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Color Gin

I’ll teach you to play Color Gin even if you don’t know how to play other card games or even other Rummy variants. Starting from scratch here.

What do you need?

It’s a two player card game, it uses a deck of 52 different cards. Four suits and thirteen ranks. The traditional deck for this game uses spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs as the suits and then A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K as the ranks. If your deck comes with extra cards like jokers, ad cards, or scoring cards for other games, set all that aside, you won’t need them for this game. (They make good spares if you lose a card.)

You also need a way to keep score. Each player has a separate score for each of the four suits, so I like to use pen and paper with eight columns.

How do the cards fit together?

A sequence means having at least three cards in order all of the same suit, like 8-9-10-J of clubs.

A three-of-a-kind means having three cards of the same rank, like queen of hearts, queen of diamonds, and queen of spades.

And then of course a four of a kind means having all four cards of the same ranks, like having all of the threes.

How do we set up the game?

Shuffle the deck without looking at the cards and give each player ten random cards. You can look at your own cards but not show each other yet.

The rest of the cards go in a face-down pile, but flip over the top card from there into a face-up pile. (The side of the card that has the suit and rank show is called the face side, even on number cards like the seven of hearts.)

To restate that, now you should have ten cards each in your hand, and between you one face-down deck of thirty-one cards (called the deck) and one face-up deck of only one card (called the discard pile).

The player who didn’t deal out the cards is going to be the starting player.

What is a turn?

Your turn always starts with you choosing between either drawing the top card from the deck or picking the top card from the discard pile, and your turn ends with you placing a card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile.

The first turn is special; if the starting player doesn’t want the top card from the discard pile, the starting player must instead pass instead, and if the dealer then doesn’t want that discard card, they must pass back. This is only moment in the game where you may (and must) pass. If either player does take the discard pile card, play continues as normal (including them ending their turn with placing another card from their hand on the discard pile, as they must with any other turn).

You can’t dig deeper in the discard pile, only choose between the top card; the top face up discard card or the top card in the draw deck.

You are allowed to try to remember what cards the other player has taken from the discard pile, and what cards are further down in the discard pile. Color Gin is a memory game in that regard.

If you are using Braille cards, you are allowed to examine the top card of the discard pile at any time, but not dig deeper.

Those cards are unavailable anyway, since even if players keep taking discard pile cards, they are also adding to that pile every turn.

Going Gin

After getting your new card for the turn, when you have eleven cards, and remembering that your turns always need to end with you discarding a card, that’s when you can go gin, but only once all ten other cards in your hand can fit into sequences, three-of-a-kinds, and four-of-a-kinds.

For example, you have three of a kind in queens (hearts, spades and clubs), and you have a sequence of 10-J-Q in diamonds, and a sequence of 3-4-5-6 in diamonds.

The card you discard can be anything (it can be something that would’ve fit into the rest of the hand just fine, or it can be junk), but you need to discard one card. In other words, it can’t have been absolutely essential for the rest of hand to work together.

Also, each card can only be used for one thing. In the example, you would’ve wanted to use the queen of diamonds both in the sequence and to make that three-of-a-kind into a four-of-a-kind, but that’s not allowed.

Scoring some points

Three-of-a-kinds and sequences are great since they let you go gin, but they also spoil you in one of the suits. (Four-of-a-kinds don’t have that problem.)

A sequence spoils you in its suit. So in the example, those sequeces spoil you in the suit of diamonds.

A three-of-a-kind spoils you in the missing suit. In this case, also the diamonds.

You can end up being spoiled in multiple suits.

You only gain points in the un-spoiled suits. (Remember that in Color Gin, each player has four separate scores, one for each suit!)

You gain the same amount of points in each of those unspoiled suits, though. Over time, they will get out of sync if you keep spoiling different suits.

If you go gin, I have to reveal my hand. I’ll try to fit my cards into three-of-a-kinds, four-of-a-kinds, and sequences, because any left-over-cards are going to be points for you! Jacks, queens and kings are all worth ten points each while the other cards are worth their rank (so a ten is worth ten, a four is worth four, and an ace is worth one). You also get twenty points for going gin.

So, in this example, if I’m stuck with two fives and an eight, that’s 18, and the 20 point gin bonus, you’ll get 38 points in clubs, hearts, and spades, but not in diamonds since you were spoiled in that color.

Knocking

You don’t need to wait for gin! You can end sooner by knocking, but only when own left-over card points total ten or less.

There is a risk to knocking because:

Regardless of who gets the points, it’s the knocker’s hand that’s checked to see which suits are spoiled.

A new round

After recording those scores, shuffle the cards up and start a new round, alternating dealer and starting player.

Colors are only spoiled in that round; you can, for example, score in diamonds & spades one round, and diamonds & clubs & hearts the next.

Completing colors

Once anyone has a hundred points or more in a suit, no-one can score any more in that suit. It’s fine to have more than hundred, like if you have 90 and you get 40 in one round then you’ll have 130 obviously, but after that you can’t have more in that particular suit for the rest of the game.

That can be freeing since you now know you are free to spoil yourself in that suit, but you aren’t allowed to knock or gin if you won’t score any actual points because all your unspoiled suits are shut off.

You win the game if you win three of the four suits. If you win two each, you’re tied.

Have fun!

Variants

If you do use variants, you need to agree on them ahead of the game.

Instead of playing to 100 in each suit, you can set another number. The 20 point gin bonus and the 10 point undercut bonus can also be changed.

You can also play with a tiebreaker, in case you win two suits each, such as highest score total across all four suits, or somethingh else of your own devising.

Here is a co-op variant I came up with (so don’t blame Sackson for this one): try to get a tied game (two suits won each) and then add all eight columns together. That’s your team score; in future plays, try to beat your own high scores. You’re not allowed to discuss.

For a challenge to the co-op game, shuffle in the jokers. When you draw a joker, you have to gin if you can or knock if you can’t (and when you draw a joker, you may knock even if your left-over card points are more than ten. The joker itself is the card you need to discard).

Good luck.♥

About the game

Color Gin is appealing because it fully uses both dimensions of a card deck. The drawback is the memory aspect which can sometimes be a little bit frustrating compared to card games like Parade (which uses as 66 card deck; 0 to 10 in six suits), where once information has been revealed it stays revealed.

In the book A Gamut of Games, Sid Sackson created Color Gin as scoring tweak on Gin Rummy, as an alternative to (but pretty different from) the popular Hollywood Gin variant.

To play Hollywood Gin, forget the whole “suit-spoiling” thing, instead there are only three colums per player. Just like Color Gin, a column is over and won and closed when someone reaches a hundred points in that column. Your first batch of won points go in the first column, your second batch of won points go in the first two columns, and from then on your points go in all columns, except in closed ones of course. Win two out of three columns to win the game! Oh, and also the gin bonus is 25. Hollywood Gin is awesome but I like Color Gin better.