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3 Fun Card Games to Entertain Your Whole Family This Holiday

One of these might be your new favorite.


There are a lot of great things about hosting family for the holidays. Foregoing the humdrum routine of everyday life and gathering all the people you love — young and old — under one roof can be magical. The age range of your guests, however, may prove difficult when it comes to entertaining. How can you promote togetherness when the younger family members would rather play video games, and the older ones are making cocktails and talking politics? One easy solution: Cards. With one deck of cards, you can make memories that last a lifetime. Learn more about the history of card games and check out three of our favorite games for the whole family. 

The History of Cards

Because cards have been a part of pop culture for as long as anyone can remember, it’s weird to think of a time when they didn’t exist. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “The earliest reference to playing cards … occurs in Chinese literature of the 10th century, but with no indication of their markings or the games played with them.” Game blog Board Game Geek notes that the standard deck of cards has evolved under global influence to become what it is today. 

And speaking of what it is today — a deck of 52 cards with two colors and four suits — why is it that way? As alleged by multiple sources, a standard deck of cards is based on the calendar. Its 52 cards represent the number of weeks in a year; the four suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades) represent the four seasons; the colors, red and black, represent day and night. And 365 is the sum of all the cards’ numeric symbols added up, representing the number of days in a year. Makes sense!

Card Games to Play With Your Family

Now that you know where cards came from and what they represent, it’s time to learn how to use them. You’ve likely played games like Go Fish or Poker before — but we’ve got some games you may not have heard of. These are all appropriate for a wide range of ages, and only require a standard deck of cards to play. 

1. Golf (Number of players: 2-8)

Play a round of “golf” without hitting the links! Lifestyle blog It’s Always Autumn describes Golf as a game that’s easy enough for even the youngest family members to enjoy — and just like its namesake, the player with the lowest score wins. The objective is to have a lower scoring total on your four cards than any of your opponents, but with one catch: You can only see two of your cards, since the other two remain face-down. If you like memory games, this might be the one to try. 

How to Play

Card game website Pagat explains the directions for this game: 

  1. Each player gets four cards, which are to be placed face-down in a square in front of them. The remaining cards go face down in the middle as a draw pile, the top card placed to the side face-up to start the discard pile.
  2. Before starting, each player can look at two of their four cards — but this can only be done once. 
  3. On your turn, you can either draw the top card off the pile in the middle, take the face-up card in the discard pile, or knock on the table to signify that you aren’t drawing anything and your turn is over.
    • If you draw a card from the middle pile, you can replace one of your four face-down cards, but you cannot look at the one you are replacing. Put the card you’ve replaced face-up in the discard pile. If you don’t want to use the card you’ve drawn, you can place it face-up on the discard pile. Your turn ends.
    • If you draw from the discard pile, you must use it to replace one of your four face-down cards. You cannot discard it again. 
    • If you knock, each player has one more turn, and then the round is over. 
  4. At the end of the round, each player totals up their four cards. Number cards are face-value, Kings are zero, and Jacks and Queens are ten. After nine rounds (or however many you want to play), the player with the lowest cumulative total is the winner. 

2. Chase the Ace (Number of players: 5 or more)

This game is also called “Cuckoo” (after its French title, “Coucou,” which is slang for “hello,”) or in the UK, “Ranter Go Round.” Simply put, the objective of Chase the Ace is to not get stuck with the lowest-scoring card at the end of the game. (Keep in mind that you do need some small counters in addition to a deck of cards for this game, in order to keep track of each player’s “lives.” Try using paper clips or marbles.) Since Chase the Ace is fast-paced, it’s ideal for those who don’t have the patience for a long, slow game. It’s also a great ice-breaker, since everyone has to interact with each other in order to play. Game website Classic Games and Puzzles explains the rules.

How to Play

The cards’ values from highest to lowest: King, Queen, Jack, 10-2, Ace.

  1. Each player gets three counters and one card. 
  2. Each player looks at their card, without letting anyone else see it.
  3. The first player (usually the person to the left of the dealer) then decides whether to keep or change their card.
    • To keep your card, say “stand.” This ends your turn. 
    • To change your card, say “change,” and slide it, face down, to the player on your left. Unless that player has a King, they must exchange cards. If they do have a King, they must place it down, face up, as proof. This makes them immune for this round, and forces you to move to the next player to exchange cards. 
  4. After you’ve made an exchange, the player with whom you’ve traded looks at their new card and decides whether they want to keep it or exchange it. This cycle continues until everyone has had a turn. (If the last person wants to exchange, they place their card at the bottom of the deck and draw the top card.)
  5. At this point, everyone lays their cards face-up, and the player with the lowest value card places a counter in the pot. Once someone loses all their counters, they are out, and the last one to go out is the winner. 

3. Eleusis Express (Number of players: 3-8)

This game is unconventional, and a little difficult to pronounce. Eleusis (pronounced el-yoo-sis) is named after the ancient Greek town in which the Eleusinian Mysteries, famously secretive religious rituals, took place. Eleusis is a card game that depends on the players to make the rules, and Eleusis Express is a slightly simpler version. This one is especially fun for families and other groups of people who know each other well, since it requires you to “read” one another. But because it requires some critical thought, it may be more fun for older children than littler ones. The creator of this version of the game, John Golden, explains how to play — and recommends having two decks of cards on hand.

  1. The dealer writes down a “secret rule” — the main rule for the game that other players will have to guess. This can be as simple or as complex as the dealer wants. Examples of secret rules include:
    • Each card played must alternate in color. If the last card was black, the next card needs to be red, etc. 
    • If the last card is odd-numbered, the next should be even. (For numbered rules, Ace = 1, Jack = 11, Queen = 12, and King = 13.)
    • The card played should be the same number or same suit as the last card. 
  2. Once the dealer has determined the secret rule, they deal 12 cards to each player. The remaining cards are the stock pile, and they go in the middle of the table. 
  3. The dealer takes a card off the top of the stock pile and places it face-up. 
  4. The player to the left of the dealer places a card beneath the face-up one. If it fits with the secret rule, it goes to the right of the card (on the mainline). If it does not fit with the secret rule, it goes below the card (on the sidelines), and the player must draw a new card from the stock pile. 
  5. On their turn, the player can also declare that they have no correct card to play. They must show their cards, and the dealer will tell the player whether or not that is true. 
    • If the player was correct, and didn’t have any cards to play, they can put their cards at the bottom of the stock pile, and the dealer will give them a new hand with one less card. 
    • If the player was incorrect and could have played one of their cards, the dealer chooses the card the player could have played and places it as the next card on the mainline. The player must then draw a new card from the stock pile. 
  6. Whenever a player makes a correct play, they must guess the rule. If the player is wrong, play continues. If the player is right, or if they have gotten rid of all of their cards, the round ends. 
  7. To tally points: At the end of a round, each player has 12 points, and loses 1 point for each card left in their hand. The player that guessed correctly gets 6 extra points. If the player got rid of all their cards, they get 3 points. The highest-scoring player wins. 

With these card games under your belt, you’re bound to keep everyone entertained for hours. And if you think you’re all set on entertainment, check out more tips for making hosting easier, and some advice on what to give your younger family members this holiday. 

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