ranked card.
3. Four of a kind
Four of a kind consists of all four of a particular rank of card, plus one unmatched fifth card. (example: 5-5-5-5-J). Ties are broken by the rank of the cards (four 6s beats four 5s). Note that unlike in most other climbing games, four-of-a-kinds are not a valid combination by themselves, and must be played along with a fifth card.
4. Full house
A full house consists of three of one rank of card and two of another (example: 7-7-7-3-3). Ties are broken by the rank of the three matching cards (Q-Q-Q-9-9 beats 10-10-10-K-K).
5. Flush
A flush consists of five cards of the same suit, not in any particular order (example: 5-6-9-J-K♦). Unlike in poker, ties are broken by the suit of the flush. Only if two flushes are of the same suit is the rank of the highest card used in determining the which flush is higher.
6. Straight
A straight consists of five cards of any suit in sequence (example: 4♦-5♣-6♣-7♠-8♥). If all cards are the same suit, it becomes a straight flush. The rules for what constitutes a valid straight and how to rank it are otherwise the same as those for a straight flush.

Note that lower poker hands than straights cannot be played as five-card combos—there is no provision for playing a three-of-a-kind with two extra cards, two pairs, etc. These must be played by themselves as trips, pairs, or single cards.

Play of the hand

Game play begins with the player holding the 3♦, the lowest-ranked card in the game. If nobody holds the 3♦, then play starts with the 3♣, and so on upward to whoever is determined to hold the lowest card that’s actually in play. This player plays face up to the table any combination they desire that contains the low card. The next player to their left must then play a higher combination of the same length. That is, they must play a higher single card if the first player led with a single card, a pair if the first player led with a pair, etc. If the player cannot or does not wish to play higher, they may also pass, with the option to play again on their next turn.

This continues, with each player playing progressively higher combinations, until all of a player’s opponents pass to their play. (In a four-player game, this means three consecutive passes, or two consecutive passes in a three-player game.) When this happens, the remaining player is free to play whatever combination they wish. The next player to their left must then beat this new combination, as before, and the game continues on in this fashion.

Players must keep their hands visible at all times, and if asked how many cards they hold, must respond truthfully. This is to allow players holding high cards in reserve to play them to stop an opponent they fear may be able to play their last cards.

Ending the hand

The hand ends whenever a player runs out of cards. At this point, the hand is scored. Each player counts the number of cards they have remaining. If they have nine or fewer, they score one point for each card left in their hand. If they have ten through twelve cards left, they score two points per card remaining. An unlucky player left with all thirteen cards—having never played a card the whole hand—scores 39 points, three points per card!

The deal rotates to the left and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until one player reaches a predetermined score (such as 100 points). Whichever player has the lowest score at that point is the winner.

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Dou Dizhu

Dou Dizhu (斗地主), which roughly translates into English as Fight the Landlord, is a Chinese climbing game for three players. In Dou Dizhu, one player takes on the role of “landlord”, fighting to be the first to run out of cards. The other two players team up to try to dispense with their cards before the landlord does!

Dou Dizhu is a fascinating example of a climbing game because of the great flexibility the game affords players in choosing combinations of cards. This allows players to form complex strategies in planning their next moves. Because of this, the game is said to be easy to learn but hard to master.

Object of Dou Dizhu

The object of Dou Dizhu is to be the first player to run out of cards. (If playing with a partner, your partner being the first out is just fine too.)

Setup

To play Dou Dizhu, you need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards, with two jokers that are different from each other somehow. Happily, Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill wonderfully. One joker should be designated as the higher joker. (On Denexa cards, we recommend this to be the red joker, the one with the dragon.) You’ll also need some way of keeping score. A hard-score method, using counters like poker chips, works the best, but you can also keep score with pencil and paper or similar.

Shuffle the deck. Take the top card and flip it face-up, randomly inserting it somewhere into the middle of the deck. Each player in turn draws a card from the deck until each have seventeen cards in their hand. Note which player takes the face-up card. The remaining three cards become a widow and are left face-down in the center of the table.

Card ranking

As with many Asian climbing games, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high, but with the 2 ranked even higher than that. The jokers rank even higher than the 2, with one joker (the red joker) outranking the other (the black joker). Thus, the full rank of cards is (high) , ★, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 (low). Suits are not relevant to game play.

Game play

The auction

The player who drew the face-up card in the deck bids first in the auction. They can choose to bid one, two, or three, or pass. The next player to their left then bids, and must bid higher than the first player or pass. A player can make a bid after initially passing. Bidding continues until either there are two consecutive passes or someone bids three. Once a winner has been established, they become the landlord. The landlord takes the widow into their hand, giving them a 20-card hand.

Combinations

Play of the hand in Dou Dizhu revolves around different combinations of cards. The valid combinations in Dou Dizhu are:

  • Single card
  • Pairs
  • Trips (three of a kind)
  • Straights (five or more cards in sequence, e.g. 3-4-5-6-7)
  • Quads (four of a kind)—but see restriction below
  • Consecutive pairs (three or more pairs in sequence, e.g. 3-3-4-4-5-5)
  • Consecutive trips (two or more trips in sequence, e.g. 3-3-3-4-4-4)

There are some restrictions on when the high-ranking 2s and jokers can be used. They can appear as single cards, or in pairs or trips. They cannot be used in straights or consecutive pairs or trips.

In addition, extra cards called kickers may also be attached to trips and consecutive trips. A kicker can be either a single card or a pair. For example, 7-7-7-5 and 7-7-7-5-5 are both valid combinations. When attaching kickers to consecutive trips, there must be one kicker or kicker pair for each triplet, each of which must be a different rank. For instance, 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-J and 4-4-4-8-8-8-7-7-Q-Q are both valid, but 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-9 is not (as this is one pair kicker for two triplets, not one single card for each triplet). Both 2s and jokers can be used as kickers, but not both jokers at the same time.

Quads must always be played with kickers to be used as a regular play. This can take the form of two single cards (5-5-5-5-8-K) or two pairs (5-5-5-5-8-8-K-K). Quads played without kickers are a special combination called a bomb (described below in “Bombs and rockets”).

Play of the hand

The landlord plays first. They may play any combination of cards they wish. The next player to the left then must play a higher-ranking instance of the same combination. To be considered the same combination, the same number of cards must be played: straights must be of the same length, consecutive pairs must have the same number of pairs, the same number of kickers must be played, etc. Combinations are ranked by the highest card present, with any kickers disregarded. For example, 7-7-7-5 is higher than 4-4-4-A (because the ace is a kicker and is thus not counted toward the rank of the combination). If a player cannot or does not want to play higher, they may pass.

This continues, with play continuing around the table, each player playing higher and higher combinations. Players may jump back into game play, even after passing, on their next turn. After two consecutive players have passed, the remaining player is free to play whatever combination of cards they choose (i.e. they are not compelled to play the same type of combination as before). As before, play continues to to the left, with the next player following up on the most recently played combination with a higher one of the same type.

Bombs and rockets

There are two special combinations in the game. These are the bomb, four of a kind with no kickers, and the rocket, which is a pair of jokers. Bombs and rockets may be played at any time, regardless of the combination being played. A bomb can only be beaten by a higher-ranked bomb or a rocket, and a rocket is unbeatable.

Ending the hand

Game play continues until one player runs out of cards. If that player is the landlord, each of their opponents pays them the amount bid (one, two, or three chips). If the landlord did not go out, the landlord must pay each opponent the amount bid. The payout is doubled for each time a bomb or rocket was played over the course of the hand.

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Khanhoo

Khanhoo is a rummy game for two to four players. It was originally from China, though it experienced a period of popularity in England at the end of the nineteenth century. Khanhoo may be one of the earliest rummy games ever to be played. It seems likely that it at least influenced Conquian, considered to be the ancestor of most rummy games.

Object of Khanhoo

The object of Khanhoo is to be the first player to form their entire hand into combinations called melds.

Setup

A special 61-card deck is needed to play Khanhoo. To make one, take two decks of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all of the 10s. Then, take out the face cards in hearts, spades, and diamonds, and all of the remaining number cards from the clubs. Shuffle these two decks together, and add one joker, and you’ll have your Khanhoo deck. It will contain the joker, two each of the J-Q-K♣, and two each of aces through 9s in the other three suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with.

Shuffle and deal fifteen cards to each player. Then deal a sixteenth card to the player to the dealer’s left. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. (In a four-player game, the entire deck will be dealt out, so there will be no stock.)

Game play

Game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left choosing one card to discard. This starts a discard pile, usually placed to one side of the stock. The turn then passes to the left. This player draws one card, either from the stock or the discard pile, and then discards one card. Turns continue in this manner, with a draw and a discard by each player in turn.

If the stock runs out, its top card is set aside, the discards are flipped over, and then shuffled to form a new stock. The old top card then forms the new discard pile.

As the entire deck is used in the four-player game, there is no stock. Instead, each player simply draws the card that was discarded by the player to their left.

Melding

The players’ goal is to form their hands into melds. The valid melds, and their point values, are as follows:

  • Sequence (1 point): Three or more cards of the same suit in consecutive order, e.g. 6-7-8♥. Note that sequences will never include face cards or clubs, as the only “sequence” that can be formed using them is actually the more valuable royal assembly (see below). Aces are considered low in sequences (just below the 2). Note that the point value does not increase if more cards are added.
  • Aces (1 point): Three aces of any suit (duplicates are allowed).
  • Triplet (2 points): Three number cards of the same rank and of three different suits (no duplicates allowed).
  • Royal assembly (3 points): J-Q-K♣.
  • Court melds (4 points each): K♣-9♥-9♥, Q♣-8♠-8♠, or J♣-7♦-7♦.
  • Khanhoo (5 points): A♥-2♠-3♦.
  • Double aces (10 points): Six aces of any suit.
  • Double triplet (10 points): Two triplet melds of the same rank. That is, six number cards of the same rank, with each suit appearing exactly twice.
  • Double royal (10 points): J-J-Q-Q-K-K♣.
  • Double khanhoo (15 points): A-A♥-2-2♠-3-3♦.

As players form melds, they keep them in their hand (that is, they do not lay them out on the table). Thus, the players can rearrange and expand or split melds at will. The joker is wild, substituting for any other card in a meld without restriction.

Bumping

In a three- or four-player game, after a player discards, another player may intervene by claiming the discard before the next player can draw it. They may only do this, however, if they can immediately use the card in a meld other than a sequence. Taking the discard out of turn in this way is called bumping. When a player bumps, they must place the meld that the discard is part of face-up in front of them. They may then no longer alter the meld in any way (e.g. by making it from a khanhoo to a double khanhoo). They then discard as normal and play passes to the left, with the intervening players skipped.

If the player who would have normally had the right to the bumped discard (i.e. the player to the left of the player who discarded it) also wants the card, they may challenge the bump. Both players must then declare the type of meld they wish to use the discard for. If the player that wishes to bump can form a higher meld, they get the right to the discard. If the other player can make a meld of equal or higher value to the bumping player, then no bump happens, and play proceeds as normal.

Ending the hand

When a player has formed their entire hand into melds, they make one final discard and announce that they are out. Each player then reveals their hand, placing it on the table with each meld broken out. Each player then scores the value of their melds, with the player that went out also getting a five-point bonus.

The deal passes to the left, and a new hand is dealt. Game play begins until one or more players reaches a score of 50 points or more. Whichever player has the highest score at that point is the winner.

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Twenty-Four

Twenty-Four is a card game for either two or four players. While there are lots of card games that involve adding card values, Twenty-Four is fairly unique in that it allows players to subtract, multiply, and divide, too! Figuring out how to use the four mathematical operators to reach the target value of 24, and doing it quickly, is what the game is all about.

Twenty-Four likely originated in Shanghai, China, during the 1960s. Since then, it has spread to other Chinese cities, and it can be found in several other pockets of the world.

Object of Twenty-Four

The object of Twenty-Four is to be the first player to run out of cards. This is accomplished by using the values of four cards and the four mathematical operators to reach a solution of 24.

Setup

Twenty-Four is played with a 40-card deck consisting of only number cards. To form such a deck, just take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove all the face cards. You’ll be left with aces through 10s in each of the four suits.

Shuffle and deal the entire deck out. Each player will receive 20 cards in the two-player game and 10 cards in the four-player game. Players may not look at their cards. Instead, each player squares up their cards into one face-down pile in front of them.

Game play

For two players

Each player turns up the top two cards from their stack and places them face up in the center of the table. Each player then tries to mentally reach a solution of 24 by adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing the pip values of the four cards. The solution must equal exactly 24, and use all four cards, in any order. Parentheses may be used to make the operations come out in the order the player wishes.

For example, with a board of 5, 7, 8, 9, a player might come up with the solution of 8 × 5 – (7 + 9) = 24.

When a player believes they have a solution, they slap the table. They then state their solution. If the other player agrees it is a correct solution, the player calling out the solution wins that set of cards. If the result of the equation is not actually 24, the other player wins the set. Whichever player loses takes the four cards and places them at the bottom of their stack.

If neither player can find a solution using the four cards on the table, they may each choose one of the cards they played to take back, placing it on the bottom of their stack, then play one new card from the top of their stack. They now attempt to solve this new set of four cards. Note that mathematically, 80% of sets are solvable, although some might be harder than others!

Game play continues until one player runs out of cards. That player is the winner.

For four players

The four player game is the same as the two-player game, with the following exceptions. First, each player contributes only one card to the table per set, rather than two. (This means if all agree that there is no solution, each player swaps the one card that they played, resulting in a totally different board.)

Secondly, the first player to slap the table does not immediately announce their solution. Instead, each player slaps the table as they arrive at a solution. When three players have come to a solution, the last player left chooses one of their opponents to state their solution. If they are unable to, or it is incorrect, the odd player out wins the set. Otherwise, they lose and must add the cards to their stack.

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Sampen

Sampen (pronounced with the stress on the first syllable) is a simple card game from China. It can be played by as few as two or as many as eight players. Sampen is nearly entirely luck-based, although players do have a few choices available to them. Its straightforward game play and lack of deep strategy make it a good option for young children.

Object of Sampen

The object of Sampen is to be the first player to get rid of all of your cards.

Setup

To play Sampen, you’ll need to build a special 60-card deck. To do this, start with two standard 52-card decks of the same back design and color—Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards is our preferred option, of course. From each deck, remove the aces through 10s of clubs. From the other three suits, remove the 10s and face cards. You’ll be left with two 30-card decks consisting of A–9♠, A–9♦, A–9♥, and J-Q-K♣. Shuffle these two 30-card decks together to form the full 60-card deck.

Note that as long as each card has one duplicate elsewhere in the deck, the exact composition of the deck is somewhat immaterial to the game play. If you wish, you can simply play with a full 104-card double deck (which allows you to accommodate even more players).

The number of cards you’ll need to deal depends on the number of players:

  • Two or three players: deal fifteen cards
  • Four players: deal thirteen cards
  • Five players: deal eleven cards
  • Six players: deal nine cards
  • Seven or eight players: deal seven cards

Place the rest of the deck face-down in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn over the top card of the stock. This card, the upcard, is the first card of the discard pile.

Game play

Because the game is played with a double deck, each card in the deck has a duplicate, either in one of the players’ hands or the stock. If a player holds the duplicate (matching in both rank and suit) to the upcard, they may discard it. They then play another card from their hand to the discard pile to serve as the new upcard. A player then discards this card’s duplicate, and so on.

A player may occasionally end up being dealt both copies of a given card. To rid themselves of such a pair, a player must first be able to match another upcard. Then they can play one card of the pair, then the other as its match, then finally another card to serve as the next upcard.

If the duplicate to an upcard isn’t played, the dealer should confirm that none of the players actually hold it. If that is the case, the dealer turns over the top card of the stock, which becomes the new upcard.

Game play continues until one player successfully discards all of their cards. That player is the winner.

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