The card game "Go Fish" has been around for a number of years and is a popular game for both children and adults. It is an excellent choice for introducing kids to cards because it is a simple game with easy to remember rules.
I remember spending countless hours playing this game with family and friends when I was young, and I remember a few encounters with players I suspected of or caught red handed withholding cards. Nonetheless, I continued to play the game; I just became more selective as to who I chose to play with.
Funny how much you can learn about a person simply by the way they play cards!
The game "Go Fish" is usually played by 2-5 players and a 52-card deck is used. The max number of players can be as high as 10, but this leaves a very scant card pile to "fish from." General age range for the game of "Go Fish" is 4 and up.
Go Fish - Dealing
If there are 4 players or less, each player is dealt 7 cards; in games with more than 4 players, each player receives 5 cards. The remaining cards are placed in the center playing area and designated as the drawing "pool" or "fish from" pile.
Go Fish - The Play
The player in his/her turn asks another player for cards of a specific rank. Example: "John, do you have any sevens?" The card rank requested must be a card the player making the request is holding in their hand.
In this example, if John has any sevens, he must relinquish all the sevens he is holding to the player making the request. If John has no sevens, he tells the player to "Go Fish," and the player draws a single card from the "pool."
If the player obtains any sevens from John or from the pool, he/she gets to take another turn. If not, play proceeds to the left.
When a player obtains all four suits in a specific rank (the 7 in clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds), the cards are placed in front of the player face up.
When the pool is empty or any player runs out of cards, the game is over. The player with the most suit piles is the winner.
Go Fish - Variations
As with most all card games, there are variations on the basic set of rules. All variations should be decided upon prior to the commencement of the game in fairness to all players.
- Rather than having an orderly stacked "pool" to fish from, the cards can be randomly spread out instead.
- When a player runs out of cards and the game ends, other players count remaining cards in their hand and deduct a pair for each card left. The game winner is the player with the most pairs after deducting for leftover cards in the hand.
- For tournament style play, each player receives one point for each pair on the table at the end of the game. If a player is holding more cards at the end than pairs they have played, they receive negative points. The first player to reach 52 points is the tournament winner.
- When advised to "Go Fish," a player has the option of drawing from the pool or from the opponent's hand. If the opponent's hand is fished, he/she draws a replacement from the pool and play proceeds to next player.
- Only one turn is allowed per player regardless of whether their call for cards is successful or not.
- There is the option of forming pairs of cards rather than full suit books of four. This usually works well for younger children so they don't become bored waiting to accumulate four cards in a rank, plus the game progresses faster.
- Books of three cards are formed instead of four, and other players holding the last card in the rank can play it on the 3-card book as their own for scoring purposes. If Mary places three 7s down, if John has the final 7, he can lay it down for points. The play must be made only on the player's turn, meaning John cannot lay down the last 7 until it is his turn.
Go Fish - Strategy
When a player fishes from the pool and draws a card rank they were not previously holding, they should "fish" for this rank on their next turn. If they instead draw a rank they are already holding, they should continue to pursue those ranks that exist in their hand.
As player skill develops, the strategy is to focus on remembering the cards opponents are holding by memorizing their requests during their turn. The game of Go fish is based on the honor system, which presents the opportunity to introduce youngsters to the importance of honesty and good sportsmanship at an early age.
Go Fish - Options
There are other variations of Go Fish and similar card games that go under different names, such as "Happy Families" (traditional in the U.K.) and "Fisherman's Luck."
There are some specialty decks that are made specifically for the game of "Go Fish," but they are optional for playing the game. They are typically "picture" cards of a particular fish or animal, and instead of collecting a card rank in each suit, the fish or animals have four color variations instead. These are choice decks for capturing the interest of younger players.