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Written by Jenny McWhirter on 10 / 04 / 2023

Gap Year Advice

Card games for any occasion

Anyone who has done any form of travelling will know just how important knowing your card games is. If, on your gap year travels, you’re looking for a way to spend a long bus journey, or you're in the hostel on a rainy day, there’s no better way to make friends and pass the time with a good card game.

Most importantly with travelling card games, they need to be simple, fun and relatively quick to pick up so many can get to grips with it quickly. There are lots of different games out there but we’ve put together 5 favourites that are guaranteed to liven up any situation.

Cheat – All in the Art of Deception

You may know this one from your sixth-form days. As with all card games, names and rules vary slightly depending on who you talk to. Cheat also known as "Bullshit", is a game that will hone your skills of deception.

The ultimate aim of the game is to get rid of all the cards in your hand as quickly as possible. Players must discard cards in sequence. The first player places his discarded cards face down and these must be aces, then the next twos, then threes, and so on.

This is where your poker face and ability to deceive come in to play. Whilst you may say three aces, as the cards are placed face down this could be a whole medley of different cards.

If you doubt that your fellow player is telling the truth you can challenge them by shouting “Cheat”. At this point the cards are turned up, the loser of the challenge must pick up the pile of discarded cards and game play continues.

This is a great one for those quiet moments in the hostel. An endless number of people can play and it’s bound to have everyone deeply involved as different tactics are implored.

If your poker face is not your best skill, then the next one might be a better option…

Spoons – Cat-Like Reflexes Are Vital

Another great game to pass the time waiting in the hostel. Spoons will have you all fighting, laughing and scrambling your way to not be knocked out.

This is a fast-paced game that requires quick reflexes and a necessity to be highly observant at all times throughout the game. In fact, studies have shown that card games can help "stimulate parts of the brain that involve cognitive ability, logical problem solving, memory retention and other brain skills", according to Brain Metrix, a brain training website.

The premise of spoons is to obtain 4 cards that are the same. There are spoons placed in the middle of a circle (the number of spoons should be one less than the number of people playing). Each player is dealt 4 cards and then you all pass one card to your left. The player to the right of the dealer discards his card.

This continues till one person gets four matching cards. At this point the player takes one of the spoons in the middle of the circle, as soon as they’ve taken their spoon everyone else scrambles to get theirs. The person who is left spoonless is then knocked out, or loses a point.

As I’m sure you can imagine, the game can get quite heated. If the hostel you're in doesn’t have enough spoons, or maybe you’re on the road, you can play where you have to touch your nose instead of pick up a spoon.

Crazy 8s – The Easiest Game to Pick Up

If anyone has played UNO, this is very similar but without the need for a separate pack of cards.

Each player is dealt eight cards and the rest are placed in a pile in the centre. The top card is turned over and the game begins. Players discard cards matching suit or rank. Similarly to Cheat the aim of the game is to get rid of all your cards.

If you can’t play you pick up a card from the pile. Eights, as the name suggests, are wild cards. You can play an eight at any time and it allows the player to choose the suit that the next player must follow.

To make the game a little more interesting, rather than each game standing alone you can devise a point system. The player that gets rid of their cards first then receives the number of points in each of the opponents hands. The aim is then to be the first player to reach a specified number of points – 3 players aim to reach 150 points and then add on 50 points for every additional player.

If you enjoyed UNO as a kid you can have great fun without the need of packing another deck of cards.

Shithead – The Traveller Classic

If you don’t know how to play this one, then make it top of your priority list to learn. I think I must have played hundreds of games whilst on my travels. It’s the go-to for any situation where you don’t want to make too much effort.

Once again, like all the good, easy card games, the premise is to get rid of your cards.

You are dealt three cards face down, three face up and three in your hand. The rest of the cards are placed in a pile in the centre.

At the beginning of the game you can switch your top three cards with the three in your hand. From then on you play what’s in your hand until the cards are all played. You then play the three face up and finally the three face down.

You must play higher than the previous card unless you have a magic card. Depending on who you play with will depend on which cards are magic and what they do. The basic ones are:

  • 2 – next player can play any card

  • 3 – give this to someone and they have to pick up the pile in the middle

  • 7 – must play below a 7

  • 8 – skips the next person

  • 10 – discards the pile in the middle

Whilst this sounds the most complicated, I promise after 3 or 4 games you’ll be in the swing and once you start you just can’t stop.

Spit/Slam/Speed – The Most Aggressive

Another game that you may already know, or at least have heard the horror stories. This goes down as the most aggressive and certainly will bring out the competitive streak in you.

The most important attributes to boss this game are alertness and, as the name suggests, speed. There is no turn taking in this one and you must get rid of your cards first.

You have a set up a little like Solitaire, 5 piles all face down but the top and then you put the rest of the pack in the centre. You and your playing partner then get ready. On the count of three you turn over one card from each pile in the centre.

You must put your cards down, you can put down a card that is one higher or lower than the card face up in the middle.

As soon as your done you slap the smallest pile. The person to get rid of their entire pack to the other player wins.

Good luck and be prepared for things to get heated!

A Card Game Can Solve any Problem

Well, maybe not any problem, but it certainly is the best way to while away the hours or join in a group and instantly bond over the competition. They don't take up much space in a gap year backpack (read our guide to packing the best one here,) and you can even teach yourself solo games for those long airport layovers. Gap years are all about making new memories, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and meeting new people. A pack of cards probably isn't going to revolutionise your travels but they're a useful thing to carry around if you've got the space... you never know who you might end up playing poker against.

Photos by Roger H. Goun

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