When I’ve talked about card games played in my family (Donkey; Ups and Downs), I’ve done so in the past tense, as I don’t live with my family now and card games are rarely on the agenda when I visit. In today’s post I’ll discuss some more favourites, all of which can generally be found in good card game books (though names and details will differ).
1. Oh Hell
In Australia, Oh Hell is almost invariably played with simultaneous bidding, a variation which may be unfamiliar to foreign readers. Card game books published in other countries rarely mention it, which is unfortunate because in my opinion the Australian way is indispensible and to be recommended no matter where you are. On the pagat.com page, it is described under Variations: Bidding. In my own words: to bid, everyone bounces their knuckles on the table together … once … twice … and then on the third beat everyone sticks out a number of fingers representing the number of tricks they intend to win (possibly zero). As the pagat.com page explains, “Since players cannot adjust their bids based on the other players’ bids, the total tricks bid can be wildly different from the tricks available – for example it is not uncommon for three or four players to bid “one” when only one card was dealt“.
Scoring: If you win exactly the same number of tricks that you bid, then you score ten points plus the number of tricks (e.g. if you bid three and win three, you score thirteen). If you win more or fewer tricks than you bid, then you are penalised by five points multiplied by the difference between the two (e.g. if you bid one but win three, you score minus ten, which is minus five times the difference between one and three).
Sequence of hands: In the first hand, everyone gets ten cards and there are no trumps. The second hand is ten cards each with trumps (all hands include trumps unless otherwise stated). The remaining hands are: (3) eight cards each, (4) six cards each, (5) four cards each, (6) two cards each, (7) one card each, (8) three cards each, (9) five cards each, (10) seven cards each, (11) nine cards each, (12) ten cards each with no trumps.
In other respects, follow the pagat.com rules.
2. Warlords and Scumbags
A card game often played when my family gets together and has guests is Warlords and Scumbags. This game is apparently most often known as “President” or “Asshole” in the U.S.or U.K., but Warlords and Scumbags appears to be its most common title here in Australia. It is an excellent party game, for two reasons. Firstly, because compared to most card games, it can accomodate a large number of players, and secondly, because it is very simple, so the rules can be explained quickly if the guests are unfamiliar with it, and the absence of deep strategy makes it suitable for the end of an evening when everyone is tired.
My statement that it is suitable for many players may seem at odds with the description I linked to, which recommends it for 4-7 players, but such is the nature of opinion. We invariably play with two packs of cards and at least eight players. The greater the number of players, the harder a warlord can fall, and dramatic changes of rank are part of the fun.
In our house rules, the term warlord does not refer solely to the player at the top of the synthesised social structure, but rather to all players more than halfway up the hierarchy. Individual warlords are referred to as First Warlord (the player in the supreme position), Second Warlord, Third Warlord, etc. Likewise, the term scumbag does not refer solely to the player at the bottom of the heap, but to all players less than halfway up the hierarchy. If there is an odd number of players, then one player will be exactly halfway up the hierarchy and thus neither warlord nor scumbag: we refer to this player informally as the eunuch.
At the point in the game where cards are exchanged, the First Warlord and the lowest scumbag must exchange two cards (i.e. the first warlord gives up two cards of their choice and the lowest scumbag gives up their two highest-ranked cards), and every other corresponding pair of warlord and scumbag must exchange one card with each other (i.e. the second warlord and the second-lowest scumbag, the third warlord and the third-lowest scumbag, etc). The eunuch is the only player who does not exchange at least one card with another player.
These modifications aside, our version is pretty much the simplest version described on pagat.com
3. Other card games
I’ve now discussed my favourite family card games, either above or in previous posts. I’ll finish by mentioning some games that aren’t personal favourites, but which fit the theme of games played in my family. One such game is Jo, which is a version of Contract Rummy. As David Parlett puts it: “Contract Rummy remains one of the most popular domestic games of the whole family and is very much a folk game: that is, groups of players tend to have their own house rules and, as often as not, their own name for the game“. In the version we know, Jo is both the name of the game and the word you say to request a card out of turn.
Games I remember playing in my childhood, but have no sentimental attachment to, include international classics such as Fish, Cheat, and Hearts. The latter was first taught to me under the name of Ricketty Kate, which I believe to be a common Australian name for the game.