Play time: 15 minute
Type: Card game
Mechanic: Push your luck
Designers: James Ernest and Paul Peterson
I had the pleasure of meeting James Ernest this year at RinCon, a local gaming convention here in Tucson Arizona. James founded Cheapass Games in 1996 and went on to release about 100 tabletop games over the next 10 years. Many of the games were published in cheap black and white envelopes without generic components like dice or paper money.
After a brief hiatus from 2007 to 2011 Cheapass Games was reborn in 2012 and continues on strongly through today. In 2104 they brought Pairs to Kickstarter. Billed as “A new classic pub game” Pairs smashed though it’s funding goal of 12,000 dollars finishing up at a whopping 332.226 dollars. Clearly James and Paul had put together something special.
Pairs is a simple press your luck game with no winner, just one loser. Unlike most games, points in Pairs are bad and so are pairs for that matter, go figure. Pairs is played with a 55 card triangular deck. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked. The deck has cards labeled 1-10 with 1-1, 2-2’s, 3-3’s all the way up to 10-10’s. The number of players will determine the losing score. Players take turns drawing cards until someone folds or gets a pair. You score points and do it all over again.
One person can deal for the entire game, as the starting player will always be determined by the lowest card. Shuffle the deck and discard or “burn” 5 cards. This starts the discard pile. You’ll do this every time you shuffle. It makes it harder to count cards.
Deal one card face up to each player. The player with the lowest card goes first. What can I do you’re probably asking yourself, good question, I’ll tell you. You have two options you can either “hit” (take a card) or fold. If you hit and get a pair the round is over and you score the point value on the card. So if you have a pair of 10’s you get 10 points. That’s rough! Keep one of the cards face up next to you to track your score. If you hit and don’t get a pair you’re safe and play moves to the next player. The other option you have is to fold. This will also end the round buuuut….you get to choose the lowest card in play that’s not your own.
When the round ends discard all cards in play (not the cards tracking your score) to the discard pile and start again. Play continues until one person reaches the target score and becomes the loser. If the deck runs out during the round, reshuffle all the cards in the discard pile and keep right on trucking. Don’t forget to “burn” five cards though.
That’s pretty much it. The only other thing is what to do if there’s a tie for low card when starting a round. If that happens just deal another card to each of the tied players. If you happen to deal a pair while breaking a tie discard the paired card and deal another.
Pairs is a really fun game. It’s a very simple and has a low learning curve so you’re playing in just a few minutes. Pairs scales well, whether you’re playing with 2 people or 8. A game like this is more exuberant with more players, never failing to elicit cheers or groans as the inevitable pair gets drawn. With 2 or 3 players it’s more of a quiet tension since there are so many fewer cards in play at any given moment.
The price point is great at just 10 bucks and as I checked the website there are currently 16 different decks to choose from. There are decks ranging from cute Cthulhus, illustrated by John Kovalic to goblins, bar maids, pirates, the classic fruit deck and more. Each deck plays the same but you can find the one that speaks to your aesthetic.
Pairs is also super portable and doesn’t take up a lot of space on the table so you can take it anywhere. Toss it in a book bag, your purse or cargo pants pocket and you’re good to go. Pairs can also be a good way to get your non-gamer friends to the table. Who knows it maybe the game that opens them up to the wider experience of hobby gaming and wouldn’t that be cool! You can also pick up the Pairs Companion (downloadable free on the website) which contains 20 different games you can play with your Pairs deck!
You know I love a quick, portable beer and pretzels game so Pairs is a no brainer. It’s a great add for any gamers collection so do yourself a favor and pick up a deck or 3, you’ll thank me later.