Sticks is a game I first heard of a couple years ago and it’s spread through my family and friends like wildfire since. It’s a card game that plays similarly to Phase 10: collect certain groups of cards (runs, sets, etc.) before your opponents and try to get rid of all your cards first in the round. But the unique part is the sticks themselves: instead of having a preset list of what to collect each round you draw a random stick and try to collect whatever it says. You never know if you’ll get an easy stick or a difficult one!
First thing you’ll need to do is create a set of sticks. You can buy crafting sticks at your local craft store and then create some nice labels or just write on them with a Sharpie. Grab a list of the sticks online and a container to put the finished sticks in for people to draw from and you’re ready to go. Technically you don’t have to use sticks, you could use poker chips or cards or whatever, but come on that just wouldn’t be right!
Next grab yourself three decks of cards (including jokers) and shuffle them all together. Each player gets a whopping 15 cards and draws a stick. Then play proceeds with each player either drawing from the stack or taking the last player’s discard and then discarding one. 2s and jokers are wild (some people play 3s are wild too but that seems like a bit much to me) and it’s actually illegal to discard one. Once a player has collected what’s on his stick he can lay those cards down and flip over his stick. He can also lay down any additional sets or runs he has. He can also lay off any of his cards onto anyone else who has already completed a stick. So if another player has a set of jacks you can put any jacks you have onto it (but only once you’ve completed your stick).
The round ends when someone has gotten rid of all their cards. At that point anyone who made their stick draws a new one for the next round and the poor suckers who didn’t make theirs have to try it again. Mercifully, if you attempt a stick three times and can’t complete it you can throw it back in and draw a new one. Giving everyone a die to keep track of how many attempts they’ve made is helpful. Once someone has completed their seventh stick (or five or three if you want a shorter game) they win immediately. One thing a lot of people like about sticks is there is no scorekeeping: first to seven sticks wins!
One interesting part of the game is that there is absolutely no attempt to make the sticks balanced. Some are very easy and some are very difficult. If you get a difficult stick you have to hope to get lucky and/or that your opponents don’t get too far ahead while you’re stuck in neutral.
It’s not like there is a ton of strategy to the game; it’s a fun but not super-deep kind of game. I can offer a few tips though:
- Pay attention to what your left-hand opponent is collecting and try to not give him cards that will help him out.
- Oddly, 5s, 6s, and 7s are very desirable cards because there is one stick that requires four 5s and four 6s and one that requires four 6s and four 7s and they’re the toughest sticks to complete. So avoid throwing any of those cards until you know your left-hand opponent isn’t collecting them.
- Most cards are mentioned on at least one stick but 3s, 4s, 8s, and 9s are pretty safe cards to throw away.
- If you’re trying to decide between picking up a marginally useful card from the discard pile or drawing take the draw. The chance of getting just the card you need or a wild is too great to pass up for a card that isn’t going to help you that much.
- If people have already gone out and your stick is totally hopeless you can “commit suicide” by discarding cards your opponent can use. Or if you can get everyone to agree you can just concede the round, throw in your cards and move on to the next one.
Overall it’s a fun game that’s very accessible, easy to teach, and can be enjoyed by anyone. Let me know if you want to play a game!