Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part six: Solitaire (and the end)

What if the Cardpocalypse is so bad that you are the last person on Earth?  Will there still be a use for that fancy-schmancy pristine Kem deck you pilfered from my house because, well, you knew I had one and I’m no longer around to fight you for it?

Well… yes.

But don’t play Klondike

Klondike is the game most people think of when they think of solitaire.  It’s the one that was built into Windows since 3.1.  It’s also a terrible game.

The problem with Klondike is that the majority of deals are impossible.  I do mean majority; some estimates put the win-rate of a perfect player at something close to 4%.  Those are awful odds, and you should never play Klondike again.

You will, because it’s the one solitaire you’re pretty much guaranteed to already know, but you shouldn’t.

If you want that Klondike feel but also want to win on the regular, try Westcliff; it has 10 piles of 3 as the starting layout, allows any card to be moved to an empty column rather than just kings, and is otherwise identical to Klondike.  It also comes out something like 90% of the time with intelligent play.

The (first) other Windows solitaire is great, though

Unlike Klondike, Freecell is absolutely worth your time.  It’s a high-strategy game with very few unwinnable deals.  But just because only one in ten thousand or so deals can’t be won doesn’t mean that you will win them all; there’s a lot of tactical nuance to Freecell that means it will take some serious effort to get good at the game.  It’s time well-spent, though.  This is one of those cases where the really popular thing is also a thing that should be really popular.

(Spider is a fine game too, but it’s a bit of a mess to play with physical cards, given that it requires two decks and involves a whole lot of shifting cards around.  If you want something good in that vein, Spiderette combines Spider and Klondike into a game that’s probably better than the former and definitely better than the latter.  It comes out about 15% of the time, which is low, so be forewarned.)

File this one under “pretty good”

Bisley is a neat, simple one-deck solitaire that allows you to build on a pair of foundations for each suit rather than the typical one.  It’s pretty high-skill with a reasonably high solvable probability (probably in the one-in-four range), and it also happens to be really easy to intuit if you’ve played other solitaires before, something that takes a while in a game like Freecell.

An appropriate, kablooey-ey ending

David Parlett is a fascinating man, having invented quite a few excellent games (such as Ninety-Nine, seen here earlier.  He also edited an excellent book on solitaires, which I keep handy because I’m a huge nerd.  It includes several games of his own devising.  One of the better ones is Black Hole, a game all about eliminating cards by bobbing up and down… or something like that.  Someone did the math and determined that almost 90 percent of the deals are winnable, so, y’know, that’s on you if you don’t succeed.  (He also has a Freecell variant called Penguin that’s supposedly pretty good, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t just play Freecell instead.)

And, as with the utter end of a bright shining star that a black hole represents–yes, I know it was probably a red giant and not actually that bright beforehand, you shush you–we also come to the utter end of this Guide to the Cardpocalypse.  Hopefully you’ve learned a few new games to break out at the table, or at least have some pointers to explore when you’re wondering what else you can do with that thin stack of pasteboard… or plastic, of course, if you’re doing it right.  I love cards, and I hope you do, or will, too.

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part five: Other multiplayer games

Now that we’ve covered two big groups of games, it’s time to hit some other random ones that I didn’t feel fit into the previous articles.

Beating as one

Hearts is a classic game, commonly (and incorrectly) considered a trick-taking game.  It’s actually a trick avoidance game, with the quirk of “shooting the moon” adding a heavy risk/reward element to the experience.  It can handle variable numbers of players with a little deck adjustment, removing cards to ensure even counts, but like many card games it’s at its best with four players.

That said, I’m actually personally not a huge fan of Hearts.  Its punitive scoring system often makes for an unpleasant game, and it feels more luck-driven than even simple traditional trick-takers.  But a lot of that is due to my own preferences for how games should feel at the table, rather than being Hearts’ fault.

Also note that Hearts is another one of those folk games where you’re going to want to get confirmation on the rules from everyone involved.

Pegging for points

Cribbage is another game of the ages, and almost certainly the oldest surviving game in this list; it’s been played in basically the same way for something like four hundred years.

Let that sink in: this game is older than almost every single modern settlement in North America.

It’s an odd beast, with ways of scoring that are not particularly intuitive to a newcomer (and ways for opponents to steal points you miss), and traditionally it uses side equipment in the form of a board with pegs that track your score.  In the event of the Cardpocalypse, though, you should feel free to just use pencil and paper if you can’t find an appropriate board.

While it can be played by more than two (four-player partnership Cribbage is apparently very good, although I’ve never tried it), Cribbage is essentially a two-player game at heart; if you have a different count, play something else instead.  But it’s probably one of the best two-player card games in existence.  I’ve never managed to get any good at it… but don’t let that stop you.

The real multiplayer solitaire

(We’re going to assume that all copies of Race for the Galaxy were lost in the Cardpocalypse.  Heh.)

Another excellent two-player game is Spite and Malice (although, like Cribbage, it can be forced into being for more players… although you shouldn’t.)  It does indeed play much like a game of solitaire or patience, where you are in a race to shed your cards faster than your opponent.  I’ll note that it is generally played with two identically-backed decks shuffled together, so there may be a bit of an equipment issue for this game compared to most of those listed here… but it’s too good of a game to not write about.  Because of its solitaire-y nature, it feels quite different from most of the other games I’ve covered here.  And, yes, it’s another folk game where you’re going to have to make sure that you’re playing the same thing your fellow post-Cardpocalyptic survivor thinks they’re playing.

The exploding psychological inevitable

I’m not going to write about Poker for a bunch of reasons.  I don’t really think it’s a card game, for one; the play is in the psychology of the pot, not the cards themselves, which really just exist as a randomizer.  And there are many vastly superior write-ups of the game online than anything I could bang out on my Chromebook in any reasonable time-frame.  But I’m pretty sure that Poker (and in particular Texas Hold’em) is basically the cockroach of games now; even after the Cardpocalypse, people will still be shooting each other over cheating at the damn thing.  They may have to use blow-darts or arrows because everyone’s run out of ammo, but Poker will be there.  So it probably behooves you to learn it too.  Sigh.

This is (almost) the end, my friends

I plan on writing one more main article for this series, covering solitaires.  So now’s the time to speak up: are there any major games I missed that you feel are essential to the Cardpocalypse?  Convince me and I’ll write a follow-up article to include them.  I’d also love to know if this Guide caused you to take a second look at a game you had passed by before, or to try something completely new with your friends or family.

See you next time for the exciting maybe-conclusion!

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part four: Family games

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.)

Family games?

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.

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part three: Trick-taking games

I’ll be blunt: if you take nothing else from this series of articles, remember this: trick-taking card games are the best games ever.  I have played a lot of other games over the years, whether board or card, but nothing compares to a good trick-taker.  Like many a Cajun, my first was Bourré when I was a pas bon ti garçon, and after thirty-plus years I’m still learning how to “git gud” at trick-takers… and still three-quarters of that description.  There is an infinite well of learning here, so drink greedily or sip carefully; there’s more than enough for everyone.

Wikipedia has a surprisingly solid overview of the concept of trick-taking games; if you’re completely unfamiliar with them, start there.

Four-player partnership full-deck games

The best trick-takers are all four-player partnership games, where teams of two compete to see whether it’s Them or Us that are the best, with the entire deck of fifty-two cards dealt out to the players.  There are a bunch of reasons for this:

  • Partnerships combine both the joy of cooperation (working together with someone to win) and competition (crushing the souls of your opponents);
  • Full-deck games mean that you can have a firm grasp on what cards are still in play, because every card is in play at the beginning, rather than having a pile of undealt or discarded cards messing up your calculations;
  • Weaker players can be paired up with stronger ones to even the teams out, helping to ensure that everyone has a good time; and
  • Probably the best game in the world (Contract Bridge) is a four-player partnership full-deck game.

Their fatal flaw, of course, is that they have to be played with four people: no more, no less.  This is fine for Bridge clubs but less fine for casual gaming.  That said, if you’ve never played a trick-taking game before, this is almost certainly where you should start.  The grounding you get from one of these games will serve you well with any other trick-taker you might play.

The best place to start is with Hokm.  It has a couple of peculiarities: you deal and play “backwards” due to its Persian origins, you deal in packets rather than one card at a time, and one player (the hakem) looks at their first five cards before anyone else to pick the trump suit.  But there isn’t any bidding, which is one of the parts of many trick-takers that can be very challenging for newcomers, so you’re free to simply play the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt, and the high luck factor with the hakem’s trump choices mean that you can always blame bad luck when things go awry.  Hokm is my go-to game for a group that has anyone not deeply familiar with trick-takers, but it’s also a good game to play in general when you don’t have the mental energy to bid precisely.

Next up is Spades, which is probably the trick-taker that most people are familiar with.  It has a near-fatal flaw, though: as a “folk” game, absolutely no one agrees on exactly how to play.  Every group of people scores slightly differently, allows different bids, and so on.  In the event of the Cardpocalypse (and, honestly, now), it is absolutely essential that you work out with your companions exactly what rules you’re playing the game with; disagreements over valid bids can get absolutely vicious.  Don’t go there.

Further up the complexity bar is Forty-One, another Persian game.  It’s unique in that it’s a partnership game where each partner scores separately for each hand, which allows for another layer of strategy–because trick-taking games just weren’t complicated enough.  We typically play with a variant rule that reduces the minimum total-tricks-bid each hand by one when a hand doesn’t “make,” resetting to 11 when a hand finally happens, so as not to spend most of the game shuffling rather than playing… but that probably mostly means that we’re just too timid with our bidding.

The ultimate four-player partnership full-deck trick-taking game (whew, that’s a mouthful) is Contract Bridge.  That said, even though I think it might be the greatest game on the planet, it also has a fatal flaw: you will simply be no good at it unless you devote a lot of time to the game.  A lot.  You have to learn bidding conventions, bidding strategies, and it has this weird dummy-hand mechanic that means one player every hand literally sits there and does nothing.  It’s genius, but it’s flawed genius, and although I respect the game a lot I can’t in good conscience make it part of the Guide to the Cardpocalypse.  I suspect you can figure out a way to learn about it if you’re interested, though.

Three-player trick-taking games

Sometimes you don’t have a full complement of players.  That’s sad, but it turns out that there are a couple of very solid three-player games.

The first is Ninety-Nine.  It’s actually a relatively recent invention, and technically plays from 2-5 pretty well, but the two-player game is meh, and if you have four your time is better spent with one of the games above.  It has a unique bidding mechanic where you have to discard cards from your hand to represent your bid… but those cards may have been the ones that made the bid possible!  It’s a nice little twist of a game.

The second is Austrian Preference, which is actually often played four-player, with the dealer rotating and sitting out on the hands they deal.  My inclusion of this game when I don’t include Contract Bridge is more than a little hypocritical: it has a complicated bidding mechanic, a talon, and some weird “you must play this way” rules that take it away from being a pure trick-taking game.  But it is also unquestionably the best three-player trick-taker I’ve ever played, and I feel that its stumbling blocks are way less brutal than Contract Bridge.  You can actually become competent at it in a couple of games, which definitely cannot be said of Bridge.

Finally, a note that there is actually a quite-solid three-player variant of Hokm, with a quirky “you win if the other two players tie” rule that makes for an interesting game.  But that same rule also feels more than a little unnatural, so unless you really don’t want to have to play a trick-taking game with bids, I’d recommend the two games above.

Two-player trick-taking games

There are, as far as I know, no good two-player trick-taking games.  Believe me, I’ve searched far and wide for them, but I’ve been unsatisfied with every one I’ve played.

The canonical trick-taker for more than four

What happens if you have more than four people?  Well, fortunately, that can actually still work.

Oh Hell! (also known by a bunch of other minced-oath versions of the name) plays smoothly up to 7 and can accommodate 8 in a pinch.  It’s a bidder, and an exact bidder at that, so if there are people at the table who aren’t that familiar with trick-taking games they might be in for a rough time.  Fortunately the game’s pretty light and breezy, particularly if you play with the standard “card count down, card count up” rules; later hands can be a total crapshoot, which can be a great equalizer.  Or a rich-get-richer situation.  You never know.  I recommend two particular variants strongly: the dealer shouldn’t be able to make a bid so that everyone at the table can be happy, and a bid of zero should score 5 points plus the number of cards in the hand (so 13 in an eight-card hand, but only 6 in the one-card one).

Whither Bourré and Hearts?

You’ll notice I mentioned Bourré up above as my first trick-taking game.  In fact, I’m the primary author of the Wikipedia article on the game.  But it’s a weird one, almost exclusively played for money, and with a bunch of odd rules and corner cases that make it a hard sell if you didn’t grow up with the game (or have an enthusiastic Cajun teacher).  I’m happy to show you the ropes in person if you and a group of three or four others want to play (it’s best at 5-6), but as much affection as I have for the game I don’t think it should be part of the Guide.

Hearts is another game many people are familiar with, but it’s not really a trick-taking game so much as it is a trick-avoidance game, and this article is already really long.  Rest assured it’s part of the Guide, but it’ll come later.

I also didn’t cover any point-trick games (Pedro is the canonical example here).  I probably should, and might do so in a later article, but in general I find them to be inferior to their plain-trick brethren, a little too beholden to the luck of the draw.

A final note

I read recently (sadly, I forgot exactly where) that a four-player trick-taking game like Hokm or Spades can be considered a multiplayer puzzle: given this particular deal, with this particular trump, what should you and your partner bid?  And how do you play the cards in such a way so as to ensure victory?  Perhaps that’s why I consider trick-takers the ne plus ultra of card games, as I’m also a huge puzzle fan.  But even if you’re not, I know that you can take any of the games in this section of the Guide, learn them well, and have years of enjoyment.  Like I said at the top: trick-taking card games are the best games ever.

Good luck, partner!  (Or filthy opponent; we’ll see, won’t we?)

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part two: Etiquette

Before we dive into any actual games, there’s still some more important ground to cover.  (And I’m still looking for feedback about which games you think should be part of the Guide!  Feel free to comment either here or on the earlier post.)  In the case of an actual apocalypse, this part is actually probably more important than knowing the rules of any particular game; screwing around with cards is more likely to get you stabbed, or shot, than simply not understanding the rules.

Shuffling

Learn how to do a bridge (or riffle) shuffle properly.  There are unsurprisingly quite a few nice, short videos on YouTube about this; it is a skill that will take the majority of you an afternoon at most to reach a reasonable level of competence.  My mother didn’t pick it up until she was in her late sixties, so don’t let “but I didn’t learn it as a kid!” be the thing that stops you.  Practice with a fresh deck of plastic-coated paper cards, then practice again with your nice all-plastic cards, which tend to be a lot more slippery and have a habit of shooting off everywhere if you don’t keep a firm grasp on them.  Then find that old shopworn deck of cards that’s hiding in the back of the drawers of the china cabinet and practice on that.  Worn-out cards are toughies, but in the Cardpocalypse you’ll have to deal with them sometimes.  You don’t need Vegas-level pizzazz with your shuffling, just competence.

I generally shuffle the deck a minimum of seven times before using it, but I am a compulsive shuffler, so it’ll get done twenty (or thirty, or…) times if I’m the person holding the second deck while the first is getting used.

If someone asks to cut the cards, let them.  Place the deck face down on the table in front of them; they’ll make two or more piles of cards, which you’ll pick up in reverse order.  Keep the deck level when you do this; more about how you hold the deck in Dealer etiquette, below.

Player etiquette

Wait for the dealer to finish dealing before you touch the cards in front of you.  If you’re an inveterate fiddler, like me, offer to pre-shuffle the second deck while you wait for the dealer to finish.  There are exceptions, like for the hakem in Hokm, but you’ll know them by the game; the vast majority of the time, you should keep your hands far away from the dealt cards until they’re all distributed.

Learn to pick up cards properly.  On a felt/cloth surface, rubbing them across to the edge is just fine, but on hard wood/stone surfaces you’ll scratch the cards.  Some tables are easier or harder to take cards from, and you’ll have to be careful not to accidentally flip them over.  Feel free to use one card as a bit of a lift for the others if you’re having trouble; just don’t slam it into the table.

Learn to hold your cards properly.  They shouldn’t be held out far away, where the people to your sides will be able to (intentionally or inadvertently) see what they are; if you need to do that to see them, get new glasses and make sure to use large-index cards.  (They shouldn’t be crammed up in your face to where you’re rubbing your nose on them, but that tends to be less of an issue.)  Don’t hold them so tight that you’re actually folding them over, either; these cards need to last the entire Cardpocalypse, after all, and people like me will get on your ass for damaging a nice set of cards with your death grip.  They should be kept as vertical as possible; tilting them too far forward–“tipping” your cards–shows them to people across the table, which in a partnership game is an extreme form of cheating.  That’s bad.  Very bad.

Don’t fidget with the cards either.  This is a hard one, and I used to do it myself, but tapping the cards on the table is both distracting and damaging, particularly on hard surfaces.  Riffling them back and forth, rubbing them together, and so on are all no-nos as well, distracting at best and damaging at worst.

Learn to play cards properly.  Flinging them across the table and having them embed in the hat of your opponent can be amusing but also deadly.  The vast majority of time you just need it to land face-up in roughly the center of the table.  A little style here goes a long way; no one’s gonna begrudge you a smug thwack when you snatch an assured victory out of some jerk’s hands with a perfectly-timed trump (except for that jerk), but if every card you play is a miniature Stephen Sondheim production you might want to tone it down a bit.  Meekly dropping the card right in front of you and forcing whoever cleans the trick or hand up to reach three miles across the table is not cool either.

If you’ve got to get up from the table, put them down well.  A sort of fan layout, like you hold them in your hands, will make them easier to pick back up when you return, but anything that isn’t too close to the edge of the table (where they’re likely to get knocked over when you sit back down) is fine.  Never, EVER walk away from the table with your cards still in hand.  This is grounds for getting shot now, much less in the Cardpocalypse.

If you’re the next (or second-to-next) dealer, collect the cards from the table after the hand.  Sometimes this happens naturally over the course of the hand, sometimes it needs to wait until the end, but as the hand finishes the cards should end up with whoever needs to be shuffling the deck.  If you’re doing the Cardpocalypse right, you should be using two decks, so it’s not the next dealer, but the one after that.  Do not let the cards lie messy on the table while a new hand is getting dealt.  That way lies mixed decks, madness, and stab wounds.

Dealer etiquette

You can always shuffle.  Even if someone hands you a pre-shuffled deck ready to go, it’s a good idea to give it at least one shuffle.  This isn’t even necessarily a “cheat check,” particularly in a friendly game; I don’t want to get into psychology too much here, but pairing shuffling with dealing helps put you into a precision mindset that’s very important when you deal.  (But, yeah, it’s also a “cheat check.”)

Always offer a cut.  In general, you should offer a cut to the person in the opposite direction of the deal (usually to your right) that isn’t on your team.  They can always decline, and in friendly games you’ll often skip this entirely, but they should never have to ask to cut if they want to.

Hold the deck properly when you deal.  You want to grasp it firmly in one hand, generally your off hand, with the deck tilted very slightly downwards away from you.  (This is to keep from exposing the bottom card of the deck to the people across the table.)

Deal the cards one at a time, starting with the eldest player (unless the game uses a different dealing mechanism).  The “eldest” player is the person next in player order, usually the person to your left; this baffled the heck out of me when I was a kid reading my copy of Hoyle’s, and looking up the definition of eldest didn’t clarify it at all–why should I start with the oldest person at the table?  But I digress.  In almost all circumstances, you should get the last card dealt in each pass around the table.

Deal the cards carefully, properly, and in order.  You want to slide them off the top of the deck one at a time, still keeping them tilted very slightly downwards away from you, for the same reasons that you do so with the deck.  Make sure to deal them to each person in order.  We are rational beings who do not believe in the Heart of the Cards, but hoo boy will you infuriate some people if you skip them and then proceed to deal them a different card than the one they rightfully deserve.  Don’t do it.

In general you’ll want to stand up and deal directly in front of each player.  This is one of those rules that is easily relaxed in friendly games, where you’ll often deal right in front of yourself, sitting down, and then just push the packets to the right person, but this is the Cardpocalypse we’re talking about.  Better safe than sorry.

If you accidentally flip over a card, stop.  It is absolutely the right of anyone at the table to call a misdeal at this point, at which point you may forfeit the right to deal again.  Some games handle this in particular ways (in Bourré a single flipped card can generally become your “trump card,” but if it’s a high face card or an Ace it should probably be a forfeited deal), but let the table decide.  And then don’t do that again.

Etiquette etiquette

(Wow, that word is starting to lose all meaning for me at this point.)

Etiquette is as serious, or as irrelevant, as the table decides.  If you follow the guidelines in this article, you’re very unlikely to piss off even the staunchest of SRS BZNS card-players, and a lot of the tips (particularly in how you handle cards) should be followed no matter how casual the game.  But most friendly games don’t care a lot about cutting, proper deal order, or how pristinely you play your cards.  If it’s time for a raucous round of something, don’t take it any more seriously than you have to.  If, on the other hand, there’s someone at the table who wants it done prim and proper, who believes in the Heart of the Cards?  Accommodate them.   You can use the practice, after all.

Any game, or social group, may have its own rules that supercede these.  There are games that want you to shuffle in particular ways, to maximize clumping (no, really!)  There are groups that really, really care about how you shuffle and deal.  Serious Texas Hold’Em players don’t want you picking up the cards at all, just tipping the corners to peek at their values.  And, of course, who knows what weird new rules of etiquette will come up with the dawn of the Cardpocalypse?  Make sure you know the details and follow them appropriately.

We are finally done with this etiquette stuff

Phew.  That was a much longer article than I was expecting when I sat down to write it!  But there was a lot to cover.  Do you feel like I missed anything?  Went too far?  Comment away.

It’s poor etiquette not to.

(Seriously.  Not even a word any more.)

Guide to the Cardpocalypse, part one: Intro and equipment

We had another game night last night–the first time since I’ve retired that I got to play games two Tuesdays in a row–and we ended up playing trick-taking card games for most of the night.  I was shocked to learn that those two games, Oh Hell! and one of my own devising, were the first times Chad had ever played a trick-taking game, and I already knew that another one of the regulars had only played them two or three times before.

Trick-taking card games are, I think, one of the best ways to spend an evening with friends.  I love “proper” board games to death, but I’ve sunk something like four thousand hours of my life into trick-taking games–mostly Bourré, being a proper Cajun boy and all–which is probably roughly equal to the time I’ve spent playing literally every other kind of game I’ve ever played.  So you could say I’m a fan.

I mentioned yesterday evening that I consider a solid command of a bunch of card games an essential skill; a deck of cards is pretty much universally available, either in someone’s house or the nearest gas station or convenience store, and cards remain the most versatile piece of gaming equipment I know.  (Six-sided dice are the only other things that come close.)  Armed with a deck of cards, you can stave off boredom for yourself… or up to seven or so other people.  You’ve just gotta know what to do with them.

So: I’m starting up a new series of posts, a “guide to the Cardpocalypse.” It’s a set of games and concepts I feel every person reading this blog should learn.  Armed with these and a simple deck of cards, you should be prepared for all eventualities.  Give or take an apocalypse.

The equipment

As mentioned above, you can get a deck of cards just about anywhere, and in a pinch gas station decks will do.  That said, spending a few bucks on a decent set of cards will pay dividends.  The act of shuffling a nice deck of cards is a way to bring pleasure to a large subset of humanity (myself included); that deck you have in the back of the closet that’s been used 100 times, with the nick on the Queen of Hearts, should probably be retired.

If you’re cheap, go for the better plastic-coated cards, like Bicycles or Bees.  There are two general sizes of cards, “Poker-sized” and “Bridge-sized”; most people are only familiar with the former, but the narrow profile of Bridge-sized cards make them way better for games like, well, Bridge, where you have to hold 13 cards in your hand at the same time.  If you can only buy one and have both available, buy those.

A little bit more money in the short term will save you a ton in the long run, though.  Good plastic playing cards will last years of play (particularly if you wash them occasionally… yeah, it sounds dumb, but it works), and a pair of decks of plastic cards isn’t much more than their inferior plastic-coated relatives.  I’ve gone back and forth over the years since KEM got bought out, but I’ve come to prefer the Da Vinci over the Copags by a bit.

You’ll note that both links above are to “large index” cards.  That’s intentional; in general, if you let older people play card games with you, they will teach you a lot while mercilessly crushing you.  Be nice to their eyes (and also people like me with crap vision).

You also want a minimum of two decks of cards: one that’s being used to play while a second deck gets shuffled by someone else at the table.  There are also several very good games that require the components from two decks of cards with identical backs; I probably won’t be covering them in this series, because that’s a little fancy for a Cardpocalypse, but consider ordering two of the same Da Vinci or Copag sets so that you’re set up for this.  In general, though, you’ll want the two decks you’re using to have different backs to minimize confusion at the table when the cards get messy, as they inevitably will.

 Next time

I’m going to save talking about actual games for two posts from now, because I want feedback before then.  The next post will be about general card-playing etiquette; in the coming Cardpocalypse, you don’t want to get murdered by an opponent because of bad dealing habits.

So: What games do you think are essential parts of the guide to the Cardpocalypse?  I’ll be covering trick-takers, of course, but also games like Rummy and Poker (which isn’t a card game, but we’ll get to that later) and even single-player pastimes like various solitaires. “Kids’ games,” too, although preferably ones adults can play without losing their minds; War is decidedly not on the list.  And I’m open to what games should be talked about.  I have a good idea as to what trick-takers I want to cover, but the rest of the field is a lot more nebulous.  Comment away!