I grew up in a large family of six children, with parents who both came from even larger families: Dad’s side, the Verpaelsts, had eight kids, mother’s side, the Lapointes, had fourteen. When just a small sub-section of these families got together for a visit, the house would fill up with twenty to thirty people in a heartbeat.
Naturally, people congregated into different groups: We kids of course would play together, as the aunts and uncles had animated conversations. But the second most common thing our families did was to play card games. Back in the sixties and seventies, when I was a kid, there were no computers, no large screen televisions, or small I-devices of any kind to distract us from truly relating to one another. Especially when the weather was not conducive to being outdoors, card games were our clan’s # 1 choice for a bit of fun.
We’ve played cards when I was stuck in the hospital. We’ve played cards while cramped in our camper on a cold and rainy day. We’ve even played cards during maple season, in a smoky cabin, with the big vats heated by wood fires, boiling the sap away, and the steam condensing on the wooden beams above, and then drip-drip-dripping on us below.
My mother, contemplating her bid, circa 1984.
It really did not matter which card game we played: It was all just an excuse to sit down at a table to socialize and razz each other good naturedly as the wins and losses piled up throughout the evening. It was a mental exercise of who could make the best game out of the worst cards, achieving the longest winning streak, or even better, dethroning champions who had not lost all evening. It was also my first taste of competing against my elders: At the age of ten or eleven, it was a thrill for me to beat someone who was four or five times my senior.
Aside from the kids games most of us know (Crazy Eights, Go Fish, etc.), our families commonly played more challenging trick taking games. The Lapointe family played a variation of 200 called “La Fouine”. The Verpaelst family played a variation of Euchre called “500”. When we lived in the United States, we played a variation of Pitch called “High-Low-Jack-Nine-Five”. And one of my personal favourites was called “Screwy Louie”, a variation of Oh-Hell!.
Of course, some family members were sore losers, or worse, poor winners, but it was very easy to ignore them. There were so many tables of four player games happening that “losers” at one table would give up their place for those waiting in the wings. The defeated pair then went off to another table, to await their turn for the next open spot.
As the evening progressed, you began to see which table was having the most fun, and soon, most of us preferred to miss a few turns waiting to jump back in at the fun table, rather than playing against the less than nice relatives. Between hands, and especially as you were waiting to get back into an open spot, came the post-game analysis and strategizing sessions.
Below you will find my recollection of the rules for a simple but crazily fun game called “Course aux Rois”, followed by some handy links for the rules of the four-player games mentioned above. The next time you want to turn off all your electro-gadgets and have a bit of a face to face fun with friends and family, give a simple deck of 52 cards a chance.
“The Race of Kings” (“Course aux Rois” in French).
This game sounds so simplistic as to be boring as hell. But I promise, the next time you have 8-15 players willing to give it a try, you will surprised how people really get into it. What’s really nice about this game is that you can have conversations while playing, and even younger kids will be able to play with the older crowd.
The Pot: At the beginning of the game, each player gets five tokens (pennies, buttons, little candies, whatever is handy). Each time a player loses a round, they put one of their tokens into the pot, usually a bowl in the middle of the table. Once a player runs out of tokens, they have one last chance, called your HONOR, and once you lose that one last chance, you are out of the game. Play continues, until there is just one player, who then wins the pot of tokens.
Cards are ranked from Ace as lowest, 2, 3, etc. up to King as highest.
The dealer shuffles, and hands each player just one card, face down.
Each player looks only at their own card. The goal of the game is AVOID HAVING THE LOWEST CARD, after one round of trading has completed.
To start the trading round, the first player on the left of the dealer looks at their card. If they think their card is high enough to avoid losing that round they can keep their card. If they think their card is too low, they can trade it with the person to their left. THE PERSON TO THEIR LEFT CANNOT REFUSE THIS TRADE.
This person to the left of the trader, then decides if they want to trade with the person on their left, and so on.
Trading continues once around the table, until it reaches the dealer. If the dealer thinks their card is too low, the dealer can trade with the deck, by cutting it. No matter the result of the cut, that becomes the dealers card.
Everyone then reveals their card, and the person with the lowest card that round, puts a token in the pot. (If there is a tie for lowest card, each player with that low card pays into the pot.)
EXCEPTION: There is just one exception to all of the above. IF YOU HAVE A KING, THE PERSON TO YOUR RIGHT CANNOT TRADE WITH YOU. In other words, The King acts as a roadblock. (If you cannot trade with the person to your left because they have a King, you cannot trade with the next person. You are stuck with whatever low card you have.)
There are no rules concerning WHEN you must reveal that you are holding a King. Some prefer the dramatic effect of keeping it face down on the table, preferring to reveal it only if and when a potential trade comes up. Others prefer the drama that develops when you reveal a King faster than people have a chance to even look at their card.
After a round of trading, and the loser pays the pot, the next person deals the cards, and so on, until there is only one person remaining.
Although the game is really a no brainer, with virtually no strategy or tactics involved, the real fun is the psyching out and gamesmanship that develops, especially as people near elimination. The real fun of the game is, even though you cannot refuse to trade, nothing stops you from asking “Are you sure?” in a sly voice, when someone wants to swap out their crappy card for yours.
Especially after the first time you get a chance to hand someone a lower card than the one they had originally, asking “Are you sure?” is like dropping a bomb on their decision making process. Once they make a bad trade, they will hesitate to deal with the likes of you next time they have an iffy card.
200 (La Fouine, Le Rough, La Barouche)
Oh Hell (Screwy Louie)