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King of the Hill

Designer: Larry Levy
Players: 2
Equipment: 1 Standard deck of cards with jokers.

King of the Hill is a more sophisticated version of the children's game of War, with a strategic aspect added. Players get to choose the cards to be played and the reward for winning. A separate reserve of cards to break ties adds to the strategy. Win as many cards as you can, but remember, only the player who wins the last battle can be King of the Hill.

This is a good game for adults to play with kids. The gameplay is challenging enough to maintain an adultís interest, but the rules are simple enough to be grasped by children. As an added bonus, it reinforces some addition skills.

Number of Players: 2 (but see the note at the end of this article).

Equipment: A regular deck of 52 cards. The cards are ranked from Ace (high) down to Deuce (low), regardless of suit. You will also need three Jokers, although you can get by with just two.

Setup: Choose a player to be dealer. The dealer puts the Jokers aside and shuffles the remaining cards together. She deals each player 11 cards face down. Each player also adds one of the Jokers to their hand. The dealer then uses the remaining cards to form a pyramid, using the following procedure. She takes the remaining Joker and places it sideways, face up, at the far left of the table. This will be the apex of the pyramid. She then counts off 4 cards, exposes the top card, squares the stack up, and places it below and to the left of the Joker so that it just covers the lower left hand corner of the card. She must make sure not to reveal any cards but the top card of the stack. She repeats this action with a stack of four more cards and uses them to cover the lower right hand corner of the Joker. She then counts off three stacks of 3 cards each, placing them below the two 4 card stacks, and covering their corners to continue the structure of the pyramid. The top card of each stack is exposed. The dealer continues with four stacks of 2 cards beneath the three stacks just placed, and finally places five exposed 1 card stacks beneath the four 2 card stacks. This will exhaust the deck. The end result is a pyramid of fifteen stacks, with fourteen normal cards exposed and the Joker at the top. (Note: if you donít have a third Joker, you can leave the top stack of the pyramid empty. The players must simply remember that there is an imaginary stack there.)

The Reserve: Each player looks at the cards they were dealt and has the option of placing cards face down into their reserve. They can place as many or as few cards as they wish into their reserve. They can even place the Joker from their hand in there, to make their opponent think they have placed one more card in their reserve than they actually have. Once all the players have put cards in their reserve, the dealer makes the first play of the game. Players alternate turns.

The Play: On a player's turn, he must choose one of the stacks in the pyramid to fight for. He may only choose a stack that has its bottom end at least partially exposed. Thus, on the first turn of the game, the only stacks that can be chosen are one of the five bottommost stacks. If one of the end stacks are initially chosen (and subsequently removed), on the next turn the 2 card stack obliquely above it can be chosen; if instead one of the interior 1 card stacks had been chosen, on the second turn the two 2 card stacks on which that stack had been resting could now be chosen. The one exception to this rule is the stack at the top that consists only of the Joker--to fight for this card, the Joker's bottom end must be totally exposed (in other words, the two stacks immediately beneath the Joker must have already been chosen).

Once the stack has been chosen that will be fought for that turn, the players make their attacks by playing cards face down from their hand. There are three types of plays a player can make: he can play any single card from his hand; he can play a sequence; or he can play the Joker in his hand to signify that he does not wish to compete for this stack. (If the Joker is in the player's reserve, he'll have to retrieve it, thus ending that subterfuge.) A sequence is two or more cards which meet the following conditions:

  • the cards are all of the same suit;
  • the cards are of consecutive rank, with no gaps (e.g., 4-5-6 of Clubs);
  • none of the cards is ranked higher than an Eight.
Two examples of sequences.

Each player places his attack cards face down, covering them with his hand to hide the number of cards played. When both players have played, they expose their cards. Whichever player has played cards with the highest value (see the next section) wins the stack. Both players discard the cards they used to make the attack (exception: Jokers are always restored to the playerís hand). The player who chose which stack to fight for ends his turn and the other player begins her turn by announcing which stack she wishes to fight for and the game continues.

Value of the Cards: To determine the outcome of the attacks you need to evaluate the value of the attack cards. The value of a card from Two to Ten is its rank--thus, the Five of Hearts is worth 5. Picture cards (Jacks, Queens, and Kings) are all worth 10. However, they still maintain their normal ranking order, so that a Jack will beat a Ten, and a King will beat any single card except for an Ace. Aces are worth 15. To find the value of a sequence, add up the rank of all the cards of the sequence. Thus, the 3-4-5-6 of Diamonds is worth 18. The suit of the card or cards played has no effect on the value of the attack--they are only used to determine if cards can be played in a sequence. Jokers have a value of zero.

Whichever player has played the highest value wins the stack being fought for. If there is a tie, it is broken by playing cards from the reserves. Each player should put the Joker from their hand into their reserve. They then put their hands down and pick their reserves up. Each player then makes a normal attack using only the cards in their reserve. The highest value wins the stack. If a tie still exists, the players continue playing from their reserves until the tie is broken.

If at any time both players play a Joker (either from their hands or from their reserves) during an attack, discard the stack being played for and go to the next player's turn.

Winning a Stack: The player who wins a stack takes all the cards in the stack, both the exposed card and any face down cards. He then has the option of putting each of the cards into his hand or into his reserve. He may divide the won cards between his hand and his reserve in any way he sees fit. He may not put any other cards from his hand into his reserve. Nor may he move any cards from his reserve into his hand. Cards won can be played immediately on the following turn.

Remember, any cards played to try to win a stack are discarded, whether they came from the players' hands or their reserves. All these cards are permanently out of play. The one exception to this are the Jokers, which are always restored to the player's hand.

Winning the Game: The player who wins the Joker at the top of the pyramid wins the game. He need not have been the player who decided to play for the Joker.

Variant: Ignore the rule about face cards. All cards with a value of 10 are equal in value and can result in a tie. This rule dramatically increases the importance of the reserves.

(Note: I have rules for playing King of the Hill with three or four players, although neither version has been playtested. If you are interested in these rules, just contact me at and I will be happy to email them to you.)

- Larry Levy

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