Euchre Card Game Review


Royal flush in the Hearts suit, hand of cards

Year Published: 1848

Players: 4

Playing Time: 45 Minutes

Euchre is not a great card game. But it’s possibly my favorite card game. This review will attempt to explain why those two statements are compatible.

Euchre is a lot of peoples’ introduction to traditional card games and trick-taking games. It’s played with a reduced deck, features a couple inversions to get you used to the “twists” that exist in any trick-taker, but the decision space isn’t so broad as to induce anxiety in new players. A lot of decisions are perfunctory, either as dictated by suits, or because a choice is somewhat obvious.

Trump suit beats anything, the Jacks of the trump color (Bowers) are the highest trump cards, it’s advantageous to hand the dealer the face-up card if you can, provided the dealer is you or your partner, and you better have a pretty strong hand to “go alone” with your pattern sitting out for a hand.

Hands are five tricks, so they play quickly. A typical game might last a dozen hands, give or take. It’s playable in roughly half an hour with those who know the game.’

That’s a too-quick overview, but if you’ve played any card game, ever, you now have the gist of the thing.

Cultural Touchstones

Here in the US Midwest, you either grow up playing Hearts, Spades or Euchre. Sometimes a combination of them.

Other games will occasionally intrude. We learn some Rummy variants in our family, for instance, that we’d play with extended family during holidays or vacations. Or the more silly, less deliberate games like Spit, Egyptian Ratscrew or Kemps. My paternal grandmother also taught me Pinochle at one point, though that didn’t stick as well as the others.

But Euchre was our game. My grandmother, older brother and father needed a fourth, and so I was taught at a very early age.

It’s also intergenerational. I’ve played in more recent years with my niece and nephew (my brother’s kids).

And because of the regional cultural ubiquity, it’s a touchpoint that I’ve had in common with numerous people I’ve met in adulthood.

One memorable session that took place unexpectedly in a bar was with non-gamer friends who happened to have a deck of cards. They taught me a bunch of hyper-regional colloquialisms related to the game and its rituals in their household, some of which I’ve now heard elsewhere. “Opening the barn door” and “scooping the cream” are ritualistic steps in games of Euchre for them.

Why? Because that’s how it’s done. These old-world games don’t really need logical justification. It’s how you were taught, and it was good enough for grandma and grandpa. So it’s good enough for you.

And it creates a particular type of joy to share this history with others.

Herein lies Euchre’s appeal.

The Mechanical Tensions and Lazy Enjoyments of Euchre

Euchre is also a serviceable game unto itself, removed of historical trappings. The tension of the final trick when a hand could swing to either partnership is always thrilling.

But it’s not a game that demands your constant attention. I can play quickly and still be paying attention, while also having conversations with those at the table or others who are around.

It has a lazy quality wherein there are definite decision points, but it never demands so much of your cognitive capacity that you can’t simply bask in the moment, enjoying the social atmosphere and easy competition. It doesn’t really matter who wins. It matters that you’re playing. And it’s a game that allows you to feel this warmth.

Many “better” card games don’t have this quality. They’re too present, so to speak, that they destroy some of this shared interpersonal space that exists silently and invisibly between players.

These are fine too. If I’m playing a card game with strangers, I don’t suggest Euchre. I suggest one of the myriad, more gamified options available to me.

But if I’m among good friends or family, sometimes I only want the simple, unspeakably subtle joy of Euchre.

So this is what I meant at the start. Euchre isn’t the best card game. For some, it won’t even register as a good game.

But it’s my card game. Not just mine, though. It’s many others’ as well. And that’s the point.

Like my reviews and want more? Check out my other reviews and game musings!