Five Favorites: Games

27 August 2013

Finally jumping in with Hallie again since it's been way too long. This week will feature the games beloved of my family of origin.
- 1 -

4 players (without the expansion pack)

My family first played Settlers of Catan about eight years ago when my older brother brought it home after discovering it through his first boss out of college.

I imagine most of you are familiar with it, but for those of you who aren't... It's a four player game, and if everyone knows how to play and isn't TOO argumentative you're looking at about 90 minutes of commitment. Sorry, Monopoly and Risk people, I can't play board games that last for days.

Settlers actually plays a somewhat crucial role in my love story - even though it didn't make the official one - because after we first played Settlers together Jacob considered breaking up with me. Isn't that sweet?

Playing games with my family is such a charming experience, Jacob could hardly stand it. When my family plays games we're uber competitive, conniving, begrudging, and unforgiving. And the less a game brings out those qualities in us, the less likely we are to play it.

You ready for some more of our favorite games?

- 2 -
(2 - 3 players)

This is the game we play with my Nana, my father's mother who lives next door to my parents.

My grandmother teaches little kids to play card games as soon as they are old enough to hold a bridge hand. I think she taught me how to play Cribbage at age 7. And she's still teaching me how to play Bridge.

Playing Cribbage is full of nostalgia for me and I suspect it always will be so I can't really speak to how "objectively" fun it is. It involves a fair amount of addition, so I suppose it's good for developing numerical skills. You get points for every grouping of cards that add up to a sum of 15. Jacob calls it a "math game" and hates it.

The best Cribbage hand is three 5s and a jack in your hand and then cutting the deck to expose the fourth 5.

In her 93 years, my grandmother has never gotten that hand, but she's dealt it to her opponents twice. One of those opponents was me five years ago. The memory exists in my mind in slow motion. The family was visiting me while I lived in Rome, and we were on a train to Assisi. My grandmother and I were playing a relatively lackluster game of Cribbage. I picked up my six cards and discarded two of them leaving me with the three fives and a jack. I think I showed it to my brother who was seated next to me. His eyes got huge. I cut the deck and there she was: the fourth five. My mother screamed and said it was a miracle, and the family was generally in a hooplah because we all knew that I was holding a once in a lifetime hand.

The commuters on the train thought someone had died. Jacob was completely confused and equally embarrassed at our lack of train decorum.

My grandmother just said: "Shit."

It's a really great game.

- 3 - 

4 - 15(?) players

I looked around to find the rules of this card game, but I wasn't successful. I found one game called Scum that was almost the same but not quite. I think there's a drinking game that's very similar to it, and I've run into people who have other names for it. But we call it "Scummy," and it's my family's traditional group game.

Scummy is great because the rules are simple and little people can join in alongside the big people rather seamlessly.

Scummy is also great because your decks don't have to be complete. This is probably the reason it has survived so well in my family where the only full deck of cards was hidden in my mother's sock drawer and you couldn't really even count on that.

You distribute the cards - however many you have amassed, jokers included - evenly among the players. It's probably best to have around 13 cards per person.

The objective of the game is to get rid of your cards. The lowest card is a 3 on up to K, Ace, 2, and Jokers are the highest (suits don't matter.)

The first player (in our family this is always the matriarch, so Nana usually) puts down whatever cards she wants. Mostly likely her lowest, a 3. The next player must simply put down a higher card. The next player puts down an even higher card and so on until someone either plays the highest card, a joker, or everyone passes. Then the last person to play gets to start the next round. It is crucial to start rounds because it's the only way to get rid of low cards.

The only other rule is this one and it is simple: Let's say Nana puts down a pair of 3s, then the next person must play a higher pair, say two 5s. The same thing applies to 3 of a kind. If Nana starts the play with three 7s, the next person must play three of a kind that are higher than 7, like three Jacks, and if they don't have three of a kind higher than 7, they must pass.

The rules are simple enough. Various strategies become clear after you play a few hands. The first person to get rid of her cards is called the King (90% of the time this is Nana) and the second person to go out is called the Queen. You then keep track of the order that people go out until the very last two people. Second to last is Scummy's Mate and the last person to go out is Scummy.

For the next round everyone sits according to the hierarchy. The King sits in the King's chair and starts the play, the Queen next, and on down to Scummy's Mate and Scummy who are at the end of play. But before the next round begins, Scummy must give his best two cards to the King who in turn gives him her two worst cards. Scummy's Mate must surrender his best card to the Queen who gives him her worst.

But how will Scummy and Scummy's Mate ever get a leg up in the world? And the answer is they won't. They will wallow in poverty for the rest of the night and complain loudly while the King sits and commands the play smugly and quietly from the throne. It's awesome.

Once I can remember a player rising from Scummy to King in one hand, and my family still speaks of that game as the stuff of legend.

- 4 -
Papelitos / Fishbowl

Fishbowl is a loud interactive big group game. It's basically Taboo meets Charades meets Memory. I found some rules for this game, and mostly we play according to those rules except we play our rounds differently

1. Taboo Round
2. Charades Round
3. Password
4. Noises (you make sounds/sing songs until someone guesses right)
5. Charades under a sheet (in which the actor is under a sheet while doing his Charades, this round was thought of by a drunk person and is perhaps best played by drunk people)

If you ever play this with my family you will have to get comfortable with the word "poop" because I have one brother - I won't give him away completely but he's my only other married sibling - who is apparently still 13 and thinks there's nothing funnier than getting old family friends to act out and say things like "Poop Poop Pee Pee Poopie." It's all very classy.

- 5 -

2 Players

Pairs is a speed card game also known as Super Speed and Wikihow does an admirable job with the rules.

I'm a really fast Pairs player. The only person who's beaten me in the last ten years is my little sister because she's a pretty bomb Pairs player herself. 

That said it gets a spot next to Settlers in the "And Jacob Eventually Forgave Me and We Lived Happily Ever After" pile. 

I first taught Jacob how to play Pairs while visiting him in Portland while we were still dating. He'd taken me to a charming coffee shop and we'd raided the game shelves for a deck of cards. He isn't much of a card player so I offered to teach him a couple. I can't remember the other games we played that day, but we definitely played Pairs. Jacob admitted that it was kinda fun. I agreed even though I wasn't having the best of times because in the interest of bringing along my new student, I was playing V E R Y slowly. I thought this teaching tactic was clear, but apparently it wasn't. And after a few rounds, Jacob asked: "Are you going easy on me?"

I was a little taken aback and fumbled out that he was a new player and I wanted him to get some practice in, and he interrupted--

"DON'T go easy on me." 

So I didn't. I didn't go easy on him at all, and I don't think he laid down a single card before I beat him. At which point he dropped his cards on the table and said.

"We're never playing that again."

And we haven't. 

Happy Wednesday, ladies and uncles! Go see Hallie for some more favorites.

(Also, the Amazon links up there are affiliate links. I'm determined to become a big financial player in the family four cents at a time.)


  1. Settlers of Catan is awesome! Now when you get the extension/sequel, it gets way too complicated. It took us four hours to just start to understand what's going on.

  2. My parents use to play cribbage; my memory of the game is of coming downstairs after I suppose to be asleep and watching them play. Have never played as an adult, wonder if my mom still has their board.

  3. We play Scummy as you call it (we call it Scumbucket and have president and VP instead of King and Queen) every year at my extended family's New Year Eve's party. It's our 2:00 in the morning game, and SO MUCH FUN. We get very loud. Bless our hosts, they know they're not getting any sleep that night anyways, so they just play with us.

  4. I'm going to have to introduce Scummy to my in-laws--it sounds perfect for that crew.

    Our "I'm never playing that with you again" moment was Othello when my now-husband and I had only been dating a few months. He beat me very, very quickly. I may have even gotten rid of my set before we got married. :)

  5. I laughed so hard at this - you and I would totally be IRL friends if we ever met. This is MY family!! We play a family card game called Shanghai Rummy. You learn to play as a child (probably about 6 or 7). We have a saying: There is no family in Shanghai. My husband generally won't play games with me either. The really funny thing is that his brother is also super competitive and he and I play against each other in games all the time while my husband and my SIL stay far away! All my boys have inherited the competitive game gene. My older ones have played Settlers, but we don't have it. We own Puerto Rico and Dominion.

  6. Oh my roommate and I were nasty "pairs" players! I'd love to take a shot at ya one day ;)
    Also, Settlers is one of my favorites. We taught Sam how to play earlier this year so we could have a 3rd player. And she beats us half the time. I guess random rolls (like 11's the WHOLE GAME) mixed with absolutely no strategy on her end makes a good combo every once in a while!

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