Calvin’s Commentaries: Pairs

Every once in a while you lay your hands on a game not exactly expecting too much from it, and it simply blows your socks off.

Pairs, by designers James Ernest and Paul Peterson, is just such a game.

Pairs is a card game, so the package is small, and unassuming, which I suppose is a large part of why not a lot was expected as the cellophane was torn off.

But this is not an ordinary card deck like the one used for cribbage and rummy.

Instead, it uses what the ruleset terms a ‘triangular’ deck. The deck contains the numbers 1 through 10, with 1×1, 2×2, 3×3, and so on.

So like a standard deck of cards, you can play many different games with your Pairs deck. There are actually a couple of dozen games created for a Pairs deck, available for free download at, but for today I will focus on the core game and a couple of its variants.

So in the primary Pairs game, there is no winner, just one loser.

“In each round, players will take turns drawing cards, until one person either folds or gets a pair. Either of these scores points and points are bad. The first player with too many points loses,” explains the ruleset.

Pairs is called a pub game, and that is where the idea of the single loser comes into play. If you like, you can choose a penalty for the loser. The loser could tell a joke, buy a round of drinks, make a funny noise, or whatever is appropriate for your group, explains the rules.

The rules are very simple for the basic game.

“On your turn, you have two choices: You may hit (take a card), or fold. If you catch a pair or fold, the round is over and you score points. If not, play passes to the left.

“When you hit, you’re hoping not to get a pair (any two cards of the same rank). If you pair up, you score that many points. For example, if you catch a pair of 8’s, you score 8 points. Keep those cards, face-up, to track your score.”

You play until someone hits the predetermined point threshold, 16 in a four-player game as an example, and they are the loser.

The game plays quickly, is ridiculously simple, and yet the urge to play another round is frightfully addictive. One game is never enough, and while this is an ideal filler game, it can chew through an hour of gaming time very easily.

And then there are the variants.

“Continuous Pairs is nearly the same as basic Pairs, except that when a player pairs up or folds, only that player’s cards are discarded. Everyone else keeps their cards, and that player is still in, currently, with an empty stack. This game is basically one long round, instead of several short ones,” explains the ruleset.

This is certainly our favoured way to play the game as it keeps things flowing without tossing cards every time someone scores a point.

There are also a number of poker-inspired variations, all which has the loser of a round paying chips to other players, which then sets up for an actual winner based on the largest stack of chips.

Another little twist is the game ‘Calamities’
In the Calamities variant, the 7’s are bad luck or ‘calamities’.

The core element here is that if you are dealt a 7, the turn stays on you.

In Continuous Pairs, as an example, this is true even when the 7 gives you a pair, so you will discard your cards and immediately receive another card.
And finally, we get to Pieces of Eight.

In this variant, 8’s are special. If you have an 8, you have a third option, which is to discard the 8 and take two cards.
“Two cards might seem riskier than one, but at least you get rid of an 8,” notes the ruleset.
Is this a great game in the same realm as chess or dominion? No, but that said in the realm of simple fun it ranks very high. This is a game that will see your table often, and for longer than you think when you first grab the deck. A definite must-have game.

Thanks to fellow gamers Jeff Chasse, Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.



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