This is another post in the series of card games that were popular in my family. The game of Donkey (the name is also used for some other card games, but let me explain the version I know) is similar but different to the game that some people call Spoons, and the thing that makes it extra fun is that receiving chocolate to eat is integral to the rules.

Alright, the chocolate isn’t really integral. But tokens are, and the tokens we usually used were M&Ms or Smarties, hence the comment about the chocolate. Coins will do just as well, but don’t make the game quite as exciting.

[Edited in December 2007 after playing a game for the first time in ages.]

Four or five players make a good game, but more might be able to play depending on the size and shape of your table. If you have a one-metre-wide square table that sits two a side, then a game with eight players should be no trouble. Just bear in mind that everyone needs to be facing a common centre that isn’t too far away, and also that people need elbow room.

You don’t use all fifty-two cards. You need five cards for each player plus one extra card, including as many four-of-a-kinds as possible. For example, if there are five players then you will need 26 cards (because 5×5+1=26), and of those, 24 should be in groups of four all of the same rank (because 6×4=24, which is the largest multiple of four that’s not greater than 26). Before the game, choose the cards that you will use and put the rest of the pack away. If there are any matching cards that are not part of a group of four, then players have a right to know what they are.

Now the cards should be shuffled and dealt for the first hand. There will be five cards for each player, plus an extra card which should be put to one side without anyone looking at it. The game is made more interesting by the fact that there is one card missing but nobody knows what it is. As for the tokens, they should be arranged in a circle in the middle of the table, and the number of tokens should be one less than the number of players. This circle should be small enough that one player is not significantly nearer a token than another, but large enough that players’ hands won’t become conjested. The size of a dinner plate is about right.

When everyone is ready to start, the players begin a chant of “Pass, two, three, four. Pass, two, three, four”. The tempo is regular, like a metronome, and not too fast (slow it down if anyone has difficulty keeping up). Whether all players say the chant together, or whether the task is allocated to one player in particular, is a question for your group of players to decide. On the word “pass”, everyone passes a card to the player on the right. During the “two, three, four”, each player picks up the card they were given and chooses which card to pass on (usually it will be the card they just received).

Once a player acquires four cards of the same rank, that player should surreptitiously remove a token from the table, and continue to participate in the game as though nothing had happened, passing along the odd card out and receiving another to take its place. When someone else notices that a token has been removed, that player too may take a token, while continuing to pass the cards around. There is one token fewer than the number of players, so all players bar one will get a token.

Tip: Glide your hand over a token without touching it every time the chant is repeated. That way, when you really do remove a token it will be easier to do so surreptitiously.

The player who misses out loses the hand, and a letter “D” is placed next to their name on the scoresheet. Then before the next hand begins, the card that was put aside is put back, the cards are shuffled and dealt, another card is put aside at random, and the tokens are replenished. And so it goes.

When a player loses a hand who has not lost a hand before, a “D” is placed next to their name, as described above. When a player loses a hand who has already lost one hand, an “O” is placed next to their name. When a player loses a hand who has already lost two hands, they receive an “N”. In this fashion, when there is a player who has lost six hands, that player has the word “DONKEY” next to their name on the scoresheet, and loses the game.

The game ends at that point. Nobody “wins” in a game of Donkey; the object is to avoid being the player who loses six hands and hence the game as a whole.

You are welcome to add your thoughts.

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