Simple Games With Stuff You Already Have

This page is devoted to the rules for a few simple, original games that can be played with game components you probably already have lying around the house.

Games on This Page: The Rummy Murders / CardOpoly / Uno: the Gathering / Tetra / Rochester Poker / Sixes Suck


The Rummy Murders v1.1

sleuthEvery year, the About.com board and card game site sponsors a game design contest. Each contest has a theme, and the games designed have to be able to be played with stuff that most people already have around the house. (You can design a gameboad to print out, too.) This year, the theme is "Deduction", and genre examples they cite are Clue, Coda, Black Vienna, Sleuth, Zendo, Werewolf, Scotland Yard, and Top Secret Spies. While I get the impression they prefer boardgames, they say a card game is okay. So I've got a card game. (They probably won't like this one, since it uses regular cards. Oh, well, I still had fun designing it.)

I started out with all kinds of complicated rules, and as is often the case, by the time I got done the game ended up being really simple. Here it is in a nutshell: you play rummy without a full deck, and try to figure out which cards are missing. Of course, there are a couple more details than that.

The Rummy Murders is a game in which 2-4 players are detectives. You are trying to figure out which of the red face cards is the victim, and which of the black face cards is the murderer. You play with a deck of 52 cards, plus 2 Jokers. Here's how you set up for play:

Go through the deck and make stacks of three cards each, like this: each Ace should be stacked with the 10 and 2 from its suit, each King with the 9 and 3, each Queen with the 8 and 4, and each Jack with the 7 and 5. All the 6's will be left over. Stack the red 6's with one of the Jokers, and the black 6's with the other. (Mnemonic: note that the cards stacked with each face card total 12.) Now you have 9 piles with 3 red cards each, and 9 piles with 3 black cards each. One red pile will represent the victim, and one black pile will represent the murderer. Have all but one player turn their backs, while the remaining player arranges the black piles randomly on one side of the table, and the red piles randomly on the other side of the table. Then have him turn his back while the other players turn around and choose one red pile and one black pile WITHOUT LOOKING at their faces. They then set these aside together and shuffle the rest of the cards together. Now the last player can turn back around and you can begin. You now have 3 black and 3 red cards in a "mystery pile" off to the side. The red face card is the victim, the black face card is the murderer, and nobody knows who they are.

Note: If your Jokers are different, you can designate one to be the black Joker and one to be the red Joker, and let everyone know which is which. If they're the same, well, that's too bad, because when one comes into play you won't know which one it is until you see the black or red 6 that goes with it!

Now you play rummy. Deal 7 cards to each player, and turn one card over to begin the discard pile. On each player's turn, they draw cards either from the stock pile, or from the top of the discard pile, until they have eight cards in hand. A player make take as many cards from each pile as he wishes until his hand is 8 cards, as long as he only takes the top cards from either pile. The player then tries to make sets of 3-4 cards, or runs of 3 or more cards in the same suit. Jokers are wild. Whenever a player makes a run or set in hand, he may choose to lay it down immediately, but he doesn't have to. If other players have runs or sets on the board and he has one or more cards that can be played on them, he can play on them if he wishes, as well. If a player can lay down more than one set or run, he may. If he can't make a play, or chooses not to, he has to discard so he's only holding 7 cards. He then tells the next player it's his turn.

Note: A joker cannot be used to make a set of 5 cards. However, during your turn you may play it as a single card on any set of 3, or on any run in play, just to get it out of your hand.
Alternate Rule: If, during your turn, you have a card in hand that can be substituted for a Joker in play, you may do so. For example, if someone has played a a run of 6H, Joker, 8H, and you have the 7H in your hand, you trade it for the Joker and put the Joker into your hand.

Now we get to the real meat of the game. While playing rummy, everyone is also trying to figure out which red face card is the murder victim, and which black face card is the murderer. How? By deduction. (Note the clever incorporation of the game design contest theme, here.) Each card in your hand, in the discard pile, or in play gives you important clues as to which cards might be the murderer and victim. How? Well, face cards are obvious. If one is in play or in your hand, it can't be the victim or murderer, since they're sitting out the game in the mystery pile. But each other card also gives you a clue. Remember, each number card is associated with a face card of the same suit, and the number cards associated with the victim and murderer are also out of play. So if you see, for example, a three of clubs in your hand or in play, you know that the King of clubs is also in play, and can't be the murderer. Each player should keep a list of all the face cards and cross them off when he's sure that a card can't be the victim or murderer. Keep your list hidden from other players!

The Rummy Murders ScorecardEach round (row), check off each card in its column as soon as you know it's eliminated. (RJ is the "Red Joker", BJ is the "Black Joker".) Total the score for each round on the right. (There's nothing magical about "10" for the number of rounds in a game. It's just a nice "round" number.)
no.=5 / face=10 / Ace=15 / Joker=20
J:7+5 / Q:8+4 / K:9+3 / A:10+2 / Joker:6+6
 RJAHKHQHJHADKDQDJDBJASKSQSJSACKCQCJCScore
01                              
02                   
03                   
04                   
05                   
06                   
07                   
08                   
09                   
10                   
Total: 

When you are sure that you know both the murderer and the victim, no matter whose turn it is, shout "Eureka!" All play then stops while you announce your deduction. You then look at the cards in the mystery pile without showing them to anyone else. If you are correct, then you can show everyone and gloat. Everyone then scores their cards in hand: each number card is worh 5, each face card is 10, each ace is 15, and a Joker is 20. The player who shouted and guessed correctly doesn't score his hand at all, and scores negative points for all the cards in the mystery pile! (You guessed it, points are bad. Very bad. Less than zero is a perfect score in this game.)

If you are not correct in your deduction, assume an expression of abject despair and put the mystery pile back face-down. Lay your hand down face-up in front of you (these cards are out of play for the rest of the hand), and play resumes. When time comes to score, you score all the cards you had in hand as well as all the cards in the mystery pile!

If more than one player, shouts "Eureka!" simultaneously, then the person whose turn it is gets to guess first. If neither of those who shouted is the current player, the closest one on the left of the current player goes first. If the first one guesses wrong, the second player gets to see the cards he lays down before having to reveal his choices.

If nobody knows who the victim and murderer are by the time you run out of cards in the draw pile, let everyone take a look at the mystery pile. Once all the groaning and "I knew it!"s are over, shuffle the mystery pile and everyone draws a card at random from it and adds that card to his hand. Then each hand is scored normally.

Play until someone reaches a preset score, say 200, at which point the low score wins. Happy deduction!

Strategy Guide

Because there are six cards in the mystery pile in each hand, there will always be some runs and some sets that will be unable to be built. Trouble is, you don't know which ones. As you play, you will be able to tell more about which cards are and (maybe) aren't available. And there is almost always a Joker or two to fill in a blank spot. Maybe.
Each card you play or discard gives your opponents more information about which cards might be in the mystery pile. The only advantage you have is the cards you hold in your hand. When you choose what to play, try to play so that you keep as much information secret for as long as you can. For example, if the 8C has already been played or discarded, then you aren't giving your opponents any new information if you reveal the 4C or QC.
You generally don't want to hold onto cards if you can play them. If you play more cards, you can draw more cards. However, if you suspect an opponent needs to see only a card or two to solve the puzzle, you might want to avoid making a play because you might provide him with the winning clue.
Remember, there are two strategies to this game: you want to solve the murder before your opponents do, and you want to reduce the points in your hand in case you have to score it.
When it gets down to only a couple of possiblities for the murderer and/or victim, try to figure out ahead of time which cards you need to see to give you the answer, so you can can shout right away when you see the final clue. Remember, everyone else is looking for the same cards!
Don't shout "Eureka!" until you're absolutely sure, using logic, who the victim and murderer are. Guessing can be very, very costly.
If somebody shouts and guesses wrong, pay attention! Their wrong guess, or the cards they lay down, may be the final piece you need to figure out whodunit. Be ready to figure out the solution and shout. Don't take time to revel in their misery!
If it's your turn, and you draw, and that tells you whodunnit, and to whom, just shout "Eureka!" Don't make any plays first. If you lay down your play first, somebody else might just figure it out and shout before you get a chance to! Remember, if you're right, you don't score your hand at all, and if you're wrong you're screwed anyway.

CardOpoly

Monopoly® card gameWinning Moves, the company that publishes the card games Pit®, Rook®, Flinch®, and Mille Bornes®, came out with a card game version of Monopoly®, but it's not very good. I think a card game based on Monopoly® is a good idea, though, so here's one I think is better.

First, here's a link to the rules for the card game version of Monopoly® so you can see what they came up with. And while we're at it, here's a link to the rules for the Monopoly® board game for comparison. New we can begin.

The Game and the Goal

CardOpoly is played using a standard 52-card deck plus 2 Jokers. You'll also need pencil and paper to keep score. (Or you can use play money if you have some.) Up to four can play with a single deck; add another deck if more want to play. You score rent by laying down properties, and whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins. Just like Monopoly®.

CardOpoly is played like gin rummy—you build your best hand in hand, then lay it down at the end of each hand. (Man, that sentence has a lot of 'hands' in it!) Cards you can't play incur a penalty.

Properties, Monopolies, and Rents

A property is a numbered card from 2-10. You may lay down one card as a single property (unless you'e the one who knocks), or you may lay down a run of two or more cards in the same suit as a 'monopoly'. The rent you collect when you lay down a property is equal to its value times $10. So a 2 rents for $20, and a 10 rents for $100. But rent is multiplied by the number of cards in the monopoly. So if you lay down the 3H, 4H, and 5H, for example, the 3H rents for $30x3=$90, the 4H rents for $40x3=$120, etc.

Note: It has been mentioned that the term "rent" is confusing here, as it implies that you collect it more than once per hand. You don't. You could just as well say "score", but then it wouldn't sound as much like Monopoly®, would it? Besides, the Monopoly® card game uses the same term, and it only adds the rent up once. So there.

The Joker

There's nothing like a 'wild card' in Monopoly®, but there are two in the card game and I think that's a good idea, so we'll put two Jokers into our deck. A Joker can substitute for any property in a monopoly of three or more. You cannot use a Joker to turn a single card into a 2-card monopoly. You can add a Joker to the beginning or end of a monopoly to extend it; for example, to make a 2-card monopoly into a 3-card monopoly. A Joker counts as a property for the purposes of rent calculation, but collects no rent itself. For example, you could play the 5H, Joker, 7H as a monopoly, and the 5H would rent for $50x3=$150, and the 7H for $70x3=$210, but you would receive no rent for the Joker. You cannot play a house on a Joker, and you can't play a Joker as a railroad or utility. If you have a Joker in hand and cannot play it at the end of the hand, you incur a stiff penalty.

Houses

Face cards are houses. All face cards are equivalent. You may play one on any property in a monopoly to double its rent. For example, say you play the 8S, 9S, and 10S as a monopoly, and you also lay down a face card with the 10S. The 8S and 9S score normal rents (times the monopoly multiplier, of course), but the 10S scores $100x2=$100 (because of the house) then gets the monopoly multiplier for $100x3=$300 total rent. You may not lay down a house with a single property, and you may not play more than one house on any one property. There are no hotels. If you have one or more houses in hand that you cannot play at the end of a hand, you incur a penalty.

Alternate Rules: (1) Different face cards are different buildings, and have diffferent multipliers: Jack = house @ 2x rent, Queen = apartment building @ 3x rent, and King = hotel @ 4x rent. You can only play one on any property, but you can play a mix of buildings on properties in the same monopoly.
(2) If a face card's suit matches the suit of the monopoly, double the rent again, for a total of 4x rent.
(3) You are allowed to build more than one house on a property, as long as you build evenly as in Monopoly®. So you couldn't play a 3-card monopoly with 2 houses on one of the properties and none on the other 2, but you could play it with 1 house on each of 2 properties, and 2 houses on the third.
I don't suggest you try to use these alternate rules together, As it is, they can make for some crazy high rents, more reliance on the luck of the draw, and more math. But if you like really high scores, go for it.

Railroads

Aces are played as railroads. A single railroad rents for $50, 2 rent for $100 each, 3 rent for $150 apiece, and 4 for $200 each. For example, if you lay down 3 Aces, each rents for $150, or $450 total. You cannot play a house with a railroad. Duh. ("The railroad runs through the middle of the house, middle of the house, middle of the house...")

Utilities

Each player may play one and only one set of 2-4 cards of identical value as a group of utilities. Utilities score rent just as a monopoly does. For example, if you play three 9's as utilities, they each would collect a rent of 9x$10=$90x3=$180. Of course, you can't play a house on a utility.

Note: The idea is to limit the number of utilities (sets) played, while still giving players a shot at getting rid of some of their extra cards. I don't want people intentially building utilities. I want them building monopolies. There's a reason there are only two utilities on the Monopoly® board. They suck.

Missing Monopoly® Stuff

So where are Income Tax and Luxury Tax? How about Go To Jail? Chance and Community Chest? Passing Go? The Free Parking 'house rule'? Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to gracefully add all of that stuff to this limited environment.

Alternate Rule: Okay, here's the only halfway reasonable way I could think of to work most of these elements into this game—Prior to a player drawing, any player except the one whose turn it is can say "Chance!" (A player may say "Chance!" only once per round, and any player may have "Chance!" said to him only once per round. The player must then draw from the stockpile. Go by the suit of the drawn card to determine the outcome: Clubs=Income Tax. Deduct 10% from your total score. Spades=Luxury Tax. Deduct $200 from your total. (I know the boardgame has this as only $75, but I think $200 is better for this game.) Hearts=Pass Go. Add $200 to your total. Diamonds=Free Parking. Add an amount to your total equal to the value of the card times $20. (Jacks are 11, Queens are 12, Kings are 13, Aces are 14, and a Joker is counted as a Diamond and is worth 15.) The card you draw cannot be kept. It must be immediately discarded, ending your turn.
Analysis: Pass Go and Luxury Tax are equally probable, and have equal values, so they are effectively a coin toss. Income Tax is dependent on a turn's score, but from my experience this will probably average about -$140. Free Parking has two more possible draw cards than Income Tax (the Jokers) and draws have an average value of 8.5 x $20 = $170, which means "Chance!" is skewed towards being advantageous to the player. However, any individual play can, of course, be highly disadvantagous.

Trading

To make trades, fan any cards you are willing to trade on the table in front of you and leave them there. During your turn, you may offer to trade any of the cards you have in your trading pile with any of the cards anyone else has in theirs. (No one ever has to make a trade.) You can also offer to trade for cards that aren't visible, though that's a bit more of a crap shoot. Trades must be even up, one card for one card. Anyone may add to or take back cards from their trade pile at any time (even during trade negotiations), but only the current player may initiate a trade offer.

Sequence of Play

Here is the sequence of play:

Knocking

When you have created a hand that uses all of your cards, and you like the way it looks, knock as you discard. This signals the last round of play for the other players. You may only knock if your hand uses all the cards in it, following the rules:

Alternate Rules: If it seems like somebody is always knocking so soon that nobody gets a chance to build a decent hand, add a rule that the person who knocks can only lay down one 2-card monopoly. If that still doesn't slow them down enough, add a rule that the player who knocks can't play any utilities.

Endgame

If nobody knocks, then when the last card is drawn, that's the last turn of the game. (With a four-player game, that means just 4 1/2 turns apiece! Work fast! Make deals!)

At the end of the game, each player picks up any cards he may still have in his trade pile, creates his best hand, and lays it down. Leftover cards are penalized as follows:

Alternate Rule: If you are not the player who knocked, and you are left with a wad of three or more low-value cards that must be played as single properties, you can instead group them all together as a "Pass Go" group and collect $200 for them in lieu of collecting individual rents. Strategy tip: this is good to do if you have 3 leftover cards that average less than 7, 4 cards that average less than 5, or 5 cards that average less than 4, and you can't play any of them as utilities.

If you knocked and you have leftover cards, or more than one group of utilities, or any cards that must be played as single properties, or anything else that breaks the rules, you screwed up. Your penalty is -$1000, you don't score your hand, and each of the other players gets a +$1000 bonus. Basically, you're going to lose. So pay attention.

Pass the deal, and play hands until somebody exceeds a set number, say, $10,000.

With these rules, you can play Monopoly® (excuse me, CardOpoly) anywhere you can find a deck of cards and a pad and pencil.

This game should be just as fast and family-friendly as the official Monopoly® card game. But I think CardOpoly has more of the feel of the boardgame. See what you think.


UNO: the Gathering

Uno the GatheringI've got a deck (okay, three decks) of poker cards that have the same back design as the cards from the Magic: the Gathering CCG (Collectible Card Game). MtG's publisher, Wizards of the Coast, produced these early on as a promotional item, and after MtG became hugely successful they produced a retail box of two poker decks with a Serra Angel design on the box lid. If you weren't lucky enough to buy some of these when they were on the market, you can still pick them up online. I've seen them listed for as much as $50/deck on ebay, but online card stores like Troll and Toad will still sell you the 2-deck boxed set for $15 plus shipping.

Why should you care? Okay, I'm getting to that. Take a MtG poker deck and add, say, 15 or so regular Magic cards to it. Make these all cards that have to do with card drawing or discarding. For example, the Catalog (draw 2 cards, then discard 1) or Ravenous Rats (target opponent discards a card) cards I've shown here. Play an UNO-like game and have a ball. The UNO rules are online here, but in a nutshell here's how you'll have to adapt to this environment:

You could also agree that other Magic cards would act as UNO's Skip, Reverse, Wild, and Wild Draw 4 cards. (You can play Wild and Wild Draw 4 cards at any time - these allow you to change the suit in play to any suit you choose, including the current suit.)
For example, you could say, "Uh, hey? Man? How about we let these 4 Rods of Ruin be, like, Skip cards, m'kay? And maybe we could, like, let these 4 Black Louses be, like, Wild Draw 4 cards, m'kay? And maybe..." Something like that.
You can play just one game at a time, or you can keep score. Winner gets ALL the points in ALL the other players hands. Cards are counted by their face value (with J=11,Q=12,K=13), or by number=5 pts. and face card=10 pts., which is easier. Draw and Skip cards are worth 20 pts., and Wild cards are worth 50 points. Play to some point total, like 500.
Or make up your own house rules. I really don't care. Just relax and have some fun.


Tetra


There are lots of checkers on the board, but only the ones outlined in yellow form a winning combination.

This game is for two players

Get out your checkerboard and checkers. Lots of checkers. You'll probably need two full sets of checkers to play this game, maybe more. If you don't have enough checkers, use nickels and pennies—call the nickels 'black' and the pennies 'red'.

Take turns placing a checker of either color on any square on the board. You're trying to get four in a row, but here's the catch:

You win if you get four in a row where the color of the checkers and the colors of the squares match. For example, if you have a row of red, black, red, black on squares of matching color, you win.

You also win if you get four in a row where the colors of the checkers don't match the colors of the squares they're on. For example, if you get a red on black, black on red, red on black, black on red, you win!

Remember, whoever gets four in a row either way first, wins.

Even though this game sounds simple, there's something about human perception that makes it hard to see the color combinations you're looking for. Try it!


Rochester Poker


Lucky you! You were dealt the perfect hand! Too bad you're playing Rochester Poker, and you'll have to pass four of those perfect cards to your neighbor!

This is a poker game for up to 10 players, using a single deck of playing cards with no Jokers.

Standard poker hand rankings are in effect, no 'wild' cards.

  1. Each player antes a set amount. (You can use Texas Hold'em ante rules if you want to.)
  2. Each player is dealt five cards face-down. After a round of betting (during which players may, of course, drop out) each player keeps one card and passes the other four to the player on his left (skip any players who have dropped out).
  3. Each player combines the cards passed to him with his 'hold' card. There's another round of betting.
  4. Each player then passes three cards to the player on his left, then bets again. Repeat the process for two cards, then one.
  5. Once the hand is over, the deal passes to the left.

May the best poker player win!

Alternate Rule: You can play a variant of this game, which I'll call 'Rochester Stud', in which each player is required to keep his 'hold' cards each time, merely selecting the one he wishes to add to his hold cards each time cards are passed.
Alternate Alternate Rule: You only pass three cards the first hand and keep two. Or you keep three cards and pass two. Whatever is less painful.
Note: The name 'Rochester Poker' comes from a tournament format of the CCG (Collectible Card Game) Magic: The Gathering. In this format, each player opens a packet of cards, chooses one, and passes the remaining cards to his neighbor. So now you know where my inspiration comes from.

Sixes Suck

Sixes Suck is a Solitaire game. You'll need four dice, a set of double-six dominoes, and all thirteen cards from any one suit of a deck of playing cards (don't use diamonds—it's hard to see how the pips are arranged).

Note: You'll realize eventually that you don't really need the cards—but they will help you with setup and scoring while you're learning the game.

Lay out the cards and dominoes as shown. Notice that each number card is accompanied by a domino whose spots are arranged in exactly the same way as the pips on the cards Each face card has been assigned a domino to go with it that makes some sort of sense if you take into account the value these cards are sometimes given in certain games: i.e. 11 for the Jack and 12 for the Queen. The King is assigned the double-blank, and the Ace gets the blank/one domino.

Toss four dice, and group them into pairs, trying to match the spot pairs on dominoes that are associated with cards.

Note: For a much easier game—in fact, one you can win every time!—start with five dice.

Blanks are 'wildcards'. For example, if you made a pair of '1-6' you could match that with the Ace. Any two dice will match the King.

Each time you match a card-associated domino, move it face-down onto its corresponding card. You're done scoring that point.

If you can't match a card-associated domino, match a non-associated domino and turn it face-down.

If you can't match any dominoes (and remember, blanks are wild!) then remove one die and continue play with three dice.

If you are playing with three dice, match any pair of dice with a single domino, ignoring the extra die. If you can't, remove another die and continue.

If you are down to playing with two dice and you can't make a match, the game is over.

Match all of the card-associated dominoes before you run out of dice and you win the game!

Note: When you are playing with four dice, you will match two dominoes per turn. When you are playing with three or two dice, you will match one domino per turn.

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