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How to Play War

Learn the rules and strategies that can help you win the fun card game called War.

How to Play War | FamilyEducation

War was a great way for my grandmother to distract us from our own daily battles with each other. It was also a great way to help us learn the art of cooperation through game-playing. We played this game tirelessly through the rest of that summer, and continued to play even when we were back home in our daily routines of school and homework.

Our parents used to engage in a few games, but mostly we played against each other. I wouldn't want to kid anyone and say this was the miracle that solved our childish bickering—I'm sure we accused each other of cheating and wound up in a few hair-pulling war-games ourselves, but mostly I remember really enjoying the game.

When my siblings weren't around, sometimes I'd play by myself. I used to split the deck and play against an invisible opponent. I just played my mystery friend's hand as though someone else was actually sitting there playing against me. It didn't take me very long, however, to realize that this game required no brain power and ceased to be a challenge altogether. Then I moved on to bigger and better card games. But War sure was a great place to start.

How to Play

The object of War is to win all the cards in the deck through a series of tricks.

You use a standard 52-card deck. Aces are high. The tricks are played according to rank; suits are ignored. All 52 cards are dealt to each player (if you have two players, each player has a total of 26 cards). You do not look at your cards—you hold them in a stack face-down.

Holding the stack of cards face-down in one hand, you use the other hand to flip the card face-up on the table in front of you. Each player flips a card, so if you have two players, you will have two cards facing up in front of you. The highest card wins the trick.

The person who wins the trick takes the cards from the center of the table and places them at the bottom of his or her stack of face-down cards. You continue play like this until one of you has accumulated all the cards. Believe me, this can feel like the never-ending game—your very own 100 Years War!

It's in the Cards

In the game of War, a war is a means to break a tie. When two cards of the same rank are played, you break the tie by playing new cards. The player with the highest-ranking new card wins the tie breaker and all the played cards.

If you both play a card of the same rank—let's say you both play an Ace—you have to have a war. You leave the Aces face-up on the table and put one card on top of your Ace—face-down—and then another card face-up on top of the face-down card. So you'll have the following configuration of cards in front of you: the tied Ace, a face-down card, and a face-up card. The person with the highest face-up card takes all the cards on the table and places them face-down at the bottom of their stack.

If the top card is another tie, you place another face-down card, then a face-up card—basically, you keep going until someone wins the war. This is the best and fastest way to accumulate cards. If one of you runs out of cards in the middle of a war, the other player wins.

War for More

War can be played with more than two players (a relief to my grandmother, I'm sure). It is pretty much the same game for more than two, but, obviously, each player starts with fewer cards.

Each player should have an equal number of cards. If you have three players, deal out 17 cards each. If you have four players, deal out 13 cards each.

High Score

Games such as War and Go Fish are great distractions for little ones on the go. Always keep a deck of cards on you for emergency measures. You never know when you'll be stuck in an airport or in traffic or just need a little break (while the kids are busy competing at cards). You won't regret lugging them around with you.

All players turn over a card and the highest card in the trick wins all the face-up cards on the table. A war is performed in the same way. If two or more players place down the same highest card (a tie), then everyone must participate in the war, including the lowest cardholders. If there is still a tie, you keep going until someone wins the war. To win the war, you must place down the highest card.

If a player runs out of cards at any point during the game, that player is out. The game continues until one person has managed to accumulate all 52 cards.

To make things a little more interesting, my sisters and I used to play Double War. That means that instead of placing just one card face-down during a war, you place two cards face-down. That way, you accumulate even more cards after a war and you speed up the game a little bit.

We also used to play with two decks and force our little brothers to join in the game. That was a very long game and keeping our brothers' attention on it was a bit of a challenge. But who knew that one simple little card game could keep five rambunctious kids occupied—on their own much of the time—for hours on end? The novelty did wear off when we realized it was solely a game of luck. That's when we graduated to other card games like Go Fish, for example.

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