How to play Egyptian Rat Screw

This is an ageless card game that kids and adults will all love (as it basically brings out the big kid in everyone). It’s fairly simple to pick up so perfect for parties where you don’t want to spend ages explaining complicated rules to guests who just want to crack on and play the game.

It’s known by many different names across the globe but you’ll probably hear it referred to as Egyptian Rat Screw or Rat Slap most often. The latter name perhaps gives you more of an idea of what’s involved during the game and why it’s such a popular party choice…the piles of cards are slapped for different reasons and this can be as loud and hard as the player likes, which adds to the hilarity. It also means the game can be played while other conversations are taking place or music is playing in the room – in fact, the more noise the better if you want a really wild party!

The game is all about keeping your eye on the ball and having top-notch hand-eye coordination and great reflexes. There’s no tricky arithmetic or calculations; it’s about speed and agility. As with many other card games, the more players you have in the game, the more loud and crazy it will become. Of course, the game will also last longer so the number of players will ultimately depend on whether you’re looking for quick-fire card-party games or longer games for bigger groups or parties. The ultimate aim of the game is to collect all the cards in play.

We’ve set the age minimum at 6 years old here but you could easily adjust the slap rules so that younger kids can join in the fun. They might have trouble remembering all the different rules that apply (but then again, so might some of the adults!) so you could just use two or three of the easier-to-remember rules (such as You’re having a Joke and Double-up – see below for all the slap rules) so they don’t have too much to think about when the game is in play. If kids are playing with adults, it’s a good idea to ask the adult players to remove any rings and bracelets and to go a bit easy on the card slaps so the kids don’t get hurt when play gets frantic.

There’s no real limit on the number of players but we’ve set it at 8 as a rough guideline. This is mainly because every player needs to be able to easily reach the pile of cards in the centre of the playing table, in order to have an equal chance of winning the cards. If you have a large circular table, or a dining table with plenty of seats, then you could probably play the game with even more players. But it might be worth checking that everyone can reach before you begin (especially if children are joining in), or some players will have a distinct advantage and the game won’t be fair. You can also add extra decks of cards into play if you have a lot of players, as this will give more opportunities for the slap rules to apply and, after all, that’s the really fun part of the game.

The basics

Age range: 6+

What you need: 1 x standard deck of cards (use extra decks for larger groups of players)

Number of players: 2–8

How to play

As with most card games, the very first thing you need to do is to select a dealer for the first game. You can either just decide who the dealer is, or all players can pick a card from the deck and the player with the highest value card will be dealer.

  1. The dealer should shuffle the deck thoroughly. Jacks should be kept in the deck as these cards can be played during the game (as you’ll see later!). Cards should be dealt out so that all players have an equal number of cards. If the number of players means the deck can’t be dealt out equally, the leftover cards should be placed face up in the centre of the playing table. Players should keep their cards on the table in front of them, face down in a neat stack
  2. Play will work in a clockwise direction, with the player to the left of the dealer going first. As already mentioned, the rules of the game are pretty straightforward and all that’s required of the player is to take the top card from their stack and place it, face up, in the centre of the table. When turning it over, the player must make sure that everyone sees the face of the card at the same time (so no sneaky peaking at the card before the other players have had a chance to see the value). If there’s already a pile in the centre that was left over from dealing, the player’s card is placed face up on top.
  3. The next part of the game depends on the face value of the card. If the first player puts down a number card then the game moves onto the next player. They pick up and turn over their top card and add it, face up, to the centre pile.
  4. Play continues as long as number cards are being placed on the centre pile. However, the game changes tactic as soon as someone puts down an Ace or a picture card (Jack, Queen or King). When this happens, the next player along must now also place down a picture or ace card. Obviously, they have no idea what their card will be until they turn it over, so no one knows how play will proceed and when the tactics will change.
  5. So, what happens if the next player doesn’t turn over the correct card to add to the pile? That’s simple – the last player to put down the face or ace wins the round, collects the centre pile and adds it to their stash. This player then starts off the next round, with play continuing in a clockwise direction after their turn.
  6. At this point you might be wondering how the ‘slap’ element of the game comes into play. Well this gives other players the chance to jump in and ‘steal’ the cards before there’s an official winner to the round. The slap rules can be played at any time during the round, as long as the criteria are met – which means a round can be won before players run out of options for taking a turn. Once a slap rule comes into play, the first player to slap down on the centre pile wins all those cards. 
  7. The game continues until one player has the whole deck in their hand.
  8. Here’s the criteria for slapping the deck:
  • You’re having a Joke – easy to remember, you can slap the pile whenever a Joker is set down by a player.
  • Let’s get hitched – when a king and queen are placed down one after the other (so a king then a queen, or a queen followed by king).
  • Four-up – if 4 consecutive cards are placed down in a row then it’s time to slap. For example, 3, 4, 5, 6 – the cards don’t have to be in the same suit, just placed down in the correct order.
  • Double-up – this rule applies when two players place down cards that have the same face value, one after the other. For example, 9 followed by another 9 or 2 followed by another 2 etc.
  • Card sandwich – you need to be paying close attention for this one; it’s when two cards of the same value are placed down but with a different card in the middle. For example, a player puts down a 6, the next player puts down an 8 and then the play after that is again a 6.

Tactics and strategy

Concentration is key and players can increase their chances by keeping a close eye on all the cards that are placed, especially when the first few cards of a slap rule are placed down. So, for example, if 3 consecutive cards have been placed in the centre (the Four-up rule), being ready to slap will offer an advantage if the final card is placed down by the next player. It’s also important to remember the previous card that was placed as you never know when a Card Sandwich might occur. So, good memory skills are key.

It’s also perfectly acceptable for players to feign a slap – in other words, raise their hand like they’re going to slap to encourage other players to slap when there’s no slap rule in place. An incorrect slap means a player has to forfeit a card – they have to place the card face up at the bottom of the pile in the centre. Well-played fake slapping can help to clinch the game for clever players.

Game variations

All in – You can choose to only allow players to continue playing if they’re still holding cards (ie able to keep putting cards down in the centre go when it’s their turn to play), or you can allow them to continue playing when they’ve run out of cards – so they can still try to gain the centre pile when the slap rule applies.

Most cards wins – if you’re tight on time, or you want to get through as many games as possible, you can elect a winner once there’s only one player holding cards. This is slightly different to the regular rules, which state the winner must hold all the cards, including all the cards from the central pile.

One-handed slap – the dealer nominates the right or left hand for each game and this is the only hand that players are allowed to use when slapping the central pile of cards. Anyone who uses the wrong hand can’t win that round. To add to the concentration levels, you could opt to change the nominated hand each round.

Texas rules – this is where the slap rules change slightly so that it’s not about one player getting all the cards in the central pile by being the quickest to slap. Instead, every player tries to take as many cards as they can from the pile once the slap rule comes into play. If you’re going with Texas rules, it’s not recommended to use your prize deck of cards, as the cards might not be in pristine condition once the game ends.

Forehead slap – in this variation of the traditional rules, players have to slap their forehead before they can go ahead and slap the central pile to try to win the cards. It takes a little more concentration and coordination as the natural instinct is to go directly for the cards. You’ll catch out a few players with this rule.

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