This page is based on information from Joel Zehr and Ben Rasmussen.
This is a fairly simple round game for two or more players. Unlike many round games it works well as a two-player game. It is a kind of trick-taking game in which the winner of the last trick is penalised.
So far, my information about 22 all comes from North America, but it is clearly a variant of the Danish game Agurk. 22 differs from Agurk mainly in that it is possible to play several cards at once, a multiple trick. It would be interesting to know whether it came from Europe in this form, or whether this is an American development.
From two to six players can use a 52-card Anglo-American pack without jokers. With more than six players, two or more such packs should be combined to avoid running out of cards too often: one pack for every four players is about right.
The game is played clockwise. Suits are irrelevant and the cards rank in the familiar order from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 throughout the game.
To decide who deals first, the players each draw a card and the highest deals (the draw is repeated if there is a tie). The first dealer deals seven cards to each player, one at a time, clockwise.
Subsequently, the loser of each hand deals the next, and the number of cards dealt to each player is determined by the value of the loser's scoring card from the hand just ended.
It can happen, with a large number of players and a high value losing card, that there are insufficient cards in the pack to complete the deal. If that happens, the dealer deals the cards out equally until there are fewer cards left in the pack than there are players. For example in a 6-player game where the first deal was lost with a queen (worth 10 points - see scoring), the second deal would be of 8 cards to each player, with just three cards left over as replacements for discards.
The players look at their cards, and starting at dealer’s left, each in turn (in clockwise order) has one opportunity to discard cards face down and receive an equal number of cards in exchange from the top of the undealt portion of the pack. Players who are happy with their initial hand need not discard any cards. You may discard any number of cards up to the whole of your hand if enough replacement cards remain. However, players’ discards are limited to the number of undealt cards available, so some players may not be able to exchange any cards at all if the whole pack has already been used.
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. You may lead any single card, or any set of cards of the same rank, provided that you keep at least one card in your hand. Each of the other players, in clockwise order, must play the same number of cards that were led. When playing to a trick there are two possibilities:
- You may equal or beat the highest card or set of cards played to the trick so far.
- If you cannot or do not wish to equal or beat the highest play, you must play the lowest cards in your hand.
The trick ends when everyone has played to it, and it is won by the highest play, or by the last of highest equal plays. The winner of the trick leads to the next, and may again lead a single card or a set of equal ranked cards, but you must keep back at least one card even if all your remaining cards are equal.
Some explanation is needed of what is meant by "highest play" and of how to "equal or beat" a play of more than one card. When playing a multiple trick, it is only the first player whose cards must be of matching rank. Subsequent players just have to equal or beat each of the cards in the highest play so far. For example on 7-7 you could play Q-7 or J-8. If the first player plays 5-5-5 and the next plays J-7-6, the third player could play (for example) K-7-7: the king beats the queen, the seven equals the seven and the other seven beats the six. However, if you can’t equal or beat all the cards of the highest play so far, you must play your lowest cards. Suppose the first player plays 5-5-5, the second plays 10-9-7 and you hold K-K-6-3-3-2-2. You must play your lowest cards: 3-2-2, since you cannot equal or beat all three of the 10-9-7.
When everyone is down to just one card, all players show their last card, and whoever has the highest card loses. This high card is kept face up in front of the loser for the rest of the game, to show that player’s score. For this purpose aces count 11 points, pictures 10 points, and other cards face value. The loser shuffles the remaining cards and deals the next hand. The number of cards dealt to each player is equal to the value of the scoring card just acquired by the loser - for example ten cards each for a 10, three cards each for a 3, and so on. Starting to the new dealer’s left, players discard cards and draw replacements and then the new hand is played out as before.
There can be two or more losers with equally high cards. In this case both (or all) losers keep these as scoring cards and draw cards from the shuffled pack to decide which of them will deal next.
A player whose scoring cards add up to 22 or more points is eliminated from the game (after dealing the next hand). The others continue to play and the last surviving player is the winner. It can sometimes happen that all the remaining players are eliminated at the same time. In that case you can agree either to treat them all as winners, or to award the game to whichever of them has the lowest total score.
Ben Rasmussen reports a variation with the following differences:
Each player must play cards that are higher or equal to the card or cards that were led if possible. It is not necessary to beat the highest cards played to the trick, and the led cards must be equalled or beaten if possible. Only if unable to do that do you have to play your lowest card(s). Example: A leads a 7 and B plays a 10. C holds Q, 8, 7, 4, 3, 2. C must play the Q, 8 or 7. C does not need to beat the 10 with the queen - it is OK just to play the 7 or 8. C is not allowed to play the 2 - this would only be possible if all C's cards were lower than 7.
When a more than one card is led to a trick, the trick is won by the highest set of equal cards played to it. Example: A leads 6-6, B plays Q-10, C plays 7-7 and wins the trick. Players are not obliged to play sets of equal cards, but unmatched cards cannot win. They are obliged to play cards that are higher than or equal to the lead if able to. In the example, if all or all but one of your cards were lower than 6, you would have to play your two lowest cards.
Scores are not recorded by keeping the losing card. Each players' scores are recorded on paper, and the losing cards are shuffled into the deck - a full deck is always used.