My sister made a recent comment about playing games as a kid and that got me thinking about the big group games we used to play as an extended family. My family, my Mom’s brother and his family, and my grandparents were all pretty tight-knit and spent a lot of time together, getting together for all the birthdays, major holidays, or just a weekend dinner. Most of the time games started shortly after dinner and the dishes were done.
We tended to have games on a rotation: we’d get into a game, play it for a while (“a while” might be years…), eventually get onto some other game and play it for a while, bring back another one, and so on. It’s always fun when you have a big group to play a familiar game, and we would usually have anywhere from 5 – 10 of us playing. Here are some of the games that made our rotation over and over again.
31 (aka Skat) – This is probably the game we played the most as a group. “Get out your 15 cents!” is still a recognizable call to arms in our family. It’s a pretty simple game but it’s a lot of fun and produces some good exciting moments. To play, each player gets 3 cards and on his turn can either pick up the top card off the discard pile or draw, then has to discard one card. The object is to collect 3 cards of the same suit that add up to the highest number possible. Aces are 11, facecards are 10, and everything else is spot value. Thus, the best hand is 31: an Ace along with two facecards or a facecard and the 10. It has to be the same suit though! Whenever a player has three cards of the same suit that add up to 19 or more he can go down. Everyone has to show their hand at that point, and whoever has the lowest total (remember, cards have to be in the same suit, so if you have three facecards but they’re all different suits your total is 10) puts one of his coins in the pot (we originally started with three nickels but eventually raised it to three quarters, much to my grandma’s dismay). If two or more people tie for lowest they all pay. And if someone goes down with 31 everyone else at the table pays – even if they have have a 31 also! When someone puts all three of their coins into the “chicken”* they can continue to play “on their face” until they have to pay again, then they’re out. And yes, we never got tired of making face jokes when we played: “Man, I wouldn’t want to have to play on that face!”
* we always called it the chicken because grandma has a little ceramic chicken we would use to put the money in
It’s fun and can be nerve-wracking too because you know you only have so many turns before someone is going down, and if you can’t draw any cards you know you’re going to have to pay. There’s also the ever-present danger of someone getting a 31, and the longer the game goes the more likely it is. Of course there’s the times when you have 31 and you’re just waiting for the turn to get back around to you. Unfortunately, sometimes the rest of the table will know you have it and won’t let you go down with it. It’s pretty fun and works well for anywhere from 4 to 10 people. And you can gamble a little bit so that’s fun too. Winning a pile of change was a pretty big deal when we were kids!
Tile Rummy/Rummikub – This one is probably more familiar to people. It’s like rummy except you use tiles and you put them in a common area (no individual melds). On his turn, in addition to adding more melds, a player can rearrange the tiles in play in order to be able to play something from his hand. So for example if there is a set of 7s on the table (one of each color) and a run of 4-5-6 in black, a player could take the extra black 7, put it at the end of the run, and then play a black 8 from his hand. That’s a simple example, and it can get quite convoluted when there’s a lot of tiles on the board and you’re trying to play that last one in your hand or avoid drawing. Games can take a while, especially if people aren’t paying attention.
Funny story: we played this game a lot when I was young but then it fell out of the rotation. Well, now my parents have brought it back so we’re playing it semi-regularly again. So I just recently discovered that I had been doing something totally illegal when I used to play as a kid. I didn’t realize it, and nobody ever called me on it. In fact, this is my first time confessing! What I was actually doing probably isn’t worth all the typing it would take to explain it, but it involved the 2 Jokers and how I was using them. Whoops! No wonder I won so much :p
Rage – This is a trick taking game that has 6 suits and a trump suit that can change in the middle of the hand through the use of special cards. You have to get the exact number of tricks you bid in order to score a bonus. It gets pretty dramatic because the trump can change, and there are “poison pills” that you can give to other players that subtract from their score. And it’s nerve-wracking when you need 2 more tricks to make your bid and you’re not sure you’re going to get them.
We’ve always made one little change to the rules that we think makes it more fun. There are 10 rounds and during the first round you’re supposed to have ten cards, nine cards in the second round, and all the way down to one card in the last round. We think it’s more fun and dramatic to start with one card and work your way up to 10, so that’s what we do.
This is another game that dropped out of the rotation but has gotten a recent revival. And just like Tile Rummy, the revival comes with a little twist for me. This time I didn’t find out I was cheating, but they actually changed a rule on me. In Rage bidding and making zero tricks is pretty easy. It’s a lot easier to lose tricks than to take them. So in the new version they cut the bonus for making your bid in half when you bid zero. That changes things up a lot, but I think it’s a good rule. I could practically win before just by bidding zero the whole time. Now you have to be more aggressive and I think that’s good. It’s similar to the sandbagging rule in Spades.
Golf – I talked about Golf in my previous post as a good 2 player game, but it’s even better in a group. My parents brought this game up from Arizona in 2006 (all those retired people with nothing to do but play games!) and it took the family by storm. It was all we played for a while, and we still bust it out on a regular basis. Everyone I’ve ever showed it to really enjoys it.
There were other games that we played once or twice or even played for a while but didn’t come back to. Games like Pass the Pig, Pit, Rook, and all kinds of others. For some reason we never got into Uno like a lot of families do. Too many games and not enough time…story of my life!