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50 card games to play at home and the stories behind them

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50 card games to play at home and the stories behind them

Families around the country and the world continue to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the inundation of streaming TV and movies, a standard deck of cards is a great outlet to shake things up—at least for a few hours of the day. In a 52-card deck, you’ll find a near-infinite number of games to choose from for your entertainment and amusement.

The hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs on standard playing cards are familiar to all, and the number of games invented with these cards during the past several centuries would be impossible to count. They range from simple games that children can easily pick up, to high-stakes card games that have developed followings and world championships, to much more complex and niche games.

Even among these games of varying skill levels are different categories and genres. In trick-taking games, for example, each player plays one card face up; fishing games will have a pool of face-up cards that can be captured by playing a matching card from one’s hand; draw-and-discard games are self-explanatory, with players drawing a card from one pile and discarding one to another pile; and so on.

With this in mind, Stacker has compiled 50 of the most popular card games that anyone can play with a standard deck of 52 playing cards. This list includes games from the aforementioned skill levels and genres, sourced and referenced from a number of game-enthusiast websites and storefronts like BoardGameGeek and PlayingCardDecks.com, and databases for games like Pagat. Each slide will describe the basic rules of the game, other similar and comparable card games, and if applicable or available, a brief history of the game.

And even if all options have been exhausted, one could resort to card tricks, card throwing, and building houses of cards for merriment. Read on to see the best games you can play with your own deck of cards during this period of social distancing.

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Poker

With several variations, poker is a highly popular card game played recreationally, competitively, and professionally (in-person and online). Usually played for money or some substitute, poker involves players wagering over whether or not their hand is better than those of the other players. Players can “call,” raise their bet, or fold; this can lead to bluffing and add a psychological aspect to the game.

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Rummy

Basic rummy or straight rummy is a draw-and-discard game in which players attempt to form sets of three- or four-of-a-kind or sequences that have three or more cards from the same suit; these are called “melds.” Players will add and toss cards and can say “rummy” if they are able to meld all of their cards at once. Getting rid of all of one’s cards is “going out,” winning them the hand.

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Bridge

One of the most popular card games in the world is bridge, a trick-taking game that is also an off-shoot of Whist. There are several variations of this game, but at its core, contract bridge involves four players in two competing partnerships attempting to score points by “bidding” (or “calling”) and stopping opponents from fulfilling their goal. Other variations include a more basic version called rubber bridge and a version that requires more than eight players called duplicate bridge.

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Gin rummy

One of the most popular forms of rummy is gin rummy, which arose in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Players have to collect a hand and create sets (cards of the same rank) or runs (cards of the same suit in consecutive order). Cards that do not fit either of these are “deadwood,” and players with 10 or fewer points of deadwood can “knock” to end a play; players can go “gin” by knocking with no deadwood.

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Cribbage

Popular in Britain and evolving from an earlier card game called noddy, cribbage is an adding card game where players compete to reach a certain point threshold, usually 61. These points are “added” or accumulated through combinations of cards. Methods of scoring include “15,” if cards are played that added up to a total of 15, awarding two points; pairing, which scores two points; three of a kind (six points); and four of a kind (12 points). There is also a widespread six-card variation of cribbage.

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Go Fish

A simple quartet matching game often played by children, Go Fish has players start with five cards each. Each player can ask another if they have a card of a certain rank, with the aim being to accumulate sets of four matching cards; if the player who was asked has the card(s) that the asker requested, the cards have to be given up. If that player doesn’t have any of those cards, the first player has to “go fish” and draw one card from a pile; the player with the most sets wins.

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Nayuki // Wikimedia Commons

Cheat

Cheat, also known as I Doubt It, or the more profane Bulls--t in the United States, is a beating or shedding-type game with the players’ aim to “shed” or get rid of all of their cards. Two to 10 players are recommended for this game, with each player putting down a card that ranks one higher than the previous in the discard pile; however, as the cards are put face-down, players can lie about what card they put down. Anyone who is caught lying has to pick up the entire pile of cards; anyone who challenges another player and is wrong must pick up the pile.

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Solitaire

Also called patience in Britain, solitaire has many different variations, all that can be played by just one person. Solitaire is essentially a puzzle, where the player has to reorder cards from a shuffled deck into a prescribed arrangement. Solitaire is preloaded in a number of computer operating systems, making it accessible even without a physical deck of cards.

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Texas Hold ‘Em

One of the more popular variations of poker is Texas Hold ‘Em, which uses community cards. Five community cards are presented face-up, while players will be dealt two cards face-down. Each player will seek the best five-card poker hand from all seven cards, and will either check, call, raise, or fold.

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War

A game generally for children and with no real strategy, War is between two players who start with the same number of cards. Each player will draw a card in unison, and the player with the higher card takes both cards. If both cards have the same value, then “war” consists of both players drawing another card face-down and then another face-up; the one with the higher value from that battle wins all of those cards.

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Whist

The basic version of Whist, which was then turned into many different variations, has four players in partnerships and no trumps. The game simply has players trying to win the most tricks out of a hand of 13 cards.

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Slapjack

As the name may imply, slapjack involves the physical act of slapping cards. Often one of the earlier card games that children may learn, Slapjack requires attentiveness; players will have their cards face-down and, one by one, play a card in a center pile. If a jack is played, the first player to slap it will win the pile, and the overall winner will have all of the cards by the end.

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Blackjack

One of the most popular casino games is blackjack, also known as 21. Players will go up against not each other, but the house, with the objective to approach 21 without overshooting. The game has often been vulnerable to advantage players with techniques such as card counting, and as such, casinos have taken protective measures against these tactics.

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Concentration

Also simply known as Memory or Pairs, Concentration has four rows of 13 cards, and each player takes turns flipping two cards face-up. If the card matches value and color, the player wins those cards. The winner by the end is the player who has the most matched pairs.

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Mao

Played with at least two decks of cards, Mao is a matching game that is best played with five to seven players. The rules of Mao are plentiful, but the gimmick of the game is that the rules cannot be explained to the players. Ultimately, the aim is to discard all of the cards in their hand, with penalties in the form of extra cards, and the specifics of the rules are found through trial and error.

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Casino

Casino, or Cassino in the United States, is said to be the only fishing game that is popular in English-speaking countries. The game is best played with two to four players who are dealt four cards, with four additional cards face-up on the table. Players will then try to capture cards by matching them from their hand, playing one at a time and “building” by combining cards from their hand with those on the table to prevent opponents from capturing them.

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Mafia

The social-deduction game Mafia became the basis for a number of more complex party games, but Mafia can be easily played amongst groups even with a standard deck of cards. Using particular playing cards as role indicators (i.e. aces as mafia members), certain players will be secret mafia members and choose players to “kill” between rounds. As this is done in secret, rounds will consist of players attempting to deduce who among them is in the mafia.

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Hearts

The trick-taking card game known as Hearts is actually contrary to its name; the aim of the game is to avoid tricks that contain hearts. Players will receive a hand and pass three cards to another player; this repeats in different patterns. Players will go in clockwise order, playing a card and following suit if possible until someone wins the trick with the highest card of the suit. Players gain penalty points for any hearts (or for the queen of spades) in any tricks they’ve won.

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Old Maid

The children’s game Old Maid can be played with a special pack of cards, or with a standard 52 deck with one card removed. The basic goal of the game is to form and discard pairs, and to avoid being left with an odd card—hence the omission of one of the cards. With a standard deck, the colors of the suits must also match.

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Knockout Whist

As a simple trick-taking game, Knockout Whist will deal seven cards to a player and then a trump suit is chosen. Each plays a card to the trick, and the player with the highest card value wins. “Knockouts” occur when a player hasn’t achieved any trick.

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King

Similar to bridge, King is a trick-taking game where players receive 13 cards for each hand and have to play all of them—albeit with four individual players rather than two partnerships. Players will play a card and follow suit, and the winner of the trick has the highest card of that suit. Different hands will have different rules, such as tricks should not be won with a queen, or tricks should not be won period.

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Napoleon

Also called “Nap” for short, Napoleon is a straightforward trick-taking game where players bid a number of tricks and attempt to win at least that number of tricks. Players receive five cards each and can make the following bids: Three (bidding to win three tricks), Four, Nap (attempting to win all five tricks), Napoleon (undertaking to win all five tricks by leading the lowest trump), and Wellington (leading the lowest non-trump).

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Ratscrew

Egyptian Ratscrew is similar to the U.K. game Beggar-My-Neighbor, although with some elements of physically slapping cards from slapjack. Players draw a card from the top of their deck and place it in the center; certain combinations (i.e. pairs) will allow players to slap the pile and claim all of the cards for their own. The game continues until a player collects all of the cards.

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Spades

A trick-taking game often played in partnerships, spades (quite obviously) are the trump suit, and players will bid how many tricks they predict to win. The game is similar to many Whist games, and although it is considered to be played best with partnerships and four people total, there are also variations for two, three, or six players.

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Spit

Spit, also known as “Slam” or “Speed,” is a shedding game played at high speed that requires attentiveness and reflexes. Players will attempt to get rid of their cards as quickly as possible without taking turns and playing their cards that are of higher or lower values to a common stockpile.

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Euchre

Popular in North America, the trick-taking game Euchre generally uses 25 cards and is played by four players in two partnerships. The joker card acts as the top trump or “bower,” and the partnerships compete in trying to win the most tricks from a five-card hand.

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Pinochle

Trick-taking game Pinochle usually includes four players in partnerships of two, and different variations will use 48- or 80-card decks. The game begins with an auction where partnerships bid on how many points they will win, and individual cards and combinations (melds) are worth points.

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Blitz

Also named "Scat,” "Thirty-One,” or "Ride the Bus," Blitz sees players start with three-card hands and draw and discard a card at each turn. A rather casual game, the aim is to improve one’s hand to have the closest value to 31 in one suit.

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Beggar-my-neighbour

The simple card game known as Beggar-My-Neighbour is similar to War and Egyptian Ratscrew. The two participating players split the 52-card deck, taking turns in flipping over their top card into a pile, with the ace and face cards as “pay cards.” Turning over an ace requires the player to “pay” four of their ordinary cards, three cards from a king, and so on.

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Crazy Eights

Two or more players in Crazy Eights will try to discard their cards by matching those in their hand with ones of matching suits or values from previous discards. The player with no cards left wins, but eights are “wild” and change the suit of the game. Crazy Eights is comparable to Uno, serving as a basic version of a number of other games.

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Pitch

Pitch, also known as Setback, is a trick-taking game based on an English game called “All Fours,” but it adds bidding. Variations include Auction Pitch and Partnership Pitch, but the base game with individuals involves players attempting to win tricks with the highest-ranking trump card. The trump suit is chosen when leading in the first trick, or “pitching.”

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Big Two

A “climbing game” that involves shedding, Big Two includes players trying to be the first person to play or discard their entire hand. Originating from China and extending to different Asian countries, players put their cards in combinations, such as pairs, triples, straights, flushes, and other card groups.

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Kings Corner

Kings in the Corner, or Kings Corner for short, is a solitaire-style game for multiple players. They will try to rid their cards in descending order into a solitaire-like layout of eight piles built from alternating red and black cards. Players can also place kings into the corner to start a new pile.

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President

Also known as “Chairman” or “Scum,” three or more players in the climbing game President attempt to rid all their cards. These cards can be discarded in combinations and hands, and the last player with cards is the “scum,” while the winner is the “president,” or whichever term is used.

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Twenty-eight

Originating in India, Twenty-eight involves four-player partnerships who use cards from just eight ranks. Players will bid points, set a trump card, and receive an eight-card hand. Eight tricks will be played, and game points will be allotted depending on how much the partnerships bet.

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Ninety-nine

Developed for three or more players, Ninety-nine involves placing cards in the middle of a pile face-up. Each card adds to a point value, although some cards have special rules (i.e. a 4 reverses play, a 10 subtracts 10 points rather than adds). Players who surpass 99 lose a “life” (represented by three tokens or game pieces), and the game restarts until one player is left.

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Chase the Ace

Alternatively called “Cuckoo” and “Ranter-Go-Round,” Chase the Ace is a relatively simple game where players pass cards around. Each player starts off with chips, or “lives,” and the player with the lowest card at the end loses a life.

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Snap

The objective of Snap is fairly simple and requires quick reaction times. Players will put their cards face-down in a pile, while the dealer turns over the top card in their pile. The other players will do the same one by one, and if the cards match at any point, the person who yells “Snap!” first will win both piles.

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Canasta

Draw-and-discard game Canasta uses two decks of playing cards and typically two partnerships. Similar to rummy, the objective is to make combinations, or “melds,” of seven cards of the same rank and “go out” by playing the entire hand.

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Durak

The Russian game Durak is named after the word meaning “fool,” and players shed their cards until none remain in the deck; the last player with cards is the “fool.” Players are dealt six cards, and play consists of bouts of attacking and defending.

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    Pay or Play

    Pay or Play usually involves low-scale betting, with the main objective to complete the four suits and discard all of your cards. Each player puts a chip in the pot; the cards in a suit must be played sequentially; and if someone is unable to play a card, they add another chip in the pot. The first person to get rid of their cards wins the entire pot.

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    Spoons

    Also known as “Pig” or “Donkey,” Spoons is a matching game where players attempt to make sets of four matching cards. The spoons are literal spoon utensils, grabbed by players from the center after getting a set; there is one less spoon than there are players. Games are generally loud and frenetic amongst friends and family.

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    Mighty

    Reportedly invented by Korean college students, Mighty is a point trick game that involves bidding. The highest bidder will choose a partner, and the two will try to fulfill the bid by taking scoring cards (aces, kings, queens, jacks, and 10s). The “Mighty” is the most powerful card (usually the ace of spades), while the joker is second; the joker can be robbed of its power with the “ripper” or “joker hunter” (usually the 3 of clubs).

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    Dou Dizhu

    Also known as “Fight the Landlord,” Dou Dizhu is a Chinese climbing game traditionally for three players. One player takes the role of the landlord attempting to discard their cards by putting them into valid combinations, while the other players attempt to do the same before the landlord.

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    Oh Hell!

    The trick-taking game known as Oh Hell! involves players attempting to predict the exact number of tricks they will win. Points are only awarded for making the bid exactly from a fixed number of hands—no more or less. At least one player will fail on each hand.

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    Lamarckian Poker

    Based on the concept of Lamarckian evolution, which involves the inheritance of physical characteristics from parents, Lamarckian Poker (or Darwinian Poker) sees players attempt to make the best five-card hand by improving their “gene pool.” Cards face-up at the center are the “environment,” and players take one of their cards and place it face-down to sacrifice. Once flipped, players take the environment cards that match their card’s value or suit and place the sacrificed card into the environment. If a player’s “gene pool” runs out of cards, they “go extinct,” and the player who makes the best poker hand wins.

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    52 Pickup

    The “game” known as 52 Pickup is actually more of a practical joke. The initiator of the game introduces it under the guise of 52 Pickup being a legitimate game and then proceeds to throw all 52 cards up in the air and challenges the other players to simply pick up all of the cards. Of course, anyone is free to add their own variations and rules to this prank.

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    The Resistance

    Similar to Mafia, Werewolf, and Avalon, The Resistance is a game typically played with special cards, but you can easily substitute standard cards. Using the suits and face cards as indicators, players will be assigned a role (Resistance or government Spies) with a card, and the Resistance carries out missions (indicated with cards) while the Spies secretly sabotage them. The bulk of the game involves deductive reasoning to determine the spies.

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    Ambition

    Created by game designer Michael O. Church in 2003, Ambition is a trick-taking card game for four players. In each round players take points based on their trick, possibly taking more than 51 points (in what is called a “Slam”) or none at all (“Nil”). The game ends once one of the players surpasses 100 points, and the person with the highest number wins.

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    Standard Deck Dungeon

    A recent 2018 invention is Standard Deck Dungeon, adapting the video game genre known as “roguelike”—which involves dungeon crawling, procedurally generated dungeons, and permanent player character death—into the analog nature of standard playing cards. Clubs and spades form the dungeon while hearts and diamonds are player statistics, assuming that there are two players. The goals of the game are generated by the combination of cards, with a free reference list indicating specifics.

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