Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean you don’t still need some simple, easy-to-teach games for families or casual groups to play. (I’m going to ignore the dire implications of children in an apocalypse, because, woof, any way you think about that is depressing.)
By which I mean “games that can be played with kids, but also adults.” It’s not a lesser genre (and, in fact, one of my favorite games of all time is in this list), it’s just one that’s got a broader scope of appeal than, say, Contract Bridge.
Under no circumstances is War part of the Cardpocalypse
It died an inglorious death along with the rest of the world. Do not perpetuate its awfulness upon any future generations. Let it rest in tedious, awful, not-actually-a-game peace, somewhere far far away from us.
You can choose to read the above as applying to either the concept or the thing-you-do-with-cards.
Two-player family games
Spit and Speed are games where it’s all about, well, speed. I learned Speed at a young age, but Spit is a bit more refined, with a touch more strategy. You’ll want to use decks that you aren’t too emotionally attached to for these games, though, as the cards tend to get rather a lot of abuse in the process.
Rummy is a stone-cold classic, and another one of those games where you’re going to need to get agreement on the basic rules before playing. There are a ton of variations on the core; Gin Rummy is particularly famous, which is unfortunate, because it’s game that should basically only be played for money and generally isn’t nowadays. (Plus, what exactly is money worth in the Cardpocalypse?) The most basic forms of rummy are easy enough to teach, though, and the game is at its best with two players even though there are variants that support many more.
Family games for more
Crazy Eights is all right, but its elaboration in Bartog (or Bartok, or some other names) has provided me with some of the most entertaining experiences I’ve ever had at a gaming table. The short explanation: it’s Crazy Eights, except each time someone wins they get to add a new rule to the game. You can essentially re-create Uno, if that’s the direction you want to go… or you can make a mind-twister of a game where suits and values constantly change over the course of play, valid cards are based on bizarre criteria, and you have to say (or not say!) random things to continue. We used to play this at lunch pretty regularly when I worked at a university, and I only considered it a successful game if at least one person complained about their head hurting by the end. Of course, it can be played in a much more casual manner, with easy-to-follow rules like the traditional skips and reverses and the like. It’s one of the rare non-cooperative games where I find the experience of play way more interesting than who actually wins or loses… unless the person who wins stinks at coming up with good rules. (A suggestion: start every game with what we call the “Got it!” rule, where if you draw because you don’t have a valid play and that draw is valid you’re allowed to play it immediately, saying, well, “Got it!” It speeds up the game a bit, which means more new rules, which means more fun to be had.)
It’s simple and silly and loud as hell, but Pig/Spoons is always a good time too. Its only danger is that kids will want to play it again and again (and again…) and it just doesn’t have that staying power for adults. That’s fine, though; it’s why you have two decks of cards. Leave the kids playing Pig while you switch to something else.
It goes by a bunch of minced-oath names, but Bullshit is a great bluffing game that plays better with more players, not less, a rare trait. You’ll notice that Go Fish isn’t on this list; that’s because it mostly teaches kids how to cheat. How about making that part of the game? That’s what Bullshit does. Learning to have a “poker face” is an essential skill at, well, life, and Bullshit does a good job of teaching that. It also happens to be quite a bit of fun, if sometimes over-long. (Play to a number of hands rather than elimination to speed things up.)
And I can’t not put Durak in the Guide, a game I’ve almost exclusively played after parties in huge groups as an evening enlivener and wind-downer all in one. It’s another shedding game like Bullshit, but one where you’re explicitly targeting the player to your right rather than wondering about everyone at the table. I was taught to play with a full 52-card deck, and while we’ve experimented with a bunch of different ways to let people jump in, the most strategic is only allowing the player after the defender to join. As a folk game, though, it’s going to be different for each group. The litany I’ve learned to repeat over and over is “attack by rank, defend by suit,” and I’ve never figured out if the reason no one can remember that is because it’s hard or because I’m often the only sober person at the table when we play.
I strongly suspect the latter.