Card Games: Climbing Games

In climbing games, each player in turn must play a higher card (or combination of cards) than the previous player. A player who cannot or does not wish to beat the previous play can pass. This continues for as many rounds as necessary until someone makes a play which no one will beat. That player wins the "trick" and leads to another one. Because players can pass, their cards are not used at an equal rate and some will run out before others. Often the aim is to get rid of cards, but sometimes it may be to win cards in "tricks".

Climbing games, like trick taking games and beating games, must have a card ranking order. Often higher cards beat lower ones irrespective of suit. Usually it is possible to play combinations as well as single cards, so these too must be ranked.

Climbing games are quite widespread in the orient, especially China. Only in recent years have they become known in the West.

In some games of this group a mock social status, ranging (for example) from emperor to peasant, is awarded to the players according to how well they do on a hand. This status is then perpetuated in subsequent hands by making the losers give away their best cards to the winners, as well as suffering other indignities. This social dimension appears not only in climbing games but also in certain trick taking games such as the Russian game Koroli and (in a mild form) Sergeant Major.

  • Zheng Shangyou - Chinese game playable as individuals or in teams: good for 6 players in two teams of three.
  • Zheng Fen - Chinese game, unusual in that the cards also have point values.
  • President / Scum / Asshole - played worldwide since the 1980's - probably based on an Oriental game but has evolved in the West.
  • Big Two / Choi Dai Di - Chinese game in which 5-card poker combinations are playable - now also quite well-known in southeast Asia, Australia and North America.
  • Dai Fugo (also known as Dai Hinmin) - Japanese climbing game which may be the ancestor of President.
  • Big Three (Da San) - Chinese three-player game played one against two in which threes are the highest cards.
  • Throwing Eggs (Guàn Dàn) - a four player partnership game from Jiangsu.
  • Fight the Landlord (Dou Dizhu) - Chinese three-player game (one against two) with bombs and rockets.
  • Gān Dèng Yǎn (Watching Helplessly) - Chinese game that became popular during the 2010's in which a card or combination can only be followed by the next higher rank.
  • Tàihé A Bāo - a four-player game with bidding using s 40-card pack, from Jiangxi province, China.
  • Băo Huáng - five-player game from northern China in which the partners are the holders of two specially marked Jokers.
  • Big A - five-player double deck game from northeast China in which the holders of two identical Aces are partners.
  • Gou Ji - complex six-player team game from Qingdao.
  • Tiến Lên - popular Vietnamese game
  • Sasaki (44A) - a North Korean game with variable partnerships.
  • Sap Ng Wu ('15 lakes') - a Hong Kong game played with a deck of 84 domino cards.

Goita, a game played in Japan with chess cards or pieces, is classified here as a climbing game since players have the option to pass or play. However, it is unlike other climbing games in that cards are beaten by matching them rather than by playing a higher card. Moreover, at least in the modern form of the game, each trick consists of only two cards.

This page is maintained by John McLeod (   © John McLeod, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2013, 2015, 2021, 2023. Last updated: 22nd February 2023