Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of a pack of playing cards as a screen-free pocket-sized boredom buster. And while the coronavirus is keeping us all cooped up indoors, I’m sure I’m not the only parent wracking my brains for games to play with the children. So, I challenged board game expert Ellie Dix to come up with a list of fun card games for children of all ages – and, wow, she came up trumps! Here’s her list:
Card games are a wonderful tool for bringing the family together. A deck of cards is one of the cheapest and most versatile methods of family entertainment available. Cards are quick to set up, portable, easy to store and full of endless possibilities.
Now we are in lockdown and spending far more time together as a family, there has never been a better time to learn some new games and extend the family repertoire. You could even structure an afternoon of home-schooling around playing card games and exploring the maths within them!
It’s easy to underestimate our children’s ability to play more complex games. Younger children may not be able to see all the possible outcomes of their decisions, but they can usually learn the mechanics of how to play and they’ll develop some tactics through playing. So the suggested ages for the card games below are only guidelines. Dexterity can be an issue, however, so when playing card games where you have to hold your own hand of cards, maybe invest in a card holder for little hands or make your own lego version at home!
Card games for 3-6 year olds
Snap is not the only card game you can play with young children. There are several more stimulating games that will keep parents more engaged, while still being accessible for little ones.
- Go Fish: The classic set-collection game that Happy Families is based on. Players collect cards of matching ranks from other players. But when they ask for something that the other player doesn’t hold they must “Go Fish” and pick up a new card from the draw pile. The winner is the player who has the most sets of four when the deck or someone’s hand runs out.
- Go Boom: A precursor to Uno. In turns, each player plays a card from her hand to the pile that matches the rank or suit of the card on the top of the pile. If she cannot play, she must keep drawing new cards from the draw deck until she can. Shout “Boom” when you go out.
- Beggar My Neighbour: A 2-player game of luck. Each player has half the deck, face down. In turns, players play cards to the pool. When a court card (picture card) or Ace is revealed, the other player must place 1, 2, 3 or 4 cards on top. If no more court cards are revealed, the player takes all the cards on the table and plays a new card. Win the whole pack to win the game.
- My Ship Sails: A simple suit collecting game. Each player has a hand of seven cards. Each turn, every player passes one card to her left and collects one from the player on her right. She is always aiming to get a full hand of cards in one single suit. When she does so, she shouts, “My ship sails!” to win.
Card games for 7+ year olds
Now things start to get interesting. Whilst these games have simple rules and are still easy to learn, there are far more choices, so strategy starts to develop.
- Cactus: A variant of the card game Golf, with power cards. Each player has four cards face down and looks at the closest two cards. Take turns taking the top card from the deck and either swapping it with one of your cards, discarding it or playing it for its power. When you think you have the highest scoring cards, shout Cactus to end the round. But if you call “Cactus” and don’t have the highest score, you will get a penalty.
- Rummy: A classic set collection game. Each turn, pick up a card and discard a card. When you can, place down cards from your hand in runs and sets or add to those already on the table. Get rid of all your cards to win the round. Other players score negative points for each card in hand.
- Racing Demon: A multiplayer patience. This is a speed game and works best with four or more players. Each player has a deck of cards, counting out 13 for a ‘demon’ and putting 4 face up in a line next to it. On ‘Go’ each player cycles through her deck, looking for aces to go in the middle or cards that can go on top of these foundations. Cards from the line of 4 go onto foundations as soon as possible to get cards out of the demon. The first player to get rid of her demon wins.
- Black Mariah: A variation on Hearts. In this trick-taking game your aim is to get 0 points. Every heart you win gives you a point. In addition, the Ace, King and Queen of Spades score highly. Avoid the Queen of Spades if you can – she is the Black Mariah and will score 13 points! Keep playing until someone busts on 100.
Card games for 10+ year olds
These games involve more difficult concepts, require players to be able to predict others’ actions or revolve around strange win conditions.
- Gooseberry Fool: An eccentric trick-taking game for exactly 3 players. This is a race to the middle. Instead of the highest card winning, it is the middle card that wins each trick. You get more points for the tricks the player to your right has got, than the ones in front of you. But you actually want to maintain a middling score to win the game!
- Cribbage: A mathematical challenge for 2 players. Each player takes a set of 6 cards and chooses 4 of these to play. When cards are revealed, each hand is analysed and bonus points are scored for pairs, runs and flushes. Keep track of your scores using pegs on a cribbage board or use a virtual one
- Solo Whist: A great introduction to contracts. Players take it in turns to bid their contract. There are set contracts – Prop and Cop, Solo, Misere and Abundance. Each involves taking a different number of tricks with slightly different restrictions. The highest contract bid is then played out. Win points for successfully completing your contract or give them away if you fail.
- Nomination Whist: A twist on whist. Each round, players are dealt an increasing number of cards. Before playing out the cards, each player must say how many tricks they think they will win. The twist is that the total number of tricks bid can not equal the actual number of tricks in the round. So someone will always fail to achieve their nominated bid. Win points for tricks but more for achieving your nominated bid.
- Spaces: A great game for a big table. Lay all 52 cards out in four rows of thirteen cards. Remove all the aces. Now fill the spaces left by the aces by moving cards that naturally follow on from the card to the left of the space. A five of clubs follows a four of clubs, for example. Spaces at the start of each row can be filled with any 2. Move the cards in the right order to avoid spaces after Kings, where possible. You get three turns to put all the cards in order.
- Accordion: Also known as ‘Next door and over two’. Shuffle the deck and place it in your hand. Reveal one card at a time, placing it on the table to the right of other cards. At any point, if a played card is the same suit or same number to the card that is next to it (next door) or the card that is two cards away (over two), then that card is placed on the one it matches to the left. Play all the cards and try to get down to as few piles as possible (the ideal is 1).
- One handed solitaire: A card game that doesn’t need a table. Shuffle a pack and place it on your lap. Take the top 4 cards in hand. If the 1st and 4th cards match suit, remove the 2nd and 3rd cards to a discard pile. If the 1st and 4th cards match suit, remove all four cards. If the 1st and 4th cards don’t match, then pick up another card and add it as number 5. Now you look at cards 2 and 5. Do they match? Repeat until you’ve finished the pack. The aim is to be left with no cards in hand.
- Baker’s Dozen: An open builder. Place cards face up in 13 columns of 4. Kings that aren’t at the top of a column are moved to the top of the same column. Cards at the bottom of columns can be moved onto other columns or onto the foundations. Aim to free up the aces first then get all the cards out before you get stuck!
Ellie Dix is a Board Game Designer specialising in family games, Owner of The Dark Imp and Author of The Board Game Family: Reclaim your children from the screen.