I’m slowly learning that not everyone has the affinity that I do for playing card games. When I was young, just about the only thing my family ever did together on a regular basis was play cards. We’d play Hearts, Spades, Rook, Whist, Back Alley Bridge and a dozen other games whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize. I grew up with it. It seems natural. I do the same thing with my family and friends now.
Some might expect that the frequent card playing I did as a kid would lead me to the customizable card games you see in comic-book stores—your Magic: The Gathering and your Pokémon—but it never did. I still love to play card games as often as possible, even if I have to pull to teeth to make it happen.
This goes back to what I wrote in a previous column about the superior social experience board games boast over video games. I think card games are even more social than board games. Since the game play is much quicker, and there is time to socialize between hands, it makes for a much more enjoyable evening with your friends and loved ones.
There are a few games I want to bring to your attention, and I hope they will find their way into your regular rotation of gaming.
The first is Back Alley Bridge. This game is very simple; you can download the rules from a hundred places on the Internet and use a standard 52-card deck. It’s an old standby at my house, and if there’s a deck of cards handy and even a hint of boredom, this game gets played. You are dealt a certain number of cards, a trump suit is chosen at random, you bid on the amount of tricks you feel you’ll take and there you go. I can’t tell you how many hours of my life I’ve spent playing this one, but there’s a reason for it. It’s fun and, like chess, the more you play, the more strategy is involved.
Rook is next. It’s very much like Back Alley Bridge, except with a special deck, much different scoring and the addition of the Rook card. My favorite variation of the rules is to play in partnerships. You and a teammate bid on how many points you can take together and try to stop the other team from doing the same. Again, the more you play, the more strategy is involved. This is a game you can get at just about any store for less than $10, and you can learn how to play in five minutes or less.
Perhaps the most popular game at my house right now is Munchkin. Munchkin is a game that is now available in some department stores, but you might need to hit your local gaming store (try Game Night Games in Sugar House). It’s a hilarious, card-based spin on dungeon-trolling role-playing games, with all the quick game play of a standard card game. Each card in the deck (and its numerous expansions) boasts one-liners and sight gags, and you’re encouraged to stab your buddies in the back as you all fight to reach level 10 first. It’s a great game for all ages and skill levels, too. I’ve played it with my 8-year-old and with senior citizens, and as long as they have some love and understanding of the world of geekdom, it’s perfect.
The last game I’m directing you to is a bit more difficult to get your hands on, but it’s the perfect party game. Cards Against Humanity is a game very similar to Apples to Apples, except the big difference is that it’s actually fun and doesn’t suck. The subtitle on the box reads “A Party Game for Horrible People,” and it’s true. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy for a while and still haven’t been successful, but I was able to play at the Origins Game Fair recently. It’s the perfect, horribly offensive party game. One set of cards has questions on it, to which you play cards with answers like “Date Rape,” “Tentacle Porn” or “Glenn Beck.” Given a few drinks and the right crowd, it will become a staple of any sensible party.
Maybe together we can bring card games other than Texas Hold ’Em back into style.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.