Game Review: Canasta is not just for Grandma

Suspense, deception, strategy, close calls! Most people think of their grandparents when they here the name Canasta, but in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. In recent years, card games such as Canasta have fallen in popularity due in large part to console and PC games, but nothing can fully replace a good old card game for it’s crowd-pleasing fun.

Canasta is best played with four players, but can also be played with two to six players, with slight variations in the rules and scoring. At first, Canasta is an intimidating game due to the somewhat complicated rules, but after a few rounds with experienced players, it starts to make sense and becomes a lot of fun. When playing with the more kind-hearted sort, beginners may learn some of the many techniques and strategies that lead to the eventual win. For the first several rounds, however, beginners are at the mercy of their friends.

The game begins with two decks of cards, and the dealer deals out 11 cards to every player. There are point values assigned to each card, with 3’s through 7’s valued at 5 points, 8’s through kings worth 10 points, Aces and 2’s worth 20 points and the Jokers worth 50 points. If you have a red 3 in your hand then you immediately lay down that card and are given 100 points. If you have all four red 3’s, then you are awarded 200 points each. The first goal of the game is to “meld,” which is done by laying down at least four cards of the same suit; they can be either red or black, and their cumulative value must be at least 15 points.

The game progresses by players drawing cards from the deck, and discarding cards they do not want or cannot use. The ultimate goal of the game is to lay down all of your cards in suits, called Canastas. A Canasta is 7 cards of a suit, either red or black or both. When you get a Canasta, you take those cards out of play. A player finishes the game by “going out,” which is when you play all of the cards in your hand.

The winner of the game is determined not by who goes out first, but by the total points awarded based on the number of Canastas and the cards held in your hand at the end of the round. A Canasta with all reds or all blacks is a “clean” Canasta, and is worth 500 points. A Canasta of both red and black cards is a “mixed” or “dirty” Canasta, and is worth 300 points. The point values of the cards in your hand is deducted from your total, and the player with the highest total wins the round. The game is over after a player reaches 5000 points.

While this game seems very complicated (there’s actually more to it then this article allows), it is a lot of fun once any player gets the hang of it. After grasping the basics of the game, anyone can start to use deception and hoarding to confuse your opponents, trying to get them to lay down a card that you can use for another Canasta. This game is most definitely not just for Grandma. Give Canasta a try; get two decks of playing cards and a couple friends, and get lost in the intricacies of an absorbing, fun game.
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