Authored by Evan Prodromou

Play the Hand You're Dealt

Play the Hand You're Dealt

This is a game about life and how you live it. It can be played kind of like a regular card game, or you can add a role-playing aspect to make it more interesting and fun.




  • 1 pack of cards
  • 2 six-sided dice


  1. Remove jokers.
  2. Shuffle cards.
  3. Deal each player six cards, face up. These represent their character's six Advantages, in order. You can't change the cards around.
    • Family
    • Money
    • Friends
    • Mind
    • Body
    • Heart
  4. Put the remaining cards in a pile at the centre of the table, face down. Leave space for a face-up discard pile right next to it.
  5. There are 6 rounds of play:
    • Childhood
    • Adolescence
    • Romance
    • Career
    • Achievement
    • Old age
  6. For each round, each player draws a Challenge card, face up, starting with the player on the dealer's left and going counterclockwise.
  7. To overcome the Challenge, the player chooses an Advantage card and has to roll a number on the dice greater than or equal to the Challenge and less than or equal to the Advantage. For Challenges, an ace counts as 11, and face cards count as 10. The player must choose an Advantage card, even if they don't have one that is higher in value than the Challenge card. The player must roll the dice, even if they can't possibly overcome the Challenge.
  8. If the player loses the Challenge, they flip the Advantage card they used face down. It cannot be used for the rest of the game.
  9. If the player beats the Challenge, they can optionally use the Challenge card to replace one of their Advantage cards. They can replace any Advantage card, face-up or face-down. Put the replaced Advantage card in the discard pile. Otherwise, put the Challenge card in the discard pile.
  10. After all players have played all rounds, each player's score is the sum of their remaining face-up Advantage cards. As in challenges, an ace counts as 11 and a face card counts as 10.
  11. The player with the highest score wins. In case of a tie, the player with the most face-up cards wins.

Role play

Here are some suggestions for how you can add role-play to the game. Try to keep your role play brief (2-3 sentences) to avoid stalling the game out.

  • After all the Advantage cards have been laid out, each player can give a description of their character. "I am a girl with a neglectful family. We don't have a lot of money, and our town is kind of poor and unpopulated. But I am very clever, and I'm determined to make a name for myself regardless of my disadvantages."
  • When you pick an Advantage card to overcome a Challenge, you can role play what you are trying to do, and how that advantage will help you do it. "I'm a natural athlete, so I'll use Body to get a football scholarship at my state university."
  • When you roll well and beat a Challenge, say what happened. "I worked hard, and I got the scholarship. I'm the first person in my Family to go to the university, and they're very proud that I'm playing ball for State."
  • When you roll badly and don't beat a challenge, say what happens to the Advantage card. "I leaned on connections through Friends to get a job in the field I prefer. But I demanded too much from them, and my poor job performance became a personal embarrassment. Gradually, my Friends stopped returning my calls."
  • At the end of the game, as you're counting up points, give a summary of your character's life. "I started out rich, with Money and a supportive Family, but I wasn't able to turn those early advantages into a meaningful life. I died isolated from Friends and Family, still with a lot of Money, but without the imagination or compassion to put it to good use."

If you're really into the role play, you can incorporate it into the scoring.

  • Give each player three markers (coins, beans, poker chips) at the start of the game.
  • The players can award the markers to others for particularly good role play.
  • At the end of the game, add one point for each marker earned through role play, and subtract one point for every marker that wasn't given away.


This is subject to your own play style, but here are some guidelines for role-playing the different advantages.

  • Family Represents the quality of your relationship with your immediate and extended family. For Childhood and Adolescence, this is usually parents and siblings. For later in life, it's often spouse and children, or intentional family.
  • Money Represents the money available to the character, as well as their ability to make more money. In early rounds this is usually provided by the character's family, but in later rounds it can come from other sources.
  • Friends Represents the quality of the character's relationship with immediate friends and acquaintances, as well as a wider community. Who is rooting for the character?
  • Mind Represents the character's intelligence, cleverness, education level, cultural development.
  • Body Represents the physical attractiveness of the character, physical athleticism, and physical health.
  • Heart Represents the character's empathy, connectedness, courage, emotional openness and persistence.


The challenges represent stages of life. Here are some rough ideas of what they mean to guide your role play.

  • Childhood This is the time between birth and young adulthood. Anything that could happen during that time is good fodder for role play.
  • Adolescence From late childhood to adulthood and independence; teen years, high school, and university are all in play.
  • Romance In the simplest sense, this can mean identifying, wooing and committing to a mate (or mates!). In a broader sense, coming to terms with the character's sexuality or sexual orientation, having a satisfying romantic life, and avoiding romantic problems all fall into this round of challenges. For asexual characters, dealing with that status in a romance- obsessed society might be their challenge for the Romance round.
  • Career This challenge is the character finding the work that they do in the world -- probably, but not necessarily, for money. Picking a career path, getting others to believe in the character, and advancing in their chosen profession. For some characters, the challenge is less about money than about making an artistic, criminal or academic career.
  • Achievement This is the challenge of reaching a pinnacle in life. Once they have established themselves in Romance and Career, how and where do they go further? Whether it's becoming a parent, hitting a career high, or finding satisfaction in personal or civic activities, achievement is what the character makes of it.
  • Old age. Having reached a certain number of years, the challenges become more common. Physical and mental health are in jeopardy, as well as relationships and social status. The character must use remaining Advantages to push past the challenges of Old age.

If these stages don't quite match your character's story arc, try to fudge it. It's worth the effort to have all the characters at the table going through the same stages at the same time.

Advanced rules

  • Snake eyes = you're dead. If you roll two ones on the dice, your character dies suddenly and immediately. Roll play what happens.
  • Exchange Romance and Career. Different characters pursue these goals at different times in their lives. You can switch them around if it makes sense for your character.



To the extent possible under law, Evan Prodromou has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Play the Hand You're Dealt. This work is published from: Canada.

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