Pairs is a tiny “pub game” from our friends at Cheapass Games. The game consists of 55 cards numbered 1 to 10 and a very slim rule sheet. The value of the cards also tells you how many of the cards are in the deck, so 10 is the most common card and there is only a single card valued at 1.
Before I go any further, I should point out that although Pairs is remarkably well suited as a drinking game, it can be played to wonderfully fun effect with absolute teetotalers. We find that most games can be made more fun with the addition of alcohol, but Major Fun Award games do not require such inebriants. Pairs is entirely family appropriate.
The goal of the game is to not lose. You lose by accumulating points. Once one player hits a target score, that player loses and you start another game. To start, one card is dealt face up to each player and five cards are “burned” (dealt face down) to start a discard pile (this keeps players guessing what card values are in play). On your turn you have two choices: hit or fold. The player with the lowest card always starts.
When you hit, you draw a card from the deck. You turn the card face up in front of you so everyone can see. If the card is different from one you already have face-up, you are safe and play moves to the next player. If the card matches any face-up card you already have, you place that pair off to the side. You have just earned those points. For example, if already have a 6 a 7 and a 9 and you draw a 7, you earn seven points.
If you fold, you take the lowest valued face-up card on the table and earn those points. In the above example, if you have a 6, 7, and 9 and decide to fold, you would look at all the cards in front of all the players and take the lowest one.
When you take cards for points they are kept to the side until the end of the game (they are point counters and will not get shuffled into the deck until the game ends). As soon as a person earns points, either when they hit or fold, all players discard their face-up cards and then are dealt ONE new card. The game ends when someone hits a target number: 60 divided by players plus 1 (for a 2 player game it is 31, and for 6+ players it is 11).
The nature of pub games is to make the loser do something as “punishment” for losing. There can be small punishments for when someone earns points and a more significant punishment for losing a game. We found that pointing a laughing at the loser was sufficient but you can choose what is most appropriate for your group.
The game-play is fast and instinctive. The press-your luck mechanic is clever and really lends itself to goading. It feels really good to tease someone into taking a hit that results in a pair. I know that is childish and petty but nobody said Major Fun has to be high-brow and honorable. And seriously, if you are scared of taking a hit because you are looking at a 10 and an 8, then you really aren’t fit to sit at the big-kids table.
2-8 players. Ages 8+
Pairs was designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson and is © 2014 James Earnest and Hip Pocket Games.