Friday, July 8, 2016


Quick game idea dreamed up while watching tennis. I'm excited about it, but it's untested. Maybe someone will playtest with me at TMC16?

2 or 4 players (doubles, naturally)

Materials: deck of playing cards, score sheet.

Set up: deal each player 5 cards. Randomly determine who is serving first.

Tennis scoring:

  • In a game, you score love (0), 15, 30, 40, game. But games have to be won by two points. If you get to 40-40 it is deuce (tie). One point from there is Ad (advantage). If the player with ad wins, it's game. If the other player wins it's back to deuce. 
  • It takes 6 games to win a set, but you have to win by two games. 
  • If you get to 6-6, there's a tiebreaker. The server serves once, then players take turns serving twice. First to 7 points wins the tiebreaker and the set, but, everyone say it, you have to win by two points.

(Game design aside: having to win by two points is one of the best remove first player advantage mechanics ever. The tennis tiebreaker was also a great innovation.)

A match can be one set, best of three or best of five. I recommend playing one set to start.

Playing a point: players draw up to 5 cards. The server can play a card or flip over the top card. Each card played has to be higher than the card before. Players can play two cards together as a sum. If a player can't play or chooses to pass, the other player wins the point. The same player or team serves for an entire game, then the other player or team serves the next game. Continue alternating serve throughout the match. When the deck runs out of cards, shuffle the played cards to continue.

Special cards:
Ace: 1 on a serve (flipped from the deck) 11 any other time.
Face cards: count as 10, but can only be played as part of a sum. However, King beats Queen beats Jack beats 10, so Queen+2 beats 10+2.

Variation: card pairs are multiplied rather than added.

Doubles: in a doubles match, either player on a team can play a card, or play a sum, or a sum can be made with one card from each player.

Notes: The weird scoring is the downside, but kids learning tennis scoring is not a bad thing. And it's a classic for a reason. I'm really excited by the strategy here. When to give up on a point, how to get rid of low cards, which pairs to form and play.


  1. Replies
    1. When the point is finished before the next serve.

  2. My older two (9 and 7 years old) and I have been playing variations for several hours today. They really enjoy the game.

    For the serve, we allow the following options:
    (1) serve a single card from the top of the deck
    (2) serve one or two cards from your own hand

    We also allow returns that have the same value, if the largest card in the combination is higher. For example, 8 + 2 can be played on top of 7 + 3.

    When playing doubles, we followed tennis conventions: one player serves the whole game, return of serve alternates. For the return of serve, the designated player must return on their own. For other returns, either of the partners alone or in combination can play cards for a return.

    I now see that we played with the inverse rules for aces. On the serve, we counted them as 11, all other times 1. We didn't distinguish between aces played from the hand or served from the deck, those were all 11s. That formed a strong advantage for the servers, while making aces essentially worthless for all other players.

    With three players, I had the kids play as partners and I played with a ghost partner. The ghost partner would contribute cards randomly. When the ghost played cards that weren't large enough to be legal plays, we considered that an unforced error and awarded the point to the other team. While the ghost was able to hold serve for one game, it was a big disadvantage. An alternative for three players would be to have the ghost partner with the server and for everyone to take turns serving. This would put the server advantage (with our "house rules" for aces) against the ghost disadvantage.

    Now that we've gotten comfortable with the basic and doubles games, we are considering a more complex version. The idea we are considering is to somehow limit the players' abilities to refresh their hands by redrawing so that burning a lot of cards will have a cost.

    1. Awesome feedback! I was afraid of too much tennis in the basic rules, since so many kids don't know the game anymore. But for people comfortable with it, your variations add a lot. I'll think about the limit on refreshing, but let me know what you come up with. One of the inspirations for the game came from talking with my son about how unusual in games it is for every point to be a fresh start.