When I was just starting college, I was terrified. I’m way more introverted than extroverted, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make friends or meet people easily. My first challenge came even before classes started – orientation. A whole weekend in an environment where I didn’t know a single soul. Luckily for me, I had an incredible weapon on my side – a deck of cards that I kept in my backpack.
When I was in high school, my friends and I would often play card games. We played Spoons during our lunch break while taking summer chemisty and Egyptian Ratscrew in the library when it was cold outside. After school, I would play various games while waiting to be picked up. That’s when I started carrying a deck of cards around with me.
Cards are excellent. They’re small, cheap, and most people know one or two games. You can get them practically anywhere, from your friendly local game store to the grocery store, even Costco. Heck, casinos give them away regularly. You might even have an errant deck you picked up on vacation laying around your house somewhere. You can get them in all sorts of designs, from the standard red and blue to something a little more wild. Personally, I’m a fan of these Dragon cards from Bicycle. I also keep my main deck in a nice (but cheap) leather case to keep it protected.
During my orientation, there were plenty of times that my group was sitting around waiting for something – people to finish eating, paperwork to be filled out, speakers to arrive, etc. At these opportunities, I would produce my cards and ask if anyone wanted to play. Before long, people would start asking me to break them out whenever we got the chance. One of my fellow new students taught us how to play Idiot (the polite version of Shithead), which quickly became our go-to game. Playing games helped me open up and connect with the others.
In college, I played lots of card games. In particular, every Wednesday, the professors and students in the Physics department would gather to have tea and chat. Most weeks, we would end up playing Durak. Another fun activity was getting a group of friends together to find out their house rules for Egyptian Ratscrew.
Throughout the years, I’ve gathered a large collection of board games (see my post about board games – coming soon!). But I keep coming back to card games. A deck of cards is hugely versatile, as there are hundreds of different games you can play with it (as well as magic tricks to impress people). No matter who you’re with, you can find a game that they can enjoy. If you’re looking for some rules, I recommend pagat.com. It lists rules and history of hundreds of different card games. It even lists games from other countries.
One of the games my friends and I have been enjoying recently is Dou Dizhu, a Chinese game created during the Cultural Revolution. It’s a three-player game where two players are on a team against the third. As one might expect from a Chinese game of that time, its English name is “Beat the Landlord“.
And if you enjoy playing card games, why not try making your own? Eleusis is a game about scientists doing experiments to figure out a rule that one player (God) made. Fittingly enough, this game was first introduced in an issue of Scientific American.
Once you’ve gotten used to a standard 52-card deck, you can try something more unusual. For example, did you know that tarot cards were playing cards before they were used for fortune telling? Or you could get a traditional Japanese hanafuda (flower cards) deck. These cards have been around unchanged for centuries. Nintendo actually got its start producing hanafuda cards. There are lots of neat games you can play with these decks.
Through the medium of cards, I was able to realize that most of the other people at my orientation were just like me. They were in a new and unfamiliar environment, surrounded by people they didn’t know. Card games provided a great way to break the ice and get to know people. A few of the people I met during that orientation became my good friends. The one who taught us to play Idiot (hi Matt!) is someone I’m still in regular communication with.
To this day, I still carry a deck of cards with me when I go places (although right now I don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to meet). I recommend that you keep a deck of cards with you too. Learn a few games to play so that you can enjoy them. That way, no matter where you go, you can make a friend.