(Card) Climbing Games and Their Distinctions
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This is a list of card games from the 'climbing' family, with distinctions between them.

A climbing game is a card game where each player must play a card (or cards) to beat the card (or cards) of the previous player. All cards are played into a pile in the middle of the table. If everyone passes, the cards are cleared (sometimes being awarded to whoever played last) and a new round is started (generally by the winner of the previous round). Interestingly, in many climbing games the high card is the Two rather than the Ace.

Note the major distinctions between a climbing game and a trick-taking game: in a trick taking game each player plays exactly one card, but in a climbing game play continues until all pass, and you can only play if you "beat" the previous play.

This list draws distinctions between the various climbing games by specifying how victory is determined, which combinations are legal (and their ranks), and any other special rules.

(Games ordered by rank)
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1. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:125]
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United States
Pennsylvania
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Tichu

Objective: Score points, based on cards taken and going out first.

Combinations allowed:
singles, doubles, any number of consecutive pairs (2-2-3-3-4-4), triples, full house, straight of at least length 5.

Distinctives: Play as partners. Relatively complex scoring based on card values, going out, etc. Four special cards in the deck. Scoring occurs after the third player goes out.
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2. Board Game: Haggis [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:695]
William Bekking
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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Objective: Score points, based on cards taken and going out first.

Combinations allowed:
Sets (Singles , doubles , triples, 4, 5, 6 or 7(!) of a kind)
Sequences (run of at least 3 of a kind, consecutive pairs(2,3,4,5) ). Sequences must always be the same suit,
Bombs (3579 of different suits, jQ,QK,JQK, 3579 of the same suit)


Distinctives:
1. Designed as a two player game
2. Uses J,Q,K as wildcards or J,Q,K.
3. Only 3,5,7,9 and wild card are scored.

I may not have all the facts straight, but Sean up there can correct me for sure.

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3. Board Game: The Great Dalmuti [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1162]
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Great Dalmuti

Objective: Go out as early as possible.

Playable combination types: singles, doubles, triples, quadruples. Each round uses only one combination type.

Distinctives: Loser of previous hand (Greater Peon) passes best two cards to the winner of previous hand (Great Dalmuti), and receives the Great Dalmuti's worst two cards. Same thing for next-to-last-place and second place, except they trade only one card. This game uses a deck with a unique card distribution.
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4. Board Game: Frank's Zoo [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:1237]
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Frank's Zoo

Objective: Score points, based on cards taken and going out first.

Combinations allowed: singles, doubles, triples, or any multiples, really.

Distinctives: Non-linear (circles back on itself with the mouse bettering the elephant) and non-transitive (mouse betters mosquito, lion betters mouse, but lion does not better mosquito) hierarchy. Play by playing same combination of a better animal, or by playing a one-card-larger combination of the same animal. After first hand, partnerships are introduced, which shift after each hand based on relative positions on the score sheet.
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5. Board Game: Gang of Four [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1548]
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Gang of Four

Objective: Have as few cards as possible when the first person goes out.

Combinations: singles, doubles, triples, poker hands (straight, flush, full house, straight flush), four, five, or six of a kind ("gang of four"). "Gang of four" (or 5 or 6) can be played on any round.

Distinctives: Previous round winner/loser exchange one card (high from loser/low from winner). Special deck. Score points (points are bad) based on number of cards left in your hand when first person goes out. Double/triple points if you have too many cards. Suits are ranked.
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6. Board Game: Lectio [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:2346]
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Technically not a card game per se. Lexio is very similar to Gang of Four where the goal is to have the smallest number of 'cards' (tiles) in your hand when the first person goes out.

(Submitted by Matthew Marquand)
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7. Board Game: Clubs [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:2495]
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A new addition to the climbing genre.

(I still need to look up the details.)
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8. Board Game: Big Two [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:4622]
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Big Two

Objective: Have as few cards as possible when the first player runs out of cards.

Combinations: singles, doubles, triples, poker hands (straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush). Each round is a single type of combination. That is, if the first play in a round is a triple, you cannot play a poker hand to beat it.

Distinctives: Suit matters. Diamonds < Clubs < Hearts < Spades. Two is high, but other ranks otherwise normal. Hand ends when one player goes out and points are scored based on cards in other players' hands.
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9. Board Game: Dilbert: Corporate Shuffle [Average Rating:5.98 Overall Rank:4760]
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Dilbert Corporate Shuffle

Objective: Go out as early as possible.

Playable combination types: singles, doubles, triples, quadruples. Each round uses only one combination type.

Distinctives: Dilbert-themed version of Great Dalmuti, using card trading and a special deck. A couple special cards with their own rules are included.
 
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10. Board Game: Tien Len [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:7537]
Jonathan Kandell
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Tien Len

Objective: Go out first, then second, then third, then fourth.

Combinations: singles, pairs; trios; quads; runs of 3+; pair-runs (3 or more pairs in sequence)

Distinctions: Suits ordered (spades < clubs < diamonds < hearts). Unique method of bombing 2s: 3-finger run (e.g. 445566) trump single 2; 4-finger run (e.g. 44556677) > pair 2's; 5-finger run > trios 2's; 6-finger run > quad 2's.
Once you "pass" you're out for whole round, unlike Big Two.

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11. Board Game: Dou Dizhu [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:7961]
Sean Ross
Canada
North Vancouver
British Columbia
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Dou Dizhu

Objective: Go out first. Score based on amount bid for first lead.

Combinations: singles, pairs, triples, triples with attached card, full house, sequences of five or more consecutive singles, sequence of three or more pairs, sequence of two or more triples, sequence of two or more triples with attached card, sequence of two or more full houses, quad plus two attached singles, quad plus two attached pairs, bombs (quad with no attached cards), rocket (pair of jokers).

Distinctions: primarily supports 3 players (but there are rules for playing with 4), players bid to have the first lead, players score based on the amount bid and who goes out first.
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12. Board Game: Das GROSSE und das kleine A [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:8054]
Richard Irving
United States
Salinas
California
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Wolfgang Kramer's addition to the genre:

Essentially, a double deck (1-13 with 8 cards per value, no suits) with 4 jokers and 2 special cards added: The Big A and the little a.

The little a goes to the first "trick" (round) won. The big A goes to the second.

When A or a is led, the players play a standard trick (i.e. Each MUST play one card, highest card takes the trick).

If the A is led, those cards go in the hand of the winner. The little a trick, the cards in this trick are set aside and scored by the capturing player at the end of the hand.

Scoring is a penalty for card left in the hand: A=20, a=15 (unless played in a little a trick, then it is worth 0), Jokers = 14 (unless captured in a little a trick, then it is worth one), all other card = face value.

"Who's the Ass" is essentially similar (It dispenses with the litle a).
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13. Board Game: Scum: The Food Chain Game [Average Rating:5.75 Overall Rank:10344]
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Scum

Objective: Go out as early as possible.

Playable combination types: singles, doubles, triples, quadruples. Each round uses only one combination type. That is, if the first play for a round is a triple, you cannot play a four-of-a-kind to beat it.

Distinctives: Loser of previous hand (Scum) passes best two cards to the winner of previous hand (King), and receives the King's worst two cards. Same thing for next-to-last-place and second place, except they trade only one card. Often, players also physically change seats to the "King" seat and the "Scum" seat, etc. The names given to the loser and winner may not be "Scum" and "King". The names vary widely depending on the variation. (See the Scum main game page for alternate names for this game.) Suits don't matter. Played with a standard deck. Two is high, followed by ace, king, queen, etc.
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14. Board Game: Ohio [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:10182]
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United States
Pennsylvania
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Reiner Knizia's contribution to the genre.

Objectives: Earn the most points by taking cards and not being left with cards.

Combinations: Single cards only.

Distinctives: Every player starts with the same 11 cards. 1-10 plus "Ohio". Low cards are better, but cards also indicate point values, so high cards are worth more points. Game over when one person runs out of cards. Score is points captured minus points left in your hand. Ohio cards are always 0.1 better than the last card played, but count -10 when scoring (whether captured or still in your hand).
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15. Board Game: Egyptian Ratscrew [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:12989]
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Egyptian Ratscrew

Objective: Collect all of the cards. If you win a round, you take all the cards from the middle as your own.

Combinations: Singles only, but see distinctives.

Distinctives: Each player has his/her own face down deck from which cards are played, rather than chosen from a hand of cards. When playing cards numbered 2-10, it is a normal accumulation game, with higher cards beating lower cards. Whenever a face card or ace is played, on a Jack the next player has 1 chance to 'beat' the Jack by playing another face card/ace, on a Queen the player gets 2 chances, on a King 3 chances, or on an Ace 4 chances. If no face card/ace is played in the number of chances given, the previous player wins the stack. If at any time two identical-valued cards are played in succession, the first player to slap the pile takes the whole pile (and that could be a player with no other cards).
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16. Board Game: Peeper [Average Rating:5.83 Overall Rank:12157]
Sean Ross
Canada
North Vancouver
British Columbia
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Peeper

Objective: Go out first, opponent's penalized per tile left in hand.

Combinations: singles, pairs, run of three or more consecutive singles, run of three or more pairs, triples are bombs, quads are higher bombs. A mine can be formed by playing a pair of the same rank as a single just played by an opponent. A mine wins the round (i.e., cannot be bombed) unless another player can play the fourth tile of the same rank to form a return.

Distinctions: tiles instead of cards, tiles have Braille on them, four wildcards, mines, returns.
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17. Board Game: Shou Ba Yi [Average Rating:7.66 Unranked]
Sean Ross
Canada
North Vancouver
British Columbia
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Shou Ba Yi

Objective: Go out first. Score based on total number of cards held by opponents. Opponents penalized based on number cards left in hand. Additional penalties assessed for being left holding Jokers.

Combinations: singles, pairs, triples with attached card, quad plus two attached cards, sequences of five or more consecutive singles (a "dragon"), sequence of three or more pairs, bombs (quad with no attached cards).

Distinctions: To go out, your last combination played must be a single and that card may not be a Joker.
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18. Board Game: Daihinmin [Average Rating:6.32 Unranked]
Jonathan Kandell
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Daifugō/Dai hin min (大富豪/大貧民) "Very Rich Man/Very Poor Man"

Objective: To get rid of your cards first and become the "Very Rich Man" who gets rid of his cards last.

Combinations: single; pair, trio, quad; five, six-of a kind with wildcards; 3+ card sequences.

Distinctions: 1) 4 of a kind (or 4 card sequence in some variations) causes a "Revolution" for rest of game (or until another revolution): card rank order reversed, e.g. highest cards are now 3,4,5...etc, and K, 2 being lowest. Any J causes temporary revolution, till next round. 2) Loser from each round not only has to give winner best card, but has to do errands like refilling drinks and getting more snacks. 3) An equally-ranked set to that just played (e.g. pair of 4s on a pair of 4s) causes next person to skip his turn. 5) Bombs: An 8 in any combo played legally wins and ends the turn. Single 2 bombs anything. Jokers are wild but can't beat 2s.
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19. Board Game: Zheng Fen [Average Rating:6.68 Unranked]
Jonathan Kandell
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Objective: Win more Ks, 10s, 5s in "tricks" than your opponents; go out first.

Combinations: singles, pairs; trios; quartets; pair-runs (3 or more pairs in sequence), trio-pairs (3 or more trios in sequence), quartet-pairs (3 or more quartets in sequence), trio+two (+pair, two pt-cards, two cards of adjacent rank in same suit, a 3 +any); straight flush.

Distinctions: You get points for winning 5s, 10s, Ks not for cards left in hand nor going out first. Player going out first gets to score the cards left in hand of player going out last; player going out last scores 0; other players score for pt cards won. Two jokers are wild cards but count 0 points. If jokers used as singles, rank goes K,A,2, black joker, red joker; combinations with wild cards are exactly equal to ones with real cards. Bombs = 5-10-K mixed < 5-10-K of a single suit < quartet of 2s. Zheng Fen is the only traditional climbing game where some combos can be beaten either a higher ranked or longer combo of the same type.
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20. Board Game: Camissimo [Average Rating:5.40 Unranked]
Grant Fikes
United States
Abilene
Texas
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Camissimo

Objective: Go out as early as possible.

Playable combination types: Any single card or set of cards with the same number.

Distinctives: For each number in the game, there are four regular cards and one Triple Card which can count as one, two, or three cards. There is one Wild Card which counts as any number. The second play in a round determines whether each set must have higher-numbered or lower-numbered cards than the previous one. (Example: if the first player plays two 3's, the second player must play two cards of the same number besides 3, or pass. If the second player plays two 4's, the next player must play two cards with the same number higher than 4, or pass.)
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21. Board Game: Guan Pai [Average Rating:5.81 Unranked]
Justus
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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Objective: Shed your cards first. Score points per number of cards left in opponent(s) hand. First to 60 points wins.

Combinations: singles, doubles, triples, full house, singles straight (5+ cards), consecutive pairs (2+ sets), consecutive triples (2+ sets). Bombs are quads with an additional card, or all three A's with additional card.

Distinctives: 48 Card deck (remove three 2's and one Ace). Two is high, 3 is low. Bombs include random filler card. Score points (points are bad) based on number of cards left in your hand when first person goes out. Bonus points if there are 16, 15, or 14 cards left in an opponent's hands (2P game only). Seems to have been developed to be a good 2 Player climbing game.
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