Crates

This description of Crates, as played in and around Boston, Massachusetts, USA was contributed by Richard Hussong.

Crates is a form of Crazy Eights, played with a normal 52-card deck, with enough extra rules to be amusing. Like most Eights-type games, it is somewhat reminiscent of the commercial game Uno. It was invented in the 1970s in Cambridge, Massachusetts by some technical workers, to be played during lunch hour.

The Players

Crates is normally played by four players, playing in two partnerships, but there are variants playable by from two to five players, which will be described at the end, along with some other variant rules. In the four-player game, partners sit opposite one another.

The Cards

The Crates deck is a normal 52-card deck, with no relative ranking of suits or numbers. In one variant, the Kings and Queens are removed from the deck to decrease the size of the deck and increase the proportion of special cards.

Card Points Table

In the scoring phase of the game, each card is assigned a number of points. This assignment may be summarized as follows:

     Card   Score
      A     1
      2     20
      3     see scoring.
      4     15
      5     30
      6     30
      7     20
      8     50
      9     30
     10     25
      J     10
      Q     10
      K     10

The Deal

A game of crates consists of 15 hands. In the first hand, each player is dealt 8 cards; in the second hand, 7 cards, and so on until the eighth hand, in which each player is dealt 1 card. On the next, ninth hand, each player is dealt 2 cards; on the tenth hand 3 cards, and so on until the fifteenth hand, in which each player is dealt 8 cards.

The deal begins with any player, and rotates to the left thereafter. When all cards have been dealt, the dealer places the deck of remaining cards on the table, turns up the top card of the deck, and places it next to the deck, to start the discard pile.

The Goal

The goal of Crates is to win by being the player with the fewest total points accumulated during the game.

The Play

General method of play

At any moment during the play, there is a current suit, a current rank, and a current direction of play. The current suit is the suit of the top card of the discard pile unless that card is an 8 or a 9, in which case the current suit is the suit chosen by the player who played the 8 or 9. The current rank is always the rank of the top card of the discard pile. On each hand, the initial direction of play is clockwise.

The card turned over by the dealer to create the discard pile is treated as if it had been played by the dealer in the ordinary course of play, except that, if it is an 8 or a 9, the dealer must choose a suit before examining his or her hand, and if the turned card is a 9, the suit must be of the same color as the 9.

The general rule of play is that each player must play a card that matches the current suit or the current rank, or play a wild card (an 8 or 9). The only exception to this rule occurs during a 2-sequence. When a player cannot play on the discard pile, that player must draw one card from the deck, and play proceeds to the next player in the current direction.

When a card is played, there may be some further action to be taken before the next player's turn. See the table of card actions for the list of such actions.

When a player has exactly two cards, that player must say "one card" in a clearly audible fashion when playing a card. This applies even if the card played is a 6, which cannot actually leave the player with one card after the turn ends. If the player must make some other announcement (e.g., specify a suit for a wild card, or announce the total of a 2-sequence), "one card" must be said first. A player who fails to say "one card" when required to do so is penalized by having to draw two cards on his or her next turn. If the player does not get another turn in the current hand, the penalty is forgotten.

Ending a hand

When one player no longer has any cards, the hand is over, unless a 2-sequence is in progress, in which case the 2-sequence continues until it ends normally, at which time the hand is over, even if every player now has cards.

The following table summarizes the effects of playing a given card on the play of the game:

Summary of card actions during play

      A:     used in a 2-sequence
      2:     start a 2-sequence
      3:     none
      4:     skip the next player
      5:     Cards for everyone
      6:     same player plays again
      7:     next player but one takes a card
      8:     wild, and change to any suit
      9:     wild, and change to same-color suit
     10:     reverse direction of play
      J:     none
      Q:     none
      K:     none

Special rules and notes

2-sequence:
When a player plays a 2, it starts a "2-sequence". Thereafter, each player must play an A or 2, of any suit. When one player cannot do so, that player must draw a number of cards equal to the total number of pips played in the 2-sequence. The 2-sequence is then over, and the next player plays following number or suit, as usual. Note that this applies even if the player has gone out during the 2-sequence, so a player may actually have to draw cards after going out.
Cards for everyone:
When a player plays a 5, each other player must draw a card. These cards must be drawn in order, in the current direction, to ensure that any pressure goes to the correct player or partnership.

Scoring

At the end of each hand, players receive points according to the cards remaining in their hands. See the card points table for the point values of the various cards.

At the end of the game (i.e., at the end of the fifteenth hand), the player or partnership with the fewest points wins the game.

Scoring threes

The threes are special in scoring. A hand containing only threes counts -50 for each three in the hand. When threes are accompanied by other ranks, they score +3 instead. Also, a three can be used to "cover" any card but an eight. That is, if a hand contains both threes and "eligible cards" (i.e., cards that are not eights), the player may pair a three with an eligible card. The resulting pair is treated as a new eligible card, with score 3. This pairing continues until no bare threes remain. Which eligible cards are paired with threes is up to the player, but it is wise to pair the highest value cards possible.

Scores for all hands are added together, and the winning player or partnership is that player or partnership with the fewest points after the end of the fifteenth hand.

Scoring examples

Suppose a player is left with the following cards: A, 2, 3, 3, 6, 8, K. One three should cover the 6, and the other should cover the 2, since these are the highest-scoring eligible cards. The total score would then be 50 + 10 + 3 + 3 + 1 = 67 points

Suppose a player is left with just 3, 3, 8. The threes are themselves eligible cards, so one of them covers the other, resulting in a score of 53.

Pressures

When a player must draw a card, but the deck is exhausted, that player (or that player's partnership) is given a "pressure". The player must then shuffle all the played cards except the last and stack them face down to make a new deck from which they will draw. The first pressure a player or partnership receives counts 5 points, and each one thereafter counts double the value of the previous one. Pressures are accumulated throughout the game, but scored in the round in which they occur.

For example, if a partnership gets the first pressure of the game on hand 2, then two pressures on hand 3, the first pressure adds 5 points to the score for hand 2, while the second and third pressures add 10 + 20 = 30 points to the score for hand 3. The next pressure for that partnership will be worth 40 points.

Conventions

  • The hands in which 1 to 3 cards are dealt are referred to as the "skill hands", while the others are referred to as the "luck hands" (when they are referred to at all).
  • If one player has chosen a suit as a result of playing a wild card, and the next player plays a ten (thus reversing the direction of play), the player who plays the ten says "Play 'em" to the player who chose the suit.
  • A player receiving a card as a result of another player's playing a seven should thank the donor. In particular, in a partnership game, a player who plays a seven should say "Card for my partner!", and the partner should respond "Thank you, partner!"
  • If a player's last card is a 6, and can be played, that player must play the 6 and immediately draw another card. This is known as a "Cooper". A player who Coopers need not (and should not) say "one card" on that turn, of course. The term "Cooper" is sometimes extended to cover all cases in which a 6 is played, then a card is drawn, but the "one card" rule does apply to two-card Coopers.
  • A player who causes the other players to draw an unusually large number of cards in quick succession is said to be "working the deck".
  • It is considered reprehensible to deliberately fail to say "one card" in order to avoid going out on the next turn.
  • Saying "Uno" instead of "one card" is grounds for being vilified by the other players.

Variants

Two-player, Three-player, and Five-player Crates

The rules for two-player, three-player, and five-player Crates are almost the same as those for the four-player game. The most obvious difference is that there are no partnerships, so scores and pressures are tallied individually. In addition, in the two-player and three-player games, the actions of certain cards are changed as follows:

      7:     next player takes a card
      J:     previous player takes a card

Some players also prefer to remove the queens and kings from the pack in the two-player or three-player game, in order to produce more pressures.

Skill-hand World Series

(Thanks to Sunshine, of Philadelphia, for these rules) This is another two-player Crates variant. It is played with three hands, one of which is played by a dummy player, known conventionally as "Figgy" (or, more formally, "Fighdij"), whose hand is visible to both other players.

The rules are generally those of three-handed Crates, with some modifications:

  • Only the 1-card and 2-card skill hands are played; the sequence is 2-1-1-2.
  • Figgy never deals, and his hand is played by the previous player in the current direction. Note that this means Figgy's hand will typically be played by both players at various times during each hand.
  • Figgy begins the game with -50 points, and never receives a pressure. If Figgy would normally receive a pressure, that pressure instead goes to the next player to play. Figgy can win the game, to the everlasting mortification of the human players.