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The RoBlog
Monday, July 02, 2012


A more strategic version of the classic card game War

My daughter and I came up with an improvement on the classic card game War that makes it more of a thinking person’s version of the game, so I thought I’d share it.  It may look complicated, but it’s really not once you account for a couple of special cases, and it allows you the opportunity to employ strategy and counter strategy in a way that the classic game doesn’t offer.

It’s not perfect.  It needs a faster way of ending the game when it’s clear that you’re going to lose.  I’m toying around with periodically removing the lowest remaining card from play (“everyone turn in your 2s), but can’t figure out if that’s unfair in some way, when to start removing them, and how often.

Let me know if you end up playing it, how it goes, and if you have to tweak anything to get it to work (or I forgot to address something or need more examples to help explain things).


Everyone gets an equal share of the deck, arranged in a single pile face down as in the regular game of War.

Each player takes the top 5 cards off of their pile and looks at them (but doesn't show anyone else).

Regular Game Play

Use your favorite method of choosing someone to go first.  I just let my daughter go first, but since she’s beaten me every time we play it may be time to reconsider.

The first person chooses any of the five cards in her hand to lay down, face up.  The remaining players decide which of the 5 cards in their hands that they want to play on their turn (we go clockwise, typically).

The person who put down the highest card gets all the face up cards, and puts them in a face-up stack that is separate from their face-down stack.

Everyone draws enough cards from the face-down pile to get back up to 5 cards (this will usually be one card, but may be more if wars were fought).

The person who won the last round then chooses a card from her hand and sets it down face up, starting the next round.

Emptying Your Face-Down Pile

At some point your face-down pile will become empty.  When that happens, you can draw no more cards until you've played every card in your hand EVEN THOUGH you probably have cards in a face up pile.  This means that, if you don’t get into any wars, you’ll have 5 cards to choose from, then 4, then 3, then 2, and then you’ll have no choice but to play the last card that you are holding.

This is really where the strategy comes in as an attentive opponent can guess at what you might have left and play accordingly.  Similarly, you might guess how others will play knowing what you have and try to protect high cards for later use rather than risk being forced into losing one.

Once you have played the last card from your hand, you can turn over your face-up pile (making it the face-down pile), shuffle it, draw the top 5 and continue playing, creating a new face-up pile the next time you win a round.


If someone ahead of you in a round puts down a card that you have in your hand, you can choose to put down that card and force a war.  Keep in mind that, just like in regular War, if the highest card played in the round is higher than the war cards, that person wins and the war never happens.  Because of that, a war can only begin when all players have played their cards for that round.

To play out a war, take the top 3 cards from your face-down pile and place them face down next to your face up card that’s in the war (just like you would in regular War); no peeking!  Then the last person to get into the war chooses any card from their hand and places it face up next to their three face-down cards.  Each player engaged in the war does the same thing going from the last person to get into the war to the first person who got war forced upon them.  The player with the highest face-up card wins everything.  Of course, there can be more rounds of war if the highest cards played also match.

No one draws any new cards into their hands while they are at war (unless you are one of the situations listed below).  So if you started the round with 5 cards in your hand and played one that got you into a war, you will only have 4 cards to choose from to try and win the war.  If you get engaged in a second round of war, then you’ll only have 3 to choose from.

War: Special Cases

If you run out of face-down cards before you’ve played the three face down cards for your war, then the remaining cards come from the cards in your hand.  Lucky you, you get to choose which ones they are!  If using the cards in your hand would leave you with no cards in your hand, choose the card that you want to put face up, put the other card(s) face down for the war, turn over your face-up pile, shuffle it and pull the cards you need to put face down from the top of the pile (still no peaking!).  Once it’s your turn to play the face up card, play the last one in your hand.

If you have no cards in your hand when a  war starts (that is, the last card in your hand got you into the war), then you can turn over your face-up pile, shuffle it, draw 5 cards into your hand, and take the next 3 cards off the top of the pile and put them down without looking.  Lucky you, you get 5 cards in your hand to choose from!  If you’ve already shuffled the face-up pile because you’re in a second round of war, you don’t need to reshuffle them again.

If you don’t have enough cards to do a war (that is, you on the brink of losing), then pick one card to use as your face-up card, and put whatever cards you have left face down for your war cards.  If you only have one card, then you don’t need to put down any face down cards; you’ll win or lose based on the one card that you have left!

If the card that got you into the war was your very last card (sad face), then that is the card that you will fight with.  If anyone else’s card beats the card that you went to war with, they get it all.  If the highest card played by anyone else is still a tie, then you keep playing with that card until you’ve won or lost (they will need to keep putting down cards in regular war style as long as THEY still have cards).  (I can imagine a tie here where, say, two people have played their last cards and they are the same, and higher than any other players’ cards.  It’s bound to be a rare condition, but a crafty player could force it.  In this case, I’d suggest that the winning players take their own cards back, take the remaining cards that other players might have contributed along the way and turn them face-down.  Shuffle them and deal them to the winners evenly.  If there are any extra cards that would prevent an even distribution, they go to the first player to force the war.  Let me know if this ever happens to you.)

The Joker Variant

This is the version that we are currently playing.  It’s totally optional and probably only worth adding once you've mastered the main game.  It adds another small bit of strategy that can be fun.

Add in the Jokers to the deck before shuffling and dealing.  Jokers take on the value of the last card that WON a round.  So if there are two people playing, and a 9 beat a 3 in the previous round, the value of any Joker is now a 9.  It remains a 9 until a different value wins a round.  During this time, it’s treated as any other 9.  This means that if you have a Joker and no other high cards, you can suddenly get a high card.  If someone wins a round with an Ace, for example, your Joker is now an ace.  As soon as someone wins a round with a lower card (say, a 4), though, your Joker loses its value (from an Ace to a 4).

During a war, a Joker keeps the value of the card that won the last round the entire time.  If the card that won the last round was a 6, and the current round ends up in a war starting with aces, for example, Jokers are worth 6 the whole time, not an ace since no one has won this round yet.  If a war over aces is won by a 4, then the next round the Joker becomes a 4, not an ace (since the 4 is what won the round).

My 10 and 7 year old boys and I love this game! I already lost, but they are continuing to play as I type. I think with only 2 players, when one player plays their very last card and it forces a war, it should be treated like a stalemate in Chess -- a tie. But call it a "cease fire," since it is War after all!
Glad you guys like it!

We've never gotten to a tie on the last card, but we'll try your suggestion when we get there!

FWIW, we tested a way to get to the end faster, that you might be interested in: every time someone flips over their up cards, you throw out the lowest remaining card in the deck (start with 2s; and we just throw them out when they show up rather than sorting through the deck). It works well so far (but we've only tried a couple of times.
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