- War for two players
- War for three or four players
- Steal War
- P’yanitsa (Drunkard)
- Tod und Leben (Life and Death)
- Syrian War
- Casino War
- Invented Variations
- Software and On Line Games
This is a children’s game played in many parts of the world. No strategy is involved – simply the ability to recognise which of two cards is higher in rank, and to follow the procedure of the game. The standard two-player game is described first, then the game for three or four players. after this are summaries of some of the many variations, including a version in which captured cards can be stolen, a Russian version of it called Drunkard (P’yanitsa), a German version Tod und Leben., a version from Syria and a gambling version offered in some casinos.
See also the War Variations page, for other variations of War invented and submitted by readers.
War for two players
In the basic game there are two players and you use a standard 52 card pack. Cards rank as usual from high to low: A K Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Suits are ignored in this game.
Deal out all the cards, so that each player has 26. Players do not look at their cards, but keep them in a packet face down. The object of the game is to win all the cards.
Both players now turn their top card face up and put them on the table. Whoever turned the higher card takes both cards and adds them (face down) to the bottom of their packet. Then both players turn up their next card and so on.
If the turned up cards are equal there is a war. The tied cards stay on the table and both players play the next card of their pile face down and then another card face-up. Whoever has the higher of the new face-up cards wins the war and adds all six cards face-down to the bottom of their packet. If the new face-up cards are equal as well, the war continues: each player puts another card face-down and one face-up. The war goes on like this as long as the face-up cards continue to be equal. As soon as they are different the player of the higher card wins all the cards in the war.
The game continues until one player has all the cards and wins. This can take a long time.
Most descriptions of War are not clear about what happens if a player runs out of cards during a war. There are at least two possibilities:
- If you don’t have enough cards to complete the war, you lose. If neither player has enough cards, the one who runs out first loses. If both run out simultaneously, it’s a draw. Example: Players A and B both play sevens, so there is a war. Each player plays a card face down, but this is player B’s last card. Player A wins, since player B does not have enough cards to fight the war.
- If you run out of cards during a war, your last card is turned face up and is used for all battles in that war. If this happens to both players in a war and their last cards are equal, the game is a draw. Example: Players A and B both play sevens, so there is a war. Player A plays a card face down, but player B has only one card, so it must be played face up. It is a queen. Player A plays a card face up and it is also a queen, so the war must continue. Player B’s queen stays (B’s last card) while player A plays a card face down and one face up, which is a nine. Player B wins the war and takes all these seven cards (the five cards that A played and the two cards that B played) and the game continues normally.
War for three or four players
War can also be played by three or more players in much the same way. Deal out as many as possible of the cards so that everyone has an equal number (17 for 3 players, 13 for 4).
All players simultaneously turn over a card and the highest wins all the cards tuned up. If two or more players tie for highest there is a war – everyone plays their next card face-down and then turns up a third card. This continues until one of the face-up cards is higher than all the others, and then that player wins all the cards in a war.
Note that all players take part in a war, not only the ones who had the highest cards.
A player who runs out of cards drops out. The game goes on until only one player has cards, and that player wins.
Many players play three face-down cards in a war rather than just one. When equal cards are turned up the players play the next three cards from their pile face down, sometimes saying “W – A – R” and then turning up the next card to decide which player wins all ten cards. Some say “I – de – clare – war” with the word “war” said as the new face up card is played. In this case if some players do not have enough cards to fight the war, some agree that the player with fewest cards should use all their cards while the other player plays the name number of cards. For example in a war where one player has only three cards and the other player more, each player will play just two cards face down and then one face up.
Some add two jokers to the pack, in which case they count as the highest cards, above the aces. Since the jokers are very powerful, some prefer to make sure that both are not given to one player, but separate them from the pack before dividing it between the players and then burying one joker in each player’s stack of cards.
In his book Card Games for Dummies Barry Rigal describes a version in which the number of cards dealt face down in a war is determined by the rank of the cards that caused the war: two cards for a 2, three for a 3 and so on, 10 cards for a war caused by a Jack, Queen or King and 11 cards for a war over Aces. If one player does not have enough cards for the war, all players play the same number of cards as the player who had fewest. If there is a war and one of the participants has no cards at all to play, that player loses. According to Daniel Grad this is the system used in the Romanian War variant known as Război.
Some play that in a war, instead of playing face down cards, each player plays cards face up one at a time as fast as they like (not taking turns) until an Ace appears, and the first person who plays an Ace takes all the played cards. If Jokers are being used as the highest cards, then a Joker rather than an Ace is needed to take the cards. In this version, captured cards are usually stacked face up in front of each player rather than added to the bottom of their face down packet. They are picked up and turned over only when the player’s supply of face down cards runs out.
Many other variations submitted by readers of this site will be found on the War Variations page of the Invented games section.
This variation, reported by Gary Philippy and Hayes Ruberti, is a sort of hybrid of War and Stealing Bundles. The basis is a normal game of War, in which wars consist of three cards played face down followed by one face up. The deck includes two jokers, which are the highest cards.
When cards are won, they are not added to the bottom of the winner’s card supply but placed in a pile face up beside the player. Each player has a single face up pile. Newly won cards are added to the top of the pile and the winner can choose which of the new cards to place on top.
As players take cards from the top of their face down packet to play, they look at them before playing them. If the rank of your card matches the top card of an opponent’s face-up pile, then instead of playing it normally you can use it to steal that pile. You put your card face up on top of the pile your are stealing and then take the whole of the stolen pile and place it on top of your own pile without changing the order of the cards. You then look at the next card from your face down packet and play it (or, in a game of more than 2 players, possibly steal another pile and play the next card).
If each player’s card matches the top card of the other player’s capture pile, they can both steal and the two capture piles are exchanged.
The three cards played face down during a war are not looked at and cannot be used to steal an opponent’s pile, but the following card can be used to steal instead of competing to win the war if it matches an opponent’s pile.
Once you have played a card and let go of it, you can no longer use it to steal an opponent’s pile. Sometimes players miss stealing opportunities accidentally, but you may deliberately choose to play your card rather than stealing with it. For example you might prefer to use it to win a war rather than steal a small pile.
As soon as a player’s packet of face down cards runs out, the player’s face-up pile is turned over and shuffled to make a new face-down packet of cards to play from.
A player who runs out of cards during a war loses immediately.
As the game was originally described, there is the possibility for a pile that was stolen to be stolen back immediately if both players draw a card the is equal to the top card of one of the stacks. This depends on the timing of the play. If A’s face-up pile has a 9 on top and A and B both have 9’s as their next play card, then B can steal A’s pile and A can steal it back, provided that B steals before A has played. If B waits until after A has played the 9, then A can no longer use it to steal and the cards remain with B. This is rather unsatisfactory, since in this situation A and B might wait indefinitely for the other to play first. The following rule is suggested as a solution: if you play a card that matches your own pile, it protects your pile from being stolen during that turn of play. So in the example A can play the 9 normally and B cannot steal A’s pile. B can only play the 9 normally for a war.
Leo Broukhis contributed this Russian version of War, which he says is mostly played by kids in summer camps on a rainy day.
Number of players: 2, although 3 or 4 is not unheard of. Deck: 36 cards – A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 of each suit. It would be possible, but unusual, to use a 52 card deck. Goal: There are two versions: in one the aim is to avoid collecting all the cards; in the other it is the opposite – not to run out of cards Deal: All the cards are dealt face down evenly to the players, who hold the cards as packs, still face down. Course of play: The play consists of the number of tricks. Each trick is played as follows: each player (in no particular order) turns the top card of their pack face up and places it on the table. Whoever has placed the highest rank card wins the trick, collects the cards on the table, and puts them at the bottom of his pack face down in no particular order. The ranking of the cards is from ace (high) down to six (low), except that a six beats an ace. In other words, if a six and an ace are played the six counts as the highest card and wins the trick, but if a six is played an no one played an ace the six counts as lowest. (If you played with 52 cards it would be the 2, not the 6, that would beat the ace.) If there is a tie for highest then either:
- everybody puts a new card face up on top of the card they played the previous trick, or
- everybody puts a new card face down on top of the card they played the previous trick, then a card face up.
It must be agreed beforehand which of these two methods will be used. In either case whoever plays the highest of the new face-up cards wins the trick, or if there is a tie the process is repeated. End of the game: In one version the loser is the player who is left with all the cards at the end. This is the drunkard (“had all the booze”). In the other version, whoever loses all their cards first loses and is the drunkard (“spent all the money”).
Tod und Leben (Life and Death)
Günther Senst played this simple variant as a child in Mecklenburg, Germany. In this game the players play through the deck once only: the cards are not recycled.
- A 32-card pack is used, the cards ranking from high to low: A – K – Q – J – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7. The suits have no significance.
- The cards are thoroughly shuffled and each of the two players receives 16 cards face down.
- Both players simultaneously turn up their top card. The player with the higher card takes the two-card trick and stores the cards face down (they are not added to the player’s supply of cards to be played again).
- If the players’ cards are equal, each player simply turns the next card, so that the trick consists of 4 cards. And so on.
- If the players’ last cards are equal, they each add their own played card to their tricks (or more than one card if the next to last cards were also equal)..
- After both players have played all 16 cards, whoever has won more cards wins the round.
- The game can continue for as many rounds as the players desire.
Sultan Ratrout describes a version of War played in Syria, in which the two players play alternately (rather than simultaneously), turning over the top card of their packet and adding it to the top of the face up play pile. In this game the Ace is the lowest card (below the 2) and the King is highest.
- If the play pile was empty or the played card is lower than the previous top card of the pile, nothing happens and the next player plays their card.
- If the card played is higher than the previous top card of the play pile, the player captures the whole play pile, turns it over and adds it to the bottom of their face down packet.
- If the played card is equal to the top card of the play pile there is a war.
In a war, each player plays a number of cards determined by the rank of the card that caused the war – for example one card each for an Ace, 3 cards each for a 3, 8 each for an 8, and so on. A player who does not have enough cards plays all the cards they have and their opponent plays an equal number of cards. Now each player turns the last card of their row face up, and whoever turned up the higher card takes all the cards from both rows and adds them to the bottom of their face down packet, but does not capture the cards in the play pile. The play then continues with the ‘loser’ of the war (the player who did not capture the cards), playing another card on top of the play pile.
We do not know for sure how many cards are turned in a war caused by two equal picture cards, for example Queen vs Queen. Probably in a war of picture cards each player plays 10 cards.
We do not know what happens if the cards turned up at the end of a war are equal: maybe there is another war or maybe each player takes back the cards that they played in the war, and play continues with the opponent of the player who started the war.
Presumably as soon as a player runs out of cards – playing their last card without capturing the pile, that player is the loser of the game and the other player wins. Probably this applies even if the player’s last card was equal to the previous card on the play pile, since the player has no cards with which to fight the war.
Sultan Ratrout reports that by agreement some play that at the end of a war each player takes back their own row of cards and adds it to the bottom of their play packet. Apparently the loser of the war then plays the next card, which would mean that in this version it is an advantage to lose a war, because the loser has the next opportunity to capture the play pile.
A version of War is offered as a gambling game in many online casinos. The player places a bet and the player and the house are each dealt one card face up. The higher card wins: if the house has the higher card the bet is lost: if the player’s card is higher the bet is returned plus an equal amount of winnings. If the cards are tied, the player has two options:
- Surrender, in which case half the player’s bet is returned and half kept by the house, so if the original bet was $10 you lose $5.
- Go to war in which case the player must stake an additional amount equal to the original bet. Three cards are dealt face down and then the house and the player are each dealt another card face up. If the new house card is higher the player loses both bets. If the player’s card is equal or higher the player’s bets are returned plus an amount equal to the original bet only. For example if you bet $10 and then go to war, you will either win $10 or lose $20.
It is also possible for the player to bet at fixed odds of 10:1 that there will be a tie.
The Pogg’s Casino War Guide provides information on Casino War, its strategy and places to play online.
Software and On Line Games
The collection HOYLE Card Games for Windows or Mac OS X includes a War program, along with many other popular card games.