Ups and Downs

While I’m waiting for Peaks and Pits to be listed on pagat.com [update: it’s been added since I wrote this], I thought I’d start talking about card games that are, or were, frequently played in my family.

The name of Peaks and Pits is partly an allusion to one of those games, which we knew as Ups and Downs. It’s a variation of the well-known game of Crazy Eights, but probably quite different from any variation you know (definitely not a Uno clone). The rules are simple, which makes it a good game for children and the young at heart (i.e. most adults), and I’d recommend it for 3-5 players.

First, a quick revision of Crazy Eights. Seven cards are dealt to each player, and the dealer turns one more card face up next to the stock to start a discard pile. On their turn, a player places a card from their hand onto the discard pile. Ordinarily that card must share either its rank or its suit with the previous card on the pile, but an eight (wild card) can be played regardless of what the previous card is. Upon playing an eight, the player announces the suit that the next player’s card must belong to (assuming the next player doesn’t also play an eight). A player who cannot make a valid move must pick up a card from the stock instead. Thus, each turn consists either of playing one card or picking up one card. You win when you have no cards left. End of revision.

There are many variations on Crazy Eights, most of which involve giving special powers to particular cards. Ups and Downs is much more elegant than that.

In a game of Ups and Downs, one of two modes is in effect at any given time. You can always play an eight, and you can always play a card of the same rank as the previous card, but the twist comes when you want to play a card (other than an eight) of the same suit as the previous card. When the mode is up, your card must be of higher rank than the previous card, and when the mode is down, your card must be of lower rank than the previous card. Aces are low. So for example, if I had just played the Jack of Hearts while the mode is up, then your options would be to play an eight (wild), another Jack (same rank) or the Queen or King of Hearts (same suit, higher rank). But you couldn’t play a lower heart.

How is the mode changed from up to down or vice versa? This happens in three situations.

  • At the start of the game, the dealer announces what the initial mode will be. (The procedure is that everyone including the dealer looks at their own cards, and then the dealer announces the initial mode, and then the dealer turns over the top card of the stock to start the discard pile.)
  • Every time someone plays a card of the same rank as the previous card, they can change the mode if they want to.
  • Every time someone plays an eight, they get to announce not only the suit the next player must play in, but they can choose the new mode as well.

It is perfectly legal to announce “Down” upon playing an Ace upon another Ace, or “Up” upon playing a King upon another King. In fact, this is a sensible move if you hold a third card of that rank in your hand.

When the stock runs low, the dealer should replenish it by shuffling together all but the most recent card of the discard pile, and putting these cards face-down underneath the remaining stock. This is a standard tip in many card games, and essential in this one.

The game can go on for some time, as players can accumulate large numbers of cards, and in my childhood we nicknamed it The Everlasting Game. But that makes it all the more satisfying to finally go out, and the social dynamic prevents it from becoming dull. Every card game has its own characteristic banter, and it is common to hear the cry “Not that far!” in a playful, faux-annoyed tone of voice when the player who set the mode finds that the next player’s card is higher or lower than they wished for. The atmosphere is substantially different from that of Uno-like games — for one thing, players have more of an emotional investment in whether a trend will or will not continue until their next turn, and I think that makes it more exciting.

The game is not widely known, but it’s an old favourite in my family and I think it deserves to be more popular. So if you enjoy simple card games then you might consider giving it a go.

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