Oh Hell! (The Card Game)

There may be a lot of reasons to say this but in this case it’s innocent – just a new card game I learned last weekend.

According to the mates in the hunting cabin this is a game played often in the Navy when they were sailing a few decades ago.

The game is best played with from 3 to 6 players.

It goes like this:

1. Players a dealt a number of cards each. The number is up to the dealer. Most often it’s between 5 and 11 but it can be 2 cards. The maximum is governed by the total number of players.

2. The dealer then puts the remaining cards aside and flips the top one up in the middle of the table. This suit is now trump.

3. At this point each player has to declare the number of “tricks” they will take given the hand they have, number of cards and the number of players. We’ll come back to bidding when we talk about scoring below.

4. Now the game begins with the player to the left of the dealer putting a card down. Each player in turn plays a card which must be either 1) the same suit or failing that 2) a trump card or failing that 3) any card.

5. After every player has put a card down the winner of that trick takes the cards and now leads with the next card. This goes on until all the cards have been played.

6. Everyone adds up the number of tricks they took and gets a score.


This is where the bid comes in. Basically you get 5 points for every trick you take if it matches your bid. So if you bid for 3 and end up with 3 you get 15 points.

However if you take more or less than your bid you have to subtract 5 points for each one. So if you bid 3 and took 2 then you get 10 points for the 2 tricks *minus* 5 points for being 1 off for a total of 5 points. If you bid 3 and took 5 then your score is 25-10 or 15 points. The scoring encourages players to bid somewhat aggressively and then use their cards and some strategy to get close to the bid.

Playing the game to 100 points yields about the right amount of playing time – at least when we did it three handed.

Strategy & Variations:

Anyone who has played hearts, spades or bridge will feel at home with this game. Being able to vary the number of cards dealt makes the game fun. The name comes from the inevitable “surprises” that come with the game.

One point to consider is that by dealing only 1/2 or 2/3rds of the deck means that players can’t rely on knowing which cards are in play which helps ensure that not everything goes as expected.

Having only played the game once so far it might be early to start mucking around with it but adding an element of passing cards before or after bidding might be fun. So would passing cards prior to the trump card being shown.

The dealer would be in control of this to keep the game moving. So they might deal seven cards and say pass two to the right either before or after the trump card is shown. Just adds to what is already a very fun game.



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