Caravan was designed by Obsidian Entertainment as a fictitious card game played in New Vegas within their role-playing video game Fallout.
This page presents two interpretations of Caravan as a real life card game using standard playing-cards. The first version, devised by Kyle Mifflin , tries to reproduce as closely as possible the game played in New Vegas. The second version, by Joe Foxon and friends, is a looser interpretation inspired by the Fallout game but with several differences. A third version, with some variants and strategy suggestions, has been published in Robert Nevins eBook How to Play Caravan.
Here is a link to Kyle Mifflin's description of this version, which simulates as closely as possible the the way that Caravan is played in New Vegas. The only differences are
- that instead of custom decks, each player receives the same deck to make the game as fair as possible (custom decks are allowed as a variant).
- that the bug that allows you to discard during the opening round has been removed as an option.
Players and Cards
Caravan is a two-player game using two standard Anglo-American decks of 52 cards plus 2 jokers, one deck of 54 cards for each player.
Number cards are placed in an overlapping column within each caravan, and each number card may be modified by picture cards placed overlapping to the side.
Throughout the game Player A's caravan one will be directly competing against Player B's caravan one. The same goes for caravans two and three.
In addition each player has a face-down deck from which they draw cards and some cards in their hand, and there is a face-up discard pile.
Each caravan has a numerical value, based on the total value of the number cards in it, possibly modified by Kings.
A caravan is 'for sale' when it's value is in the range 21 to 26. A caravan with a value of less than 21 or more than 26 is not for sale. Cards may be added to a caravan that is already for sale to change its value.
The object is to sell at least two of your three caravans. If both competing caravans in a position are for sale, only the higher valued caravan is sold. No sale takes place until there is at least one caravan for sale in each of the three positions at the same time.
To start, each player shuffles their deck, stacks it face down, and draws the top eight cards from it to form their initial hand.
The opening round in its entirety consists of three turns for each player, playing alternately. Each turn must be used to place one card face up to start off each of their three caravans. During this opening round only number cards (A, 2-10) can be placed.
If a player does not have three number cards or aces to play, then they must show their hand, reshuffle their deck and draw eight new cards.
No cards can be discarded or re-drawn during the opening round. Therefore at the end of this round when each player has had three turns, they will each have a hand of five cards and one card in each caravan.
After the opening round play continues, with players taking alternate turns. On each turn, you must do one of the following:
- Play a card from your hand on a caravan, then draw a new card from your deck and add it to your hand.
- Discard a card from your hand, then draw a new card from the deck to replace it.
- Disband one of your caravans. Take all the cards from this caravan and place them on your discard pile.
Note that after the opening round, if any of your caravans is empty of cards you are not required to play on the empty caravan in your next turn: it can be left empty. Technically, you could win the game with only two caravans if you could sell both of them while your opponent sold the third.
Any card that is discarded or removed from play is added to the discard pile. These cards can't be recovered.
Playing Number Cards (A=1, 2-10)
Number cards in each caravan are played in a column. Each new card is added to the bottom of the column overlapping the previous number card. Number cards can only be placed on your own caravans.
On an empty caravan, any number card can be played.
On a caravan with one card, you may play any number that is not equal to the first card.
On a caravan with two cards, the bottom two cards indicate its numerical direction - ascending if the bottom card is higher, descending if it is lower. You may play any card that preserves the direction, or any card matches the suit of the bottom card. Example: if the last two cards of a caravan are 3, 7 the direction is ascending. On this caravan you may play any 8, 9 or 10 to continue the ascending direction, or the A, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 of hearts changing the direction to descending.
Note that cards following numerical direction do not need to be adjacent in value. For example you can go up from a three to a seven, or down from a seven to a three.
Under no circumstances are you allowed to place a number card on an equal number card (e.g. a 10 on a 10).
Playing Picture Cards (J, Q, K, Joker)
Picture cards all have special effects. Unlike number cards which are placed in a column overlapping each other, a picture card is placed to the side of and overlapping the card it is played on. A picture card can be played on a number card in any caravan, no matter whether it belongs to you or your opponent. Jacks, Kings and Jokers can be played on any number card; a Queen can only be played on the bottom card of a caravan's column. The special effects are as follows.
- Removes the card the Jack is played on as well as any face cards attached to it, and place them on the discard pile.
- This may only be played on the last card of a caravan's column. It reverses the current numerical direction of the caravan and changes the suit of the caravan to that of the Queen. Example: if the last two cards of a caravan are 3, 7 and the Q is played on the 7 the numerical direction is changed to descending and the suit to diamonds - so the next card played on this caravan can be any A, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 or the 8, 9 or 10 of diamonds. Multiple Queens can be played on the same card.
- Doubles the value of the card the King is played on. Multiple Kings can be used on the same card (for example a 9 with a King on it is worth 18, a 9 with two Kings on it is worth 36).
- If a Joker is played on an Ace it removes all other number cards (including Aces) from both player's caravans that are the same suit as the Ace on which the Joker was played, along with any picture cards attached to those cards. Picture cards that are the same suit as the Ace are not affected (unless they are attached to a number card removed by the Joker). Number cards and Aces with Queens attached to them count as belonging to their printed suit: the suit of the attached Queens is ignored.
- If a Joker is played on a number card from 2-10 it removes all other printed number cards of the same value from both player's caravans, along with any picture cards attached to those cards.
- In all cases the card on which the Joker is played and any pictures attached to it are spared. A played Joker only affects cards that have been played before it, not cards played subsequently. All removed cards are added to the discard pile.
Picture cards can be played on number cards which already have one or two other picture cards attached to them. However, no more than three picture cards can be attached to a single number card at one time. Therefore a picture card cannot be played on a number card that already has three picture cards attached to it, and the only way to remove such a card is by the use of a Joker on another card, or by disbanding the caravan. In particular a Jack cannot be used to remove a number card that already has three face cards or Jokers attached to it.
If in the event that a Jack or Joker removes a card leaving a caravan ending with two equal numbered cards, then the numerical direction remains as it was before the card was removed (Example. If a Jack is played on the 7 in this caravan: 6-7Q-6, leaving just 6-6, the direction is descending, since before the Jack was played there was a downward sequence of 7 to 6). This only applies in situations where the removal leaves equal cards following each other. (Example: If a Jack or Joker removes the 6 in this caravan: 2-6-4, then the sequence is now ascending [2-4] and it doesn't matter that beforehand the sequence was descending.)
To score a caravan you simply add the total sum of a caravan's number cards (as modified by Kings) to determine the caravan's value.
When at least one caravan is for sale from each of the three positions the game is over, and the player with two or more of the higher sales wins the game. However, in the event that one of three caravan values is tied between players, the game continues until all three caravans have sold. In this case, if a player has three caravans for sale with two being higher bids and the other being a tie, if it's that player's turn he can simply disband the tied caravan to win the game.
If you run out of cards to play before meeting the criteria of winning, then your opponent automatically wins.
Optionally, you may play with one Joker each or no Jokers.
Optionally, each player may customize their own deck provided that it consists of at least 30 cards (selected from standard 52-card decks with jokers), and doesn't contain any two cards that are precisely the same. The maximum number of cards to be used should be agreed upon before the game. It is recommended that no more than four decks (216 cards) be used to make a player's deck, as there are only four different decks that can be used in the New Vegas version of the game.
Bugs and Discrepancies
Here is Kyle Mifflin's summary of some issues with the original New Vegas game and how these are addressed in his interpretation.
- Deck Construction
- The actual game of Caravan as found in New Vegas is played with custom decks. You must have a minimum of 30 cards to play with in your deck - the rules do not mention a maximum number of cards allowed in your deck. You may use more than one set of traditional playing cards, and have any number of cards of any type provided they don't include any two cards that are precisely the same (face and back). In practice, deck construction doesn't matter. So long as you're playing with at least 30 cards and don't have two of the same card from identical decks, then you are playing by the rules. A full 54-card deck with Jokers for each player is ideal for even, fair game play. Both players have the same cards and the same advantage. 54 cards is also enough for what could be a battle, should the game go on for that long.
- Running Out of Cards
- In New Vegas the in-game rules for Caravan do not mention what happens when a player completely runs out of cards to play. However, when this happens in New Vegas the opposing player automatically wins. It's pretty clear that this is supposed to happen since it's been coded into the game.
- End of Game Mechanics
- This isn't a discrepancy or a bug, but it's something I want to discuss. A lot of people online think that the end-game mechanics of Caravan in New Vegas is bugged. I just want to clarify that having all three of your caravans sold - two at a higher bid and one tied - does not, and is not supposed to end the game. The rules state that the game continues if one of the sold caravan tracks is at a tie. However, I get that it makes sense to end the game when all three tracks are sold and a player has sold two at higher bids. Just note, that while one player just needs to disband their tied track to win the game, if it's the other player's turn then they have a chance to tie another caravan track or to sabotage their opponent's caravan, thus continuing the game indefinitely.
- Start of Game Mechanics
- The in-game rules in New Vegas state that you are not allowed to discard cards during the opening round of setting up your caravans. However, the in-game coding allows you to do this anyway. It can be accurately surmised that the developers allowed this possibility to avoid dealing with what would happen in you didn't have three number cards to play during the opening round. In any case, this is a confirmed bug. Since the only thing we have to go by when playing in real-life is that you are not allowed to discard during the opening round, if you do not have three number cards to play simply show your opponent your hand, and reshuffle the deck drawing eight new cards. This is my recommended simple solution to a problem which in practice rarely occurs.
This version of Caravan by Joe Foxon and friends was inspired by the New Vegas game but some details have been changed. For example in this version:
- Queens do not change the suit of a caravan but only reverse its direction.
- Kings do not double a card's value but only add a value equal to the number card they are attached to.
- Jokers played on Aces work the same way as Jokers played on other numbers.
- There is no limit on the quantity of picture cards that can be attached to a number.
- If a player's deck runs out, they do not lose but shuffle their discard pile and continue playing.
It is a two-player game played with two standard 52-card decks, one for each player, optionally including one joker in each player's deck.
Objective: Each player competes to sell two out of three 'caravans' for between 21 and 26 points, by building stacks.
Each player takes the top eight cards from their shuffled deck to form a hand of cards, and stacks the rest to one side face down. These cards will be used later in the game. From their eight cards they each select three numbered (A-10) cards and place them face up, side by side, to start three 'caravans':
If a player does not have three number cards to play, they show their hand, reshuffle their deck and take eight new cards.
Throughout the game, each of Player A's caravans is compared with Player B's corresponding caravan (1 against 1, 2 against 2, 3 against 3) .
Playing the game
The first player places any card from hand onto any of their own caravans, but may not play a card of the same rank as the card it is being played on. If this card is higher than the card it is played on, the sequence for that caravan is ascending; if it is lower it is descending. Picture cards have special effects, described below. After playing a card they take another one from the top their deck to replace it, so that they always begin and end their turn with a hand of five cards. Then the second player plays a card on their own caravan in the same way.
After this, players play alternately. At your turn you must do one of the following things:
- Add a card to one of your caravans, face up. The card you add may be:
- A number card of a different number and suit from the previous top number card of the caravan. This card must be placed on top of the caravan and must conform to the sequence direction (ascending or descending) for that caravan.
- Any number card of the same suit as the top number card of the caravan. This card must be placed on top of the caravan, and if the card is contrary to the current direction of the caravan it establishes a new direction for the caravan.
- Any picture card, as described below. Queens are placed on top of the caravan, but kings, jacks and jokers may be inserted anywhere within a caravan.
- Discard one card from your hand to your discard pile.
- Destroy one of your caravans, adding all its cards to your discard pile, and play a card from hand in the space to start a new caravan.
Having played or discarded a card, you always end your turn by drawing the top card of your deck to restore your hand to five cards.
If you run out of cards to draw from your deck, you shuffle the cards in your discard pile to form a new deck to draw from.
Aces are low, and count as ordinary number cards worth 1.
Jacks, Kings and Jokers do not have to be played on the top of a caravan: they may be placed on top of any card within a caravan.
A Jack removes the card immediately below it from the caravan: both cards are added to the player's discard pile.
A Joker removes the card immediately below it and all other cards of the same rank from both players' caravans. If Jokers are not used, then Jacks have this function.
A Queen reverses the order that cards are to be played in the caravan, so a descending sequence becomes an ascending sequence and vice versa.
A King takes on the point value of the card immediately below it. For example, a King placed on a 7 doubles its value to 14. If another King is played on it, the three cards are worth 21, and so on.
End of the game
A caravan can be sold when it has a value of at least 21 and not more than 26, and the opposing caravan either has a lower value or has a value greater than 26.
As soon as three caravans can be sold (one from each piston), the game ends, and the player who sells two or more caravans is the winner.
Note that you may continue to play on a caravan that can be sold to improve its value. You may even destroy it, if you think it is in your interest.
Note also that a caravan of value 26 cannot be beaten: it can always be sold unless the opposing caravan also has a value of 26, in which case neither caravan is sold until the value of the other is changed.