Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Tue 9th May, 2006

Two Player Card Games

I hear your cry, Simon. Let's start with the game that I would play with two players.

Bartok is a game in the 'crazy eights' group - in other words, it's like Uno. I play a simple set of rules like this:

  1. The dealer deals five cards to each player one at a time, and one face up in the middle. The player on the dealer's left starts.
  2. You match what's on the top of the middle pile by suit (spades match spades) or rank (three matches three, jack matches jack).
  3. If you can't go, you pick up a card (from the deck).
  4. If you do something against the rules, you pick up a card.
  5. The first person to get rid of all their cards during their go is the winner of that round, and invents a new rule for the game.
It's best to start with simple, Uno-like rules at first. Draw twos, Skips, Reverses, Wild cards, and saying a key word on your last card. But you can get much more adventurous - rules that swap people's hands, or move cards around, or allow you to put an extra card down, or cards which allow you to play out of turn. Some people start with a rule:

6
If you ask a question, you pick up a card.
But I find that stifles things, leading to a very silent and rather tense game. But, for sure, add it in if you like. There's a good list at Malcolm R's Nomic directory. The real fun part of Bartok is to have a rule which is slightly different to what you were expecting or is usual. "If you play a two, the next person draws three", or "If you play an Ace, then the next player can put any card on it", or "You can play an Ace on any suit except the suit of the Ace".

In one game we had the "Sorry" rule, where if you did something against the rules and another person gave you a card before you picked one up yourself, then you had to say "Sorry" to them. Not doing so counted as an illegal action... This continued until we had the "You're Welcome" rule, where the person being said Sorry to as a result of the Sorry rule had to say "You're Welcome" to the Sorry-sayer. Not doing so also counted as an illegal action... Anything that gets players interacting usually works well.

Of course, with only two players you need a bit more creativity. Two player Uno is possible, but it tends toward 'runs' of one player consecutively playing because 'skip', 'reverse' and 'draw two' are all deemed to miss the other player. The flexibility of Bartok allows you to go for keeping play going between players consistently. I also like the idea of giving each new rule a name and having to invoke it when playing, leading to a dialogue like that from Tom Stoppard's play "The Real Inspector Hound":

1: I ruff
2: I huff
1: I bluff
2: I bark
1: I twist
2: I knip one
1: Snap
2: You're in spoon
1: Oh? Damn.
2: I advance
3: I fold
1: What are you doing here?

But maybe that's just my Mornington Crescent playing sensibilities coming through.

Otherwise, there's a huge list of two-player games at what seems to be the ultimate resource for card games, John McLeod's website. There's even a version of Cripple Mister Onion - don't use the http://jump.to/cmo link, it's infested with adware. You'd think these people would at least detect that I'm running Linux and haven't got a frigging registry, so not only can't I download some software to scan it, but your ad that pretends to do so and says I have 47 errors in my registry makes me want to offer you up to Cthulhu as a plaything. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

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