January 14, 2018 Author: Lou Federico


I have a particular fondness for what I call “Backpack games”. Small, inexpensive, and easily portable games that you can stuff in your backpack or pocket, which can be played pretty much anywhere. A bus, a library, a coffee shop, the top of a mountain, or in a tent. These types of games don’t have giant table spanning boards or 76 expansions. They don’t require giant rule books or YouTube videos to teach you how to play. What they do have is a simple addictive gameplay hook that can be learned and or taught in about 5 minutes, and will keep you entertained from 15 minutes to 4 hours. Pairs is just such a game.

Pairs is a game designed by James Ernest and Paul Peterson, and it is published by Hip Pocket Games,. Which itself is a division of parent company Cheapass Games (Think Skybound Studios’ relationship to Image Comics). It relies on what Hip Pocket refers to as a “Triangular Deck”. Basically what this means is the deck consists of 55 cards, (1×1, 2×2, 3×3, 4×4…….. all the way up to 10×10). Gameplay is equally as simple. Shuffle cards, put one face up in front of each player, put the remainder face down on the table, burn 5 cards off the deck (to help prevent card counting) then, starting with the lowest number card players takes their turn clockwise. On the players turn they have two options 1) draw off the deck, and hope to NOT get a pair, or 2) Fold. Now this is where the strategy comes into play. If you fold, you will acquire the points of the LOWEST card in play from ANY player. If you catch a pair, you acquire the points of the paired card. Therefore if you fold and the lowest card on the table is a 2, you get two points. However, if you have a 10 in front of you, and you pair it, you get hit for 10 points. Points are BAD. So, it becomes a game of risk mitigation, and keeping track of what cards have been played. It is devilishly simple, and immensely replayable. I sat down with my daughter, and started playing rounds, and before we knew it an hour had gone by. We had players jump in for a few rounds, and then bow out. At the max we had 4 players playing, and the game scaled perfectly. (the deck can actually support upwards of 7 people) This is a testament to the game’s simple design. It’s like the Pringles of card games, “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop”. Games were fast. I don’t recall a single round taking longer than 3-4 minutes. Sometimes I folded early taking the path of least resistance, sometimes I pressed my luck hoping another player would blink first and get me out of a bad situation, without having to take any points. I can easily see why the designers call this a “New Classic Pub Game”, as this game is perfectly designed for such an environment.

This is an example of the “Triangular” deck, it works like this all the way up to 10×10, this art is from the “Commonwealth Deck” drawn by Shane Tyree

Now for the low low price of $10 dollars I would say this game is already a bargain, but as every good infomercial says “But Wait….. There’s More” and WOW is there more. If  you head over to Cheap Ass Games website:, there is a FREE PDF available for download. On this PDF are the rules for 17 other games that have been developed around this style deck!!! You read that right!!! For $10 you get no less than 20  different games!!!! All based around ONE DECK!!! I don’t know of any better value than that. I have not had a chance personally to play them all, but I did get a chance to play 2 other options, Calamaties and Sweep. Calamities is a variant of the base game, and Sweep is it’s own game entirely, and it is just as fun. I can’t wait to try some of the other options such as “Goblin Poker”, “Troll Guts”, and “Pieces Of Eight”. Cheapass also offers themed decks for purchase, such as a Pirate Deck. In the case of mine, a deck based off of Patrick Rothfuss’ critically acclaimed “Kingkiller Chronicles” novels called “The Commonwealth Deck”, with art designed by the immensely talented Shane Tyree.

For serious fun, and one of the best values I have ever come across, Pairs simply can’t be beat. For the cost of two Double whip, skinny, soy, pumpkin spice, mocha latte’s with a shot of espresso, you can own a game that will give you hours upon hours of entertainment that you can take and play anywhere. Seriously people, get on this game, you won’t be disappointed.

Until Next Time, Be Good to One Another,



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