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Most of my family likes playing crazy eights, 31, and occasional even go fish. I'm more into games with a bit more strategy and intrigue that require a decent amount of brain-work to play masterfully. Games like Dominion offer more opportunities for advanced strategy; you have so much more to think about each turn than just the colors of the cards. Every turn you have to analyze your choices and find the one you think will best lead you toward your ultimate goal. Compare this to crazy 8's, where your decisions are limited and have little impact long-term. Poker is all right, but its a little monotonous and slow.

Are there any games like this that can be played with only regular decks of cards? More than 1 deck is fine.

flexibility in number of players, friendliness to new players, lack of empty spaces during the game-play, and general intensity are all a plus.

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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Aug 21 '11 at 6:17

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14 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I generally enjoy trick-taking games as they involve a bit more strategy than "pick a card that's the same color". Examples include Hearts, Spades, Pinochle, Oh Hell, etc.

The interesting elements to me are keeping track of what cards have been played, what order to play your cards in to achieve your goal, and trying to figure out your opponents' strategy.

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I haven't played Spades in forever, but I'd still call it one of my favorites. Pulling a blind nil is quite the thrill. Even Hearts allows you to pull a stunt by shooting the moon. –  Andrew Vandever Dec 14 '10 at 21:02
    
Pinochle does require a special deck (or two regular ones you can combine) –  warren Dec 14 '10 at 23:27
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My favourite trick-taking game is 500. Of course, being a New Zealander, this is no surprise. I went to Mensa gatherings to play 500; forget the intellectual stuff! :-P –  Chris Jester-Young Dec 15 '10 at 6:20
    
+1 for Oh, Hell, which I just learned recently but is easy to teach and scales to lots of players. –  Christopher Currie Oct 23 '12 at 18:14
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Card games with traditional decks of cards mostly fall into either trick-taking games (Whist-family games like Bridge, Pinochle, Euchre, Spades, or Hearts) and melding games (Rummy-family games like Gin, Go Fish, or Canasta). There are exceptions, but they are less well known and will likely not meet the accessibility criteria because of the learning curve.

In general, from my experience trick taking games are quicker to learn and play faster, and strategy is largely confined to individual hands (although your success in each hand will affect how you play the next). The king of trick-taking games is Bridge, and for the devoted student will be very rewarding, but learning the subtleties of bidding and play can be daunting, and expert play requires a partner that you have practiced with. Spades is more approachable to the beginner, has a fair amount of team strategy, and as has been noted has the potentially thrilling and aggressive play.

Melding games are equally varied in style, but in general tend "feel" longer and more strategic. My personal favorite is Canasta, popular enough in the 50s to challenge Bridge for the most popular four-handed game. Played with two decks of cards it has many strategic options around when to go out, what styles of melds to make, and taking the entire discard pile (risky, but potentially very lucrative!) On the other end of the spectrum is Cribbage, which is a fast-playing melding game which can be played either four- or (more commonly) two-handed. Not a lot of strategy across hands, and a fair amount of luck, but quick to learn and has some interesting strategic choices as well.

Ultimately, you will not find games with traditional packs of cards to be as deeply strategic as a game like Dominion, simply because there is less variability in play, and early missteps are less likely to punish you in the end-game. If you want to find card-based games that are interesting yet approachable, I recommend looking at a number of custom card games such as Fluxx, Bottle Imp, Citadel, or Innovation (a new game for 2010 that's garnering a lot of praise).

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I spent 10 years posting one free print-and-play game each month. Many of these games used simple, commonly found components – like a standard Poker deck. Of those games, there are a few that may fit your needs:

Up 'N Over ( http://www.invisible-city.com/play/24/up-and-over ): 2 to 5 players. Take turns playing to a stack in the center, trying to get the sum to 21 on your turn, or force the player to your left to go over 21. Royal cards are ), -2, or -4 points. Aces are 1 or 11. Has more strategy than you'll initially think.

Dungeon ( http://www.invisible-city.com/play/392/dungeon-update ): 2 to 4 players. Play cards in sequence to escape from a dungeon. Play cards on other players as monsters, or to cause cave-ins.

Uncontrolled Squid ( http://www.invisible-city.com/play/211/uncontrolled-squid ): 2 to 8 (or more) players. Team-based bidding game.

Druid's Duel ( http://www.invisible-city.com/play/470/druids-duel ): Bluffing / Strategy game for 2 to 4 players. Pick a form and a strategy, reveal your choices, and figure out what happens.

I hope you find something you like!

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Throughout college, my friends and I loved playing this 5-player variant of Rook:

http://www.georgejas.com/rook/

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Whist, specifically, has always been my family's favorite. Definitely plenty of strategy, plus massive differences between 2-person, 3-person and 4-person whist. Highly recommended.

The problem with most of the other games listed is either there isn't enough strategy or they just plain aren't fun.

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I was reaching for the upvote after the first sentence. The second sentence killed it for me though. I'd prefer you see you state the games and give a more reasoned answer on why they "just plain aren't fun" when clearly a lot of people enjoy playing them. –  Pat Ludwig Dec 16 '10 at 6:41
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There is another trick-game which hasn't been mentioned which I find very satisfying from a strategic point of view.

Briscola chiamata, a 5-player variant of briscola, has rules and a basic strategy easy enough to get started in 5 minutes, but the trump bidding makes the game unique, and the blind partnering mean you have to watch every move carefully, leaving no empty space and adding a “detective game”-like dimension.
(you don't really need a 40-card deck: you can just take a standard deck and take out the 8s, 9s, and 10s).
I know the 5 player requirement is a bit tough, but it's worth it!

When I find myself with an odd number of friends (so we are 4 or 6 in total) I prefer instead to play Pinnacola. It is a rummy-derived game.
You play it with two 52-cards decks, deal 13 cards to each player, then plays just like Rummy, with a number of differences:

  • Teams of two, sitting alternating
  • Your melds are separated from the other team's
  • Sequences can 'loop', like this: JQKA23
  • You can pick up already played jokers by substituting the card they are acting as.
  • The discard pile... is not a pile, but all the cards in it must be visible (they are put in a stripe). When you have to draw, you can draw a single card from the stock or pick up the last n cards provided you then play at least the nth.
  • Scoring: 100 points if you got out. Count points for your melds, subtract points for what you were left with, according to this:
    • 2-5: 5 points
    • 6-10, J, Q, K: 10 points
    • Aces: 15 points
    • Jokers: 25 points
    • 4-cards books doubles its value
    • 6-cards (or longer) sequences without a joker in it doubles its value.
    • If you manage to do a 13-card sequence (without jokers in it), it's called a Pinnacola, and you automatically won.

And that's it.

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We play a lot of cheat. There's a fair amount of strategy that can go into it, but it's dead easy to learn. For 3-8 players.

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My friends and I used to have a lot of fun playing Kimps on the bus - it is not a game of strategy, but of psychology.

The rules are simple: You play in pairs of two (usually for four people). You each get four cards. Then the dealer throws four cards on the table, and everyone trades cards from their hand for ones on the table, trying to make four-of-a-kind. There are no turns - everyone just grabs whatever cards they want, as fast as they can. When everyone is done with the cards on the table, they get discarded and four more are placed down.

When someone finally gets four-of-a-kind, they have to get their partner to say "Kimps!" (You are allowed to discuss signals ahead of time). If you believe someone on the other team has four-of-a-kind, you need to say "Stop Kimps!" before that person's partner can say "Kimps."

If someone says "Kimps" and their partner has a four-of-a-kind (or they say "Stop Kimps" and either of the opponents has four-of-a-kind), that team wins. If they're wrong, the other team wins.

The psychology comes from: what cards did each person already pick up? Are they actually collecting those cards, or are they trying to trick me? How can I trick my opponents? If someone is doing something suspicious, do they have Kimps, or are they trying to fool me? You have to make this decision fast, because if you notice the signal, chances are their partner did too!

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I grew up playing Egyptian Ratscrew in high school, and I've never met a single person who didn't have a blast playing it.

Fast paced, multi-player, and anyone can join or be eliminated, and even "respawn" by rejoining the game at random. excellent, exciting game :)

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+1 While I don't think this is the sort of engrossing the OP had in mind, I whole-heartedly support this game: It's a lot of fun. NOTE: do NOT play with your good deck of cards, as cards can be damaged –  David Oneill Dec 15 '10 at 15:52
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Truco is very popular in Argentina, although it is played with a spanish deck. Playing 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 it is much better than 1 on 1.

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If you're looking for speed and intensity, along with being beginner friendly, there are a lot of fast card games out there. Nertz allows for massive amounts of parallel play with each player playing from their own standard deck of cards and into the common area (easier if the cards have different backs).

There are also dozens of variations of fast paced Uno type games that can be played with a regular deck of cards which are sped up by allowing for out of turn plays. Mao is an Uno variation where players are required to be silent during play, and the winner of each round creates a new unspoken rule which they can enforce by penalizing unwitting rule breakers with extra cards.

A similar fast paced game is Egyptian Ratscrew, but elimination of players may not be as inclusive as desirable for a group.

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I have a friend who plays a lot of Euchre. He's a hard-core card player -- always has a deck in his pocket -- and this is his favorite game. I only played a few times with him, but it was lots of fun. There's a lot of strategy in trying to figure out which cards to play when, and in what order. You're playing with a teammate (across the table), so there's that aspect of the strategy too (since you can't really communicate with them without your opponents overhearing).

He plays Sheepshead too (can't post the link 'cause I don't have enough reputation, it's on Wikipedia). I never played with him though, so I can't speak to it. I think it's similar to Euchre.

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Give 500 a try. It's Euchre with bidding. –  Porges Feb 3 '11 at 0:46
    
The one thing I found that made Euchre considerably less challenging than other card games I've played is the small size of the deck. It does meet most of the OP's needs, but I'm just not sure that as a trick-taking game, it'll provide enough of a challenge for a hardcore gamer. –  Dave DuPlantis Apr 8 '11 at 2:02
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If you have three players, David Parlett's Ninety-Nine is a terrific trick-taking game with an elegant gimmick: the suits correspond to numbers, and you must declare how many tricks you intend to take each hand by secretly discarding three cards. This makes figuring out how to bid what you want to bid almost as hard a problem as figuring out what your bid should be and how to make it.

Another unusual and ingenious game is Robert Abbott's Eleusis, one of the few real inductive-reasoning games. (Zendo, which borrows liberally from Eleusis, is another.) In this game, one player formulates a secret rule, and the other players ask questions, by playing cards, in order to determine what the rule is. It can be really, really hard - a fairly easy rule to guess is "red cards are only legal if played immediately after cards whose rank is even; black cards are only legal if played immediately after cards whose rank is odd."

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Bridge.

This lacks in flexibility in number of players, and friendliness to new players, but it has a lot of strategy once you get the hang of it.

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Bridge is one of the greatest games of all time. If you can get past needing an exact multiple of 4 players to play, and the fact that there's quite a lot of information to assimilate before you can really start enjoying yourself, and the fact that you have to play with a partner and have some kind of system that you both broadly comprehend... if you can get past all of these things, you'll never regret the time you spent getting into Bridge. It's escaping back into real life again that's the hard part! –  thesunneversets Dec 15 '10 at 0:08
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Most definitely. Once you've learnt the basics, there is an endless quantity of other things to learn, try out, tweak and add. Plus there are always those freak hands which generate good stories to tell other bridge fans! Like that time I picked up 9 spades and 4 clubs... –  Steve Melnikoff Dec 15 '10 at 0:16
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The system you have to have with your partner is what always made me doubt Bridge; it seems like convoluted semi-legal table talk that everyone knows about but tacitly ignores –  Michael Mrozek Dec 15 '10 at 6:55
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@michael: People don't ignore it: it's part of the game. You don't look down on people for trying to trade resources in Catan. Yes, it's a different way of doing things than most other card games. But it allows you to do strategies that aren't possible in those games. –  David Oneill Dec 15 '10 at 15:48
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the information encoding and exchange element often is the game, with the play almost inevitable once dummies hand is seen. granted i can see how this would appeal more to meta-gaming fans and code geeks –  jk. Dec 16 '10 at 12:29
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