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The unfussy simplicity of a deck of cards

While there is much to miss about those sweet (albeit exhausting) baby years, having elementary-school aged children is full of new freedoms – and new fun.

When the little sister can singlehandedly trounce the whole family in a merciless game of Sorry!, you know you’re in a new season of life – and a new season of amusement.

I’ve always enjoyed games. When it comes to board games, I’m partial to classics like Trivial PursuitScrabble, and chess, though I’ve also engaged in epic rounds of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan.

The unfussy simplicity of a deck of cardsMy favorite childhood memories aren’t of board games, but card games.

My sister and I played endless rounds of Speed and War. On family vacations in South Carolina, as soon as the dishes were cleared the decks were procured. We never could beat my Grandma, the indomitable card shark.

There’s something to be said for the unfussy simplicity of a deck of cards.

They can be used to play hundreds (thousands?) of games without a single expansion pack. They can even double up as building blocks in a pinch.

I know that some folks view card games with suspicion. They can get sketchy, no doubt, especially when gambling is involved.

I don’t advocate betting on Blackjack at a Las Vegas casino any more than I encourage playing online poker for real money. But there’s a significant difference between a financially ruinous addiction and a lighthearted diversion for a group of friends or family.

The unfussy simplicity of a deck of cardsHere are a few classic card games. Of course, it’s always best to learn from someone who knows how to to play!

  • Bridge [Full confession: I had to research Bridge to confirm that it is in fact played with a traditional deck of cards. It is a notoriously tricky game that requires complicated interplay between partners (which is to say, it’s caused a lot of fights between spouses who take the risk of teaming up at the Bridge table). This article almost inspired me to take it up.]
  • Canasta 
  • Hearts
  • Euchre
  • Tripoley [This is a hybrid game, played with both a board and cards.]

Cutting a deck of cards isn’t quite the same as slicing a loaf of bread, but playing a game and sharing a meal both gather people together around the table, in the flesh. And that’s a good thing.

I can’t wait to teach my girls how to shoot the moon.



Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Andrea

    Yes!! I totally agree with cards’ usefulness and portability. I grew up playing card games with my family ALL the time. I was shocked when I went to college and realized most people don’t know basics like what “sets” and “runs” are! But I taught them 😉 I also carry a deck of cards on plane rides and to casual restaurants some of the time. I played rummy with a stranger on a plane once! Made the time fly 🙂

  2. Thora

    My family spent hours and hours and hours playing canasta (and the extension of it, with more decks, hand and foot) – often on cold winter nights. I have such fond memories of these games. I have never taught my own children this game (although my oldest is only almost eleven, so the rest are young yet). It’s true how so many games now days have lots of complicated parts and moving pieces, and how much fun and different games you can do with just a deck of cards. Even games like go fish can be played with a regular deck.

  3. Tsh Oxenreider

    I absolutely love this, Katherine!

  4. Amber

    Thanks for the suggestions!
    We love card games! For Christmas we gave the kids a book called The Ultimate Book of Family Card Games by Oliver Ho (an awesome resource) and a deck of Harry Potter playing cards. The kids have enjoyed all the games we’ve played so far and we play any chance we get! We’ll check these out too!

  5. Amy

    I’m a big lover of card games! All of my friends and family are big on games, but mostly card games 🙂 my siblings and I also grew up playing a lot of war, idiot, speed, nertz, and as I got older, up the river-down the river, pinochle, and lots more nertz haha! In fact, more often than not, when I get together with my friends, sisters, or aunts and cousins, that’s what we’re playing 🙂 You just can’t beat a good ol’ game night with a deck (or 7) of cards haha.

    • Hannah Beth Reid

      Nertz is the best card game in the world, in my opinion! So glad to see it mentioned here!

  6. Amy Rogers Hays

    My family loves to play ShangHai Rummy (with at least 2 decks of cards, but more if more people are playing!) Growing up we played bridge (2 kids, 2 adults) but it was a lot of family drama, so now that my brother and I are married, I’m happy that we play ShangHai instead. But I do love some good European-style board games (I wrote about my favorites here:

  7. Jillian

    As a child we spent many hours playing card games. From the basic Sevens or Go Fish, we progressed to Knock Out Whist & then Diminishing Whist (also known as Up & Down the River). Friends taught us Tripoly which then became a family favorite.

  8. Linda Sand

    I learned to play Canasta before I could hold that many cards in my hand. Now I have what I call my “card pack” that has traveled everywhere with us since our daughter was about 3 years old and we took it backpacking. It is a folded over, quart-size, Ziplock freezer bag that holds 2 decks of cards, 6 dice, a keychain-sized cribbage board, a small tablet and a golf pencil. Besides all those card games mentioned above (except Tripoly and pinochle) we can play Yahtzee, Farkel or Bunco. We’ve met new friends by playing in public lounges like on trains or cruise ships since this card pack is small enough to go in a purse or carry-on luggage.

  9. Colleen

    This is so timely! We were stuck on at the airport during a 5+ hour flight delay and our screens were all dead. Luckily we found a deck of cards in my husband’s carry on. 21 (aka Blackjack) saved the day!! Plus, it helped my 2nd grader practice her addition skills. We played cards up, so she had to add EVERYONE’s cards. 😉 I grew up playing all different kinds of card games. I am definitely going to bring more of them into our family game night.

  10. Lisa

    We love card games too. When I was little, canasta and cribbage were games on those ‘too sick for school and too well for bed’ days. We also had the Hoyle book, with many variations of solitaire, as well as rules for most card games. Go ahead, shoot the moon!

  11. Laura in Little Rock

    We’re a Canasta family. We’ll play Spades if too few people know Canasta. No telling the hours we spent playing. Usually while a pot of Fudge bubbled on the stove to be monitored & stirred by those not actively playing.
    My go-to with younger kiddoes is a zipper / bank bag of dominoes to be kept on the car. Ideal for games or building projects whenever needed. Restaurants, doctors offices, wherever.

  12. Elizabeth

    I am certain we are related, but I am suddenly questioning everything I know to be true (I PRETTY MUCH HATE PLAYING CARDS, did you not know this about me?). I think it is one part genes from Charles Watson and one part mama wouldn’t let me make up my own rules for War when I was four and I threw a fit and she said she would never play cards with me again.

  13. Elizabeth

    p.s. Your nieces LOVE cards. I am the outlier weirdo.

  14. Karen

    Never was into card games much other than Solitaire but reading this post reminded me of the time I played ‘SPOONS’ at someone’s house and loving it. Takes a deck of cards and spoons. Haha.

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