Maybe it’s snowing outside or maybe it’s just too dang cold to go to the park or maybe you’re caught in a torrential downpour. Either way, you’re stuck inside and you’re looking for some easy, games for the family. Card games, dad, are your best bet. They take no time to set up, can go anywhere, and there’s no little pieces to lose under the couch or step on in the middle of the night.
So where to start? From War to Peanut Butter & Jelly, these are the 21 best, easy card games for kids that can be ranged from toddlers to teens, and can be two-player or more, that are fun, simple, and sure to get everyone laughing and happily competitive.
Players: 2 to 6
How to Play: One of the oldest and best-known card games in the world — it’s called “Vieux Garçon” or “Old Boy” in France — the history of Old Maid dates back to the 1600s. And while they’ve sold any number of fancy decks in stores since the 19th century, it’s just as easy to play with a traditional deck of cards. The objective is to get rid of all the cards in your hand without getting stuck with the one unmatched Queen, or Old Maid. It’s a fun game partly because there are multiple winners, but only one loser.
First remove one of the Queens from the deck before dealing all the cards face-down, one at a time to each player in a clockwise rotation. Players then look at their cards and remove any pairs, laying them face down on the table. The first player to go (usually the one to the left of the dealer) then holds their entire fan of cards face down and allows the player to their left to choose one. If they make a pair, it’s placed face up, and play continues in a similar fashion around the table. Eventually, all the pairs are made and one player, the “Old Maid” is stuck holding the lone Queen.
How to Play: Simply deal the entire deck face down between the two players so that each has a stack of 26 cards. Without looking at the cards, players simultaneously turn one over on the table ⏤ the higher number wins both cards. If both cards are the same, it’s a ‘war.’ Players then deal three cards face down followed by one card face up. Now, the higher numbers takes all 10 cards. Play continues until one player is out of cards and either angry or crying.
Players: 2 to 5
How to Play: If there are two to three players, deal each player seven cards face down, one at a time, in a clockwise rotation. If there are more players, everybody gets five cards. The rest are the ‘pond’ and are scattered face down in the middle of the table. After organizing the cards in their hand by number or royals (Jacks, Queens, etc.), the player to the left of the dealer begins by asking anyone in the group if they have any of a specific number, one they already have in hand.
For example, Matt might ask: “Julie, do you have any Aces.” If Julie does, she turns them all over to Matt and he can ask if she has any of a different number. If she doesn’t, she says “Go Fish!” and Matt selects a card from the pond. If Matt collects enough Aces through his inquiries to form a book, he must lay them face up on the table. After collecting a card from the pond, however, his turn ends. Play continues clockwise until all the books have been collected. The player with the most sets wins.
How to Play: Another easy card game for kids that’s sold ready-to-go in a boxed version, Memory is just as well played with an ordinary deck of cards laid out face down in a grid (or shattered all over the table/floor if you want to make it more challenging). The goal is simple, match all the cards in sets of two. Play starts with one child turning over two cards in hopes of finding a match. If a match is made, they keep both cards. If not, they note the exposed card’s number and position before turning them back over. The person to the left then takes a turn and play continues in a clockwise rotation until all the cards have been matched. The player with the most cards/number of sets wins.
Players: 2 to 6
How to Play: A frenetic physical card game that involves quick reflexes, Slap Jack is for slightly older kids (at least those who can recognize the difference between a Jack, Queen, and King) and involves trying to win cards by being the first player to slap the stack. There’s not a lot in terms of strategy, and it’s a fun game to up the energy level of a room. Deal out the entire deck, face-down and one at a time, until each player had a stack of cards. The person sitting to the left of the dealer then turns over one card and places it face-up in the middle of the table. Moving to the left, each player follows suit and does the same. When a Jack is played, however, players race to be the first person to physically slap the pile of cards in the middle of the table. The first to do so wins the pot and adds them to the bottom of their card stack. When a player runs out of cards, they have one more chance to slap a Jack to get back in the game, but if they fail to do so, they’re out. Play continues until one person collects all the cards.
How to Play: Each eight is 50 points, each K, Q, J, or 10 is 10 points, each ace is one point, and each other card is the ‘pip’ value, which is the number of symbols on the cards.
Deal five cards, face down to each player. Leave the rest of the cards face down at the center of the table. This is the ‘stock.’ The dealer turns the top card up from the stack and places it in a separate pile. If an eight is turned, it’s buried in the middle of the pack.
Starting to the left of the dealer, each player must place one card face-up on the stock pile that matches the suit or number of the card showing on the starter pile. So if a King of Hearts is played, the next card either has to be a King or a Heart. If no one can play, the dealer draws from the stock and puts a new card face-up on the pile until a play is possible. If unable to play until the stock is exhausted, the player has to pass. All eights are considered wild cards and can be used at any time in a turn and can represent any denomination or symbol.
The player who is the first to have no cards left wins the game, and the winning player collects from each other player the value of the cards remaining in that player’s hand. (For playing with kids, use M&M’s or jelly beans instead of money.)
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Players: 4, 6, or 8
How to Play: Peanut Butter & Jelly is a team-based card game. A dealer deals four cards to each player, and the teams split up to determine what their ‘sign’ will be (tugging an ear, winking, coughing — you get the idea) if someone gets a hand of cards that contains all four of the same suit or face value.
The dealer picks up a card and can either pass it or put it in their deck in order to build four of a kind. When a player gets their four-of-a-kind, they signal their partner with their signal. If their partner sees it, they yell “Peanut Butter.” That team wins. But, if a player on the other team thinks that they see the other team signaling one another, they yell “Jelly,” and that team wins even if they haven’t put together four-of-a-kind.
How to Play: Spoons is a lot like PB&J but without teams and with a set of spoons in the middle of the table, one fewer spoon than player. It’s much more of an ‘every player for themselves sort of game. Players sit in a circle with the same setup and objective to get four cards of the same suit or kind. The first player to reach the goal grabs a spoon. If someone grabs a spoon, everyone else can, and the only person without a spoon can’t play in the next round. The game goes on until there’s only one winner.
How to Play: Each player is dealt five cards to form a hand, and then 15 more cards face down to form a draw pile. Take jokers from the deck. Then, two single cards are placed in between the players, face down, and a pile of five cards on each side of those two single cards are also placed face down. Each player flips the single card at the same time and discards their cards one by one, using only one hand, by either moving up one or down one in numerical card order. Players refill their hand constantly to have five cards in their hands at all times. When there are no more moves on the two cards, players each flip a card from the deck of 5 and continue until they run out of cards. Whoever runs out of cards first yells “Speed!” and wins the game. The game is usually a two out of three game, determining the winner in a sort of Rock, Paper, Scissors type manner. This is a great game to play in a tournament-style if you have more than one deck of cards, where winners of games play against one another, etc.
How to Play: This game is definitely for toddlers, but it’s fun and simple. The dealer throws 52 cards on the ground. Someone else (usually a very young kid) picks them up. Kind of a last-ditch-effort-how-to-entertain-my-kid type of game, but that’s fine.
I Doubt It! (AKA ‘Bullshit’)
How to Play: Sit in a circle and divide the entire deck (minus the Joker, of course) among all the players. Whoever has the Ace of Spades starts the game by placing that card in the center of the circle. Then, the game moves clockwise — the next player places all of their 2’s in the center, face down in the center of the deck. If the player doesn’t have any 2’s, they place down any cards they have to keep the game-play going and the next round. The next player puts down all their 3’s, 4’s, and more. If another player thinks someone is bluffing when they put down their cards, they can say “I Doubt It!.” If they are right, the player picks up the stack of cards in the middle. If they are wrong, the accuser has to pick up the cards in the middle. The first player to get rid of all of their cards wins. It’s a fun game that can test your kid’s lying skills.
President (otherwise known as Asshole, Scum, or Capitalism, but let’s keep it kid-friendly)
How to Play: It’s like spades or bridge, but with hierarchical gameplay and dealing pattern. It might take a few rounds for the gameplay to make sense — it’s more confusing than Speed or 52-card pick-up — but once it’s picked up it’s an easy game. There’s also a value order to the cards and kids have to learn what ‘trick’ games are, so this is more of a project than a simple game.
My Ship Sails
How to Play: The game is like Spoons or PB&J but there is only one winner and three losers. Grab a regular deck. Each player is dealt 7 cards and the rest are set aside. Players pick up their hand and discard one card to the table on their right. Then, everyone picks up the discard card on their right, which becomes a part of their hand. The first player to get 7 cards of the same suit says “my ship sails” and lays their hand down, face-up, on the table. If two players get a suit at the same time, the winner is the player with the highest-ranking card.
How to Play: Menagerie is a really high-energy, funny game that will have you bursting into stitches. To play Menagerie, each player chooses an animal name that is long and hard to say. (Not cow, Bos taurus, not Horse but Equus caballus, etc. You get the idea.) Each player writes up the names of the animals on slips of paper, which are folded up and shaken in a box like a game of charades. Each player takes a slip of paper out of the box and whatever they grab is their animal for the rest of the game. Then, each player learns all the names of the animals. Cards are then dealt clockwise and kept face down.
The player to the left of the dealer turns the card on top of his deck over to start a pile that’s face-up, and every other player does the same. When a player notices that another player’s face-up card is of the same rank (i.e. number or King, Queen, etc) he has to shout the name of the other player’s animal three times. The first player to shout the name three times without messing up wins the other player’s face-up pile, which he adds to the bottom of his face-down pile. The game is over when one person collects all the cards. They’re the winner.
Snip, Snap, Snorem
How to Play: Snip Snap Snorem is like “I Don’t Buy It” without all the lying. It requires a standard playing card deck. The dealer passes out all the cards, face down, to each player. The player to the left of the dealer places any card in the middle of the game area, and to complete the set, each player going clockwise tries to complete a set of cards. So, if someone puts down a King of Hearts, the next player would try to put down a King in a different suit. If a player can’t build on the set, their turn is passed. The player who lays down the fourth card plays the next set. The trick of the game is that players must say either Snip, Snap, or Snorem while building on a set — Snip being the second card, Snap being the third, and Snorem being the fourth. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins the game.
How to Play: The dealer deals cards face down to each player until all the cards have been dealt. Starting to the left of the dealer, players pull the top card of their pile and place it face-up on the table in the middle of the table. If the card is a number card, the next player puts down a card. This continues until someone puts down a face card (J, Q, K, or an A.) When a face or Ace is played, the next person has to also play a Face or an ace. If the next player can’t play a face or ace card, the person who played the last face card wins the round and gets the whole pile, then starts the next round of play.
If you want to make the game a bit more competitive, you can add the ‘slap rule.’ The first player to slap the pile of cards is the winner of that round when the slap rules are put into effect. If you slap the pile when the slap rules don’t apply (which are numerous) then you have to add two cards to the bottom of the pile. The person who ends the game with all the cards wins.
Players: 3+, but best with more than 5 and less than 8
How to Play: Mao is one of the more fun and frustrating games ever created, — partly because when you play, you can never explain the rules to new players. In fact, new players are often told “the only rule you may be told is this one.” Each player is dealt an initial hand of the same number of cards — which is usually three cards but can sometimes be 7. You can combine decks if you’re playing with more than three people. The dealer has to say “the game of Mao has officially begun.” The player to the left of the dealer begins and the game proceeds clockwise.
While the rules aren’t explained to new players, there are common rules that are often used to play the game. Some, for example, include that aces cause the next player to skip their turn, spade cards must be named out loud when played, if someone puts down a seven, they have to draw a penalty card and they have to announce “have a nice day.” The next person then has to say “have a very nice day” and the player after that draws two penalty cards. The “verys” increase as long as sevens can be played. So, look around, establish some rules, and become the keeper of the rules for your family. It will be a hilarious game.
Like “I Don’t Buy It” or “Speed,” the object of the game is to get rid of all of the cards in your hand, and when players break the rules (which are discovered only through observing the gameplay) they have to take a card from the deck. Have fun!
Play or Pay
How to Play: In Play or Pay, the cards rank with the Kings being the highest value and the Ace being the lowest. Deal cards, one at a time, clockwise, until all the cards in the deck are dealt. The goal of the game is, of course, to be the first player to get rid of all of the cards. All cards that are played remain face-up on the table in four rows of four suits. To play, the player to the left of the dealer begins, and can play any card. From that point, whatever suit the player puts down has to be built up until all thirteen cards are played and the sequence has to work in a continuous pattern (if you start with a 10, you have to go to J, Q, K, etc., you can’t play all around the deck. If you hit a King, you can play an Ace and move back up the deck.) If a player is unable to play a turn, they put one chip (use candy!) in the pot in the middle of the table. Whoever plays the thirteenth card of any suit can choose any card from their hand to begin the next series. The first player to get rid of all their cards? Wins all the candy.
How to Play: Using a standard 52-card deck, the object of the game is to obtain a hand that totals 31 in cards of one suit, or have a hand at the showdown whose count in one suit is the highest of any other player. Aces are high and two’s are low. An ace is worth 11 points, face cards 10, and all others are their face value.
The dealer deals to the left. Three cards are dealt, face down, to each player, then three are dealt face up to be the ‘widow.’ To begin, players put an equal number of chips into a pot (see: candy!) The player to the dealer’s left gets to play first. On each turn, a player can take one card from the widow pile and replace it with one card from their hand. They want to try to find cards that will help them meet their objective — to either have a count that totals 31 of one suit or obtain a hand at the showdown which is the highest of any other player.
Players take turns clockwise until one player believes that what they hold will beat the other players. A player says they’re ready by knocking on the table, and all other players can get one more turn to exchange cards. Then, the showdown happens — the players reveal their hands and compare values. The player with the highest value total of cards, within the same suit, wins the pot (see: candy!)
If two players tie for the highest score, the player with the highest-ranking card wins. And any time a player holds exactly 31 points, they can knock immediately and win the pot. If a player knocks before the first round of exchanges has begun, the showdown occurs immediately and players can’t exchange cards to try to win.
House of Cards
How to Play: Build a house of cards. Spend hours doing it. Try not to cry when it falls apart. Cry. Cry a lot.
How to Play: Hearts is a trick-taking card game with anywhere from three to six players. They’re like Bridge, Spades, and President, which are also trick-taking games. The rules are a little bit complicated, but like Bridge and Spades, are easy to get a handle on after you play a round.
How to Play: Three Thirteen is a variation of Rummy, but requires two decks of cards. The dealer deals three cards to each player, and the dealer passes to the left in every round. In the second round, the dealer deals four cards to each player; five in the next; and thirteen in the final round. When it’s a player’s turn, he draws one of two cards. He can draw the top card from the discard pile or the top of the deck. Then he discards one card from his hand and places that card on the discard pile to conclude his turn.
The object of Three Thirteen is to get all the cards in your hand to two sets. A set is defined by two parameters: three or more cards of the same rank, such as 6-6-6-, or a sequence of three or more cards of the same suit, such as a J-Q-K of Diamonds. Sets can contain more than three cards, but the same card can’t be in multiple sets, so if you have a Queen in one set you can’t have a Queen in another. But what you want is the fewest number of points — you’ll need to check out how to calculate points — because the player who has the fewest points and two sets at the end of the final round wins. It’s a little more involved than other games, so play a few rounds to get the rules down.
With so many easy card games for kids, it might be worth keeping a spare box in the glove compartment. Not only do they provide screen-free entertainment options, but the opportunities for interaction and tradition building are great upsides that even the best entertainment apps have difficulty matching. And you may even find the inspiration to create a new card game that’s perfect for your family.