Welcome to Workshop 55, home to work-in-progress Pairs variants we’d like your feedback on!

Pairs is a “New Classic Pub Game.” A Pairs 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 existing Pairs decks.

Below are 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.

Have feedback? Send it our way!



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.

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.

Note: 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.


Concept: Octopus is a quick and dirty gambling game.

  • Players: 3 to 6
  • Equipment: a Pairs deck and chips for betting (about 100 per player)
  • Designers: James Ernest, Jonathan Fingold, Owen Jungemann
  • Deck: Unassigned
  • Confidence: 95%
  • Open Questions: What is the player range? Is this good for 2 or 3 players?

To Begin: Each player antes one coin. Shuffle the deck and deal a hand of eight cards to every player. (On the first hand of the session, each player antes two coins.) Players look at their hands.

Folding: Starting with the winner of the previous hand, or with the dealer on the first hand, players must declare whether they are in or out. To fold costs an additional coin to the pot. To continue is free, but this is the only opportunity to fold. (If everyone but the last player folds, that player takes the pot and starts the next hand. In this case everyone antes an extra coin again.)

Each Round: Each player plays one card from their hand simultaneously.  The player who played the lowest unmatched card gets the option to pass or show. If there are no unmatched cards, there is no option, and another round is played. If players have only one card left there is an immediate showdown.

Option: The player with the option has two choices: Pass or Show.

  • Pass: Each player passes one card to the left (skipping past folded players).
  • Show: All players show their cards. The best hand wins, and the worst hand pays a penalty.

Hand Ranking: The player who calls the showdown may select “Set Hand” or “Clean Hand” as the best type of hand. This is usually clear based on the cards this player reveals. There are three types of hands:

Set Hands: Hands with no single cards. For example, 99-888-33. This is a “set hand” or a “hand of sets.”

Clean Hands: Hands with no duplicated cards. For example, 3-4-5-7-9. This is a “clean hand.”

Dirty Hands: Hands with a mix of single cards and sets of cards. This kind of hand is always the worst.

Comparing Hands: Between hands of the same type, high cards are bad. So a hand where the highest card is a 9 is worse than a hand where the highest card is an 8. The next lowest card is a tiebreaker, and so on.

When comparing clean hands, this is fairly straightforward. When comparing other types of hands, this can be a bit more challenging. Remove cards one at a time from each hand until one is clearly worse. This means that 999-44 is worse than 99-888. After two 9s are removed from each, the hands are 9-4-4 and 8-8-8.

Prize and Forfeit: The winner takes the pot, and the loser (i.e., the worst hand in the showdown) must ante 5 coins instead of 1 coin into the next pot.

If all players agree to play “last hand,” then the loser’s penalty is paid to the winner of the final hand, rather than into the next pot.

Notes: This is a poker-like game but without the rounds of betting. Instead, the only penalties are the ante, the price of folding, and the additional penalty for having the worst hand.


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: 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?

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.


The Judge is a game about a cooking competition, which appears in the
Pairs: 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) from Hip Pocket Games.

Deadfall is a bluffing game where players try not to play the last card of a given rank. This game has its own game deck, called Deadfall, along with lots of cool variations. Deadfall first appeared in the Lord of the Fries-themed Pairs deck.

Ghost Town appears in the Wild West deck, available from Breaking Games.