- Number of Plays: 34
- Game Length: 5 minutes
- Mechanics: Push your luck
- Release Year: 2014
- Designer: James Ernest, Heinrich Gumpler, Paul Peterson
- Artist: Like, 25 people. Depends on the version you buy.
My favourite book of all time is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, the first book in the Kingkiller Chronicles series. I absolutely love the way master wordsmith Rothfuss has crafted the story. My love for The Kingkiller Chronicles, and a lack of new books in the series has lead to a dangerous situation. In order to satiate my desire for more Kvothe, I feverishly consume nearly everything that is even tangentially related to the world that I’m desperate to return to. It’s that desire that lead me to owning 3 copies of the same game, with the only difference being the artwork each deck of cards features; each featuring a different set of artwork depicting the world of Temerant.
I bought the decks of cards not even considering the game that was being sold to me. Luckily I’m not the kind of person who likes to leave a game unplayed, even one bought solely for the art.
Each deck of Pairs comes with two rule sets. One is the normal rules that applies to all decks and the other is some variant for that specific set of Pairs. I’ve read over a few of the variant rulesets, but I’ve always default back to the normal, push your luck game that I use to pressure my friends and family into buying me treats.
How to Play
A deck of Pairs contains 55 cards. There are ten 10 cards, nine 9s, eight 8s and so on, all the way down to a single 1 card. Each round of Pairs begins by dealing every player a single card. The player who received the lowest card goes first. On your turn you have 2 options, either pass or hit. If you choose to pass, you take the lowest card from any other player and set it aside near you, marking your score and begin a new round by having all players discard any cards they had in front of them. If you choose to hit you simply receive another card and hope you don’t get a pair. If you do happen to get a pair, you keep one of the paired cards as your score, and begin a new round.
You continue to play like this until someone exceeds the score that ends the game (it’s variable based on the number of players – take 60 points, divide by the number of players, then add 1). The player who exceeds the end game threshold is the loser and they are obliged to buy the next round of treats.
Pairs decks come in a variety of flavours; Fruits, Pirates, Barmaids, three different temarant packs, muses, goddesses, goblins, classic Vegas theme, and so much more! Touted as a new classic pub game, this is a just a deck of cards that you can play literally anywhere. It’s as portable as can be, super easy to teach and casual enough that people can drop in and out at their leisure.
The push-your-luck nature of the game lends to moments where you chew on a knuckle trying to decide if you should pass and take the 4 on the table, or push your luck and hope you just don’t get a 8 or a 10. You’ve seen a dozen 10s already, there can’t be any more left in the deck, right? I love the tension as my opponents are sucking in air through their teeth, hoping someone busts or gives up before their next turn.
I’ve found copies of Pairs on sale for as low as $5, it ends up being a great thing to give someone after a first meeting. You teach them the game, play a couple rounds, add some stakes, then at the end of the evening, just give them the deck of cards. I’ve run low on stock recently, but I’ve gifted over a dozen decks to friends and acquaintances over the past few years.
I’ve used Pairs as a fast, low stakes game while waiting for others to arrive, or just while catching up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time. Where more involved games would take over the conversation, Pairs can be played by intuition alone, leaving you free to chat or smack talk your opponents, egging them on to take another card when they already have a 7, 8, 9, and 10.
Speaking of stakes, my most recent experience with Pairs was at my Mom’s house, with my aunt and uncle. Five of us were gathered around the table, the evening waning. We were making loose plans for dinner the next day when I pulled the copy of Pairs that I had gifted to my mom years ago. “Alright, whoever loses this game, has to buy wine for dinner tomorrow” I said to them, dealing out the first card to each player. After 15 minutes we were setting chores for the next day, and using a game to divvy out the responsibilities that no one really wanted to tackle. By the end of the night, they were looking into buying their own copy of Pairs.
I gifted a copy of Pairs to a friend who was travelling to Germany one year as a small game he could fit in his pocket. When he returned he told me how he was able to teach a pair of people, despite them not sharing a language. He gave them his copy of Pairs when they parted for the night and he remembers the evening as one of the highlights of his trip. There’s something special about a game so simple that you almost don’t even need words to teach with other people. It becomes a catalyst for creating a fun experience with people you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to connect with.
Pairs does offer a ton of rule variations; over 30 to be more specific. I find when adding more rules, Pairs loses it’s light and easy-to-play charm. Suddenly, where there was a light and breezy game, now sits rules that need to be remembered and enforced, bets to hedge and gambles to make. I prefer Pairs when it’s less of a centerpiece and more of a catalyst. A game that you play while hanging out with your friends as something to busy your hands rather than demanding the full focus of the evening. It’s a cute diversion and with a very low price of entry it feels more of a side dish rather than an entrée. Whenever I pull it out, I know we’re going to have a good time full of laughter and light-hearted regret.