Not your average playing card game.

I don’t play regular cards very often. I have never had a desire to learn poker or any gambling games, and solitaire has always been a frustrating endeavor for me. There are a few classics that I enjoy: Slap Jack, Egyptian Rat-Screw and Speed, to name some; your average card game that you play with friends growing up. But they are not on the same level as “Pigs”.  You just can’t beat it; Pigs is definitely NOT your average card game, and ever since I learned to play it’s become pretty much the only playing card game I enjoy. I can play it over and over and it will still be fun.

I learned pigs from an Englishman during my semester abroad in Germany who learned it from a Latvian the previous semester. I have no idea where the Latvian learned it, so I’m going to make the bold claim that it’s a traditional eastern European game. (If anyone reading this recognizes it, and has a better idea of its origins, let me know! And to add to the mystery of its origins, I just tried googling it and came up with lots of games called “Pigs”, but none that match the rules I learned.)

Wandering around Stockholm, where some of my fondest Pigs memories are from.

Wandering around Stockholm, where some of my fondest Pigs memories are from.

The object of pigs is to be the first person to get rid of all your cards, and the rules are fairly simple. You need at least three people to play, and to start everyone gets dealt six cards. After you deal the starting hands (it doesn’t matter who deals the first round), you flip over the top card of the deck to reveal its suit. That becomes the trump suit. So, like in Hearts, cards of that suit can beat any card of the other suits. For the purpose of explanation, lets pretend trumps is spades.

Turns are also called ‘attacks’. It doesn’t matter whether you go clockwise or counter-clockwise, but you are always attacking the person who would attack next. To start the attack, you lay down a card. If you lay down a four of hearts, for example, the defending player would have to beat it with a five or higher card (aces are high) or a spade. At this point, the other players can also help attack the defending player by laying down other fours. And if the defender beats one four with a five, anybody can lay down another five to add to the attack. Once a card is laid down, the defender risks more cards attacking him as long as they share a number with a card already out there. It’s kind of a free for all — the only stipulation is that you can’t lay down more cards than the defender has in his or her hand. If the defender successfully beats all the cards thrown at him,  they are all discarded and, starting with the initial attacker and going in the direction of play, everyone draws cards to get back up to six. However, if the defender fails to defend against the attack, he picks up all the cards. Then everyone else draws cards and play skips the defender’s turn to initiate an attack on the next player.

Play tends to get more interesting as the draw pile gets smaller. The last card to get drawn is always the revealed trump card, so if it happens to be a high trump card, there is an added incentive to play cards so you have to draw cards. Once that card is drawn the game starts to end because players don’t need to draw cards to fill out their hands. Remember, the object of the game is to get rid of your cards first. Another unique thing about Pigs is that play doesn’t stop when one person wins — it keeps going until there is a loser. The loser is dubbed the “Pig” and has to deal the next round, and the winner goes first. This often leads to playing more and more rounds because the Pig usually never wants to end it as the Pig. And if you play with the same people consistently, and are really obsessive, the Pig stays the Pig until he or she can redeem themselves… even if the last time you played was weeks ago. (I’m not encouraging this, but it can happen!)

There are lots of strategies in Pigs. For example, the defender can choose to pick up the initial attack and protect himself from further attacks. Picking up cards early in the game isn’t as bad as it might seem. It would be far worse to try and attack and get a massive amount of cards because you were overconfident.Another strategy for successful defense is to try and play the same numbered card to beat the attacking cards if possible. That cuts down on the potential additional attacks a lot. I also try and hold on to all of my trump cards as long as possible. They are far more useful and helpful at the end of the game. On the attacking side, I usually try to attack with multiples if at all possible. It’s easier to defend only one card, plus if you attack with more cards you get to draw more cards… hopefully getting more trumps. I also usually try to help out the person attacking the player who would attack me. If their attack is successful I get to take my turn without defending, which is awesome. You want to decide to help out with an attack as fast as you can because once the cards are picked up/ discarded, no additional attack cards can be played.

As players become more familiar with the rules, play often gets faster and faster. Eventually, Pigs should be a fast-paced, competitive game.

The bottom of my $13 glass of beer. You better believe I documented that!

The bottom of my $13 glass of beer. You better believe I documented that!

I’ve played a lot of Pigs, but perhaps my favorite memory of the game is when my friends and I played an absolutely ridiculous amount or rounds during a trip to Stockholm. We’d discovered that Stockholm is a ridiculously expensive place to visit — I think I paid the equivalent of $13 for a beer at a bar we’d wandered into — and had decided to fall back on cheap pass-times.

We wandered around sight-seeing for a while and then decided to go to a grocery store and get some food and go to a park and play Pigs. We stayed out in the park for hours! It was summertime, too, so it stayed light enough to play past midnight. We didn’t go back to our hostel until after 1 a.m., when it was finally too dark to play. We also spend a good chunk of the next day playing. We’d befriended another guy our age at the hostel and taught him. He was determined to keep playing until he was consistently not the Pig. So when I think about Pigs, I often associate it with Stockholm.

Good luck! I hope you give Pigs a chance — it’s a blast.

All for now,

Do you have any playing card games you can play over and over? 


3 thoughts on “Not your average playing card game.

  1. Pigs sounds like quite the fun game! When I am not playing Magic, my friends and I enjoy a game of Euchre. It is very similar to Spades, but uses a much smaller amount of cards, and it provides each team the chance to steal the deal for points. Check out the wiki page for full rules and give it a shot!

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