King Toad

King Toad is a family card game for 2-6 players that kids as young as five can play, with their parents and grandparents, even. And, if necessary, with each other.

There are 12 sets of cards numbered 1-4, and another set of 12 “King Cards.” There’s also a set of 12 “toad-kens” – cardboard coins (that punch out with delightfully satisfactory chadlessness) – used to keep score.

The player with the longest tongue starts the game. This moment of somewhat intimate tongue comparison beautifully establishes the tone of the game – competitive, perhaps, but definitely not a game that one can take seriously.

The deck is shuffled (the cards, when new, are somewhat shuffle-resistant, so either a mature shuffler or a brief session of collaborative, table-top card smushing is recommended for the first few rounds). Each player gets six cards.

The longest-tongued player starts the game by playing any card that has a One on it. Unfortunately, the rules don’t explicitly describe what to do if the player doesn’t have a One. But it doesn’t seem to matter what card starts the game, as long as the next player plays the next higher card. When a Four is reached, the next card played is a One. And so on. Unless, of course, someone chooses to play a King Toad card. In that event, the King Toad card player gets to determine which card (anything from One to Four) is next. To signal her decision, the King Toad says “ribbit,” then sticks her tongue out one to four times while everyone counts, and then she says “ribbit” once more. This is impossible to do without someone laughing or giggling.

When a player has neither the required card or a King Toad, he has to pick a card from the deck. The first player to get rid of all the cards in his hand wins.

Designed by Garrett J. Donner, Brian S. Spence, and Michael S. Steer with wonderfully humorous, courtly art by Paul Sharp, King Toad proves to be an occasion for much shared, familial delight. The rounds are brief. The whole game can be played in less than a half-hour. The rules are so simple that the game can be taught in less than five minutes, and can be easily modified to accommodate differences in skill and mood.

Older children might start to strategize when they play a King Toad card, counting players to try to determine if, when it’s their turn, they’ll have what they need to continue the game. Though strategies can easily come to naught if someone else plays a King Toad, but they’ll still fun trying to outwit the other family members, and, if necessary, fate itself.

With a touch of strategy and more than enough luck and silliness to keep anyone from taking the game seriously, and the unstrained pace of the game, King Toad will prove a family treasure.

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