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Up and Down the River: A Card Game for Everyone

Family Game Nights

Do you like to play games? We do! Unfortunately we haven’t played as much as I’d like since our kids have been born. Many of the games Peter and I like to play are still too complicated for our kids to understand and enjoy with us, although Kayli is quickly catching on to some of them. We’re looking forward the time in life when we can have family game nights similar to the ones I had growing up.

While we’re not quite ready to play some of our favorite games with our kids yet, I’m guessing your kids may be old enough to enjoy them with you! Or, you may need a few new game ideas for a kid-free night with friends.

One of the games Peter and I like to play is called Up and Down the River. We first learned it visiting with friends in Peter’s hometown while we were still dating. We’ve seen a few variations of the game over the years and they are all fun. Here’s the way we’ve been playing most recently…

 Things You Need to Play Up and Down the River

Deck of Cards

  • A regular deck of playing cards
    • Family or friends to play with you (4-6 players is optimal although you can play with more or less)
    • A piece of notebook paper and a pen
    • Munchies like this Honey-Glazed Snack Mix
    • Plenty of time to play the game

Setting up to Play Up and Down the River

  1. Up and Down the River ScoringWrite the names of each player across the top of the sheet of paper.
  2. In the left margin, starting at the top and working your way down, number from 10 to 1 and then back up to 10 again. This will help you keep track of the number of cards to deal to each person each round.
    • NOTE: You’ll start with 10 cards and each round have 1 less card to work with until you only have 1 card to deal out to each person. Then you’ll work your way “back up the river” until you have 10 cards to pass to everyone again. So by the end of the game you will have played 19 rounds of cards.
  3. Make sure everyone has something fun to drink and snacks to eat.

Playing Up and Down the River

  1. Have the dealer pass out 10 cards to each player.
  2. Place the remaining cards from the deck in the middle of the table and flip the top card on the deck over. This flipped-over card will designate “trump” suit for the round.
  3. Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, decide how many “tricks” each player expects to take.
      • The high card takes the “trick” each time unless the hand has been “trumped.”
      • Aces are considered “high” in this game.
      • Record the number of tricks bid by each person under each person’s name and circle it.
      • SPECIAL RULE: The number of bids cannot ever match the number of cards dealt in each round. So, for example, if 10 cards were dealt and the other bids placed were “2, 3, 3, and 1″, then the last person to bid (the dealer) cannot bid “1.”
  4. The person to the left of the dealer leads out with a card.
      • Everyone else must follow suit unless they don’t have it.
      • A player may not lead out with a “trump” card until after it has been played in another hand. So if “trump” has not yet been played in the game, the first person to play a card in each round must choose a card of a different suit to start the hand.
      • If a player does not have a card in the same suit as what was lead by the person to the left of the dealer, then another card of any other suit can be played including “trump.”
      • Once everyone has played a card, determine who has “taken the trick.”
  5. The player that captured the last “trick” leads out with a new card to start the next hand.
  6. Each person is trying to claim the exact number of “tricks” they bid before play began.
      • NOTE: If players go over the number of “tricks” bid, then they should try to take as many “tricks” as possible. Doing this will prevent other players from making their exact bids and reduce the penalty for missing their own bids.
  7. Play continues until all 19 hands have been played.
      • NOTE: A fun way to play the round when only 1 card is dealt is for everyone to not look at their own cards and instead make their bids based on what they see other players have for cards. To do this, have everyone place the card on their foreheads so that only the other players can see what is on the card.

Scoring for Up and Down the River

At the end of each round, record the score for each player next to the bids made before play began following these rules:

  1. Exact-Bid: When a player takes exactly the number of “tricks” that he or she bid before the round began scores the number of “tricks” bid + 10 bonus points. So if someone bid 4 tricks and actually ended up with 4 tricks at the end of the round, then the scoring would be 4+10=14 points for the round.
  2. Zero-Bid: Risk-taking is encouraged in this game. So anytime someone bids “zero tricks” and actually ends up taking no tricks in the hand at all, then only award those players 5 points for making their bids.
  3. Missing-the-Bid: If a player does not take the exact number of “tricks” bid before play began, then assess a penalty of minus the number of “tricks” bid but give a point for each “trick” the player actually ended up taking. So if a player bid 3 “tricks” and ended up taking 5 “tricks” then the scoring would look like this: -3 (missed bid) + 5 (number of “tricks” actually taken) = 2 points scored total for the round.

Keep a running total of points for each player. At the end of 19 rounds of play, the player with the most points wins.

Final Thoughts

Page 1 Up and Down the River

I like to have a printed copy of game directions because, let’s face it, it’s not all that convenient to have to look up the directions on a blog when your friends and family are finally ready to play a game with you. So here are the directions for “Up and Down the River” in PDF form!

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  • Nikki April 16, 2013, 11:51 am

    We use to play this game when we were little. Except we had a different name for it! A not so nice name. We also only went down the river once and not back up, on the last turn, or 1 card left, we’d stick the card to our head and bid off of what we saw other people had

  • Jean April 19, 2013, 8:39 am

    Hi Karen,
    I’m a Filipina living in Northern Virginia. I saw your comment on Pinch of Yum wondering what Pan de sal is. It is a sour dough bread and is normally eaten for breakfast in the Philippines. You can google recipe if you like kneading and baking your own bread. Otherwise, if there is a Filipino store in your area, Pan de Sal is always available specially on weekends it good to eat in a leisurely way with the local sausage called longonisa which you can also find in the freezer section of a Filipino store.


    • Karen April 19, 2013, 9:34 am

      Thanks, Jean for helping me learn more about Pan de Sal. I will have to check it out!