Go Fish Game Rules – Playing Card Decks

playing go fish

(Three people playing a traditional game of Go Fish)

Card Game Rules

Go Fish, or Authors, is a card game that requires 2-5 players and a standard 52 playing card deck. Go Fish is typically described as an easy game that young kids enjoy but, people of all ages can have fun playing it. The objective of Go Fish is to have the most “books”, or 4 of a kind, by the end of the game.

If you are looking for cards to play Go Fish with, check out a standard deck here or one of our Go Fish specialty decks here.

For more classic card games, check out our guides for Six Card Golf and War.

A free online version may be found here.

Set Up

Before the game officially begins, the job of dealer must be assigned to one of the players. To decide who is dealer, every player receives 1 card from a shuffled deck of cards. With Aces being high and 2’s being low, the player with the lowest card is the dealer.

The players assemble in a circle and the dealer shuffles the cards. The player to the dealer’s immediate right cuts the shuffled deck and the dealer then passes the cards out face down, clockwise, and one at a time. If less than 4 people are playing, each player receives 7 cards. If more that 4 people are playing, each player receives 5 cards. The remaining deck is placed face down in the middle of the circle to form the “ocean”.

How to Play

The game begins when the player to the left of the dealer “fishes” by asking another player if they have a certain card in their hand (e.g. “Do you have any Queens?”). If the player does have the type of card asked for, they must give the asker all of that type they possess. The asker then continues questioning the same or a different player if they have another or the same type of card. If a player does not have the typed asked for, they say “go fish” and the asker picks up the top card from the ocean. The gameplay then moves to the left and the next person fishes for cards.

A player makes a book when they have 4 of a kind. When a book is made, the player places the 4 cards face up in a pile in front of them to verify to the other players that they made a book. The game ends when all 13 books are made. The player with the most books wins. If a player runs out of cards during the game, they may select one from the ocean when it is their turn. If there are no more cards in the ocean, they are out of the game and the number of books they have is final.

For more information on the game Go Fish and its rules, check out Wikipedia’s article here or pagat’s article here.

Gameplay Example

Suppose the deck are dealt and you have received your 7 cards. Your hand contains 3 Aces, 1 Three, 1 King, 1 Queen, and 1 Two. It is your turn and because you only need 1 more Ace to make a book, you ask the player in front of you if they have any Aces. They smile and say “go fish”. You reluctantly draw the top card from the ocean and happily see that it is an Ace. You then place the 4 cards in front of you so that everyone can see that you made a book. A round passes and it is your turn again. You ask the same player in front of you if they have any Kings. This time they do not smile and instead give you 3 Kings. You make another book and the gameplay proceeds in your favor.

Go Fish Variations

Australian Go Fish

As one can expect, this variation is predominantly played in Australia. For Australian Go Fish, books are made from 2 of a kind instead of the traditional 4. With this variation, Jokers can be used in gameplay.


Minuman is an Indonesian version of Go Fish and means “drink” in English. For the most part, Minuman is similar to traditional Go Fish with the additional rule that players take a drink from an alcoholic beverage if they must draw from the ocean. When the game is finished, the loser must finish their entire drink if they have not already done so.

Happy Families

Four cards from the original version of Jaques’ Happy Families deck

(Four cards from the original version of Jaques’ Happy Families deck)

Happy Families is an old version of Go Fish invented by John Jaques Jr in 1851. A Happy Families deck consist of 44 illustrated cards. There are 11 families with 4 members each. The families are as follows: Block the Barber, Bones the Butcher, Bun the Baker, Bung the Brewer, Chip the Carpenter, Dip the Dyer, Dose the Doctor, Grits the Grocer, Pots the Painter, Soot the Sweep, and Tape the Tailor. Every family member has a father, a mother, a son (master), and a daughter (miss). Like traditional Go Fish, cards are shuffled, dealt and asked for to create a complete family. Players must ask, however, for specific family members. For example, if one has Mr., Mrs., and Miss Bun the Baker, they may ask for Master Bun the Baker in hopes to complete the family.

Additional information may be found here.

Educational Go Fish

This version of Go Fish can help students study for school. Instead of the traditional suits, cards are divided into 13 categories. Go Fish American History, for example, can be divided into landmarks, dates, presidents, etc. Each card then has facts about the subject on the card for the player to learn from. A player might ask if someone has any landmarks and receive the Statue of Liberty. This can be a fun way for students to learn about a number of subjects.

Backstab Fish

Backstab Fish is a variation of Go Fish that normally takes a lot longer than traditional Go Fish. Virtually all of the rules are the same but, two decks are in play with Jokers included. At 108 cards, Backstab Fish can be great in large groups but, can also be enjoyed by a patient small number of players.

Recommended products to play Go Fish:

6 Pack Kids Card Games

Koi Fish Bicycle Playing Cards

Looking for more card games to play? Check out this article:

40+ Great Card Games For All Occasions

About the author: John Taylor is a content writer and freelancer through the company Upwork.com. You may view his freelancing profile here. He has a B. A. in English, with a specialty in technical writing, from Texas A&M University and a M. A. in English from the University of Glasgow. You may view his previous articles about card games here and his LinkedIn profile here.

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