Recently, my husband and I went upstate to visit my family for the holidays. It was great – we rarely get to visit my folks, and it’s been years since all our schedules aligned so perfectly that we could see my mom this close to Christmas. Andrew and I were really excited to see the family and eat waaay too much.
I’m always on the lookout for a good family game – you know the kind; it’s got to be quick enough to play between dinner and dessert, simple enough to explain to a table full of distracted and over-full people, and engaging enough to keep everyone’s attention. Big bonus points for hearkening back to the feel of classic card games your relatives may have already played, to make the transition even easier.
The Pairs deck features cards in value from 1-10, with each card being present in the deck a number of times equal to its value (there are three 3’s, four 4’s, nine 9’s, etc.). Pairs decks come in lots of different themes, from baby Cthulhu to the wild west, but this edition features the classic fruit & veggies theme, which resonated with my mom, the farmer, perfectly!
Pairs is a truly simple game (at least to start), and that’s another thing that made it perfect – my family is just getting into games (especially since Andrew and I always truck up a half dozen every time we visit), so games with too many rules or convoluted visuals simply don’t work for this crowd. But Pairs can be explained in five sentences:
The goal of Pairs is to avoid accruing points. Each turn, you will either take a card (‘Hit’) or fold. If you hit and the card you get matches any of the cards you’ve got, the round ends and you take that card as points. If you fold, the round ends and you take the lowest-value card on the table as points. First person to accrue a number of points based on player count is the loser, and everyone else wins.
Jess: That’s it! One simple choice – hit or fold, and try to avoid the points. It’s worth calling out when teaching Pairs that actually getting pairs of cards is a bad thing – that might not be immediately intuitive.
The biggest question people ask is ‘why would I fold?’. Well dear reader, let me tell you – it all comes down to how far you’re willing to push your luck in avoiding taking cards.
Since higher-value cards a) are worth more points if you get a pair of them, and b) are more likely to create a pair because they are more common in the deck, then if you find yourself looking at a 9 or a 10 and someone else has a 3 or 4, you might want to fold and absorb one of those lower-point cards, rather than risk getting stuck with 10 points.
On the other hand, if everyone else also has high cards, then it might be worth pushing your luck and hitting once or twice, hoping that someone else will either fold or pair out of the round.
Basic Pairs is truly just that – each round is minutes, sometimes only moments long, and the game is over as soon as someone is unfortunate enough to pick up too many points. But after a round or two of the basics, we found that even the most casual player will be ready to add some variants to the game.
Andrew: And boy howdy does Pairs: Deluxe Edition come with variants! With the single deck of Pairs cards, you can play the ‘Continuous Pairs’ variant, which forgoes the discreet round structure of classic Pairs and (you guessed it) makes it a more interactive, fast-paced game.
Jess: There’s also Calamities, which make 7’s worse, and Pieces of 8, which let you discard 8’s in exchange for two extra cards. You can stack these variants on top of each other to make Pairs more engaging.
But the variants don’t stop there. By adding a score sheet or some chips for betting, you can play the over 30 games that are outlined in Pairs: Deluxe Edition. Some examples are Blackstone, an ultra-light push-your-luck game, Deadfall, where players bluff and trap each other in lies about the contents of their hand of cards, and Monster, where a single player’s hand of cards must go up against the Monster, which is built from the discards of all the opposing players.
Andrew: Pairs: Deluxe Edition brings a load of classic-feeling card games in a single box. We love how easily it hits the family table, but we also really appreciate that some of the variants are a little more complex.
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(Gameosity received a review copy of this game. We were not otherwise compensated.)