Recently my wife and I rediscovered a classic card game that I remember fondly from my childhood. I am talking about the card game Rack-O.
Rack-O is a very easy to learn game that’s all about getting your cards into numerical order which is great for a casual game night or something to play while just hanging out and chatting.
Disclosure: Thanks to the Banded Goose Brewery for having a copy of Rack-O on hand which caused us to rediscover this true classic board game. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Rack-O?
Rack-O was designed by Frank Whitehead who started inventing games in 1937. Rack-O was his first commercial success being published by the Milton Bradley Company in 1956 and the family continuing to receive royalties for this game design to this day.
This very quick to learn card game plays two to four players with a single round of the game only taking about fifteen minutes when you include shuffling and dealing.
A full game, to the rulebook suggested five-hundred points, will take significantly longer with most of our games lasting around two hours total.
In Rack-O each player is dealt ten cards which they place into a plastic card holder in the order they were dealt. Each turn you draw one card from the top of the deck or the discard pile and swap it with one of the cards in your rack with the end goal being to get your entire rack of cards in numerical order.
As you can see in the video, a new copy of Rack-O comes with a set of simple to learn, four page, black and white instructions, sixty number cards and four plastic racks to hold the cards.
Personally I was a bit disappointed to see that this current printing of the game features racks that are all the same colour. Previous editions included two different colours which were used to indicate teams when playing one of the game’s popular variants.
The trays are solidly made and the cards are of excellent quality. They have a plastic coating which is good to see because you will be shuffling these cards a lot as well as sliding them in and out of the plastic racks.
The box also features a trough like box insert that does little to actually help keep the cards from sliding around once you remove them from the shrink. Every time I open my copy I find cards underneath the trays.
There is also a lot of air in this box.
How to play Rack-O
To start a game of Rack-O you first prep the deck by removing cards if you are playing with less than the full player count of four players. With three players you remove the 51 to 60 cards and with two players you also remove the 41 to 50 cards.
The remaining deck of cards is then shuffled well and each player draws a card from that deck. The player who drew the highest card becomes the dealer.
The dealer deals ten cards to each player, one card at a time. Players take these cards as they are dealt, loading them into their personal plastic tray in the order they were dealt starting at the top, 50 spot, in their rack and working downward.
It’s important to make sure no one sorts their cards at this point. The cards need to be in a random order as the entire goal of the game is to manipulate the cards in your rack so that they end up in numerical order.
After everyone has their ten cards, the dealer places the deck in the center of the play area face down and flips over the top card forming a discard pile. Play then starts with the player to the left of the dealer.
If you take a card from the discard pile you must swap that card with a card in your rack that is then discarded.
If you draw from the deck you may replace a card in your deck or you can discard the card you just drew if it’s one you don’t want.
Play continues around the table until a player manages to get all of the cards in their rack into numerical order from bottom to top. When they do this they call “Rack-O” and the round ends.
The player who called “Rack-O” scores seventy five-points with every other player scoring five points per card in their rack that is in numeric order starting from the bottom and stopping just before the card that breaks the chain.
The plastic racks have numbers next to each slot to make this calculation easier.
The cards are all gathered and passed to the player to the left of the dealer who becomes the new dealer, who then shuffles the cards and starts a new round.
The game continues until at least one player reaches five-hundred points. Then the player with the most points wins.
That’s it for the basic rules of Rack-O.
Over the years there have been a number of variations added to these rules by different publishers. Here are the most common and most popular of those variants:
Two Player Variant – When playing with only two players you cannot call “Rack-O” unless you have at least three cards in consecutive order.
Partners – Four players play in teams of two with players sitting opposite each other combining their scores. This makes for a much quicker game and is my prefered way to play with four players.
Bonus Rack-O – The player who scores Rack-O gets bonus points for every perfect run of three to six cards in their rack.
You get fifty points for a three card run, one-hundred for a four card run, two-hundred for a five card run and four hundred for any run larger than that.
This leads to a maximum possible score of four-hundred and seventy-five points in one round, which can really bring a game to its end quickly.
I also remember playing a variant of Partners version where instead of drawing from the deck or discard pile you could ask your partner for a card. If they chose to give you one, you then gave them the card from your rack that you swapped it with. The fun part here is you aren’t allowed to talk about the numbers on the cards you have.
I have no clue if this is an official variant or something my grandmother made up, but I remember liking that rule a lot.
Why am I even talking about Rack-O?
When my wife and I actually manage to have some downtime, one of our favourite things to do is spend a night or two in Kingsville Ontario, which always consists of having some pints of beer at The Banded Goose Brewing Co. and staying over night at Inn 31 above Jack’s Gastropub.
On these short staycations, we almost always bring along some games to play.
Sometimes we don’t feel like carrying them around or end up making a last minute decision to stay overnight and end up at the brewery empty handed.
On one of our visits, I noticed that the brewery happened to have a small selection of board games on hand. One of those games was Rack-O.
I grabbed that copy of Rack-O and brought it out to the patio where we were sitting and cracked it open, only to learn that Deanna had never actually played Rack-O before.
This shocked me as Rack-O is a game that I grew up playing. I played it with my friends, I played it with my parents and I even remember playing it with my Grandmother, who had her own copy of the game. To me this was a games that everyone I knew had a copy of.
Not only had Deanna never played Rack-O before, she had never heard of it. So sitting there on the patio at Banded Goose I taught her how to play and we played a full game and were both hooked. Me again and her for the first time.
Since that night Deanna even went out and picked up a copy of Rack-O for us to have and play.
So what’s so special about Rack-O?
For me a big part of it is nostalgia. Whenever we play I’m reminded of good times with friends and family and relatives long passed.
The thing is, it’s not just nostalgia that keeps us playing, it can’t just be nostalgia because Deanna doesn’t even have any previous memories of the game. There really is something more to this game than just fond memories.
To start, Rack-O is dead simple to learn. Get ten cards, put them in your rack in the order you get them, get one new card a turn from the discard or deck and slot it into your rack working to get everything in order. That’s it.
That simplicity can be very appealing. Sometimes when wanting to play a game you just want something super simple where you don’t have to think all that much.
Despite having extremely basic mechanics, there can be a lot more to this game. Paying attention to what cards your opponents are discarding, watching where they pull these cards from, remembering what cards are buried in the discard pile and being careful that you don’t hand the win to the player to your left by discarding exactly what they need is all part of playing Rack-O well, if you actually care about playing to win.
That’s what I really love about this game, while you can play it tactically watching every move, you can also play while barely paying attention. Drawing new cards from the deck and putting them in what seems like the right place at the time.
There’s a special sweet spot here of randomness with actual meaningful player choices and simplicity with there being a tactical advantage of paying extra attention to what is going on.
This leads me to finding Rack-O to be the perfect game for a casual game night. A game night where the focus is on hanging out, chatting and having a good time with friends or family and the fact that there’s a game being played at the same time is just an added bonus. Rack-O is the perfect game for when the focus is on socializing and having fun together.
Now we did find one serious problem with Rack-O, and that’s with how long it takes to finish a full game. While each round is short and it can be fun to just play a few rounds and not really keep track of who’s winning overall, many gamers are going to want to find out who won in the end. To do that you need to get to a score of five hundred points.
With a goal of five hundred, even if a single player plays gets Rack-O every single time in a row, it will take seven rounds minimum to finish the game.
If each round takes about ten minutes to play through including shuffling, dealing and scoring, you are looking at a minimum of an hour and ten minutes to complete the game. That’s with the same person winning every single round in a row, which is extremely unlikely even if they are the only player really trying to win.
Due to this, we have had games of Rack-O go over the three hour mark, with our average game being closer to two. That’s a lot of time to spend on a silly, simple, casual game.
To help with this game length problem I recommend trying out the variants I mentioned above.
Also don’t forget the twenty-five bonus points for scoring Rack-O. That first game at Banded Goose we missed that rule and that game took FOREVER to finish.
To me, Rack-O is a true classic card game that really has stood the test of time.
This is one of the first games I remember ever playing and it’s a game I was shocked to learn is still a lot of fun over fourty years later. That’s coming from someone with a huge game collection who generally prefers medium to heavy weight games.
If you ever attend or host casual game nights Rack-O needs to be in your collection.
It’s such a great game to play while socializing. A game for game nights where it’s the people and the company that are more important than the game, but where playing something together still matters.
For those that grew up playing Rack-O, as I did, I encourage you to dust off your copy if you still have it or maybe pick up a new version and give it another go. There’s a good chance you may fall in love with the game all over again.
For the card gamers out there, the players of living card games, collectible card games and even traditional trick taking games you can probably give this one a pass.
You aren’t going to find a level of strategy or tactics here that you will enjoy. You never know though, maybe it’s worth giving Rack-O a shot, it could just be the perfect break from deck constructing or as a way to chill after a tense Euchre tournament.
Even right now as I wrap up this review I am thinking: I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing about Rack-O!
This game really did catch our fancy and my wife and I have now played many rounds since that first night at the Banded Goose Brewing Co. It’s often just the two of us on date night, but we have also been breaking it out with friends and family and everyone we have played it with has been surprised by how much fun they had playing.
What’s a game that you’ve rediscovered? Tell us about it in the comments below!