15 Card Games to Teach Your Kids (That Don’t Suck)

Playing cards scattered

Have you ever looked at your kids as they watched TV for the third straight hour?  Slumped shoulders, flaccid limbs, vacant expression?  I’m often reminded of the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin describes the ideal TV-watching experience:

Notice how I keep my jaw slack, so my mouth hangs open. I try not to swallow either, so I drool, and I keep my eyes half-focused so I don’t use any muscles at all.  I take a passive entertainment and extend the passivity to my entire being. I wallow in my lack of participation and response. I’m utterly inert. …I can almost feel my neural transmitters shutting down.”

~Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes

And now, think guiltily about how many times you have allowed your children to convert their brains to warm tapioca by watching the tube for hours on end.  Feel the guilt. Wallow in it.

Don’t misunderstand me – TV is a great distraction from those screaming wrestling matches. It’s fine for the kids. They’ll be ok.  

But what about you?  That guilt, man! That guilt is annoying.  Rather than continuing to let that those nagging feelings of inadequate parenting get you down, you should do something to fix the problem.  This article will add a tool to your kit and help you shed that pesky ‘bad dad’ feeling you get when you turn parenting responsibilities over to Lego ninjas and forest creatures that inexplicably live under water.

It’s time to teach your kids some card games.

Below are fifteen card games that are easy to learn and fun to play with your kids. The detailed rules are not presented. Rather this list is to guide you on your card-learning adventure by identifying great games.

Card Games for Small Children

1. Go Fish

The ol’ classic. If you haven’t learned Go Fish already, you are without hope and you can stop reading now.

In Go Fish, you take turns guessing what cards another player has in his or her hand. If you guess right, you get that pair of cards (yours and theirs) and take another turn. If you guess wrong, they tell you to “Go Fish” and you draw a card from the draw pile and it is their turn.

The winner has the most pairs collected when one of the players is out of cards.

2. Crazy Eights

You get points based on the types of cards you collect from the other players. Eights are wild! And also are worth 50 points.

3. Old Maid

Kind of like Go Fish, only instead of guessing what cards your opponents have, you are offered the opportunity to draw one card from their hands at random.  So it’s like Go Fish, only without the Mensa-level strategy.

If you lose, you are the Old Maid.  Teach your kids cards and 1950’s misogynistic stereotypes at the same time! It’s fun for the whole family. 

4. War

War is always fun. Play one card on the table face up at the same time.  Largest card takes the trick and adds it to the bottom of their stack of draw cards.  If two players play the same card, they have a War by playing three cards face down on the table, then one card face up. The highest face-up card takes all five opponent cards (or more, if there are double- or triple- wars. Madness!).

5. Memory

Spread cards face down on a table. Flip a card. Flip another card. If they are the same number, collect the pair and take another turn. If they are not the same, turn them back facedown and try to remember them for later.  Player with the most cards when there are none left on the table wins.

I highly recommend not playing with a full deck. In addition to making the game shorter, it makes people underestimate you.

6. Slap Jack

Best played with kids named Jack.

Take turns playing a card from your draw pile onto a central pile. If a Jack turns up, SLAP IT. YOU SLAP THAT JACK. If you are the first to slap that Jack, take it and all the cards beneath and add them to the bottom of your draw pile (shuffle them). Last one with cards remaining wins.

Don’t forget – you are a grown ass man, and your kids are not as strong as you. Slap only as hard as you need to convey your favoritism, but no harder. Emergency room visits are expensive.

Card Games for Medium-Sized Children

7. Egyptian Rat Screw

You might want to call this something different.  In my house, we just call it, “Egyptian Rat.” So far, my kids have not asked why it has such a weird name.

This game is a combo of War and Slap Jack, except nobody collects cards UNLESS there is a slap or a War.

You slap for doubles.  You War for all face cards.  A Jack gives your opponent a one-card try to play another face card or an Ace. Queen is two cards (one down, one up), King is three, Ace is four.  If they fail to turn up a face card or an Ace, you collect the entire pile.

Last one standing wins.

8. Trash

A simple luck-based game that isn’t as mind-numbing for adults as the ones earlier on this list, but not so complex that your six-year-old can’t play it.

You each play with ten face-down cards in front of you that represent the numbers one (ace) through ten.  You take turns drawing from the draw pile.  If you draw a number or an ace that corresponds with a card in front of you that is still face down, place that card face up in that spot.  The face down card is revealed. If it can be played in place of another face-down card, keep going.  If it is a double (you already have a face-up card of that value) or is a face card, discard it and it is the next player’s turn.  Jokers and Kings are wild cards.

9. Kings in the Corner

Put the kings in the corner and build out stacks solitaire-style.  This is a great game to graduate your kids from the simplest games above and towards the more advanced games below.

10. Spite and Malice

A fast-paced two-player game of building piles from Ace up to King before your opponent can.

Cards Games for Large Children (You know…teenagers)

11. Hearts

Do you hate your family members? Do you want them to hate you? This is your game.

The goal of this trick-taking game is to not collect tricks containing Hearts.  In Hearts, Hearts are bad.  One Heart equals one point, and the first player to collect one hundred points loses.

Does that sound simple? Not so much, because there’s also the Queen of Spades, not so affectionately called “the b—ch.” She’s worth thirteen points.

Also, you can “shoot the moon” by collecting all thirteen Hearts and the Queen of Spades in a single hand, which earns you zero points and your opponents all a whopping twenty six.

For extreme madness in large groups, try out Double Deck Cancellation Hearts, and lose friends in style.

12. Spades

Spades is probably the most bog-standard bidding and trick-taking game. This is a great entry-level advanced game for older kids (probably twelve and older) who have mastered the easier games and are eager to play “with the adults”.

Spades are always trump in this game, but you can’t play them unless you are unable to follow suit, and you can’t lead them until somebody trumps

13. Euchre

Also known as “The only card game that anybody in the Midwest knows how to play”.

It’s kind of like a warped version of Spades with fewer cards per hand, variable trump suit, and weird scoring.

14. Gin Rummy

There are literally tons of types of rummy, but Gin is a good two player version of it.  You collect cards until you can make runs and sets in your hand.  Play them all at once with ten or fewer points left over in your hand to “go down”.   Go down with zero points left over to score a “Gin” and gain 25 extra points to be applied at the end of the game.  Play until somebody reaches 100 points then total up your Gins to see who won.

15. Poker

Pfft. There could be a whole website written about the different variants of poker. Go watch the movie Maverick or Tombstone, or else watch reruns of the World Series of Poker on ESPN.  

Poker is a betting game.  More fun if it’s for money. Fleece your kids and win back that allowance.

Chris Perry

Chris Perry is a contributing writer for DadStuffSite.com, a website for dads by dads. Inspired by his two boys Mark and George and his wife Emily, Chris loves to make things, learn things, and loves doing fun stuff with his family.

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