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The game War is played with two decks of standard 52-card playing cards. Each player shuffles their deck into a draw pile. Simultaneously, each player turns over the top card. The player with the highest card wins the war and takes both cards. When a player runs out of cards, the player shuffles their cards and the cards won from their opponent into a new draw pile. Play continues until one of the players has no cards. Which never happens.

I played War a lot as a kid. Now my kids are learning to play. But the game still suffers from being entirely luck-based and never ending. What are the variants to this game that reduce luck and/or involve strategy?

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There is a variant of war, called "Strategy War" or "Armed War" (a joke on hands) where, instead of pulling the card from the top of your deck, you chose it from your hand. This works as follows:

  • You shuffle the deck and deal it out in equal parts. Each player takes the cards dealt to him/her and puts them in his/her hand.
  • All cards a player plays and all cards a player gains during the game go to his/her discard.
  • A player's discard becomes his/her hand only upon his/her hand becoming empty.
  • War is played as usual, but with players choosing which card to play from their hands instead just pulling off the top of their pile. Players each play their card face down, and then once all cards are down, players reveal the cards they have played.
  • In the event of a WAR, players shuffle their hands and take three cards at random from their hand to form the facedown "WAR" cards, then return to viewing their hands to select the final card for the WAR. If, during this process, a player does not have enough cards in his/her hand, he/she puts all the cards from his/her hand into play as "WAR" cards, then continues using cards at random from his/her discard to complete the three facedown cards, then takes his/her remaining discard as his/her hand and continues playing.
  • 2's beat whatever card is highest (Aces, unless you are playing with Jokers), but lose to all other cards. This is essential in this variant, to make Aces not just an obvious play at the end of a war.

For example, players Aaron and Blake each play a card face down; they reveal, both showing a King. They shuffle their hands, each put three cards at random from their hands into play facedown, and then return to their hands to select a final card for the WAR. When they reveal the final card, Aaron played an Ace and Blake played a Queen; Aaron wins the whole hand and takes all 10 cards.

The advantages to this variant are several fold. First, there is actual strategy. Second, wars are more common due to the overlap in play style. Third, there are interesting tradeoffs between using your best cards early versus saving them for later, which is a great thing for kids to learn.

If you want to make the game faster, take out a chunk of the low-valued cards, such as the 3's through 8's (make sure to keep the 2's as the ace-beaters).

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My simplified version of War involves splitting the card deck into equal black and red piles. The two jokers can be added on to each pile as either the strongest or weakest cards as agreed upon by both players. I prefer the latter. Both players can choose any card from their respective piles and present it face down, then simultaneously turn them face up. The higher card wins. In the event of a tie, say a pair of sevens, they would each be retracted and a different card other than the seven must be presented. Both players would keep separate piles for their winning and losing cards. The best strategy for using the weakest cards such as the joker or the two in this case would be when you think your opponent is going to present his ace or king and you make him waste his strongest cards on your weakest, thus protecting your own higher cards. The most satisfying wins are when your card is one or two points higher than your opponents such as a ten taking out a nine or eight. It is possible to have a tie. For example, if each player has thirteen winning cards and the last card presented by each player is the same then play continues with both players using their pile of fourteen winning cards until a clear winner emerges.

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We had another variant.

  • Include the jokers. Jokers beat an ace. But a 2 beats a joker.
  • If equal cards are shown, add the next two cards blind then add the third card open and compare these. Winner takes all. Repeat if still equal. If a player runs out of cards he has lost.

Yes the game took a long time, but it always ended.

If the games takes to long, you can set a time limit. At the limit, a new rule becomes active: - if a 3 is won, remove it from play. If all 3 cards are removed, start removng the 4 cards until the aces. If the aces are removed, there are only jokers and 2s. The game should be over soon.

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