With playing a long board game you have the satisfaction of the endurance and outsmarting your opponents. It's a struggle and winning is the glory.

When you play something like poker or Uno you are playing several games over and over again.

When I play with friends we play with points or with poker chips and have either rewards or punishments to the winner or the loser.

We try and avoid gambling with poker but this can result in people going all-in after less than 10 hands.

Do you have any suggestions for how you spice up games like Uno and poker to make them interesting without resulting to gambling?

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    I'm confused. Why would you play poker without gambling? I don't even like the game, and I'm missing something here.
    – Margaret
    Jan 6, 2011 at 5:44
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    @Margaret: Some people - like me - aren't any good with poker. So essentially you're asking them to pay money to play with them... It's not even about loosing 5 bucks - It's about the wager no longer being a wager but a fee.
    – Kempeth
    Jan 6, 2011 at 7:46
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    @Kempeth No, I'm terrible at poker. We've just always played with chips, because otherwise how do you keep score?
    – Margaret
    Jan 6, 2011 at 7:52
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    @Rob: It's not like I couldn't afford to loose the usual "buy-ins". It's that I don't see the point in it and I suspect the better players would not see the point in paying my buy-in either... At that point you might play without the money altogether.
    – Kempeth
    Jan 7, 2011 at 7:34
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    @all: about why is it so important to gamble real money in poker and all that, you might be interested in answering my question on this very topic :-) boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/2088/…
    – Gyom
    Jan 7, 2011 at 18:35

9 Answers 9



When we went on holidays we'd often play card games in the evening to determine who had to get up in the morning to get fresh bread from the bakery.

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    Pretty sweet idea. Along similar lines, my old housemates invented a game where you can claim experience points and gain levels for doing housework and so on: chorewars.com Jan 6, 2011 at 19:06
  • ...Reminds me of the antes in that one scene from a Firefly episode... "Plums are tall." Jan 8, 2011 at 5:19
  • IIRC, I think that "Plum" was a suit of the cards being used: fireflywiki.org/Firefly/TallCard
    – Zoot
    Feb 21, 2011 at 16:33

There is no poker without gambling

I haven't played Uno in ages, but perhaps the most fundamental mechanic in poker is the gambling. There is a modicum of skill in games like 5-card draw, where at least the player has a choice of what cards to discard, but in the most popular poker games, like Texas Hold'em or 5- and 7-card stud, the best hand is deterministic (slightly over-simplified because the way the cards get distributed is obviously modified as people fold, but given that no one knows what the next cards are poker is still effectively deterministic).

Poker is only fun because although the best hand is fait accompli to an omniscient observer the winner is not; players can only know and play the odds of what's to come, which they do with their bets. It is the betting and the concomitant broadcast of information (or mis-information) to the other players that makes the game, and without it Poker is like war (the card came) for adults: rote and pointless.

Now the "chips" don't have to be money, as others have suggested, but they do have to have real value. Just playing with a stack of chips that hold no actual value to the players is meaningless because there's no disincentive to call every raise, which eliminates the ability to bluff and thus reduces the game to one played without chips.

In practice what I've found works best amongst adults is to pick a buy-in that's enough money that people care a little about losing it, but not enough that they're going to be bent out of shape if they go home empty handed--say $10-20. Then to ensure games don't end after 10 games, put a raise limit of say 25 cents and a re-raise limit of once per round. This naturally limits pot sizes and extends the game and works fairly well in practice.

With kids (assuming you're willing to teach them how to play poker at all) a good system could involve one where chips can be purchased for doing extra chores and chips can be cashed in for privileges--with a side agreement on the chip value of various household tasks and treats. Then the kids can tend to their "bank" between settings and potentially learn something about delayed gratification.


I prefer mild humiliation to any actual risk. It tends to keep things good hearted and can easily be altered to suit any requirements. Naturally, everyone should consent to the rules to make sure fun stays the top priority.

Here are some examples:

  • doing pushups while singing the national anthem for 30 seconds.
  • wearing something until a different person looses, like a jester's hat, while playing.
  • Loosing your chair and sitting on the floor until someone else looses.
  • altering the words you say when declaring your actions. IE every quantity has to be followed by a certain word, or every sentence must end with "your excellency" said to the winner.

The possibilities are endless :D


You can play poker "without money" if you use chips. In order to give the chips value, you require that for anyone to "re-supply" their chips from the bank (that is, get more chips after losing all of theirs) they must perform some task; this can range from "Buy a round of beer" to "Is tasked with supplying the snacks next week" or whatever your group can come up with.


Pool the Winnings

I just remembered something my parents did with Canasta. Instead of the looser paying the winner the looser paid into a pool. When the pool would grow large enough they'd spend it on holidays or something else they both liked.

So if you're playing in fixed group that might be an interesting alternative. If your group consists of different people all the time then they might not like that idea so much.



Poker and other games of chance can be played for fun using small foods. Cookies and M&Ms are pretty good, though people concerned with germs and crumbs may prefer to use fun-size wrapped candies.

One interesting advantage of playing with mixed candies is that since different people like different candy, each "chip" takes on unique, asymmetrical value. Some people will gladly gamble off their Milky Ways if it means a shot at winning some delicious mini Snickers, and vice-versa.

Just be careful not to eat away all your stakes before you've had a chance to win more!


One thing to keep in mind is that each "chip" doesn't have to have value, but the overall outcome (winning or losing) must. For a party, or poker night setting where adult beverages are involved, I would suggest keeping track of the bill for everyone's drinks, then splitting the bill at the end of the night between the losers.

  • Welcome to the site. An upvote for you.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 22, 2011 at 1:05

I had a group of friends who would play cards for water. Hearts was the usual game. A large glass of water was filled and placed in the center of the table. Each hand, the person taking the most points (the loser) would drink the glass and refill it. (In the event of a tie, everyone tied drinks a glass.) It sounds like no big deal*, but give it a few games. That glass of water will start to affect your play, especially with the queen.

(!) Drinking too much water too quickly can be very dangerous to your health. That said, we never had any problems. YMMV.


Drinking Games

There's the classic stand-by of weekend college parties...

Any game can be a drinking game: Make a mistake, take a drink.

Note: This is not my cuppa tea, but it's an option.

  • unless people start TRYING to take drinks. ;) Jan 8, 2011 at 16:49
  • I've never understood drinking games. Since arguably the goal is to get drunk, and drinking is usually a penalty, it seems to reverse any game into one where losing is preferable. On the other hand, games where winners drink are great because they're self balancing. The more you win, theoretically, the sloppier you play. Feb 17, 2011 at 18:43

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