War Card Game Rules

Posted by Dice Game Depot

War is a simple, luck-driven card game with no strategic depth, but kids enjoy the quick card play and the suspense of the “wars” where you can win many cards at once.

Game Summary

Object of the Game

Accumulate all the cards into your stack.

Equipment

A standard deck of playing cards.

Number of Players

2
(War can also be played with more than 2 players by using the Multiple Players variant described below)

How to Play the War Card Game

Card Ranking

Cards are ranked from Ace (high), king, queen, jack, 10, 9, and so on down to 2 (low). Suits are ignored.

Beginning the Game

Remove the jokers from the game unless using the Jokers variant described below. Shuffle the cards and deal the entire deck face-down equally between the two players, so that each player receives 26 cards. Players may not look at these cards and instead each player places the cards in a face-down stack in front of themselves or in their hand.

Playing the Game

Each player simultaneously draws and reveals the top card of their own stack. The two cards are compared:

  • If the cards are different ranks, the player with the more highly-ranked card wins both cards and places them face-down at the bottom of their stack.
  • If the cards are the same rank, there is a war! (See below.)

Play continues in this manner until one player has accumulated all the cards into their stack.

For example, Carl and Jasmine each draw the top card from their respective stacks and compare them. Carl's card is a 9 of hearts. Jasmine's card is a 10 of diamonds. Jasmine wins both cards and places them at the bottom of her stack.

They draw again. This time Carl draws a 5 of spades and Jasmine draws a 5 of hearts. The cards are the same rank, so the players proceed to have a war!

War!

When a war occurs, each player deals three cards face down and one card face up in front of themselves. The two face-up cards are compared and the winner receives the “spoils” (all six of the face-down cards, the two face-up cards, and the two original cards that started the war, for a total of 10 cards) and places them all face-down at the bottom of their stack.

If the two face-up cards are tied again, players lay out yet another three face-down cards and one face-up card and compare the new face-up cards, with the winner taking all of the spoils.

If another tie occurs, repeat this process until a winner is decided.

If a player is unable to lay out a sufficient number of cards in a war, they immediately lose the game.

For example, Carl has three cards remaining in his stack. He draws one of the cards and a war occurs, which requires him to lay out three face-down cards and one face-up card. Since he only now has only two cards remaining in his stack and is unable to lay out the four cards needed for the war, he loses the game.

Game End and Winning

The game ends either:

  • when one player has accumulated all 52 cards into their stack (that player wins!)
    or
  • when one player runs out of cards during a war (the other player wins!)

War Card Game Variants

Use one or more of these rules variants as desired to add some variety to your games of War!

Lesser Spoils

In this popular variant, during a war each player places only one card face down and one card face up. The winner takes all six cards. This makes for a longer game.

Greater Spoils

In a war, each player puts down a number of cards equal to the value of the tied cards For example, if two 5s started the war then each player would lay out 5 face-down cards as the spoils and one face-up card. If tied face cards start the war (kings, queens, jacks), each player would lay out 10 cards as the spoils. Aces require 11 cards.

Jokers

At the beginning of the game, mix the two jokers in with the rest of the cards. The jokers are ranked as the highest card (higher than aces).

Equal Jokers

If using the Jokers variant, remove the jokers from the deck before shuffling and dealing cards to the players. Then give each player one joker to shuffle into their stack.

Multiple Players

Begin a game with 3 or more players by dealing the cards as evenly as possible among the players (e.g., 17 cards each with 3 players, 13 cards each for 4 players). Any cards not dealt are removed from the game.

As in regular War, all players draw and reveal cards simultaneously and the highest card still wins. When a war occurs, all players participate.

If a player runs out of cards, they drop out of the game. As in regular War, the game continues until one player has accumulated all the cards into their stack.

Multiple Players – Limited Engagement

If using the Multiple Players variant, a war occurs only among players who played a tied card.

Short War

For a shorter game of War, the first player to win three battles wins the game.

Instant War

When comparing two cards, the higher card is returned face-down to the bottom of its owner's stack while the losing card is “killed” and discarded from the game. In a war, each player only places one card out as spoils.

Last Ditch Effort

Instead of a player automatically losing when they run out of cards during a war, they instead lay out as many cards as they can and then place the last card face-up as their card to compare.

Aces Low

Aces are the lowest ranked cards (e.g., lower than 2's).

Peace

When comparing cards, the lowest card wins. In a war, five cards are laid out as the spoils (one card for each letter in the word Peace).