Workshop 55

workshop-55-headerWelcome to Workshop 55. This page contains new PAIRS variants that are works in progress, waiting to be finished and included in new PAIRS decks. Try them out and give us feedback!

PAIRS is a “New Classic Pub Game” created by James Ernest and Paul Peterson, released by Cheapass Games and Hip Pocket Games. The deck contains 55 cards numbered 1 through 10, with 1×1, 2×2, 3×3, and so on up to 10×10. You can build your own Pairs deck by combining cards from three poker decks, or you can buy one of the many preexisting Pairs decks.

This bare-bones page contains descriptions of games still in progress, along with notes about where we think they stand, and what we think still needs work. The “confidence” rating is a guess at how close to finished we think this game is.

This page was created as a resource for our design staff, but we figured we’d share it with the whole world, in case you have comments and suggestions. Please send us your feedback!

Workshop 55 Alumni

The Judge is a game about a cooking competition, which appears in the Echo Chernik “Goddesses of Cuisine” deck. You can download the complete rules to The Judge (including a fix to a couple wrong numbers in the printed version) at the Goddesses of Cuisine page at Hip Pocket Games.

Deadfall is a bluffing game where players try not to play the last card of a given rank. It will soon have its own Pairs deck, but is also part of the Lord of the Fries Pairs deck. You can download a PDF of the rules at the Lord of the Fries Pairs page at Hip Pocket Games.

Note on Deadfall: We are working on new variants on that game for an expanded version. So far our favorite one is simple: Prior to the first play, everyone passes one card to the left. In a bluffing game about what everyone else is holding, this turns out to be a very interesting twist.

Ghost Town (below) appears in the Wild West deck, from Breaking Games.



Concept: Carousel is a gambling game with a rich fake back story. It was invented in in September 2015 as a companion for the Andrew Kolb Las Vegas Pairs deck. You can now order this deck from DriveThruCards with either a black back or a white back.

  • Players: 2 to 6
  • Equipment: a Pairs deck and chips for betting
  • Designer: James Ernest
  • Proposed Deck: Las Vegas (Andrew Kolb)
  • Confidence: 80%
  • Last Update: 2/15/16
  • Download the Full Description (PDF, 192 kb, updated 2/15/16)
  • Quick Betting Layout (JPG, 189 kb)

The Basics: Carousel is a game where 2 or more players (up to 6, maybe more) can bet on the outcome of a game similar to Pairs.

To begin, the dealer deals out the first card in six hands of Pairs. Then, in turn, players may bet how many of these hands will NOT contain a pair after receiving another card. These bets are made on a circular layout containing the numbers 0 to 6. When all bets are placed, the dealer deals one card to each hand, eliminating any hand that contains a pair. The players who correctly guessed the number of surviving hands divide the money that was bet by all players, and another round is played.

This continues until there is only one (or zero) hands left, and then a new game begins.

If the bets aren’t evenly divisible by the number of players, then the remainder is left in the pot for the next round. If no one bet the correct number, then all the money is deffered to the next round. If there is ever money left in the pot at the end of the game, it stays in the pot at the beginning of the next game.

There are several optional side bets, including a bet on which stack will last the longest.

Notes: This is a casino game, so you’ll need a dealer as well as several players, though the dealer can also play and it doesn’t affect the odds.


Ghost Town

Concept: Ghost Town is a Western-themed gambling game, created for the Old West Pairs deck. It tries to answer the question, “What would poker be like if there was no such thing as poker?”

  • Players: 2 to 6
  • Equipment: a Pairs deck and chips for betting
  • Designers: James Ernest, Boyan Radakovich
  • Proposed Deck: Old West (Val Mayerik)
  • Confidence: 80%
  • Last Update: 8/7/15

Setup: Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of five cards to each player, face down. Every player makes an ante bet of 10 coins to create the pot.

Starting Play: Each player chooses one card from his hand in secret, and these cards are played and revealed together. The player who plays the lowest card will go first, and all these initial cards will be collected in the center of the table, to create a set of community cards called the board.

If there is a tie for low card, break the tie by drawing cards from the deck. These cards are used only for tiebreaking, and are then discarded.

On Each Turn: When it is your turn, you have three choices. You may play, draw, or fold.

Play: Pay 2 coins into the pot, then choose a card from your hand and play it onto the table in front of you. You can’t play a pair (two cards of the same rank) into your own hand, and the cards on the board are considered part of everyone’s hand.

You may also play to the left, as follows: If you have a card of matching rank in front of you, but your neighbor on the left does not, you may play that card in front of that player.  For example, if you have a 9 face up, but your neighbor doesn’t, you may play a 9 on your neighbor. This play also costs you 2 coins.

Note that you can play only on the active player to your immediate left, but since players can leave the game by folding and busting, the identity of the player to your left can change during the hand.

Draw: Take a card from the deck face up to the table in front of you. If this gives you a pair, either with your own cards or with the board, you are busted. You lose the game and and must pay the rank of the matched card into the pot. For example, if you bust with a pair of 8s, this costs you 8 coins.

If your draw does not bust you, then you win money from the pot, equal to the value of the card you received. If this empties the pot, the game ends.

Fold: Withdraw from the game and throw away your cards.

Ending the Game: The game is over when the pot is empty, or when only one player remains, at which point that player collects the pot. Then shuffle up and play again!

Notes: You can make money in two ways in this game. In the short term, taking hits that don’t bust you will earn money out of the pot. But you’ll have to make at least two successful draws to actually make a profit on your initial investment of 10 . In the long term, your goal is to outlast the other players and take the pot.



Concept: Octopus is a gambling and bluffing game.

  • Players: 3 to 6
  • Equipment: a Pairs deck and chips for betting
  • Designers: James Ernest, Jonathan Fingold, Owen Jungemann
  • Deck: Unassigned
  • Confidence: 80%
  • Open Questions: What is the actual player range? Is the hand ranking too complicated? What about the forfeit mechanics?
  • Last Update: 5/31/15

Rules: Octopus is a gambling game for 3 to 6 players.

To Begin: Each player antes one coin. Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of eight cards to every player.

Each Round: All remaining players play one “key card” face down. These cards are revealed together and discarded. The player who played the lowest unpaired key card has priority, and decides the action for the round. The four choices are:

  1. No Action. Proceed immediately to the next round.
  2. Fold. The active player leaves the game. All other players proceed to the next round.
  3. Pass Left. All players pass one card from their hand to the player on their left.
  4. Show Down. All players reveal their hands, and winners pay losers as described below.

If there are no unpaired key cards, there is no action. Play another round. Also note that you have to earn priority to be allowed to fold.

If players have only one card in their hands at the beginning of a round, there is an immediate showdown. (This has never happened in playtest, because someone always calls a showdown before this point, but it seems like a necessary rule.)

Showdown: Players reveal their hands. The best hand is defined as follows:

  1. No Paired cards (best). Among hands with no pairs, high cards are worst. So begin by comparing the highest cards in each hand, then the second highest, and so on, as you would compare hands in lowball poker. High cards lose to lower cards.
  2. No Unpaired Cards (second-best). All cards have at least one matching card, such as 666-44. All of these hands are worse than hands with no paired cards, and they are also compared on the basis of their high cards being worst. So 999-44 is worse than 99-777.
  3. Mixed (worst). A hand with some paired cards and some unpaired cards. As with other hands, compare highest cards first.

Forfeits: After the showdown, each player pays 1 coin to every player who had a better hand. So, the best hand collects a coin from everyone, the worst hand pays a coin to everyone, and hands in the middle will both pay and collect. The best hand also takes the coins in the pot. Players who folded do not have to show their hands or pay anyone in the showdown.

Notes: This is a poker-like game but without the rounds of betting. The rules for comparing hands seem a bit overcomplicated, but they help players make decisions about which cards to discard and pass.



Concept: Saltbox is a Faro-style game played in the Old West. That is, the fictional Old West, where they had Pairs decks instead of Poker decks.

  • Players: House vs. 1 to 10 players (House can be automated.)
  • Equipment: A Pairs deck, chips for betting, and a layout numbered 1-10
  • Designers: James Ernest, Joe Kisenwether
  • Proposed Deck: Unknown (Was Old West deck)
  • Confidence: 30%
  • Open Questions: Is this game fun? It’s based on Faro, which is arguably not very fun either, unless it’s the only game in town. What other bets can we make? Is card counting disastrous for the house odds and if so, how can it be mitigated?
  • Last Update: 5/31/15

Rules: This is a casino-style game, with one Banker (who is also the dealer) and several Players, as many as will fit around the table. Ideally, Satlbox uses a betting layout showing all possible bets and with enough space for several players to bet on each one. In the basic game described here, one may bet on any single rank of card.

To begin, shuffle the deck and burn five cards. You will now deal ten “hands” from the deck, described below, and then reshuffle.

Each Hand: Players may place bets on any single number. They may bet on more than one number, or even all ten numbers if they wish. If you bet on a number, you are hoping that it will appear in a five-card hand that contains no pairs.

After all bets are placed, deal a face-up hand of five cards. If there is a pair in this hand, all bets lose. If there is no pair, players are paid based on the number they bet on, as follows:

  1. 23:1
  2. 12:1
  3. 9:1
  4. 7:1
  5. 6:1
  6. 5:1
  7. 5:1
  8. 4:1
  9. 4:1
  10. 4:1

If a number does not appear in the hand, that is also a losing bet.

Players collect or lose on multiple number bets independently. For example, if a player has bet 2, 3, and 7, and the hand is 10-9-7-6-5, then the player is paid 5:1 on the 7, but loses his bets on the 2 and 3. (A payout of 5:1 means that the player receives 5x his bet from the house, as well as keeping his original bet.)

Odds and Card Counting: In a freshly shuffled deck, the odds for the house are high, ranging from a house advantage of 1.86% on the 3, to 16.07% on the 8. However, after some cards have been dealt, the odds on a specific number may get significantly better. Therefore, the expectation is that a good card counter could potentially beat this game if he were allowed to vary his bet enough between hands. This analysis has not yet been performed.

A note on Casino Games: House-banked casino games tend to have simpler decisions (if any) and more volatility than tabletop gamers are used to, so it’s important to think about this game in the context of games like Craps, Blackjack, and Roulette. If you don’t like those games, you probably won’t enjoy Saltbox, although there might still be enough card counting to whet your appetite. Remember also that games like this are much more engaging when played for real money.


Thanks for visiting Workshop 55. These games will come and go as we refine and create them, so check back often and look for updates.

We hope all these games are lots of fun just as they are,  but we can’t be sure until they have had a while to cook. So help us cook ’em!