Ecuadorian Card Games

Regina Markert - Ecuador


January 23, 2018

My American family visited me in December. It’s hard to put into words just how excited I was to see them after four long months, but along with my excitement came anxiety about them meeting my Ecuadorian family. My mother and brother have beginner/intermediate Spanish, while my dad can just about only say “hola” and “gracias.” I knew that the four days that my two families were together would mean that I would be the bridge between them in terms of both the language barrier and the culture differences. Little did I know how much my well loved/worn deck of cards would come in handy.
My Ecuadorian family loves card games. The entire extended family comes over every Sunday for lunch and dinner. Before and after meals, the sound of laughter and conversation is punctuated by the sound of a deck of cards being shuffled and dealt. Thus, I’ve picked up a few games. Here are some of my favorites that my two families bonded over that I’d like to share with you all:
*Siete Pega Todo* (7 Hits All)
This is a slapping game. My seven year old host cousin Carlitos loves it, but he just taps hands instead of slapping. It’s more fun to play with adults who aren’t afraid to hit or get hurt. 
Each card tells you who to slap that round. The dealer takes turns giving a single card to a player and telling them whose hand to slap. Aces and 10s are saved until the end. If you have a 10, you can hit whoever you want. If you have an Ace, you can block any 10’s slap that comes your way. The person at the end with the reddest hand gets seven slaps from each person.
  1. As – ace – venganza
  2. A vos – hit yourself
  3. Al juez – to the dealer
  4. Al más gato – the person with the lightest colored eyes
  5. Al brinco – one person over from you
  6. Al que veis – the first person to make eye contact with you
  7. Siete pega todo – you get to slap everyone
  8. Al tocho – the smallest person
  9. Al que se mueve – the first person to move (including moving your eyes!)
  10. Escudo – hidden
  11. Jack – a la izquierda – the person to your left
  12. Queen – a la derecha – the person to your right
  13. King – al frente – the person in front of you
*Burro Nervioso* (Nervous Donkey)
The dealer has the deck of cards and everyone playing has a hand at the ready (but not too close!). The dealer, starting with ace and going up to king, counts off the numbers and he or she throws down the cards. If he or she says a number and the card thrown down is the same number, everyone has to slap the deck. The last person to slap the deck had to take all the cards in the pile. The game ends when the dealer runs out of cards. The person with the most cards loses. This game will test your reflexes!
*Cuarenta* (Forty)
I just learned this game last weekend. Though I’m still hazy on the rules (as it’s the most complicated one yet), it sure is a lot of fun. Since I’m not an expert yet, here is an excerpt from ecuador.com:
“When it comes to card games in Ecuador, Cuarenta is not only the favorite card game played, it is the national card game. It is played with a pack of Spanish cards, holding forty cards, which is called a baraja. It can be played with Anglo-American cards that have fifty-two cards in the deck, but then the 8’s, 9’s and 10’s are taken out. As opposed to many other card games, in Cuarenta the ace card has a low value.
The name of the game is derived from the deck of cards, as cuarenta means forty. It is usually played with two players, but four can play if they make two teams [the team members must sit diagonal from each other so that they don’t see each other’s cards]. Tantos and perros are the names of chips that are used to keep score, and each player or team needs to get forty points to win the game. The game begins with each player receiving five cards. If the dealer has dealt with an irregularity, such as the incorrect amount of cards, the opposing player is given ten points. The first five cards are stacked to one side face down. Each deal gives the players five cards. The player or team on the right hand side of the dealer begins, so the game moves counterclockwise, and before the game commences, announcements are made, such as if they [a player] have three cards of the same rank. If a player has four cards of the same rank, they win the game automatically. Each player then turns one card face up on the table, if it is their turn. These cards can be taken by the opposing team or player, and captured cards are then placed face down in front of the other player. Cards can be captured in various ways, and in Cuarenta, the Ace card only counts for one.
A player is also able to capture all the cards, which is called a limpia. However, the rules and way of scoring can change depending on the city in which the game is played. For instance, the game played in Quito is scored differently than that game played in Cuenca. During Cuarenta Tournaments, rules are explained beforehand to make sure all players are aware of the scoring system. When a card is captured by a player straight after the card has been played, it is called a caida. After all the cards have been dealt out, the teams of players will add up their cards to see how many cards they have. If for instance a player has twenty cards, he will get six points. Cuarenta is an intricate card game that is taken very seriously by players, and is a very important part of the culture in Ecuador.”
Though I have a few more games up my sleeve, I thought these three give the best insight into the games my two families played. I’ve bonded with my Ecuadorian family members a lot through these casual games. They’re also a good opportunity to use your trash talk (“tramposer@!” Cheater!). I hope you use these card games at your next family meal!

Regina Markert