Garbage Card Game Rules & Tips

If you’re looking for a card game that doesn’t require any fancy decks or props, and is easy for kids and adults alike to learn, look no further. Garbage (also known as Trash) is frenetic and fun and needs just 2 players – although up to 8 can play with extra decks. 

It’s one of those games that you’ll keep coming back to and is ideal for rainy days, delayed planes or card parties. The aim of the game (as the name suggests) is to get rid of all your cards and you’ll need a bit of mental math to stand a chance of winning. This makes it a great game for kids, as they’ll be practising their arithmetic without even realising it! And, for adults, you’ll have some pretty hilarious rounds if you’ve had a couple of drinks, as players try to keep track with their counting and stay focused. 

You’ll need a fairly big surface area for this game, as you have to lay out your cards in rows so clear some space at the dining table before you begin. This also makes it a good spectator card game so, even if it’s just two players battling it out for Garbage supremacy, everyone else can gather round and get in on the action. And if anyone else wants to get involved, you could allocate a dealer although you can deal your own cards if it’s just two of you playing. 

So, now we’ve got the introductions over with, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of the game. Whether you call it Garbage or Trash, the same set-up and rules apply and we’ve set them all out below so read through and start playing!

We’ve stated 8 as the maximum number of players but you can, in theory, play with as many players as you like, as long as you up the number of decks in play accordingly. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that more players means a longer game time. So, if you want a quick game, keep the numbers down, but if you’re looking for a great way to keep a room of guests entertained for a long time, round up all the decks of cards in your house and settle down for a few hours of fun.

The Basics

Age range: 6+

What you need: 1 x standard deck of cards per 2 players

Number of players: 2–8

How to play

Before you begin, work out the number of decks you need (1 deck for 2 players; 2 decks for 3 or 4 players; 3 decks for 5 or more players). The game works equally well with just 2 players, as it does with a larger number. 

1. Select someone to be dealer. The dealer shuffles the deck(s) thoroughly and deals out the cards face-down, until each player has a total of 10 cards. They place the leftover cards, face down, in a pile in the centre of the table. 

2. Players should put their cards (face down) in a row in front of them – the number of rows will depend on how many people are playing and how big the table is. Ideally, you want a single row of ten cards in front of each player but this works best if you have just 2 players sitting opposite each other. With more players, it’s best to work with 2 rows of 5 cards. 

trash card game setup

3. The cards have an imaginary number of 1 to 10, with the card on the top row on the left being 1 and the card on the bottom right being 10. Remember these numbers. You now have your starting hand and the game can begin. 

4. The dealer should take the top card from the centre pile, turn it over and place it down next to the pile to start the ‘Garbage’ pile. The first player can choose this upturned ‘Garbage’ card, or opt for the top card on the downturned pile. The choice will depend on the card – Ace to 10, plus Jokers and Kings, can be played, while Jacks and Queens can’t. 

5. If a player picks up an Ace to 10, they place the card on its corresponding pile (so 5 would go at the end of the top line; 6 at the beginning of the bottom line etc). If the player gets a Joker or King, they can place this on any pile they like. If they draw a Jack or Queen, they have to put the card on the trash pile and the next player takes a turn. Play should move in a clockwise direction around the table. 

garbage card game

6. Now pay attention, here’s the important part: as the player puts their card down on the correct pile, they also pick up the downturned card that was already there. They turn this card over and play it in the same way that they just played the card from the centre pile. In other words, they now place this card in its relevant place in the rows. So, a 9 will be placed face up in the 9 pile and they again pick up the downturned card that’s already in that place. While it’s your turn, you keep going, turning and placing cards, until you can’t place the card (for example, if you turn a Jack or Queen). 

7. When the player turns over a card that they can’t play, they should place it face-up on the trash pile and the game moves on to the next player. You might end up with no plays or 8 or more plays in your round, that’s the luck of the draw! 

8. The game continues until someone has filled all their 1 to 10 slots across the 2 rows (or one if you have the luxury of space). Don’t forget about the Joker and King rule, as some rows might not have consecutive numbers; these cards can be played in any space.

9. As soon as a player fill out all their slots, they should call out ‘Garbage' so everyone knows they have finished. Play stops and the other players each take a card from the downturned pile for the chance to finish their rows. If the last card is enough to complete their rows, that player can move onto the next level, along with the winner of the round. 

garbage card game winning

10. Now you’re onto round 2 and the game gets even more fast-paced and exciting! Swap to a new dealer (as with the game play, the next dealer should be the player sitting next to the dealer in the first round, going in a clockwise direction). The dealer gathers up all the cards, including the trash and pick-up piles, and gives them a really good shuffle to make sure all the consecutive numbers are now mixed up again. 

11. The cards are dealt out, with the winner of the first round getting 9 cards. Any other players who managed to complete their set with the last card in the first round also get 9 cards this time around. All other players are dealt out 10 cards. This means that successful players in the first round will get an advantage as they have fewer slots to fill in round 2. However, it’s possible to catch up – and overtake – these players. If they fail to fill their slots in round 2, they’ll go into the next round with 9 cards again and other players could catch up and also be dealt 9 cards in round 3. It’s a constantly evolving game so players need to give it their full concentration as play progresses.

12. The game continues with the same rules as the first round – so each player takes a card and matches it to the corresponding place on their dealt set. As in the first round, if a player completes their set, they are dealt out one card less in the next round. So, if a player had 9 cards in the second round and completed the set, they will be dealt out 8 cards in round 3.

13. The game continues for as many rounds as it takes before a player only has 1 card dealt to them. The rules change slightly now: this player must fill their card space with either an Ace or a wildcard (so, you’re basically treating this card as a ‘1’). 

14. When the player fills the slot, they have to shout out ‘Garbage' and that will proclaim the ultimate winner of the game.

Game Variations

There’s a few variations to Garbage and it’s basically down to preference as to which rules you use. Just make sure you stick to the same rules for subsequent rounds and games, otherwise it can get very confusing for players. 

Drinking Garbage (adults only!) – add a party vibe to the game by including a drinking challenge. At the end of each round, all the players who haven’t managed to complete their set must drink a shot or take a slug of their wine or beer. Of course, if there’s a lot of players in the game, this might result in a few players who are worse for wear by the end of the game!

Quick draw – this is a shorter version of the game which makes it ideal for card game parties or after-dinner games, where you want to include everyone and have shorter games. It’s also good if you have a large number of players, or are playing with kids who might struggle with the full set of 10. You can choose to deal out either 6 or 8 cards per player. The rules are exactly the same but play is quicker.

Pass it on – this is a fun variation where you can unwittingly help out another player, even if you don’t want to! If a player can’t use the card they draw, they have to pass it on to the next player in the clockwise rotation. The player plays the card if they can, or they then discard it, if it can be slotted into their pile. 

Jack is back – instead of discarding the 2 Jacks in the pack if they pop up in the pick-up pile, you can actually add another 2 Jacks to each deck (remember, the number of decks in play will depend on the number of players in each game). So, if you’re playing with 1 deck, you’d have 4 Jacks – essentially making up another full suit. The Jacks are then treated in the same way as a wildcard so can be placed on any pile in the set. 

Circular Garbage – exactly the same rules apply but each player arranges their cards in a circle in front of them on the table, again working on the principle of 1 to 10. This can work well if you’re short of space as the arrangement won’t take up as much room as a long row of cards in front of each player. 

Images courtesy of Wikihow


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