At a time when store shelves are piled high with board games, card games, and video games that cater to fans of every conceivable genre, it’s easy to forget that all kids really need to have a good time (or a fun game night) is a traditional deck of 52 playing cards. And while everybody’s got their favorite game from childhood, a handful stand out as tried-and-true classics. They just work. These are the best five card games and they will forever reign supreme.
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If there was ever a classic card game to keep two kids busy for long stretches of time, it’s ‘War.’ The objective is simple: Destroy your opponent by winning all the cards.
How to Play: Simply deal the entire deck face down between the two players so that each has a stack of 26 cards. Without looking at the cards, players simultaneously turn one over on the table ⏤ the higher number wins both cards. If both cards are the same, there’s a ‘war.’ Players then deal three cards face down followed by one card face up. Now, the higher numbers takes all 10 cards. Play continues until one player is out of cards and either angry or crying.
One of the oldest and best-known card games in the world — it’s called “Vieux Garçon” or “Old Boy” in France — the history of Old Maid dates back to the 1600s. And while they’ve sold any number of fancy decks in stores since the 19th century, it’s just as easy to play with a traditional deck of cards. The objective is to get rid of all the cards in your hand without getting stuck with the one unmatched Queen, or Old Maid. It’s a fun game partly because there are multiple winners, but only one loser.
Players: 2 to 6
How to Play: First remove one of the Queens from the deck before dealing all the cards face-down, one at a time to each player in a clockwise rotation. Players then look at their cards and remove any pairs, laying them face down on the table. The first player to go (usually the one to the left of the dealer) then holds their entire fan of cards face down and allows the player to their left to choose one. If they make a pair, it’s placed face up, and play continues in a similar fashion around the table. Eventually, all the pairs are made and one player, the “Old Maid” is stuck holding the lone Queen.
One of the first card games a lot of toddlers learn to play, Go Fish is an interactive matching game in which players try to get rid of the cards in their hand by collecting all four suits of the same number (called books).
Players: 2 to 5
How to Play: If there are two to three players, deal each player seven cards face down, one at a time, in a clockwise rotation. If there are more players, everybody gets five cards. The rest are the ‘pond’ and are scattered face down in the middle of the table. After organizing the cards in their hand by number or royals (Jacks, Queens, etc.), the player to the left of the dealer begins by asking anyone in the group if they have any of a specific number, one they already have in hand.
For example, Matt might ask: “Julie, do you have any Aces.” If Julie does, she turns them all over to Matt and he can ask if she has any of a different number. If she doesn’t, she says “Go Fish!” and Matt selects a card from the pond. If Matt collects enough Aces through his inquiries to form a book, he must lay them face up on the table. After collecting a card from the pond, however, his turn ends. Play continues clockwise until all the books have been collected. The player with the most sets wins.
A frenetic physical game that involves quick reflexes, Slap Jack is for slightly older kids (at least those who can recognize the difference between a Jack, Queen, and King) and involves trying to win cards by being the first player to slap the stack. There’s not a lot in terms of strategy, and it’s a fun game to up the energy level of a room.
Players: 2 to 6
How to Play: Deal out the entire deck, face-down and one at a time, until each player had a stack of cards. The person sitting to the left of the dealer then turns over one card and places it face-up in the middle of the table. Moving to the left, each player follows suit and does the same. When a Jack is played, however, players race to be the first person to physically slap the pile of cards in the middle of the table. The first to do so wins the pot and adds them to the bottom of their card stack. When a player runs out of cards, they have one more chance to slap a Jack to get back in the game, but if they fail to do so, they’re out. Play continues until one person collects all the cards.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the energetic Slap Jack, Memory (or Concentration, as it’s also known) is a decidedly quieter game that helps kids work on their mental acuity. In addition to its brain-sharpening benefits, it’s also nice because a single child can play on their own.
How to Play: Another game that’s sold ready-to-go in a boxed version, Memory is just as well played with an ordinary deck of cards laid out face down in a grid (or shattered all over the table/floor if you want to make it more challenging). The goal is simple, match all the cards in sets of two. Play starts with one child turning over two cards in hopes of finding a match. If a match is made, they keep both cards. If not, they note the exposed card’s number and position before turning them back over. The person to the left then takes a turn and play continues in a clockwise rotation until all the cards have been matched. The player with the most cards/number of sets wins.