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Card Game Review: ‘Deluxe Pairs’ from Cheapass Games

Deluxe Pairs from Cheapass Games presents the feel of classic card games with a spin all its own. The standard deck of fifty-two playing cards goes back hundreds of years, and there are dozens of games that have come out of it thanks to its assembly four suits with thirteen cards including face cards and other distinctions, making for endless combinations. The Pairs deck offers its own unique take on a seemingly simple rank of cards that proves to have nearly infinite possibilities.

Pairs is played with a 55-card deck in which there is one “1” card, two “2” cards, three “3” cards, and on up to ten “10” cards. Each number has its own flavorful “suit,” of pears, peaches, cherries, blueberries, and so on, for tasty aesthetics. The real meat of the game is in its possibilities.

The basic Pairs game is played with no winner; rather, everyone is trying not to be the loser by earning too many points. The dealer passes each player a face-up card, and the player with the lowest card goes first choosing whether to take another card or to fold. If a player hits and draws a card that does not make a pair with those already in front of him or her, the round continues. If the hit is a pair or the player folds, the player takes points and the round is over. The dealer passes out a new round, and play continues until someone hits the predetermined score to lose and end the game.

There is a certain number of any given card, making savvy players who can keep track of them the ones to excel. Thus, Pairs is at its core a card-counting game with a broad stroke of press-your-luck. To make things more interesting and a little more random, five cards are discarded blindly from the deck each time cards are dealt.

With a solid, clear set of mechanics for its base, Pairs is fertile ground for variations. The rulebook includes several of them, such a Continuous Pairs where only the player making a pair or folding discards and the rest keep playing. Other variations give special rules for certain cards, like sevens and eights.

Yet variations are only the beginning to Pairs. Like the 52-card deck from days of yore, there are dozens of other games that can be played. Each offers the mixture of skill and luck as the basic game, though in different degrees. Many include chips, giving players the chance to bet or just to keep score. For just a few examples: Carousel offers a set of six hands onto the table face-up, and players bet how many will not get a pair when they all take on another card. Goblin Poker has players pitching cards into the middle pot, receiving them back at random and hoping to be the last one to survive being eliminated by a pair. Starboard builds a set of face-up cards in the middle with players hitting for more cards, constantly raising the stakes like a round of hot potato. And these are only the beginning.

Deluxe Pairs is a card game for two to eight players aged eight and up. As with other classic-style card games, rounds go quickly with whole games lasting fifteen to thirty minutes, depending on the players and the game. Thanks to the simple rules, Pairs is a great addition to game night, bringing together older players who may rarely look beyond the standard playing card deck as well as younger ones who may look at it with suspicion. With so many different ways to play, everyone will soon find their favorite.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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