Playing card games


Chinese New Year gatherings are that one time a year many of us get to catch up with relatives. But after some 365 days of not seeing them, we might have to face the dreaded small talk to get through the festivities. Thankfully, playing card games can always easily solve this conundrum.

Competition is always a great way to break any ice, so here are eight playing card games to keep everyone entertained, instead of racking your brain for how to siam questions about your love life.

Check out more games to play together here:


Common terms in playing card games


playing card games (1) - a rank of suit of playing cards
(Rank) of (suit): The ace of clubs, two of hearts, jack of spades, queen of hearts and king of diamonds

Before you start, here are some common terms you’ll hear while playing, especially if you’re a card game newbie:

  • Rank refers to the card’s “number” itself, i.e. 2-10, the ace, joker, queen or king.
  • Value refers to the numeric value given to a card. For example, an ace can be worth 1 or 11 in Blackjack.
  • A suit refers to one of the four categories – or shapes – that a card belongs to, i.e. diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades.
  • To call is to place a bet by matching the previous amount placed by another player
  • To raise is to place a bet that is higher than the previous amount placed by another player
  • To fold is to end a turn without placing any bets

1. Go Fish


Difficulty score: 2/10
Players: 2-5

go fish setup
Image credit: The Spruce Crafts

We all have that one blur sotong friend in the group – try teaching them Poker and you may start tearing up. Luckily, Go Fish would be your go-to card game as it is a simple one that even kids can pick up in a jiffy.

Players have to match cards to form a set of four with the same rank, known as “books”, and “fish” for more cards from other players or a central pile to form more books. The player with the most books after all cards have been matched will win the game. 

Win condition: Be the player with the most books (set of four cards with same rank) at the end of the game.

For a more detailed explanation, read this Go Fish guide.


2. Old Maid


Difficulty score: 2/10
Players: 2-5

playing card games (2) - old maid gameplay

Another game about matching cards, Old Maid requires players to pair cards of the same rank and pick out a random card from the previous player to form more pairs. 

The twist is that one queen will be removed from the deck, so you’ll have to avoid being the last player with a single queen card. So if your opponent looks happy when you hover over a card, it might just be a sign you’re about to lose the game!

Win condition: Avoid being the player with the odd card at the end of a game.

For a more detailed explanation, read this Old Maid guide.


3. Ninety-nine


Difficulty score: 2/10
Players: 2-8

For those who are good at quick maf, Ninety-nine would be a piece of cake. Each player takes turns to add a card into the discard pile and call out its total value before drawing a new card. And as its name suggests, the goal of the game is to ensure that the pile’s total value does not exceed 99 during your turn, or you lose!

If you’re lucky enough to have low-value cards as the pile approaches the limit of 99, you could sabo the next player too.

Win condition: Be the last player standing with tokens.

Note: Tokens can be anything from coins to red packets – players lose a token every time they exceed 99.

For a more detailed explanation, read this Ninety-Nine guide.


4. Indian Poker


Difficulty score: 3/10
Players: 2-8

playing card games (3) - indian poker gameplay

The objective of Indian Poker is simple: the player with the highest value card wins. Sounds easy, right? Not quite. Unlike most games where you’ll know what cards you have, this one amps up the suspense by letting you see everyone’s cards but your own.

A game of odds and strategy, deduce who has the winning card by banking on the other cards you’ve seen and how your friends react to your own. In some variations, those who guess the player with the highest card will win and those who don’t will have a forfeit. In others, there is gambling involved where players make bets.

Win condition: Player with the highest value card wins.

For a more detailed explanation, read this Indian Poker guide.


5. Stress


Difficulty score: 5/10
Players: 2

playing card games (1) - stress gameplay
The layout of the game involves two central piles and four rows of distinct card ranks per player

Most of us would remember playing the UNO variant of this game where having lightning-fast reaction times is key. If you don’t, Stress involves placing cards down and reacting quickly based on the rank of the cards. 

After distributing the cards, players begin the game by trying to stack cards from their four rows onto the middle piles in numerical order. If both middle stacks have cards of the same rank, players must race to place their hands on the piles and shout “stress!”

It is one of the most fast-paced and exciting card games that vary in difficulty depending on your opponents. 

Win condition: Be the first player to get rid of all your cards.

For a more detailed explanation, read this Stress guide.


6. Bluff


Difficulty score: 5/10
Players: 2-6

playing card games (5) - bluff gameplay

Remember calling out your friends as kids with the phrase “liar liar, pants on fire”? Do that again with Bluff, a.k.a. Cheat or BS, where opponents are called out if you think they’re lying about the rank of their card. 

The game progresses with each player taking turns to discard a card from their hand, while calling out its rank. By right, the next player’s cards should be a rank above or below.

Here’s where you can get sneaky: the ranks can either be a bluff, which is up to your fellow players to suss out. If any player thinks that someone is lying, they may call someone’s bluff and reveal the cards.

Win condition: Be the first player to get rid of all your cards.

For a more detailed explanation, read this bluff guide.


7. Mafia


Difficulty score: 7/10
Players: 6-16 (1 non-playing moderator)

As Singaporeans who’ve been through camps and chalet gatherings when we were younger, it’s safe to say that most of us would have played a version of this game without cards called Polar Bear, Werewolf, or Mafia.

Players will be assigned a role based on the card they receive:

  1. Ace = Mafia (2-4 players)
  2. King = Sheriff (1-3 players)
  3. Queen = Doctor (1 player)
  4. Others = Civilian (0-7 players)

The game proceeds with multiple day and night cycles, where the bad guys – a.k.a. the Mafias – must convince everyone that they’re innocent. Players must then collectively come to a decision on who to vote off. The trick to winning is to seem the least sus as possible to your fellow players!

Win condition: “Kill off” the opposing players.

For a more detailed explanation, watch this “How to Play Mafia (Card Game)” video.


8. Texas hold ‘em Poker


Difficulty score: 9/10
Players: 2-8 

playing card games (6) - royal flush texas hold 'em poker
The Royal Flush, the strongest combination of cards in poker.

Probably one of the most popular games on the list, Texas hold ‘em Poker is a game that involves deception, risk-taking and memorising a huge combination of cards. Most of us would know of the term “poker face”, which is what you’ll need to master to avoid giving away how strong your hand is while tricking your opponents into taking risks.

While mastering poker can take years, this simplified version revolves around trying to construct the strongest poker hand. Even if you have no idea what’s going on, you can simply try bluffing your opponents and hoping none of them catch on.

Win condition: Have the strongest combination of cards.

For a more detailed explanation on betting, watch this “How To Play Poker” video or read this poker guide.


Playing card games to enjoy with friends


poker cards

With these 10 games of varying difficulty, you’ll now have plenty of game ideas to pick and choose from to play with your friends and family. If your new card game kakis are willing, turn these playing card games into a lifelong hobby so you’ll always have something fun to do together during gatherings.

Check out other home-based activities:


Photography by Justin Oh and Huiwen Chan.