An Inexpensive Diversion
My digital era middle-school-aged son has adopted the use of a low-tech, low-cost entertainment device. I have put much effort into convincing him to balance his love of technology with quieter pursuits that don’t require electricity, batteries, or cash, so when he took a break from making Youtube videos (produced using hypercam to record computer-screen action, then edited via PowerPoint), I was pleased. He loves the versatility of his newfound toy; I love the price tag.
His turnaround came after a week at Boy Scout camp, where electronics are banned and card games are taught. Shortly after coming home, he begged for a deck of cards. I couldn’t find any at the house, so I went to the dollar store, where I purchased a pack for, oddly, 50 cents plus tax. (I paid using change).
Then, he told me that cards are superior to the typical board game because you could play lots of different games and weren’t tied down to one in particular.
My scout taught our family his favorite game from camp, “Mao,” beginning with the rule that you can’t tell the rules, which the observant person will find is in violation of the rules. For more on Mao, see this Party Games website or Wikipedia’s article on Mao.
My older son had a similar, though less dramatic, experience after several days at a youth retreat in the mountains. He spends less time tinkering with the computer and more time reading so playing cards didn’t make quite the impression on him. Still, he enjoyed playing El Presidente and then teaching us (my husband, his younger brother, a friend, and me) the card game on an overnight hiking trip.
Here’s his version of the game:
- Equipment: full deck of cards
- Number of players: at least 3, better with 4-7
- Setup: all cards are dealt, as evenly as possible; everyone sits in a circle or somehow close enough to pick up and put down cards with ease, but not see others’ cards; the person who has the 4 of clubs starts the game
- Object: to get rid of all your cards and be named El Presidente
- 3 is the highest value card, then 2, Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4.
- Each game usually involves multiple rounds; the person who starts the game or wins the most recent round, decides whether cards should be placed in singles, doubles, or triples (that is, if one 7 is placed at first, then that round is singles; two 7’s, doubles; three 7’s, triples); when the round is over, then the deck is cleared and a new round starts.
- If all 4 of the same face-value cards (such as all of the Queens) are used in a round, then the deck is cleared.
- If two cards with the same face value are played in sequence (such as a 5, followed by a 5), then the next player is skipped (this “skip” still counts as a turn).
- Game Play: after the first card is placed, then the next player (clockwise or counterclockwise depending on what the dealer decides) must place a higher value card of any suit or pass on the turn; a round is over and the deck is cleared when someone plays the highest value card (a 3 in this version); if a card can’t be topped and all players have had a turn (either skipped or passed) – the person who has placed the last card down wins the round.
- Order of winners: the first person who gets rid of all his/her cards is declared El Presidente and the second person is Vice Presidente; the last person is Bum 2 and second to last person is Bum 1; all others are Middle Men.
- For the next session, Bum 2 must give El Presidente his/her two best cards in exchange for any two cards; Bum 1 must give Vice President his/her best card in exchange for any one card. El Presidente starts the next round.
Rules for this card game or any others can vary depending on the inclinations of the players. The ability to make a game more or less complicated is yet another advantage of cards.
A deck, with all its cards tucked away in a small box, is easy to transport in a backpack or duffle bag, providing ready entertainment at home, on camping trips, at off-the-grid lodges, and in airport waiting areas. Though I played cards some as a kid, I don’t think I recognized the value of a full deck as a highly portable, flexible, and inexpensive diversion, until now.