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The best playing card games using a standard deck of cards

The best card games with a 52-card deck - from Solitaire games to classics like Poker, and superb 2 player playing card games like Cribbage.

Playing card games: A deck of playing cards spread across the floor in a dense layer.

A 52-card deck of playing cards is an invaluable tool. Playing card games can be fantastic fun, and you just need the one deck to unlock every single one of them. A standard deck of cards is cheap, portable, and easy to find. If you carry one with you, you’re walking around with a pocket filled with hundreds of games, and we’ve gathered the best below.

With so many of the best card games recently featuring beautiful custom cards and engaging themes, it can be easy to overlook good, old-fashioned playing cards card games that rely on a standard deck. But even if you’re a diehard trading card game player, it’s a huge mistake to write off the classics.

For one thing, you can’t carry your entire card game collection with you, whereas these easy card games are the ultimate in portable fun. You ought to learn at least the very best classic card games, the ones that have stood the test of time for good reason.

The best playing card games:

  • Poker – The best gambling card game
  • Kemps – The best chaotic playing card game
  • Cribbage – The best couples card game
  • Cheat – The best simple bluffing game
  • Go Fish – The best family playing card game
  • Eleusis – The best thematic playing card game
  • Solitaire – The best solo playing card game
  • Nerts – The most frantic playing card game
  • Cambio – The best memory playing card game

Playing card games: A metal case filled with poker chips and cards.

Poker

The best gambling card game

Pros

  • Cool factor adds to the fun
  • Exciting, psychological

Cons

  • Can take a long time before skill plays a role
  • Getting eliminated early can spoil your night

Poker is easily the best game you’ll find at a casino, though admittedly that’s not a very high bar to clear. While not necessarily the top playing card game of all time in terms of the actual gameplay, Poker often provides some of the best fun you’ll have with a deck of cards. It can quite easily sustain a raucous evening of gaming all by itself.

We’re kicking off our list of card games with Poker because it’s a fantastic place to start when you’re trying to introduce friends or family to the world of classic card games. That’s mainly because Poker is a generation-spanning cultural touchstone.

We’ve all seen Poker games in movies like Casino Royale and Oceans Eleven, so we can all imagine ourselves playing, coolly pushing a handful of chips across the table, or fixing an opponent with a steely gaze as we call their bluff. There’s a certain mystique surrounding Poker, which makes it a doddle to persuade your friends to get a game going.

Another great thing about Poker, which only further improves its beginner-friendliness, is that a complete novice will often win out against seasoned pros – at least in short games – as the experts will be unable to predict their moves. It’s pretty fun to play the role of underdog succeeding against all the odds, and Poker enables this more often than you’d expect.

Check out the Poker rules here, and the Poker hand rankings, before you give it a go

Playing card games: A fan of playing cards with two kings, an ace and a jack

Kemps

The best chaotic playing card game

Pros

  • Good team game
  • Silly, stressful fun

Cons

  • Requires at least four players
  • Not very deep

Kemps is a playing card game that entirely does away with the concept of ‘turns’. You’re trying to gather four-of-a-kind, and you do this by snatching cards up from the middle and throwing unwanted ones back. Its frantic card-grabbing gameplay and collect-em-all objective is pretty exhilarating, but the real excitement in Kemps comes from secret signals.

You can’t play Kemps with an odd number, because this card game is played in teams of two. When you’ve got a winning hand, you don’t actually win unless your partner declares ‘Kemps’, so you have to signal that you’ve finished and get them to claim victory. There’s a delicate and subtle art to this, however, as if an opponent spots your signal first, they can win right away, simply by shouting Kemps instead.

Playing card games: A cribbage board with metal pegs and a standard deck of playing cards beside it

Cribbage

The best couples card game

Pros

  • Excellent for two players

Cons

  • Gets worse with more players
  • Requires a Cribbage board

Cribbage is a classic two-player card game which dates back to ye olden days (the 1600s to be more, though still not very, precise). It remains immensely popular to this day because it’s highly compelling, simple as that.

Cribbage is all about scoring certain combinations and earning points to race pegs around the Cribbage board until you reach 121. Its rules take some learning but are not overly complex, and you can whizz through a game in under half an hour. As a bonus, Cribbage is also packed with a glossary-full of excellent terminology like nibs, nobs, and, our personal favourite, double skunk.

Even if you’ve never played this traditional card game, we bet you’ve seen a Cribbage board in person before; you may even own one! If you enjoy a good couple’s board game night, you should absolutely track down the nearest Cribbage board and dust it off for a round or two. There’s also a version for three players, so you can even bring a third wheel along.

You can technically play Cribbage without the board and just keep track of your scores with pen and paper. You might want to try this when testing this playing card game out, but we very much advocate picking up your own Cribbage board if you turn out to be a fan. They’re just such lovely objects, it’s hard to describe exactly what it is about them – we just think they’re neat.

Playing card games: a hand with a painted nail holding a set of black and gold playing cards.

Cheat

The best simple bluffing game

Pros

  • Great introduction to social deduction concepts
  • Catching your friends cheating is fun

Cons

  • Can get stale rather fast

Cheat is dead simple. You lay cards down on a shared discard pile to deplete your hand, and sometimes you lie about what’s on them. Get caught, or call someone else out who was being truthful, and you have to pick up the whole pile. A major setback.

Because it’s so easy to pick up and play, Cheat is a fab classic card game for families, well-suited to younger audiences not quite ready for more complex social deduction games. However, it’s not just for kids; Cheat can be enjoyed by players of all ages. In fact, it’s a doddle to turn it into a drinking card game.

Cheat is a good game to try out if you’re looking to hone your lying abilities (for social deduction board game purposes only, of course). You can often get by simply by double-bluffing, looking guilty when you’re not. This means Cheat can be an enjoyable game, even if your art of deception is more like the messy scribblings of unscrupulousness.

Playing card games - a hand with three ace cards

Go Fish

The best family playing card game

Pros

  • Easy to learn and to teach

Cons

  • Lacks excitement over time

If you’re looking for a good card game for kids that uses a 52-card deck, look no further than Go Fish. This has been many a gamer’s introduction to playing cards, and that’s because it’s straightforward, fun, and rewarding.

To play Go Fish, deal out seven cards to each player (five in a three or four player game). Place the rest of the cards in a central stack, or consider spreading them out (face-down of course) to form a ‘lake’ to fish from.

To take your turn, you simply point or look at a player and tell them to give you a specific card number (your choice). If you said “give me your queens”, that player would then have to give you any and all queens from their hand.

You can keep going this way until you ask somebody for a card they don’t have. They then say ‘Go Fish’ and you get to draw a card from the deck/lake before ending your turn.

The aim is to collect four of a kind (or pairs in some easier variants) at which point you can lay them down to score. The player who collects the most sets by the end of the game is the winner!

Assuming you’re seeking more sources of fun, easy entertainment, we also recommend these kids’ board games.

playing card games: A set of cards featuring mythical creatures

Eleusis

The best thematic playing card game

Pros

  • Encourages creativity
  • Feels like you’re engaging in experiments

Cons

  • Can take a minute to get the hang of

Most playing card games with a traditional deck don’t have much in the way of story, but that’s certainly not the case with deduction game Eleusis, a card game from the 1950s that recreates the scientific method. More or less…

If one of your friends is a bossy dealer – you know the sort: “Don’t touch the cards yet!”- you should introduce them to this game because, in Eleusis, the dealer takes on the role of god. The way it works is god must come up with a rule such as “alternating red and black cards” which the other players have to try and figure out by laying cards in a sequence, devising new hypotheses and slowly whittling down options until someone cracks the code.

You’re trying to get rid of your whole hand, and if you lay a card that breaks gods rules, you have to pick up two new ones. So the first to understand the commandments ought to win. There’s a little more to it than this, as scientists can become prophets, predicting the laws of god, and as the game goes on, incorrect guesses can result in elimination as god gets grouchy, but hopefully what we’ve shared here is enough to pique your interest in Eleusis- a very atypical, thematically rich playing card game.

Playing card games: A hand holding a fan of black and purple cyberpunk playing cards

Solitaire

The best solo playing card game

Pros

  • Can be played solo
  • Great online card game
  • Low pressure, meditative

Cons

  • Not for groups
  • Randomness can frustrate

Are you lonely, (so lonely)? Do you have nobody (nobody) for your own? Well dry those eyes, at least you can still play Solitaire! You’ve probably clicked around on a free online card game version of the archetypal solo game Solitaire before, but we here at Wargamer are of the firm opinion that, when it comes to playing card games, you can’t beat the tactility of the physical versions.

Whether you’re spacing out staring at screens, or are burned out from work, laying out the cards for Solitaire can be nourishment for the soul. The process of sliding cards around, whiling away a quiet evening with a few games of Solitaire is both calming and fun.

The game’s not just meditative, it’s also enjoyable and addictive to improve and increase the number of wins you achieve. There’s roughly a gazillion different Solitaire variants, from Spider Solitaire to Pyramid, but we’ll leave it to you to figure out your favourite. Here’s how to play Solitaire, if you’re a complete beginner.

Playing card games - A box for the game Nertz

Nerts

The most frantic playing card game

Pros

  • Fast paced, stressful

Cons

  • Punishes poor reaction times
  • Chance based

Nerts, or Racing Demon (the much cooler name it goes by here in the UK) has the complete opposite vibes to Solitaire, but somewhat similar gameplay. You’re aiming to get rid of a central pile of cards by placing them in sequences on your own personal row of cards, and in a shared zone where everyone can play.

So far, so cerebral, but Nerts has no turns, so it’s a frantic race to slam cards down, and deplete your pile first. Notably, there are multiple ways to score Nerts. You can award one point per win, give extra points for each card in the communal pile, or give bonus points for laying Queens.

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Cambio

The best memory playing card game

Pros

  • Full of twisty mind games
  • Fairly simple

Cons

  • Remembering the different rules can be tricky

Cambio or Cactus is a great card game where players try to score the lowest number possible. You start out with a series of four cards arranged in a grid in front of you and can only look at the bottom row. You then upgrade your cards by trying to swap in newer, lower scoring cards taken from a central deck.

The fun comes from with the high-number cards, which each have a power you activate if you discard them. These range from looking at your own cards (either your top row, or a card you inevitably forgot), an opponent’s card, or – without looking – swapping cards around. This leads to utter chaos, as it becomes almost impossible to keep track of your own cards, let alone other players.

A version of this playing card game, Cabo, can be bought as a standalone card game. You can pick that up if you like the cool artwork, but this one works just as well with your trusty standard deck of 52.

For more old-school fun, check out our list of the top classic board games. Or you could just try out the best board games, full-stop.