Escalation

Designed by Charles Pierce,

Object: The player with no remaining cards in his hand wins.

Card values: This game is played with a standard 52-card deck. 2's and 3's are special cards - see below. All other cards are ordinary. Card values are A=14, K=13, Q=12, J=11, 10=10, 9=9, 8=8, 7=7, 6=6, 5=6, 4=6. Sixes, fives and fours all have a value of 6.

Play:

Shuffle the deck and deal 6 cards to each player. The remaining cards form a face-down draw deck. The player to dealer's left begins by leading any single card or set of equal valued ordinary cards. The initial direction of play is clockwise.

On your turn, you have three options:

  1. Play one or more ordinary cards face up in the middle and announce the total value of the cards. If you play more than one card, all your played cards must be of the same value. Since 4's, 5's and 6's are all worth 6 they can be played together. The total value of played cards must be higher than the total value of the previous player card(s). Example: the previous player played a Jack (value 11). You could play a Queen (12), a King (13) or an Ace (14), or two cards, such as 9+9 (18) or 4+5 (12) or A+A (28). A+A could be followed by a set of cards worth more than 28, such as 10+10+10 (30) or 4+4+5+5+6 (30).
  2. Play a single special card - a two or a three - see below.
  3. If you are unable or unwilling to play a higher total value then the previous player or a special card, you must take all played cards from all the players and place them in a face-down stack in front of you. Do not put them back in your hand! Then play card or set of equal cards of any value face up in the middle to start a new round.

After each turn, players must refresh their hand to 6 cards by drawing from the face-down deck. When the deck runs out, continue playing until a player runs out of cards in their hand and is declared the winner. All other players add their remaining cards in hand to the stack in front of them. Each other player pays the winner 1cent per card they have. It does not matter how many cards the winner's stack contains. (Players determine the monetary value per card prior to play.)

Special cards:

Any player may at their turn play a special card - a Two or a Three. These cards can only be played as single cards: they cannot be combined played in sets or combined with other cards. A special card maintains the value of the previous play. For example if the previous player played two Jacks (22) you may play a Two, which takes on the same value 22, requiring the next player to play more than 22, or another special card, or take the pile of played cards. Because the value of the previous play is passed on to the next player they are also known as "pass through" cards.

When a Three is played the direction of play changes - from clockwise to counter-clockwise or vice versa. A Two leaves the direction of play unchanged. Example: The players in clockwise order are A, B, C, D. A plays a King (13), B plays 7+7 (14). C plays a 3 (still 14: direction reversed), so now it is B's turn to beat 14. B plays a 2 (value is still 14). A plays a 3, reversing the direction back to B again. If B can't beat 14 or play another special card, B's only option is to take the play pile and start again.

Notes on Strategy

The main objective is to win the endgame, getting rid of your cards as quickly as possible after the stock is exhausted. So while there are still cards in the stock, the aim is to collect as good a hand as possible for the endgame. Ideally you want cards that can be played in groups, such as a set of aces or kings, or 4's, 5's and 6's which can all be played together and are easier to collect. Pass-through cards (2's and 3's) are of little use for winning the endgame since they can only be played singly.

If you win the game you do not pay for face-down penalty cards and it does not matter how many of these you have. Therefore if you are confident of winning and have no pass-through card to use, you may prefer to take the play pile rather than using your good cards to beat the previous play and risk picking up worse cards in exchange. This strategy is risky, however, since you stand to lose more if you don't win, and if several players adopt this strategy they can't all win.

The defensive strategy is always to beat the previous play if you can. That way you have a small face-down pile and will only lose a small amount. But playing this way you are unlikely to win. So probably defensive play loses in the long term and aggressive players come out ahead, their wins more than compensating for occasional large losses.