It’s inevitable. Every once in a while, you’re going to get tired of doing your daily routine, and you’ll sit down at the end of a Saturday with a bunch of your friends and realize you have no clue what to do. The usual pick of “Wanna hit a diner?” or “Let’s watch a movie” just won’t be enough, and you’ll have played all the video games you can handle. What do you do?
You bust out the cards, that’s what. Now while not all of these games are something you can play with a standard 52-card deck, they’re all fun as heck, and are an easy fit for anywhere from two to six players.
Apples to Apples
Let’s get the obligatory choice out of the way first. Most people have heard of Apples to Apples, even if they’ve never played it. This simple, but funny game can be played by players of any age, which makes it a solid family game as well.
Play is simple – every round, one of the players acts as a ‘judge’. Players all get 7 red cards, which have various nouns or noun phrases on them. The judge flips over an green card, which has an adjective written on it, and players all anonymously submit red cards that ‘fit’ that card best. The judge picks the best match, be it based on humor or creativity, and the winning player takes the green card. The first player to get 7, wins!
Matches of this game are always funny – each set comes with around 100 green cards and over three times as many red, so there are many unexpected combinations. Every round is different, and even after years of playing this game, I’m still finding new and funny sets of words (Screeching Milk Ticks? Sounds about right).
Maybe you’ve heard of this game referred to as just ‘Beans’. This game is a bit more complicated than Apples, but it’s still a lot of fun, and another good game to play with your family as well as your friends. Thinking about your future moves is very important, as is bartering with your fellow players – all in all, if you like a medium-paced game with lots of talking, this is a game for you.
There’s quite a few specifics to the game, but at it’s heart, Bohnanza is about growing beans and selling them for money. Each player gets two plots of land to grow beans on, and can only plant one type of bean on each plot. The players can also ‘harvest’ beans for money, with the amount increasing based on how many beans are in the plot when it’s harvested. Players can also trade beans, and buy another plot of land, but in the end the goal is to get the most money. When the deck runs out three times, the game ends, and the winner is the one with the most gold.
Fluxx is one of the older games in this list – while the other specialized card games have a ton of expansions, Fluxx only has a few. But it’s going through its fourth revision, so don’t think you’ll be playing some washed-up old piece of junk. Fluxx is fun and crazy – games can take a few minutes, but sometimes stretch past an hour. It involves some thinking, but the more people you play with, the more random swings will mess with your plans. Still, it’s really easy to pick up, and always fresh.
Fluxx is probably one of the easiest games in the world to play. Why? The rules are printed on the cards. Every card says exactly what it does, and the game starts with a ‘Basic Rules’ card to boot. The game does come with instructions explaining the different card types and how everything should go for those interested in a better breakdown, but it’s really not necessary. Just toss down the Basic Rules, shuffle the deck, and get ready to play!
DurakFinally, we’ve got a game your can play with a standard deck. In fact, most of the time you don’t even need that – Durak uses cards from six up to the aces, with two to five being discarded. Durak most likely originated somewhere in Russia near the start of the last century, so it beats even Fluxx in age. But that doesn’t make it any less interesting – Durak is a fast-paced game of skill, with one objective – don’t be the last person holding cards.
Play can take some getting used to – players are dealt six cards, and one card is flipped face-up and placed under the remainder of the deck, which becomes the draw pile. Players take turns attacking and defending, with the attacker playing attacking cards which the defender must beat with higher cards of his own. The face-up card’s suit determines the ‘trump suit’, which plays something akin to spades in the card game ‘Hearts’ – the trump cards can beat any non-trump, except for a higher trump card.
Play gets complicated, as the remaining players also join in the attack. For card that has already been played on the board, either in attack or defense, any attacking player can play a card of the same rank. If a defender can’t beat the cards played, they must pick them up and forfeit their attacking turn. If they beat all the cards played, the played cards are discarded, and all players draw up to six again.
Durak has a lot of strategy behind it, and also relies heavily on card counting. Players may not check the discard pile at any time, so when play gets down to the final two cards, knowing what your opponent has is often the only way to victory. If you like an intellectual, and somewhat complicated game, Durak might just be the game for you.
Egyptian RatscrewI saved the best for last here. Ratscrew is a crazy-fast game that’s all about speed and reflexes – something that’s pretty rare in a card game. The goal is to collect all the cards. It’s no thinking man’s game, that’s for sure, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and playing with any amount of players work just fine.
In Ratscrew, the deck is dealt evenly amongst the players. No-one is allowed to look at their hand, and the participants take turns flipping the top card of their hand quickly over onto the table, forming a pile. This continues until a face card is flipped over, in which case the next player flips over several cards in succession, determined by the rank of the face card – aces are 4, kings are 3, queens are 2, and jacks are 1. If another face card comes up before this amount is dealt, the cycle repeats, moving down to the next player. If no face card appears, the owner of the last face card collects the whole pile.
Now all this seems like pretty slow play, but here’s where it gets interesting : players are allowed to slap the pile if certain combinations of cards appear, and if they are the first to (correctly) slap they get to take the entire pile as well. Usually, two cards in a row of the same rank (called a double) or with one card in between them (a sandwich) are valid slaps. Good memory and quick reflexes are key in this game, as no matter how many face cards you have, they can be taken away in an instant with just one slap.
So which should I really play?
All these games are great fun, and you’ll really have to play them all to pick your favorite. Certainly if you don’t have the time or money to spend on a specialized deck, Durak and Ratscrew are fun and cheap alternatives. My choice? Ratscrew, every time – it’s all about speed for me!