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'Up and Down Donkey' printed from http://nrich.maths.org/
This game was sold commercially thirty odd years ago, and some
families may have a box in their games cupboard, but all you need
are six sets of cards numbered 1 to 20 (click here to download a set of
numbers to print out). The game is suitable for very young
children, as long as they can count from 1 to 20, and there can be
quick reversals of fortune, a good family game! Because it is
simple, 'Up and Down Donkey' provides many possibilities for you to
invent your own game by creatively varying the rules of this
The object of the game is to build up six stacks in the middle of
the table, face up, in order from 1 at the bottom to 20 on the top.
The first player to get rid of all his cards is the winner. If the
game has to stop at a pre-arranged time the player with the fewest
- The cards are shuffled well and all the cards are dealt face
down to the players. (Note that 120 can be divided exactly by 2, 3,
4, 5 and 6 - the number of players that can take part.) Without
looking at them, the players pile up their cards into a stack, face
down in front of them.
- The first player on the left of the dealer starts by turning
over the top card of her personal stack. If it is a 1 she can start
a stack in the centre and she can go on playing as long as she can
put her cards onto the centre stacks (for example if her second
card is a 1 or a 2). With the first card she is unable to build
onto one of the centre stacks, she starts her own face up stack in
front of herself. This ends her turn.
- From now on play is a little different, each player can:
- Look to see if the top card of his face up pile can be placed
on top of any other player's face up stack. This can be done with
the next higher or lower number e.g. a 7 or a 9 can be placed on an
- If (a) is not possible he can place the top card of his face up
stack on a centre stack. He can then either place the next card(s)
from his face up stack on his opponents' stacks or on the centre
stacks, according to the rules given.
- When (a) and (b) are impossible he turns over the next card of
his face down stack and places it either on a centre stack or on
one of his opponent's stacks or, if he can't do that, on top of his
own face up stack.
- Whenever a player disposes of a card either on a centre stack
or on one of her opponent's stacks she has another turn. The turn
ends when the player has to place a card on her own face up
- If a player makes a mistake the other players call out WRONG
and each hands him one of his own cards which the wrongdoer puts on
his face down stack.
- When a player has used up her face down stack she turns over
her face up stack and carries on.
- A version of this game can be played with an ordinary pack of
playing cards, or with 2 packs if there are more than four
- Can you devise your own rules to make a more thought provoking
game? For example you could build the centre stacks in the same way
but allow players to put cards on their opponent's stacks which
were multiples or factors of the top card. In this version the
numbers 11, 13, 17 and 19 are the safest to have face up on top but
6 is much more risky.