Sometimes I’m surprised just how much fun I can have with a game that’s incredibly simple. While I do enjoy a good 3 hour strategy game or an intense miniatures game, sometimes you just want to unwind with a game that takes minimal commitment.
Earlier this year, long time publisher Cheap Ass Games brought a new card game to Kickstarter. Pairs, billing itself as “A new classic pub game”, successfully funded to the tune of $300,000+. Considering that the base pledge level was $16, that’s a lot of backers. Now that I’ve got my hands on Pairs, I figured it’d be a good time to see if these 7,000+ backers made a wise decision.
Pairs is a quick playing card game for 2-8 players that runs about 15 minutes. Pairs is best with any number of players.
The game of Pairs is simple. In this card game, there is no winner, only one loser. The goal is to not be that loser (obviously). The game uses a 55 card deck that contains cards numbered 1-10 (there are one 1, two 2s, three 3s, etc…up to ten 10s in the deck). Each player starts with one face up card and each turn has to make a decision. You can either hit or pass. If you hit and gain a card that gives you a pair (two 7s for example), the round ends and gain that many points. If you don’t get a pair, play passes to the next player. Rounds continue in that fashion until one player reaches a set number of points and is the loser.
There isn’t too much to the components in Pairs. It’s a deck of cards in a tuck box. The cards are of decent quality; they don’t feel flimsy but are also nothing outstanding. However, this is a beer and peanuts type of game, so I’m already expecting my cards to gain some significant abuse. For a $10 game though, I’ll just buy a new deck if mine get worn out, rather than dealing with sleeves.
The neat thing about Pairs is that there are about a dozen different decks to choose from. Choices range from pictures of fruit to baby Cthulhus to barmaids with beers (my choice).
How to Play:
I’ve pretty much already explained how to play, but I’ll give you the full run down here. As explained above, there are 55 cards numbered 1-10, with each card number containing that many cards (so there are seven cards numbered 7).
To start the game, shuffle the cards and bury 5 cards. Then deal each player a face up card. The player with the lowest number starts. On your turn you have two choices:
Hit: Another face up card is dealt to you. If it doesn’t match any of your previously played cards, nothing happens. If it does and you got a pair, the round ends and you gain that many points (so if you were dealt two 8s, you’d now have 8 points in your score pile).
Pass: If you pass, the lowest face up card on the table is placed into your score pile, regardless of who has it in front of them.
Play continues that way until one player busts (gains a pair) or passes. At that point, the remaining face up cards are discarded and a new round begins. If the draw deck ever runs out, all the cards (except the ones in player’s score piles) are reshuffled and a new draw deck is formed.
The game ends when one person reaches the score threshold, which ranges from 31 points with 2 players to 11 points with 6 or more. That player is the loser.
For my $10 investment, I didn’t exactly have high hopes for Pairs. It sounded neat, but it was mostly an impulse buy. If it sucked, I wouldn’t be out that much money.
Surprisingly, Pairs ended up being a fun and addictive game. I honestly can’t tell you how many games of Pairs I’ve played over the last few weeks, probably nearing the 50 mark. The games go by incredibly quickly, are very easy to teach, and accessible to just about anyone.
I’ve played Pairs with my parents (in their 60s) and my friend’s kids (7 years old). Everyone picked up the game right away and it was interesting to see how each person approached the game. My father, always looking to get an edge, tried card counting. He always thought he had it right, but usually forgot about the 5 buried cards that can mess up your count, usually to humorous results. Although it can be important to pay attention to the cards on the table when making your decisions, as knowing when to hit and when to play it safe is key.
In a world where we are swimming in press-your-luck dice games, I’m glad to have a new entry into this genre. At its heart, that’s exactly what Pairs is. Each turn, you have to survey the table, decide how lucky you feel and either press your luck or play it safe. Sure passing and taking the 3 card that’s face up on the table sounds good, but remember, you are still gaining points when you have the chance to gain none. In games with fewer players that doesn’t make as much of a difference, but when you get up to 5+ player count, every point really matters.
Speaking of, Pairs does scale really well. I’ve played it with two people and as many as 7. I found no issue at any player count. Turns go by quickly that there is really no downtime to worry about. And because it’s such a casual game, you can easily have side conversations or just relax while you play. Its portable nature also makes it easy to grab on the go. I could easily see playing this at a table at a bard over a few drinks.
While Pairs isn’t a deep game by any stretch, it’s a surprising amount of fun to play. Sometimes the games with the easiest rules can get the most time at the table. Pairs does a nice job of building up tension during the game, especially when players start getting 3-4 cards in front of them. And when someone finally does bust, expect a good amount of cheering and ridicule from the other players. It’s this kind of player engagement that helps it make it to the table quite often.
It’s small size makes Pairs easy to bring along anywhere you go and it’s easy to learn rules mean that just about anyone can pick it up in an instant. For its $10 price point, there aren’t a lot of reasons not to grab a copy of Pairs. This little card game has quickly become one of my go to filler games when we have about 10-20 minutes to kill. I can easily see this one becoming a fun gambling and drinking game I can play with family and friends.
In fact, the Cheap Ass Games website has a PDF of Pairs Variants if you are looking for a little more diversity with the game. I have no regrets about backing the Pairs kickstarter and I will probably even be picking up a new deck once mine gets sufficiently beat up from the constant play it gets. Check this one out today.
If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, you can pick up any of the dozen decks for about $10.
Final Score: 4 Stars – While not very deep, its game play is incredibly accessible and a ton of fun to play. It’s a perfect filler game.
• Card stock could be heavier.