Five Crowns: Another Game that Sharpens Critical Thinking

In August, we learned a new card game that we can’t seem to play often enough.

We have become so fond of the game, Five Crowns (paid link), that through Christmas, it took precedence over our usual beloved games, including dominoes (see Simple Gifts: A Cherished Christmas Decoration and “Friend”) and nertz (see Family Violence Our Way—A Raucous Card Game). We even gave Aly her own backgammon board (see A Gift of Time for Christmas: Consenting to Learn Backgammon), but it didn’t get used as often as our Five Crowns deck.

Five Crowns card game

Our increasingly battered set of Five Crowns (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Briefly, Five Crowns is played very much like rummy, with a specialized deck that roughly doubles a regular card deck, and removes all cards below the 3 of each suit, the number of which is expanded to 5 (with the addition of stars). The first round starts with 3 cards; each additional round adds a card up to 13. The number of cards in a hand designates a wild card, in addition to the jokers in the deck. So, 3s are wild in the first hand. The final hand gives the game its tagline: “The game ain’t over til the kings go wild!”

Each turn begins with drawing a card, either from the face up “show card” at the top of the pile, or blind from the deck. Players look for a minimum of three cards, either sets of one number, or a run of sequential cards with the same suit. The turn ends by discarding one card. The goal is to be the first to lay down all of the cards in one’s hand, meaning all sets as above plus one discard. When that happens, the player scores zero, and everyone else has one turn to make their best hand. Ultimately, low score wins.

One of the main reasons I like this game so much is that it forces me out of my comfort zone. Each hand begins with a plan, more or less, but that plan may have to be completely abandoned at any moment. I’m a somewhat dogged game player—much of my winning comes from deciding what to do and plodding along until I’ve done it, hopefully before some other player does their thing! In Five Crowns, one must be ready to throw over any such plan to rearrange the hand for maximum benefit at any time.

Five Crowns card game

A pleasant way to spend a winter afternoon, particularly with chocolate and wine…. Hand in foreground is a run of diamonds with a couple of 4s as wild cards. (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

For me, this hones my critical thinking. It keeps me thinking outside the “box” of my own expectations. Anything can happen, and most likely will, and everything may need to get dropped to save oneself. I find it very similar to another game I like because of its critical thinking requirement, Bananagrams (see Developing Critical Thinking Through Play: Bananagrams).

I’ve spoken before of our concept of spontaneity in reserve (see Spontaneity in Reserve). I tend to like that concept a bit too much. Five Crowns jolts me out of that mindset in a pleasant, non-threatening way.

Plus, it’s really fun! Also, easy to pick up. We’ve introduced a lot of friends to it, usually getting trounced soundly by the newcomer on their first try.

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2 Responses to Five Crowns: Another Game that Sharpens Critical Thinking

  1. Norma Walston says:

    We love this game also. We have been playing it for several years now, but we call it 3/13. Played exactly like you said with regular decks of cards. Wonderful game.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Norma, thank you! I’ve wondered if it couldn’t be played with regular decks. I searched the rules, and found them on line. I like the specialty deck, but also want to figure out how to play 3/13 so that we don’t need “the” deck to play if we’re away from home.

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