War (card game)

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Skills requiredCounting
Age range5+
Card rank (highest first)A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Playing time10–40 min.
Random chanceComplete
Related games

War (US) or Battle (UK) is a card game typically played by two players. It uses a standard playing card deck in decreasing order is: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2.[1] Due to its simplicity, it is played most often by children. There are many variations, including those played in other countries such as Tod und Leben (Life and Death), a 32-card version played in the German-speaking world.


The objective of the game is to win all cards.

The deck is divided evenly among the players, giving each a down stack. In unison, each player reveals the top card of their deck—this is a "battle"—and the player with the higher card takes both of the cards played and moves them to their stack. Aces are high, and suits are ignored.[1]

If the two cards played are of equal value, then there is a "war".[1] Both players place the next card of their pile face down, depending on the variant, and then another card face-up. The owner of the higher face-up card wins the war and adds all six cards on the table to the bottom of their deck. If the face-up cards are again equal then the battle repeats with another set of face-down/up cards. This repeats until one player's face-up card is higher than their opponent's.[1]

Most descriptions of War are unclear about what happens if a player runs out of cards during a war.[1] In some variants, that player immediately loses. In others, the player may play the last card in their deck as their face-up card for the remainder of the war or replay the game from the beginning.[1]

Game designer Greg Costikyan has observed that since there are no choices in the game, and all outcomes are random, it cannot be considered a game by some definitions.[2] However, the rules often do not specify in which order the cards should be returned to the deck. If they are returned in a non-random order, the decision of putting one card before another after a win can change the overall outcome of the game.[3] The effects of such decisions are more visible with smaller size decks as it is easier for a player to card count, however the decisions can still affect gameplay if taken in standard decks.


Being a widely known game, war has picked up many optional variations, some of which are listed below.

  • Add On – Players may flip additional cards each war, but bust if going over 15 (face cards are valued as 10).
  • Three-player War – With three or more players, a war occurs only when the two highest cards tie.
  • Scouts – If the card you play is valued 5 or less, you have the option to play one additional card (a helper card). The combined value of the first card played and the helper card is the value used in the battle. (J = 11, Q = 12, K = 13, A = 14). One exception is that a helper card cannot be played If both players play the same card that is valued 5 or less (ex: each player plays a 3). A maximum of one helper card can be played for each card played (for example, if a 4 is played and then a 3 is played as a helper for the 4, no more helper cards can be played to help the 4). If the card and helper card's combined value loses the battle, then both cards are lost to the other player.
  • Automatic War – A certain card, typically a 2 or a Joker causes an automatic war.
  • Threes Beat Faces – In this variation, a 3 wins against any face card, but still loses against other cards higher than it.
  • Fours Beat Aces – Usually played alongside the above variation, here a 4 beats an ace, but loses against other cards higher than it.
  • Slap War – A certain card, usually 5 if playing with the above rules, has no numerical significance, and when a 5 is played, the first player to slap it collects the cards. If two players play a 5 or a war is caused in some other way, the person to slap the 5 wins regardless.
  • Underdog – When a player has lost a war, he may check his three face down cards for a predetermined underdog card, usually 6 if playing with the above rules, and if one of the cards is a 6, he wins the war.
  • Casino War – A simple variation played for money in casinos.
  • Peace – A simple variation played the opposite of War. Lowest Card wins. Instead of 3 cards being laid down in a peace (a war) 5 are, 1 for each letter in peace.
  • Quatro – A drinking game variant in which four players are dealt three face down cards. The players turn over one of their cards in unison. The player with the lowest card is eliminated and must drink. The players continue with their remaining cards until all but one are eliminated. In the case of a tie, the players participating in the war are immediately dealt three additional face down cards and must turn over one card in unison. The player with the lower card must then finish his or her entire drink. In the case of multiple simultaneous wars, the battle between the highest cards takes precedence and the other battle is void.
  • Strategy War – Players choose which card to play from their hand. Hand size varies from 3 to the entire unplayed deck depending on the exact variant chosen.
  • War IRL – This version of War has a poetic similarity to war in real life; no one wins in war. If both players play a card of the same value (ranging from low to high, 2-Ace), both players remove that card from play. Coincidentally, this is also an easy version of the game for programmers to practice on since more than two cards will never be used at once.
  • Instant War – Any card that loses a battle is dead, or eliminated from the game. The card that wins returns to the original owner. When cards tie, only one card is played by each player in the war. A draw is possible, and game play is much quicker.
  • Five Straight Battles – If a player wins five straight battles, his opponent gives him his next faced down card.
  • Simple Math (only optional when 3 players are playing) – If the card of the winner of the battle is greater than both losing cards together (i.e., the winner had a King, and the losers have a 5 and a 4), each loser hands the winner their next faced down card.
  • Two Card War – Players place two cards each battle instead of one. If one of them is a king a queen or a jack then the player with the highest card wins. Otherwise the player with the higher value of cards (added value of both cards) wins. This game is meant to teach adding to children.
  • Water War – Each player has five glasses of water. Each time a player wins a battle, they throw a glass of water at the other player. The first player to throw all their glasses of water at the other player wins, and gets to douse the other player with a water cannon.[4]
  • Prisoners of War - (Usually used with more than 2 players) When a player wins a battle, they can choose to take one of the cards as "prisoner". (This cannot be their own card(s).) If they do, they put the card face up in front of them, away from the discard pile and the deck. when another battle is started, you may choose to not play a card from your deck, and instead the "prisoner" card. (You cannot look at the card you would have drawn and then choose to play the prisoner.) If you win the battle, it works like a regular one. If you lose, however, you give the winner the card you played as well as the card you would have drawn if you chose not to play the "prisoner" card. If a war is initiated, it works the same way. If you win a war, you can also choose to "capture" one of the face down cards.
  • Marms – A drinking game in which the first player to 7 points buys the next round of drinks. Points are awarded to the player who draws the lowest value card with aces being lowest in value. Players who flip a joker will instantly get a negative point added to their total. If multiple players flip the same card then all other cards are ignored and these players will play an overtime round. The loser of the overtime will be awarded 2 points. If a tie happens in overtime an additional overtime will occur with the loser awarded an extra point, this will continue until points are awarded to one player.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Rules of card games: War". Pagat.com. 2013-03-04. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  2. ^ Costikyan, Greg (1994). "I Have No Words & I Must Design". Retrieved 2008-08-17.
  3. ^ Lakshtanov, Evgeny (2011). "On Finiteness in the Card Game of War". arXiv:1007.1371.
  4. ^ The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (18 July 2013). "Water War: Ryan Reynolds vs. Jimmy Fallon (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)" – via YouTube.

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