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A Look At The Card Game War

Updated on November 10, 2014

The simplest card game I know is War. To play it, you need to know the rank order of standard playing cards. When two cards are played, you need to know which card ranks higher.

It is a two-player game that is usually considered a kid's game, although adults do sometimes play it. I played it once in a while when I was a kid.

How to Play War

The rules as I recall them are very simple. Take a standard deck of 52 playing cards, and deal them face-down, one at a time, back and forth until each player has 26 cards. Then on each turn, each player takes the top card and lays it face-up. The player with the highest rank card takes both cards and places them at the bottom of his or her deck. The cards rank, from lowest to highest, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. And the suits on the cards are ignored.

If the two cards have the same rank, then a war is fought. Each player lays two cards face-down, and a third card face-up. The player with the highest ranking third card takes all of the cards and places them at the bottom of her or his deck. If those two cards have the same rank, the war continues until one player's last-played card is higher than the other player's. The player who won the war usually flips over the face-down cards to show what the player losing the war gave up.

When one player runs out of cards, the other player wins the game. If a player runs out of cards during a war, the other player wins.

Strategy

It can take a long time to finish a game of War. And there is not much strategy that can be used.

When you place two cards at the bottom of your pile, you can place the high card on top of the low card or vice versa. When you win a war, you can stack the cards in a certain order. Most players just grab the cards at random and stick them on the bottom of their pile. If you stacked your cards using a pattern, I don't know how much it would help.

Variations

It would make sense at the beginning of a game to give one player all of the red cards and the other player the black cards. That way, each player would start out even. But most people just shuffle the cards and deal them.

When a war is fought, some people lay one card face-down and a second card face-up. Others lay three cards face-down and a fourth card face-up. The more cards you lay face-down, the more high ranking cards you could lose, so there is a difference.

Some people play with Jokers where a Joker is the highest ranking card.

And some people play until there have been three wars, and then compare card counts. The player with the most cards winning. That cuts the playing time a lot.

Three Players

You can play War with three players. Deal the cards evenly, and lay the extra card aside. You can show the extra card or not. Then play as you would with two players. The highest rank card takes the other two cards.

If two or three players play the same highest rank card, a war is fought with all players. Continue until one player lays down the highest rank last-played card.

Alternately, if just two players both play the same highest rank card, a war could be fought between those two players. The third player would play all cards face-down during the war, and could not win the war.

War can similarly be played by four or more players.

Shorter Game

I've got to believe that someone must have created a computerized game of war. This could be played automatically at a very high speed, and it wouldn't take too long to finish. And it could tell you how many turns were taken during a game.

There is a way to shorten a game of War. During play, if someone plays a Two, that card is removed from play by the player who wins it. Continue until all four Twos have been removed. Then start removing the Threes.

Keep removing cards from play until someone wins the game. That would shorten the game a lot.

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