We’ve talked previously about the intersection of tabletop games and education. Sometimes having fun is one of the easiest ways to teach something new.
Educational games, however, don’t always need to be complicated like Cytosis or Subatomic. Sometimes a worker-placement or deck-building strategy can be replaced by something as simple as a basic dice or card game.
I’m going to be honest in that ABC Luck! isn’t a new card game, but a reskin of a classic one. The rules are just a variation of a game known by many names, including Karma, Palace, and Shed (as well as its infamous moniker of “Shithead”).
The goal is to get rid of all your cards, including those in your hand and those in piles in front of you. You do this by playing cards on the central pile in increasing order; if you can’t, you must pick up the central pile as your hand, and the game continues.
To add some variety to the game, each player has not only a hand but also several piles that consist of face-up and blind (face-down) cards. Once you’re done with your hand (and there are no more cards to draw), you must play from the face-up cards; after those are finished, its time to rely on pure luck and play from the blind ones.
The further into the game, the harder it is to guarantee you have a card higher than the top of the pile. Thus, the more likely you are to pick up the entire pile of cards and must start playing from the hand again.
ABC Luck! takes this classic game and adds in a new twist by replacing the numbers and suits with ASL letters. Instead of increasing numbers, you must play the next letter of the alphabet; notably, the cards don’t have the English letters but the ASL sign, therefore requiring you to know (or learn) some sign language.
(The designers were kind enough to include a quick reference card that provides for the translation of ASL to English for those new to the language.)
ABC Luck! also adds cards and rules either drawn from variations on the classic game or altogether new. These range from how the game is set up to a slew of Power Cards that can quickly shift the balance.
Karma (and its variants) usually had a 3 x 3 x 3 set-up: three random cards face-down, three random cards face-up on top of the blind ones, and then a hand of three. ABC Luck! instead does a 5 x 5 x 5 set-up (with five piles); also, you’re initially given ten cards from which you choose five to put face-up and five to be your starting hand.
Another change is “wildcards,” which usually consisted of specific numbers that had special effects (e.g., a “10” would “burn” the central pile and remove it from the game). Power Cards replace this role, from Blasting the pile to Resetting the order; there’s also a rule that lets you play Bundles of the same card at once and even use a four-of-a-kind like a Blast.
At its core, ABC Luck! isn’t anything new, as the classic game it reskins has existed since the mid-20th century and long since spread across the world. What makes this version different is the educational and immersive aspect, requiring players to practice ASL.
Also, the designers added more variations to increase difficulty and encourage learning sign language. For example, after a card is played the player might have to sign the letter, sign a word with the same handshape, or even add new signs to the previous play to create a sentence or story.
While part of me had hoped ABC Luck! would be something unique, or more advanced than the simple alphabet, I still think this game works quite well for those learning ASL. The classic rules underneath make it easier for most people to pick-up while starting with the alphabet is precisely where most sign language classes begin.
One final moment of appreciation is that this game is the first designed and published by a Deaf-owned company. ASLCART sells a variety of ASL-themed products and donates part of their proceeds to Deaf charitable causes.
If you’re looking for something educational, fun, and far more straightforward than Genius Games’ repertoire, then ABC Luck! belongs on your shelf. It’s portable, easy to learn, educational, and great for two-players up to family-size groups.
ABC Luck! is available for purchase online. 2-6 players, Ages 8+.
We give ABC Luck! an expressive 3.5 signs out of 5.