“You have like a big, giant cup or pitcher, typically in the middle of a circle at a party and everybody who sits around has their own drink, and you take a deck of cards that are mixed up in the center of the table around the pitcher and you go around the circle, one by one, and you pick up a card and depending on what card you choose will depend on what you have to do with your drink. So if you draw an ace, like that means that you drink, just you. If you draw a two, that means you get to choose someone to drink with you. If you draw a three, then you choose someone to drink. If you draw like a four, like you can come up with like the different rules, but the way I’ve played it like a four . . . all the women drink. If it’s a five, all the men drink. If it’s a six, you do categories, so somebody, like the person who pulls the card would say, ‘Animals’ and then you have to go around in a circle and at like a really quick speed name an animal off the top of your head and when someone pauses or can’t come up with one, they have to drink. Um, and after they drink they pour a little bit in the middle. And then if you pull . . . it goes on, till the end, but if you pull a king, you just have to pour in the middle pitcher.”
Interviewer: “What are the other cards?”
“I don’t know all of them off the top of my head, but I know you can, like, there’s one that’s like . . . a rhyme and so like you can say, ‘fish’ and the person next to you has to rhyme with it and say like, ‘dish’ and then it goes around in a circle and if you can’t come up with a word, or can’t come up with a word that rhymes, you have to drink and then pour some in. And so at the end, the point is basically whoever draws the last king of the whole game has to drink the pitcher in the middle and it’s really disgusting because there’s usually like different alcohols involved so it’ll be like a mixture of like whiskey, and like tequila, and beer, and something that’s not tasty . . . There’s [a card] where like if you start to drink the person next to you has to start to drink and when you stop, they can stop, but it goes around like consecutively in the circle, um, so the last person can’t stop until everyone else has stopped in the circle, if that makes sense . . . I wanna say like ten, like the card ten, you drink for ten seconds. Um, I think seven rhymes with ‘heaven’ and I think we all drink. And then one card you have to do, like, ‘Never Have I Ever.” So like you put up five fingers and you say, ‘Never have I ever . . . kissed a girl’ and then anyone who’s kissed a girl, despite your gender, um, has to drink. And you do it, you have, um, you do it until your five fingers are down. And that’s King’s Cup.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked her where she learned “King’s Cup,” she said, “I couldn’t tell you who specifically, like a name, but, um, at my first party that I went to in high school, um, it was a game that was very often played and it’s typically more fun with the more people who play it, and so I was kind of like forced into playing it. And so I was forced into like learning the rules and for like my 21st birthday was when I played it with my closest friends and like my mom and we were all playing it. And we kind of just like took the rules that I knew and like would put a twist on it. So like we would change the card numbers, so instead of, I think the typical is like an ace being you drink, we would say like that would be the rhyme one. Like we’d confuse which ones were which, but we would write it down so we knew which card we drew.”
When asked why she practices it, she said, “It’s fun and it’s like a social atmosphere and it’s supposed to be funny to like . . . ‘Cause you could be the one who pours in a ton of alcohol and be like, ‘Somebody’s getting fucked up tonight! . . . I mean, screwed up tonight,’ and then, um, you end up screwing yourself over because you’re the one who ends up drawing the last king so then you have to drink the pitcher which is you pouring your whole entire drink basically in there trying to screw someone else over. So it’s supposed to be like funny and it’s like a game of fate, you kind of just, you don’t want to pick the wrong card, but there’s no one to blame but yourself if you do. I don’t know, I feel like people aren’t super serious about drinking the pitcher at the end because everyone kind of knows that if we’re all drinking different drinks it’s probably not gonna actually happen. But also like, people get sketched out, like they don’t want to pour all their drink in knowing the last king’s still out there, you know?”
I asked her what she thinks it means, and she said, “We’re all alcoholics! No, uh, I think it’s uh, I think it means . . . instead of standing around and drinking and talking or like forcing conversation, it’s like an excuse to be in a group and drink whether you know the person across from you or not, it’s just like a group game and you don’t have to know everyone in the game to play it.”
Looking at King’s Cup in particular is really interesting to me because it is an extremely popular drinking game within parts of my generation, yet I have never met two people who play it the same way. Despite the fact that the informant is sure there are some official rules somewhere that would be the “correct” way to play, she does not know what these are and it does not seem to matter. What matters is that there are specific rules and actions associated with every card that someone pulls, and that these are strictly followed once the game begins. In addition to this game being entertaining and a reason for a group of people to get drunk together, it also acts as a way of dividing up the group and defining the people playing it. Many of the cards pulled mean only a part of the group drinks, e.g. the men or the women present, and this draws a subtle, but perceptible line between the people playing. The frequent involvement of other games such as “Never Have I Ever” occurs to reveal embarrassing or “secret” information about the participants to the rest of the group, thereby bonding them to one another or singling out someone at whom everyone else can laugh.
My sister learned a card game called “Mafia” from her speech and debate teammates. The game requires a playing deck and is often played in groups of six or more. It’s particularly popular with high school and some college students (who often learned of the game in high school).
A player acts as the narrator and gives each player a card. A king, queen, and jack must be distributed. A player with the king card plays as the mafia. A player with the queen card plays as the nurse. A player with the jack card plays as a detective. A player with any other card is a regular citizen. Players do not reveal their cards to each other.
The narrator asks all players to put their heads down, and then asks the mafia to put their head(s) up and designated a player to “kill.” The mafia raises their head and points to another player. The narrator notes the decision and asks the mafia to put their head(s) back down again. The narrator then asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) up. They are asked who they want to save. They can point to any player, including thesmelves. The narrator asks the nurse(s) to put their head(s) back down again. The narrator asks the detective to put his/her head up. The detective can point to a player and gesture to the narrator that they suspect this player is the mafia. The narrator will nod or shake their head to affirm/deny their hunch.
The narrator asks all players to put their heads up. The narrator is then tasked to create a story in which the targetted player dies, or a targetted player is in danger of dying but is saved by the nurse (depending on if the nurse makes the right decision to save the right player). If the player dies, they have to re-enact the death the narrator devises, even if it’s incredibly ridiculous. The story may reveal the identity of the nurse if the nurse saves the targetted player.
After the events unfold, the narrator allows for the players to vote for one person to be executed. Players must decide amongst themselves and can accuse anyone (they don’t know anyone’s roles). When they’ve come to a decision, the narrator describes the accused person’s execution. After that, the narrator will reveal whether or not the mafia are still on the loose. The game ends when either the mafia manage to kill everybody else, or if the other players successfully figure out the mafia and execute them.
My sister really likes playing this game because it has a lot of room for creative and persuasive tactics. There are no rules to the narration (other than ‘make it entertaining’), and there are no rules as to what kinds of evidence players can present to accuse one another. The game also doesn’t allow you to trust anyone, which makes the action suspenseful.
I think the game’s fostering of mistrust among players is particularly appealing to high school and college students because there is still a degree of uncertainty as to the full stories/personalities of your friends. The game can reveal certain personality traits of a player depending on if the players play with a personality true to themselves. And in competitive environments like high school and college, this game allows for a sanctioned and cathartic experience of being unashamedly competitive against your own friends, if it means survival/success in the game.
My sister mentions that some narrators do not need the targetted player to re-enact their death. This particular version that my sister describes (with re-enactments) is probably also appealing to her group of speech and debate competitiors, because speech and debate requires either persuasive or performative skills.
My informant is a Magic the Gathering player, and he tells me that when he really needs a good card, he’ll tap his teck, and talk to his deck and say stuff like “Come on, deck!” And then my informant says that he will pick the card up really slowly, and put it at the back of his hand and not look at it right away. He takes his time before he fully looks at the card. He believes that if he doesn’t look at it right away there is a better chance of being the card he needs.
When this person opens up new packs of Magic cards, he also does something similar. The rare card in the pack is always at the back, and most players will just go right to that, but he prefers to look at every card before it, hoping that if he takes longer to get to the rare then it will be a better rare.
When I play Magic, often times I will be in situations like these, where I desperately need a good card or else I lose. And I will say stuff like “Heart of the Cards” as I pull the card from the deck into my hand. Other times I will pick the card up from the deck and, without looking at it, place it on the table in front of me. After waiting a few seconds, I will pick it up slowly and look at it. I have seen a lot of players who will says “give me something good” or “Give me a good one” before drawing, and then in response to the card they will say stuff like “not a good one” or “close enough” or “I can work with this” as though they are speaking to the deck. While this is definitely featured in the TV show Yugioh, the tradition can been seen elsewhere. When playing poker or blackjack, players will often ask for good cards. While they may be talking to the dealer, said dealer IS the deck in a sense. The practice of asking the deck for a card can also be observed in magic routines (magician magic, not Magic the Gathering) where a participant picks a card and then the magician must either find the card or summon it to the top. In the latter case, the magician often asks the card to come to him or her.
I asked my informant if he had any rituals or practices for when he is playing Magic the Gathering, and he really needs to draw a certain card or cards. He says that he does not have any such practices, but that his friend does. His friend comes from Taiwan, and he says that in Taiwan, all the Magic players will knock on their deck when they are desperate for a card, like when the right draw is the difference between staying in the game or losing. Also if his girlfriend is around or any of his buddies are around, the player will get all these people to also knock on the deck. My informant says that if you believe in it, it increases your luck of drawing what you need. It’s similar to “believing in the heart of the cards” like in the show Yugioh. And when you do draw that card, you make a big, dramatic effort of unveiling the card.
I find it very intriguing that this informant says that the “knock on the deck” tradition is practiced by his Taiwanese friends, but my other informant on Top Decking rituals, who is American, also does this “knock on the deck” thing even though he has probably never heard of the Taiwanese folk belief.
My informant plays Magic the Gathering. One of the things you do in a game of Magic, before the start of the game, is you shuffle up your deck. There are no strict rules to how a player may go about shuffling his or her deck, but there are a few preferred methods out there. My informant prefers the method known as the 7-pile shuffle. He learned this method by reading posts online from a Magic blogger by the name of Mike Flores. According to Flores, who is regarded by my informant as an “activist of sorts with regards to the way people shuffle,” the 7-pile shuffle method is the best way to shuffle ones deck. The 7-pile shuffle method involves taking your deck in one hand (or half your deck if it is too big to hold in your hand all at once) and dealing it out into seven piles in the way one would deal hands in poker. After dealing out the entire deck into these piles, the player then recombines these piles. After performing this shuffling ritual, my informant will then riffle shuffle about 5 or 6 times before deeming the deck adequately shuffled. If he thinks the deck is particularly bad before starting out (usually right after a build session, where cards are often next to copies of each other and thus very non-random), he will perform the 7-pile shuffle twice before riffle shuffling.
I am also a Magic the Gathering player and I also employ the 7-pile shuffle method. After each pile has been dealt, I will stack the 7 piles into two piles, then riffle shuffle those together before starting more riffle shuffle. I learned the 7-pile shuffle method from a friend who simply said it was a good way to shuffle. It’s also a good way to make sure you have the right number of cards in the deck, since you know which pile the last card should end up in if you did it right. I also like the 7-pile shuffle method because when you start a game of Magic, each player draws 7 cards, so 7 piles for 7 cards lines up nicely.
I learned from my informant that ever since she was a little girl, her family has always hosted a large Thanksgiving dinner. Members of her extended family as well as members of the Stern extended family would come to her house and all have a big dinner. Her mother would make the turkey and everyone else would bring something along or make something. One person usually brought a vegetable salad. She herself started baking desserts for Thanksgiving when she was in high school. And these desserts rarely included anything pumpkin because no one in the super-extended family liked pumpkin very much. Then after everyone was done eating and talking, they would all gather round and play card games and eat popcorn. Hearts was usually the game of choice but some people also played spades. Later in life, after most of the younger family members grew up and had gotten married, and the large family became even larger, they started playing huge games of hearts with multiple decks.
The rules for regular hearts are listed here so that the extended rules make more sense for those who have never played the original. In hearts, a standard 52-card deck is divided between four players. The player to go first in a round plays a card, then the next player must play a card of the same suit if possible. After all four players have played, whomever played the highest card of the leading suit takes all the cards, then must be the starting player in the next round. For the first round, the player with the 2 of clubs must go first. Hearts may not be played on the first turn, and a player may not lead a turn with hearts until hearts have already been played. Hearts are worth one point, and the Queen of Spades is worth 13 points. At the end of the game, you tally all the points you have, and at the end of all the games, the player with the fewest points wins. Additionally, before each game, you must pass three of the cards in your hand to the player in a given direction, alternating between left, right, across, and no pass.
For the extended version, all of the regular rules apply, except that the player to go first on the first round is the first player to the left of the dealer who has a 2 of clubs. The only major addition to the rules is that multiples of the same card cancel out. So if there are two King of Clubs on the board, and clubs is the leading suit, neither king counts for the highest card, and instead the turn goes to the player who played the highest singular card (non-canceled) in the leading suit. In games with three or more decks, if the third multiple of a card comes out, then that card is not canceled and is treated normally. Additionally, the passing order is slightly modified, and is now left, right, two to the left, and two to the right. According to my informant, these new rules lead to emergent play. First and foremost, players have a lot more power depending on where they are in the turn. Players near the end are often begged and pleaded to cancel out whoever is highest (or not to cancel out the high player if said beggar/pleader has the second-highest card). If you want to screw over a particular player, you may choose to cancel the high card and force someone else to take the turn. Also, she says that when you are passing cards at the start of the turn, and your hand has multiples in it, you should pass one of the multiples to the designated person and then try and work with them to hurt others. For instance, if you are dealt both Queen of Spades, you can give it to the designated person, and then plot to play them one after another, preventing either of you from having to take your own queens as well as sticking some unlucky bastard with 26 points in one turn!
My informant also told me of one last tradition that revolves around this large game of hearts. At the end of the game, either when someone gets 100 points or everyone gets tired, the three players with the highest scores all got to go on the family vacation.