The best card games to play with a big group

This list is sure to draw a crowd!

This list is sure to draw a crowd!

Illustrated collage of playing cards on a beige background.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images; art: CBC Life)

Card games are fantastic entertainment for parties of all sizes. If there's no one around, you can enjoy a ton of games on your own. If you have the opposite problem — too many friends and no games come to mind — this list of recommendations is for you. I grew up with three siblings and sometimes we'd all have friends over at once, or our visiting grandparents would want to join the fun. On those occasions, I looked beyond my usual repertoire of card games so everyone could play. These games are sorted in order of difficulty, so you can choose those that suit your group's skill level.

Card games for beginner players

Not everyone grew up playing card games like I did, but it's never too late to start. While some of these games are especially popular with children, card games are for everyone. These offerings are easy to learn and are the perfect introduction to the world of card games.


Number of players: Up to 10

Cheat was one of my favourite games as a kid because I could lie and not get in trouble for it. It's a classic; easy to learn and fun to play. You win by getting rid of all your cards, and you get rid of your cards by discarding them in sequence. One 52-card deck is used for games with four or fewer players; two decks are used for five or more players. 

All the cards are dealt face down among players. What makes cheat so fun is that you can attempt to discard more cards than the rules allow by pretending that your two fives are actually two sevens, for example, if you have no sevens when it's your turn to discard sevens.

If a player suspects another of cheating, they must say "Cheat!" and the cards the suspect discarded are inspected. If they were honest, the accusing player must add the whole discard pile to their hand. If the player was cheating, the cheater adds the discard pile to their hand and play resumes.

If you'd like, you can include the jokers as wild cards, which can be substituted for a card of any value. For a more difficult game, you can agree that the jokers have no rank and therefore a player who is dealt one must cheat in order to get rid of it.

How to play Cheat


Number of players: Up to 6

This game is an after-dinner favourite in my house. It's an Italian game known for its straightforward rules and fast pace. Traditionally, it uses an Italian deck of 40 cards with batons, coins, cups and swords as the suits. You can play it with the standard suits of clubs, hearts, diamonds and spades if you remove the eights, nines and 10s. 

Scopa, which is Italian for "broom," is so named because one of the ways to score points is to "sweep" all the cards off the table. Each player receives three cards, and four cards are dealt face up in the centre of the table. You must capture cards by matching the value of a card in your hand to a card, or cards, of the same value on the table. A strong strategy is to match the value of a single card in your hand with the value of two or more cards on the table. You take all the cards you matched and place them in a pile before you, which can count for points later.

You score one point for capturing the most cards, having the most cards of an agreed-upon suit, securing the seven of coins (or seven of spades), and holding the most sevens. You also score one point for taking all the cards off the table — a scopa.

Play continues until all cards in the deck have been captured and points are totalled. The deck is then shuffled and play starts again. The first player to reach 11 points is the winner. For the best strategy, always try to match values that result in the highest number of cards being captured. Also, if you have sevens, prioritize matching those before the other players can capture the cards you need.

How to play Scopa

Stop the Bus

Number of players: Any 

I consider Stop the Bus to be a sibling to blackjack and a distant relation to poker. It's a British game descended from Brag (also a quintessentially British bluffing game), which I prefer over the original because the goal is to collect a decent enough Brag hand to stop the play. It uses one deck.

The hand rankings are the same as in Brag. In descending order, three of a kind (a.k.a. a prial) is the best hand, then a running flush, a run, a flush, a pair, and a high card. Each player starts with three tokens and three cards, dealt face down one at a time, with three cards dealt face up in the middle of the table.

On their turn, a player can choose whether to add a card to their hand from a draw pile, a communal card pool or the top of a discard pile. They then discard a card in exchange. Play continues until one player "stops the bus" — declares that they are happy with their hand and that they don't wish to make any more substitutions. After that, each player takes one more turn and then the hands are revealed. The player with the lowest-ranking hand gives up one token. The winner is the last one with a token after several rounds.

If you're not sure what strategy to use, a flush is relatively easy to accrue. Identify the highest card in your hand and switch out the others for cards of the same suit. A flush is a middling hand, but it'll often save you from forfeiting a token.

How to play Stop the Bus

Card games for intermediate players

If your friends are familiar with a few card games and are looking for something a little more challenging, check out this section.

Oh Hell!

Number of players: Up to 7

This game has many names, some of which are more polite and others that are much ruder. It's a game of tricks and trumps, and the goal is to correctly predict the exact number of tricks you'll win. The game uses one deck and aces are high.

At the beginning of each hand, all players must place a "bid" — state how many tricks they will win. They must then try to take that exact number. It's possible to say zero, and then the goal is to not win any tricks. Each player must attempt to follow suit; when they can't, they must play any other card. If they play the highest card in a trump suit, they win the trick. If no trump card is played, then the highest card in the suit that was led wins.

As with many card games, there are variations on the rules, but the simplest way to score is to award 10 points to players who win the exact number of tricks they predicted, plus one additional point per trick won. Those who don't hit their bids only get points for the number of tricks won.

In each subsequent round, players receive fewer cards to keep the game interesting. The fewer cards dealt, the fewer that are in play overall and the harder it becomes to accurately predict how many tricks you'll take.

In terms of strategy, remember that cards as low as five can win tricks. If you've achieved your bid or exceeded it, you can mess with the other players by leading with a low trump and potentially forcing others with higher trumps to take the trick.

How to play Oh Hell!

Racing Demon

Number of players: Any 

When people say "face your demons," they probably aren't thinking of a card game, but this one is as tough as any. In this highly competitive multiplayer twist on solitaire, the goal is to get rid of your "demon." Though I happily played solitaire as a child, as an adult, my favourite thing about card games is playing them with other people, and anyone vaguely familiar with solitaire can enjoy this faster, more exciting version with friends.

Each player needs their own deck, each with a different design on the back. Each player deals themselves a "demon" — a pile of 13 cards — and turns the top card face up. Then each player deals themselves four more cards face up in a line next to the demon. These are the "work piles." The leftover cards form the stockpile and go face down in front of you.

As in solitaire, each player turns over cards from their stockpile in sets of three. You can place any of the cards you turn up from the stockpile or the face-up card from the demon in a work pile. However, you must build the work piles in descending order of value while alternating suits. 

If a player turns up an ace, they can place it in the middle of the table in a communal area, where any player can build on it. If you empty a work pile, you can replace it with the face-up card from the demon or from the stockpile. If you take the card from the demon, turn the next card face up.

The first player to get rid of their demon ends the game. That player scores 10 points, and each player who placed a king in the communal area scores five. From there, everyone counts the number of cards they placed in the communal area (this is why you need decks with different designs) and then subtracts the number of cards left in their demon. The remainder is the number of points they add to their score. 

Speed is king in this race against other players. Also, be sure not to forget about the card on top of your demon. It's easy to get caught up trying to move the work piles and neglect the demon. I've made this mistake so you don't have to.

How to play Racing Demon

Card games for advanced players

If your group is made up of calculating card game veterans, this is the section for you. 

Texas Hold 'Em

Number of players: Up to 9

Poker is so prevalent that the image of finely dressed people around a poker table with stacks of chips at the ready is synonymous with card games. And Texas hold 'em is the quintessential version.

To this day, I've never read the rules of Texas hold 'em but I've still managed to win money playing it. I've placed it in the advanced section because players need a highly involved and statistically sound strategy to play it well. Your group's tacticians and number-crunchers will love it.

Since the last time I included poker in an article like this, I've become a bit more strategy-savvy and I have some advice to impart. I'm not a statistician and can only offer tips for the social aspect of the game. Let yourself get caught bluffing with a bad hand in the early rounds. Call and make sure everyone sees you lose the hand so they dismiss you as either inexperienced or reckless. That way when you call again later, they'll think you're bluffing; when you actually have a good hand, they'll bet against you and you'll win bigger. 

How to play Texas Hold 'Em


Number of players: Up to 7

I learned this game with just one other person; we played with each of us controlling two hands. But it's much better with a big group, and I'd recommend a minimum of four. 

President is the most fun when you have a variety of different chairs of varying levels of comfort around the table. If you win the round, you earn the right to sit on the comfiest chair; if you rank at the bottom, you're relegated to a crate or stool. If your group is unable to move seats for any reason, I suggest playing with different hats to represent the rankings and exchanging those instead.

The aim of the game is to get rid of all your cards as soon as you can. Suits don't matter; all that matters is the ranking of cards: twos, followed by aces, are high, and threes are the lowest. Some tables play with jokers as the highest ranking; others treat jokers as wild cards that can represent any value. 

The player to the dealer's left can play one card or a set of cards of the same rank. Each subsequent player has a choice: they can either play the same number of cards of a rank higher than the previous player, or they can pass and not play any cards at all. Passing on one turn doesn't mean you have to pass every turn after that.

The first player to discard all their cards becomes the "president," the next player becomes the "vice-president" and so on in descending order of status all the way down to "scum." You can customize this hierarchy to suit your group. When the round is up, you end up sitting clockwise in descending order of rank. 

Aside from the chairs or other indicators of rank, what's fun about this game is that you can choose to act in character if that's something your group enjoys. The president can order others around and the scum must deal the cards, fetch drinks and snacks, and the like. You can keep score based on the position you attain, and the game is usually played to 11 points.

It's a simple enough game, but it becomes difficult when the president exchanges their two worst cards for the scum's two best cards. Players of ranks in between those exchange one card. If that's you, get rid of all your cards first, and you become the next president. 

How to play President


Sebastian Yūe is an Ontario-based writer, editor, tabletop game designer and player of many games. They are the author of Lake of Secrets, an adventure for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and they work full-time for roleplaying game publisher Hit Point Press. Sebastian has been playing card games since they were six years old. Visit their website:, and follow them on X (formerly known as Twitter) and on Bluesky Social @sebastianyue.

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