Ages: 4 and up
Players: 2 or more
Object: Collect the most books (4 cards of the same rank)
Best for: Anytime, anywhere play
Skills it builds: Memory
Deal seven cards to each player and place the remaining cards face-down in a pile. Player 1 (to the dealer's left) asks Player 2 if he has a specific rank (number or face-card) that she already has in her hand ("Do you have any fives?"). If he does, he must hand any or all of these cards to Player 1. Then Player 1 gets another turn to ask for a card. If Player 2 does not have the card, he tells Player 1 to "Go Fish," and Player 1 draws a card from the deck. Play continues clockwise until a player collects four cards to form a book, which she displays and discards in front of her. When a player runs out of cards, the discarded books are counted and the player with the most wins. If you get through the deck without a winner, you can either re-shuffle and continue play, or count books and declare a winner.
Ages: 6 and up
Players: 3 or more
Object: Be swift to grab a spoon and collect 4 cards of a kind
Best for: Mixed ages and groups of five or more
Skills it builds: Concentration and observation
Arrange spoons — one less than the number of players — so that they're equidistant from everyone. Deal each player four cards and stash the rest in a pile next to the dealer. Players hold the cards in their hands while the dealer draws from the deck. He then passes either that card or one from his hand to the player on his left. That player repeats the pattern while the dealer simultaneously draws another card. The goal is to collect four of a kind, and speed is key. When a player scores four, she grabs a spoon. As soon as other players see someone grab a spoon, they should follow suit. The player who gets stuck without a spoon loses the round and gets a letter. When a player has spelled S-P-O-O-N-S, he's out of the game. Keep playing until one player remains.
Ages: 6 and up
Players: 2 or more
Object: Get rid of all of your cards
Best for: Portable play
Skills it builds: Strategy and decision-making
Deal seven cards to each player and place the rest in a stack with the top card turned over alongside to start a discard pile. The player to the dealer's left discards a card that matches either the suit or rank of the card displayed. If she doesn't have a card that matches, she draws from the deck until she finds one that will work. Play continues clockwise. Eights are wild, and any player who uses one gets to determine the suit the next player must use. Players can use either strategy — if they don't want to play a card from their hand they can draw from the deck. The winner is the first to get rid of all her cards.
Spit or Speed
Ages: 7 and up
Object: Get rid of all your cards — as fast as you can!
Best for: Quick-handed floor play
Skills it builds: Logic and dexterity
Shuffle well, then deal out the entire deck. Each player deals his cards into five piles as if he were playing Solitaire — the first pile contains one card face up, the next has one down and one up, and so forth. Players should each have 11 cards remaining in their hands. Both players flip over the top card in their hands and place them side-by-side in between them, keeping the remaining cards in their hands without looking at them. Drawing from the cards in the Solitaire setup, each player plays their cards as quickly as they can on the cards in the middle. Build piles sequentially (if a three is displayed you can play a two or four) and use both piles. Aces can be played on twos or kings. When both players can go no further, they flip new cards from their hand pile, and restart the process. If neither player can make a move and one doesn't have any cards in his hand to flip, both players race to slap the smallest pile (the bottom hand wins!). If someone slaps at the wrong time, she is penalized with the largest pile. Each player shuffles the pile he ends up with, re-deals a solitaire setup, and starts over. If a player doesn't have enough cards to fill her setup, she should deal as far as she can go. The first player to get rid of all his cards wins.
Ages: 8 and up
Players: 2 and up
Object: Create melds (sequences and groups) to score 500 points
Best for: Mixed age groups that have at least an hour to play — or can pick up the game later
Skills it builds: Strategy and memory
There are many variations and names for 500 Rummy, but here's a basic overview: Shuffle the deck, including the two jokers (which are wild). Deal 10 cards to each player (fewer for more than three players) and place the others face-down, turning over the top card to start a discard pile. Player 1 takes either a card from the deck or the top card in the discard pile in order to form a meld. Melds consist of groups (three or four cards of the same rank) and sequences (four consecutive cards of the same suit), and are placed face-up in front of each player. Later in the game, a player can also choose another suit from the discard pile if he can use it to immediately form a meld. However, if a player does select a card from down in the pile, he also has to pick up all the cards on top of it. Players can also lay cards off of other players' melds. For example: if Player 1 has three jacks melded, Player 2 can lay down another jack in front of himself. When a player has finished laying down what he can, he should discard a card (leaving other cards in the pile visible). Play then continues clockwise. The round ends when one player uses all her cards. At that time, points are awarded for each card every player has melded and deducted for those left in players' hands. Score face value for number cards, 10 points for Jacks, Queens, and Kings, and 15 points for Aces and Jokers. Write down the scores, shuffle the cards, and play again. The first player to 500 points wins.
Ages: 10 and up
Players: 3 or 4
Object: Collect the fewest points before one opponent reaches 100
Best for: An evening of strategic play when you have at least an hour
Skills it builds: Decision-making and prediction
Deal the entire deck and let each player examine her cards. Players pass three cards — the first round to the left, the second to the right, the third across — and on the fourth round there's no pass. Repeat this cycle throughout the game. The player with the two of clubs starts play, placing the card down in the center of the table. The player to his left continues, playing a card of the same suit. She may play another card only if she has no clubs in her hand. After each player has had a turn, the four cards (the trick) goes to the player with the highest card in the suit that was led. That player then leads the next trick, beginning with any suit he chooses. However, heart cards and the Queen of Spades may not lead a trick until hearts have been broken (already used in play). Continue until all the cards have been played. When the round is over, each player is penalized a point for each heart card he has taken, and 13 points for the Queen of Spades. One exception: if a player takes every card with point value, he "Shoots the Moon" and can choose to award 26 points to each player or deduct 26 points from his own score. When one player has accumulated 100 points, the game is over and the person with the fewest points wins.