How To Play War (and 3 Unique Variations)

War is one of the simplest card games to learn. It’s a game of chance, no strategy involved, which makes it ideal for young children.

But it’s still a fun game to play, regardless of your age. And since it doesn’t involve any strategy, it can be pretty relaxing.

It can also be a bit boring if you prefer your card games to have some oomph.

So, we’ve included three variations of War, to up its difficulty quotient or just its entertainment factor, that may convince you to give an old childhood card game another try.

How to Play War (standard)

First, how to play the game.

  • Number of Players: 2+
  • Expected Duration: 10-30 minutes (with 2 players)

Dealing

Shuffle the cards and deal each player one card at a time until the deck is out of cards. Each player will have 26 cards.

Cards are kept face down in a stack in front of each player.

If playing with more than two players, deal an equal number of cards. With three players, for instance, each player will have 17 cards and one card will be left over.

With 4 or more players, it’s best to use two decks (and be prepared for the game to last a while).

It doesn’t matter who deals, because no one goes first!

Playing (with two players)

Both players turn up a card at the same time. Whoever has the highest card “wins” both cards and adds them to the bottom of his or her card stack.

When the cards played are the same value (each player turns up a jack), then it’s war.

Both players put one card from their stacks face down and one card from their stacks face up. Whoever’s face-up card is highest wins all of the cards played.

If the cards are equal during war, players again place one card face down and one card face up. This continues indefinitely until someone’s face-up card wins the war.

War with More than Two Players

When playing War with more than two players, the game is played exactly the same way.

Except there are a few ways to deal with a war.

Only the two players with tied cards can go to war, or all of the players can go to war.

If only the two players with tied cards go to war and the cards of equal value are the winning cards (higher than the other cards played), then whoever wins the war between the two players can keep all of the cards.

If two players without winning cards have equal cards (if the tied players have nines while another player has a ten, for instance), players should decide at the start of the game how to handle these wars.

These wars can either:

  • Be ignored, since they are not necessary to determine the winner of a round.
  • Be played, with the original high card of the hand winning all the cards, including those played during the war.
  • Trump all other cards, and whoever wins the war wins all the cards played during the round.

If all players go to war when cards of equal value come up, whoever wins the war wins all of the cards. It doesn’t matter who had the highest card originally.

Collecting Winning Cards

It’s up to players how to add winning cards to their stacks. Though, all players should collect winning cards in the same manner during a game.

Collected cards can be simply added to the bottom of the stack, or they may be added to the bottom of the stack face up or collected in a separate stack.

Adding cards to the stack face up or collecting winning cards separately gives you the option of shuffling all cards won each time you get to the end of the stack.

End of the Game

The game of War continues until one player wins all the cards in the deck(s).

And now for those promised variations.

The Swap War

A very simple variation.

Players add cards that are won face up beneath their decks or collect cards won in a separate stack. When they get through their stacks, players swap all their cards, then continue play.

Each time a player gets to the end of their stack (the player with the least cards will get through first), the players swap cards.

The player who collects all the cards first still wins, but the winning cards could end up in any player’s hands.

High Stakes War

You’ll need a die.

Deal and play as normal.

Except, in instances of war, the stakes are higher.

When players turn up cards of the same value, roll a die and play the number of cards shown. Play one card face up as usual and the rest of the cards face down.

For example, Player One and Player Two both turn up kings. One player rolls the die (it doesn’t matter which player), and the die shows six.

Each player must now lay five cards face down on the table and one card face up. Whoever has the highest face-up card wins all of the cards played.

Wild Card War

A strategy variation.

Separate aces and face cards (jack, queen, king) from the deck. Shuffle and deal each player two or three cards from the aces and face cards pile.

Return the remaining aces and face cards to the deck. Shuffle and deal as normal.

The aces and face cards dealt to each player are effectively wild cards. Players should look at their own cards, then place them face down to prevent other players from seeing them.

These cards may be played any time during a game, even after a round has been played.

For instance, Player One turns up a nine. Player Two turns up a queen. Player One can play a king or ace from her wild cards to win all of the cards played.

Player Two may also play a wild card on the same hand. So, if Player One turns up a nine, Player Two turns up a queen, and Player One plays a king from her wild cards, Player Two can then play an ace from his wild cards to win the hand.

Each player can only play one wild card in a round, and once wild cards are played they remain in the game.

There can be no war using wild cards. If a player plays an Ace wild card, they automatically win all of the cards played that round.

Warning: Strategic use of wild cards can change the course of a game multiple times. This can greatly increase the time it takes to play!

If you’re looking for a strategy-heavy card game, War isn’t it. But some slight alterations can make it less child’s play and more of a challenge.

It also has such simple base play, it’s easy to invent your own variations. Let us know if you’ve got a great version of War everyone should be playing!

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