Tag Archives: Card games

Mao (card game)

Background: The informant first learned this game at a boy scout camp and has continued to play with his friends and introduce other people to the game. He likes it because you get to mess with people if you know how to play it, having insider knowledge.

KD: Mao is a card game that the new players are not supposed to know the rules going into it, it’s a learn as you go game. The deck is shuffled, all players are dealt five cards, the, the dealer–cards are dealt in front of all the players, if a player touches their cards before the game begins, they receive a onee card penalty. The dealer will take the top card of the deck and flip it over and say the  word “The game is Mao. Mao begins now.” At this point, anybody who speaks, is penalized with one card, anybody who plays out of turn is penalized with one card, if you fail to play on your turn, you are penalized with one card. As far as gameplay goes, certain cards have special powers or required specific actions or phrases to be said. To play the game, you have to play a card of the same suit or a card of the same number. If you play an ace of diamonds on a six of club, there are two different suits, two different cards, the card you play is returned to you with a onee card penalty. When, and it moves over to the next person. Original gameplay, it is to the right of the dealer. The number 8 card reverses the rotation of the, of the play. When an Ace is played correctly, the player who played it is required to scratch their nose; failure to scratch your nose, you receive a one card penalty. Uh, the point of the game is to get rid of all of your cards, so similar to Uno, when you get your last card you say “Last cards” uh, failure to do so, you receive five cards, plu, no you just receive five cards. When you play your last card you say the name of the game, “Mao.” When a king is played you say “Thank the chair.” And as you play with different people, certain rules are included but not everyone plays with the same rules each time. If you play with the same group you kinda agree, it’s a collective agreement that it’s like okay hey we’re gonna havee six has this power, seven has this power, whatever. And then, as you play with different people certain rules are in play, certain rules are omitted, and some are just completely made up. When you win a game, as the winner you are allowed to create a new rule that is now added for that group of people playing, uh when I played with my friend Jack, anytime a Jack was played he had to flip off the player of the jack. You are penalized for talking during the game, the only time you’re allowed to talk is when you’re thanking the chair, when you’re saying last card, when you’re saying Mao. Uh, the phrase point of order is pause for the game, in which all players need to drop their cards. If you are retouching your cards during a point of order, you’re penalized. If you discuss the rules of Mao, the game’s over, you’re not allowed to play anymore. Usually physical punishment follows for talking about the game and sharing rules. Uh, you get penalized for explaining the rules if somebody asks a question during the game, they get penalized for talking. If you explain a rule, you’re penalized, the person you explained it to is penalized. And, yeeah, it’s just to get rid of your cards as quickly as possible, correctly, and saying the phrases.

Me: How long does it take most people to pick up the game?

KD: Most people learn the game after a round or two. Most people get incredibly frustrated during the first round and seldom want to play a second round. It takes a lot of convincing or you just get a majority of the people to agree to it and then you have captive audience for the rest. Oh, uh I think it’s seven, when a seven is played you’re allowed to shuffle the deck. The number 10 card has a rule but I don’t remember it, uh minimum group size is 4-5 players, you can always shuffle in more decks, regionally it changes, and yeah I think that’s it.

Context of the performance: This was told to me during an in person conversation.

Thoughts: What I find interesting about this is that the entire gameplay revolves around unspoken rules. The only way to learn is by playing and knowledge is passed on, not even orally, but through the action itself. It’s almost impossible to view this from an etic perspective as the game relies and works under an emic perspective, and the etic would be confusion. It is also a rite of passage that comes gradually, with the new players existing on the threshold; once you’ve played enough, it seems that the passage is complete and only then do you fully understand how to play and the inner workings.

Spicy Uno

BACKGROUND: JM is the interviewer’s friend. Spicy Uno is a variation on the popular Uno card game, one that we’ve played many times as friends, and a game that can get quite heated at times.

JM: “Here are our rules:
Play a 4, no talking. Whoever talks has to draw 1 card for each word they say.Play a 6, all hands need to go in the middle of the table. Last hand draws 3.Person who plays 0 chooses 2 people to swap hands (can include themselves).+2 cards and +4 cards can stack, but not on each other.You can ask for help and can help someone, but you can’t show them the card before.You can skip to yourself by playing an exact match of what’s on top of the pile.If you have UNO and someone else calls UNO for you, draw 6.
There’s the famous moment when we were playing, someone drew 4, and then someone knocked on the door. You went ‘it’s all good, we’re taking a break, we don’t need to be quiet anymore. The game is paused, the game is paused.’ Watching you draw 22 cards was maybe the greatest time I’ve ever played the game.”

ANALYSIS: The Spicy Uno variation of the Uno card game is a popular one among Millenials and Gen Z, one that qualifies as folklore since there are no exact rules and no known origin — everyone plays it slightly differently. It’s a modern folk tradition, one that can forge friendships and break them apart in the same round. For another version of Spicy Uno, see:

“How to Play Spicy Uno.” Crazy Little Projects, 30 Jul. 2020, https://crazylittleprojects.com/how-to-play-spicy-uno/.

Euchre – Midwestern Card Game

Informant’s Background:

My informant, JA, is a undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He moved from his family home in Arizona to attend college in Los Angeles. His family is of German ancestry.


I (AT) am a close friend of JA, and he comes over to hang out at my apartment often. I asked him if he had any folklore he could share and telling me about this game that I had never heard of was his response.


JA: “So anyways Euchre is a card game that I think is relatively popular throughout the Midwest, but it’s a card game that is typically is played with four players, but it can be scaled up and down, where players take tricks based on suits and everyone is divided into two teams and every hand in the basic four-player variant you play with your partner across from you, and a trump suit is decided by dealing out 5 cards to each player. It’s only the cards nine, ten, jack, queen, king, and ace are the only cards in each suit in the game, uh, five cards are dealt to each player and four are set aside, and the top is turned over which determines the trump suit. Then its played like a typical trick taking game where high cards take tricks, unless the trump suit is played in which case those cards take the trick, but in Euchre, uhm, the highest card of the trump suits are the jacks instead of the aces, so if heart is trump then jack of hearts is the highest, while the other colors spade and clubs in that hand would have the normal order. And you play enough rounds until one team gets ten points. I dunno, it’s just a very easy game to teach people, you can get into it very quickly, and I play it a lot with my parents and my grandparents, especially when they’re around, because it’s just… the primary activity that we do together, it’s kind of a tradition we do it a lot after meals, family meals, with big gatherings like that. It’s… I dunno I guess the primary tradition we have on that side of the family – it’s very casual, it’s a good time.”

AT: “Who taught you the game?”

JA: “I think my mom had to have taught me the game first, uhm, but she might have taught it in conjunction with my grandparents, I’m not sure.”

AT: “But they all already knew it? Do you know where they learned it from?”

JA: “I mean my mom learned it from my grandparents, beyond that, I don’t know.”


I don’t have much to add to this one, other than that I think it’s interesting that a specific card game can become such a tradition in someone’s family, with the rules being passed on through generations. I had also never heard of the game itself, so I thought it was worth documenting here. 

Iranian Gin Rummy

Main description:

AB: “Are there any other Iranian card games you can tell me about that are special to you?”

DB: “I don’t know. Um. I guess there’s one called Ramee, it’s like the Iranian version of gin rummy. Play it a lot at family reunions with the extended family.”

AB: “How is it different from gin rummy?”

DB: “Uh, let’s see. I guess the first difference is the dealing. You deal the cards out three at time three times to each person, so that’s nine cards. Then you deal out a pair of everybody, bringing it up to eleven. Oh yeah, and then you give two extra cards to the person that starts. Then the next thing is that you don’t keep your cards in your hand. But you can’t put any of them down until you can put down a combo that adds up to thirty. So if you had like, three nines, and you hadn’t come down yet, then you can’t play them, because that’s less than thirty. But if you also had, like, an ace-two-three of the same suit, you could play with your nines, because that’s more than thirty. Then you can just play cards normally for the rest of game. Oh, and then you can add your cards to other people’s stuff. So if somebody played three fours and your have the last one, you can add it to theirs. Oh, and the final crazy part are the jokers. You play with jokers, which are wild, and they can be any number you want, so you could play like two-joker-four and that’s cool. But, let’s say someone else has the three that matches your straight’s, it’s um, suit, they can swap in their three for your joker and then use it however they want. Well, not totally, they have to play it that turn with cards from their hand. So you also can’t add a joker you take to something that somebody else has already played.”

AB: “Awesome. So, you said you normally play this game at family reunions, right? Can you tell me about that.”

DB: “Yeah, so we usually play whenever there’s a lot of us together, for a birthday or a holiday or something. Oh and there’s lots of betting. At the end of the game, you have to give the winner money corresponding to how many points are left in your hand. So if you haven’t come down yet, you’re screwed, lol. One time I was really lucky at Christmas and made like fifty bucks off of our relatives. Now they don’t wanna play with me anymore.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “What can you tell me about why this game means to your family?”

DB: “Um, I guess I’ve always thought of it as like. The grown-up game. The kids always play pasur because it’s easy as long as you can do basic math, but only the adults play rami. That game takes strategy. I was in high school when they taught me how to play and I started betting with them, and I just remember feeling so cool sitting at the adult table and winning some money in Rami while my cousins watched me. They were so butt-hurt, lmao.”

Personal interpretation

Most societies distinguish between children’s culture and adult’s culture, and rami seems to be one such distinction. The informant notes that it’s not only that children are prohibited from playing rami because of gambling, but rami is inaccessible to young children in the first place because it requires substantial strategizing to win. In this way, playing rami may be an important mark of adulthood.

How to Play The Game Slap Jack

Informant: So the goal of the game is to get the full deck in your hand. The game starts with the stack of 52 standard cards being split into equal piles for the number of players sitting around the table. No one is allowed to look at their cards. The dealer who split the stack, plays the first card. Then the play goes around clockwise for the rest of the game. When a Jack card is played all players must slap the deck as fast as possible. The first one to slap the deck gets all the played cards under the Jack. Because of the nature of the game, more players can ‘slap’ in and enter the game if it’s already started. (but that makes the whole thing go WAY longer)

The initial version I was taught had one extra rule: if you got a ‘sandwich’ you could slap. A sandwich consisted of two of the same numbers and one different number in between them. So like 2, 3, 2 is a sandwich.

The second version, has the ‘sandwich’ rule but also somethings called ‘doubles’ and ‘faces’. Doubles is self explanatory two of the same card played one after the other. So 2, 2. ‘Faces’ is if a face card – Queen, King, or Ace – is played the next person must play a face or the played-card pile goes to the first person. If they succeed in putting down a face card, the next person must play a face card or the second person gets the pile, and on and on and on.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered a few games back from middle school and looked for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: I learned how to play this game while I was younger from the same person. However, they called it a different name from what I remember. They now call it ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’, however, all the rules the same. I wondered how a group of kids got ‘Slap Jack’ from ‘Egyptian Slap Rat’ and extra research showed that the games has many other names as well:
‘Egyptian Ratscrew’