<< Cliche Rotation Project, Round II | You Will Not Enjoy This >>
Ten Great "Two-Minute" Card Games

The last few games I have fully reviewed here (i.e., Twilight Struggle and Power Grid) have gone against the grain of the type I usually cover. Both are long, complex, and not immediately accessible to the casual player.

To make amends, here's my top 10 "two-minute" card games. "Two-minute," in this instance, alludes not to the length of time they takes to play, but to the fact that the rules to each of these simple (but engrossing) games can be explained in 120-seconds flat.

Many people are reluctant to try new games because they dislike learning rules; as you can get a group up an playing these games in a matter of moments, they are perfect for Converting the Unwilling, Great for bars too, when everyone already has a beer or three under their belt.

Slide 5: Curiously, many of the most enjoyable games are those that provoke the most agony in the players. Slide 5 (previously called Category 5 and, before that, Take 6!) is a prefect example. The deck contains cards numbered from 1 to 104. Every round begins with each person playing a card from his hand face down. After all are revealed simultaneously, the cards are added to rows in the center of the table in ascending numerical order. But if your card winds up as the sixth in a row, you take the other five as points--and you don't want points. Also: Turn The Tide is a very similar game, with a few more rules and a smidge more strategy. (But note that Turn The Tide is only playable by up to five people, while Slide 5 goes all the way to 11! Well, no. Actually just 10.)

No Thanks: My go-to filler for the last couple years. Great fun, despite having, like, one rule. Read my full review here.

For Sale: Round one: everyone uses chips to purchase a variety of homes, from a cardboard box to an orbiting space mansion. Round two: everyone resells their houses for checks ranging in value from $0 to $15,000, and the mogul with the most money at the end wins. It's like playing two separate games, but whole thing takes about 15 minutes in total. For Sale was one of the titles that got me hooked on German Games a decade ago; it has recently been reprinted, as is again available to all.

Lost Cities: My default two-player game recommendation is perfectly suited for this list as well. Lost Cities is essentially rummy, but with a specialized deck and the tension-quotation set to overdrive. Despite its simplicity, I routinely cite it as one of my favorite games of all time.

Battleline: First cousin to the aforementioned Lost Cities, Battleline is both a little simpler and a little deeper. Assemble nine three-card poker-hands, while your opponent does the same. Every time one of your hands beats the corresponding hand of your rival, you capture a flag; capture enough in a row, or enough overall, and the battle is won. A full game only takes 10 minutes to complete, but you'll find it hard not to play two or three in a row.

Coloretto: The cards come in seven different colors; your goal: collect as many of them as you can ... in three colors only. All taken cards in suits beyond the third count as negative points, and can accumulate quickly if you are not careful. The central mechanism of Coloretto is so clever that the designer recently built a board game around it (Zooloretto), which earlier this month won the prestigious Game of the Year award.

Loco: On your turn you first play a card from you hand to one of the five piles, and then you take a chip of any color. I have just explained 90% of the rules to this game, honest to God. And it works! And is fun! I don't understand!

The Bottle Imp: A strongly themed trick-taking game, if you believe it. Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, players vie to collect as many points as possible, without getting stuck with the Bottle Imp at game's end (as doing so results in everlasting damnation ... and also a point penalty). Though the rules to The Bottle Imp can certainly be explained in two minutes, playing well takes a few games. Thankfully, it's well worth the practice.

The Great Dalmuti: One of the oldest games in my collection, but one that still gets played today. (I just bought my third replacement deck a few months ago.) More of a drinking / party game than a card game, really, but one that will have you playing--and cracking up--for hours. See my discussion of it, and other "Climbing Games," here.

Guillotine: Okay, I'm going to level with you: I kinda hate this game. But many, many people love it (as half a dozen people in the comments are going to attest). Each round has a dozen nobles lined up for the guillotine; on your turn, the guy at the front of the line gets the axe, and you get his value in points. But wait! First you can play cards to rearrange the queue, perhaps swapping the worthless Piss Boy with the 5-point Marie Antoinette. I don't like Guillotine because it has lots of luck and a distinctive screw-your-neighbor flavor; others adore it for these very reasons--go figure.

Apples to Apples: Technically a party game, but played with cards and dirt simple so I'm going to cheat and sneak it into slot 11 on this top 10 list. The Judge turns over an adjective card, like "Soft" or "Respectable;" everyone else slaps down Noun cards from their hands as quickly as possible. The Judge then decides which played card best matches his own--if the description is "Slimey," will he select "Frog," "Used Car Salesman," or "Bill Clinton"? Perhaps the most accessible and laughter-inducing party game I've ever played--and I don't even like party games!

Posted on September 26, 2007 to Games


Great list! All good games, all fun to play and easy to learn. I prefer the sister-game, Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle, to The Great Dalmuti, but it's difficult to find and essentially the same game.

Posted by: Ipecac on September 26, 2007 4:41 PM

I agree about Guillotine, but it remains true that several friends still like it.

Posted by: John H. on September 26, 2007 4:55 PM

I can't believe "Totally Renamed Spy Game" isn't on this list. It is my favourite card game ever and definatley falls into your "2 minute" rule.

Posted by: wookie on September 26, 2007 6:04 PM

Hey, look: I put Guillotine on there. What more do you want?

Posted by: Matthew Baldwin on September 26, 2007 6:20 PM

Excellent list. The only thing I might consider adding is "Poison". I think Bohnanza probably goes to about 3 minutes because the idea of not being able to rearrange your cards is something people can't seem to get their minds around.

Posted by: Dave Lartigue on September 26, 2007 6:29 PM

A great card game that I became immediately addicted to is Set. The rules are simple:

There are three different colors, three different shapes and three different textures that the shapes are filled with. You have to pick three to make a set that are either all the same or not the same at all. The point is to make the most sets possible.

It sounds way too simple, but once you play it becomes clear. And hurts your brain.

Posted by: Naomi on September 26, 2007 8:06 PM

I love Wizard...I realize that you probably can't explain the ruleset to a novice in 120 seconds, but the two minute rule applies for those familiar with trump-based card games.

Loads of fun, I think.

Posted by: Dave on September 27, 2007 6:38 AM

2 slightly longer (30-45 minutes) games that are excellent:

Naval Battles from Phalanx Games and Colossal Arena from Fantasy Flight.

In Naval Battles each player takes a WWII country (Italy, Germany, France, Britain, Japan, or US) and dukes it out with each other. There are carriers, subs, battleships, etc. A lot of luck in the card draw and dice rolls, but there is still some tactical decisions to make, and most importantly it's a lot of fun.

In Colossal Arena the players are gamblers betting on which fantasy monsters will survive a gladiatorial combat in an arena. It's designed by the same guy as Battle Line and Lost Cities. This is an excellent game! Plays best with 3-5 but 2 works ok as well.

Posted by: Dan Daly on September 27, 2007 7:33 AM

The Bottle Imp is one of my favorite trick taking games, along with Wizard, Hearts, and a game that does not come in an English edition, alas: Die Sieben Siegel, "The Seventh Seal". There are five suits, one of which is always the trump suit, and the kicker is that you have to bid separately for each suit, by taking tokens with the suits on them. As you take tricks, you discard tokens of the trick's suit, the idea being to end up with no tokens. Excellent. If you like The Bottle Imp, try this one.

Posted by: Dave Boyd on September 27, 2007 7:58 AM

I'm surprised that Bohnanza or as we affectionately call it "Bean Game" is not on your list. I consider it to be the essential gateway game. If you talk fast I think all instructions could be given in 2 minutes.

Posted by: Avocados on September 27, 2007 10:38 AM

I am so pleased to see that Apples to Apples made it on your list. I was introduced to this fantastic game 8 months ago when my sisters and I went to Boston for our father's funeral, and met our 2 half brothers and 3 step brothers for the first time (a WHOLE other story). If you have a fun, slightly tipsy crowd, you will be laughing in minutes.

I was thrilled to find it in a specialy store here in Canada. I am happy to announce that it is as much fun to play after a nice dinner party as it was after an estranged parent's wake.

Posted by: Janet on September 27, 2007 10:38 AM

As always, great recommendations.

One of my top 2 minute games would have to be 1kbwc, but this week I took a trip in the way back machine and played Rack-o. The copyright notice on the box was from 1962.

It's super-easy to learn, and we ended up playing it more than Set or Fluxx because it's so simple

Posted by: Jon on September 27, 2007 12:17 PM

I don't know if you'd count the game Mogul because it does involve a board (which is simply a scoring track), but it's a fantastic little card game that is one of those easy to teach and hard to master games with lots of replayability. The game is a series of auctions for cards. The winner gets to choose whether to keep the card as a stock certificate, or sell stocks in the color indicated by the border of the card. The second place bidder gets to do the action that first didn't. Third gets a set of steak knives, and fourth gets fired. Like No Thanks/Geschenkt, there is a mechanism whereby you can drop from an auction even when you really don't want to simply to pick up some quick cash. I really dig it

Another good short and easy card two player card game is Star Wars: Episode 1 - Clash of the Lightsabers, despite the fact that it features characters from the stupid prequels. Each player gets their own deck of exactly the same set of cards that they use to wage war against the other side of the force. Success comes from knowing when to give up the battle to win the war.

Posted by: Nathan on September 27, 2007 1:03 PM

"and a game that does not come in an English edition, alas: Die Sieben Siegel"

Dave, I think you'll find that there was a remake in English called Zing. It's probably not the same, certainly not thematically. But from what I've seen I think the gameplay is more or less the same.

Posted by: Nathan on September 27, 2007 1:12 PM

I like Guillotine, but I can see how the luck and screw your neighborness of it can turn you off. But my favorite 2-minute card game is Circus Flohkati! The flea circus game is great, the color match = bad rule the simplest ever to explain, and it's so addictive and quick that again, you'll play two or three rounds before you know it.

Posted by: Erin on September 27, 2007 2:30 PM

Nice to see Apples to Apples, but I actually have come to prefer Attribute, which has a similar feel. I'd like to know your thoughts on that one.

Posted by: Dan Someone on September 28, 2007 6:52 PM

Don't care about games but I just watched that movie. I was the only girl with a bunch of guys. The comments were hysterical. I loved it!!! Something for everyone I'd say.... tee hee

Posted by: Anonymous on September 28, 2007 7:20 PM

The boyfriend and I have been playing Jambo non-stop. Highly recommend.

Posted by: amy on October 10, 2007 11:25 AM