The Game of Threes

Along time ago in a galaxy far far away, the Poorhouse went to school. And at that school we learnt the finest card game in the world ever. Pray forgiveness for the language - we are only the messenger - but it was called Shithead.

The name refers to what you are should you lose, and traditionally the term of abuse was used in conjunction with a forfeit, such as go get me a bar of chocolate, make a cup of tea or something slightly less innocuous. Naïve as it was, at the time the Poorhouse did not realise that Shithead - or at least variants with the same name - was a truly global phenomenon, worthy even of a Wikipedia entry.

A recent holiday brought that fact back to life, and so for the unfortunates who have yet to sample the delights here follows the rules. Now we are pretending to be slightly more grownup - or at least hang out more in the company of those who think they are polite and refined adults - it was hastily rechristened to be entitled "Threes" for soon-to-be-obvious reasons. If you know the rules well enough already and fancy a quick game against the computer, check out for a solo web version. If you want something even more advanced - or to challenge the Poorhouse to a network game - try Sam's Java application. You should appreciate however that the face-to-face mano-a-mano battle of skill and wits a real-life deck of cards brings outweighs all simulations.


Aim: To lose all your cards. The loser - aka shithead - is the last remaining person to have cards left. They can be considered a lower form of life that is destined to serve you forever (until the next hand).

Threes: Straight after setupThrees: Straight after setupSetup: There are no strict limits to how many people can play, but if using a single deck somewhere between 2 and 4 is probably optimum. The cards should be shuffled thoroughly - especially between rounds as they tend to end up in ascending order after a game has taken place. Going around the playing circle, the dealer should deal three cards face down to each player in a row. The player may not look at these cards yet. They should then deal three cards face up to each player, with each face-up card being on top of a face down card. Finally they should deal 3 cards to each player for their hand which they should pick up and look at, but not show other players. The remainder of the deck should be placed face down on the table to be drawn from.

Players may then swap any cards in their hand with those face up on the table if they so wish. Typically this is done so your best cards are the face up ones on the table.

Starting the game:: Any player with a card with a value of 3 in their hand may start. If more than one player has a 3, then it's first come first served. If no-one has a 3 then anyone with a 4 may go first. If still no joy, work your way upwards through the card values until someone with the lowest card available goes first. This card should be placed face up to start a pick-up pile. Play proceeds clockwise.

Play: The player whose turn it is should place a card on the pick-up pile. This card must be equal or higher in numeric value than the last card put on the pile (Aces are high), or a "special" card. If the player has more than 1 card with the same value on that fits this criterion then they may play them all at the same time.

If, as is usual, they now have fewer than three cards in their hand they should replace these by picking up however many cards are needed from the unused deck to make their hand back up to 3 cards. If the deck has run out then of course they cannot pick up and must carry on using the cards in their hand until they are all gone and end stage starts.

If a player cannot play a valid card then they must pick up all the cards in the pick-up pile and put them in their hand, and it becomes the next player's turn. As there are no cards on the pickup pile at this stage, the next player may play any card at all.

A player must play a valid card if they can; they cannot elect to miss a go or pick up the pick-up pile just because they feel like it.

Once a player has exhausted the cards in their hand and there are no unused cards to pick up then they must carry on playing, but using only the three face up cards they were dealt at the start of the game visible to all. Other players can see their options at this point so may adopt mean strategies to make them lose. If at any point they need to pick up cards because they can't go, these are returned to the hand, not face-up on the table. A player must always play the cards in their hand before those on the table.

When a player has managed to play all the cards in their hand and the face up ones, they must select a face down one at random to play each turn. The same rules apply; any pickups go into their hand and must be used before the remaining table cards.

A player who has used up all the cards in their hand, the face up and the face down cards is declared a winner and may adopt a "winner face" expression and dance with glee.

Special cards: different variations of the game have different special cards. Pretty much all versions have a couple of basics.

2: a player may play a card with a value of 2 as their turn irrespective of whatever the last card on the pile is. A 2 resets the pickup pile (but carry on using the same pile) such that the next player can play any card they wish to.

10: a player may also play a card with a value of 10 as their turn irrespective of whatever the last card on the pile is. A 10 clears the pickup pile. The pickup pile including the 10 is thrown away and the cards in it are permanently out of the game. The player who played the 10 may then play any card of their choice right away to start a new pickup pile.

Four of a kind: if at any point in the game four cards with the same value are placed directly on top of each other in the pickup pile - whether placed there by one player or a combination of several - the pickup pile is cleared exactly as though a 10 was played.

On top of these basic special card rules, most variations have cards with other abilities. This can be mixed and matched as one wishes although it is usually a good idea to decide on what they do before starting a high-stakes game of threes.

Two of the Poorhouse's most played and simple variants are the House Rules and the Katastrophic Rules.

House Rules: In this variant, jacks are also a special card which can be played on any card. They mirror the card below. That is to say if a player plays a jack on a 6, then the next player must play a 6 or higher (or special card). If they place it on an Ace, they must play an Ace or a special card.

Katastrophic Rules: Jacks are not special. 8s however are. An 8 can be played on any card and reverses the direction of play. The player whose turn it now is must play a card equal or greater than the card below the 8 that was just played. If two 8s are placed on top of each other then the effect is cancelled out and they act as a mirror such that the next player must play equal-or-higher to the card below them.

Note that there are a huge variety of different rules that can be utilised together or separately. Any comments about the best of the best appreciated. The Poorhouse warns those people who are geographically and emotionally close that some Twisted Shithead might be demanded of you soon.


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