When Nearly Is Never Nearly Enough

Kapaga is a card game that scales very well from two to, say, ten players. It thrives on drinking, bad weather, exceptionalism, and rule-wrangling. Even its name is open to debate.

Long ago Clayfox hosted a most contentious forum called the Kapaga Grayzone, home to battles such as Ace Discards, The Five of Clubs Rule, Queerly Kapaga, and Eights: How Wild? Records of these titanic struggles vanished with the collapse of BlogVoices, but the rules as recorded below are the result of consensus and even one international election.

Of course, anyone who has a problem with the rules as they stand – or, to put it less contentiously, a question about this game – is welcome to comment here.

OBJECT A: To get rid of cards in your hand.

OBJECT B: To be the last to reach more than 2,000 points total.


The person with the highest running score shuffles and deals. Misdeal is penalized.

Five cards dealt to each player (7 when there are only two players). Cards may be dealt in any order.

Anyone who looks at his/her cards before the dealer is finished is penalized. “Finished”: first card turned to begin the discard pile.

When the dealer turns over the first card, it is as if he/she had played it. If it is an 8, for example, the dealer calls for desired suit or number.

Play proceeds as in Crazy Eights, except:

  • Play by following suit or number. You may play more than one card at a time, if permissible.
  • Pick up one card only, when you can’t discard.
  • If picked-up card is playable right away, you may play.
  • No obligation to discard at any time.
  • Player who must turn discard deck over is penalized.
  • You must call KAPAGA! when you could go out next turn.
  • If caught with KAPAGA uncalled, you must pick up one card.
  • Person with nearly KAPAGA is encouraged to chant or sing, "Nearly KAPAGA" annoyingly.
  • Lying about KAPAGA is not ok.
  • Peering at others’ cards is ok.


  • A – Played along with another card of the same suit. If played
    alone, player must draw a card. An ace is never played on an ace.
  • 2 – Next player picks up two cards. Cumulative. A 2 of spades
    may be played on a 5 of spades for cumulative effect.
  • 3 – Normal.
  • 4 – Normal.
  • 5 – Normal, except 5 of Spades, which makes next player pick up five cards, and 5 of Clubs, which causes everyone to pass his or her hand to the right.
  • 6 – Normal.
  • 7 – Play skips next player.
  • 8 – Wild: Player calls for desired suit or another number. Has no power against 2s or the 5 of Spades.
  • 9 – All players pass their cards to the left.
  • 10, J, Q, K – Normal
  • Joker – All other players pick up one card. Player follows with another card. Does not answer a 2 or the 5 of Spades. Only one Joker is used in the game.


Various penalties are assessed during play. When a player goes out, the others count up the number of points they are holding in their hands as follows:

  • 3, 4, 5 (except of Spades), 6, 9 5 points
  • 10 10 points
  • J, Q, K 100 points
  • 7 150 points
  • 2 200 points
  • A, 8 300 points
  • 5 of Spades 500 points
  • Joker 600 points

Players reaching over 2000 points are eliminated from play at the end of the hand, not during it. Thus any penalties assessed during a hand, even if they bump a player over 2000, do not instantly knock him/her out.

If a player reaches 2000 exactly, his/her score is reset at 0.


  • Misdeal – 100 points
  • Looking at hand before dealer finishes – 100 points
  • Recycling discard deck – 100 points first time during hand, 200
    next time, 300 the next, etc.
  • Being caught with unannounced KAPAGA – Draw one card

439 thoughts on “Kapaga

  1. We’re sending Murray off to Boston with one last night of Kapaga. Love you guys, KB

  2. Andy’s not playing right. Can a 5 of spades be played on a 2 of spades, or is it vice versa?


  3. As the rules state, “A 2 of spades
    may be played on a 5 of spades for cumulative effect.” Not vice versa — no playing the 5 of spades on the 2 of spades. Claro?

  4. 1. Can your score reset to 0 at any time or do you need to wait until the round is finished?
    2. For the increased penalties for recycling the card deck, is it if the same person recycles it? Is it only increase during one round or does it continue until the end of the game? If you had reset to 0 and got 2000 points from this, would you still reset?
    3. The joker does not have a suit. Can it be dropped on any card?
    4. On a 5 of clubs or a 9, if a player receives another player’s single card, do they declare “Kapaga” upon receiving it?
    5. For the 8, I am assuming that you mean that the 2s and 5 of spades can be dropped on it, no matter what suit is declared?
    6. For the Joker, I am assuming that you mean you cannot play a Joker on a 2 or a 5 of spades.

  5. For Ross & anyone who might have similar questions:

    1. Scores are tallied at the end of a hand. That means nobody with a score of 1900 can “accidentally” misdeal & instantly reset to zero (as a certain princess once tried to do, & she knows who she is).

    2. The penalty for recycling the discard pile increases during a hand (or ’round’, as Ross calls it). It is reset to 100 each time a fresh hand is dealt. During a hand, this penalty increasing inexorably, even if it’s the same poor slob who keeps having to shuffle & recycle the discard pile.

    3. The joker can be dropped like a neutron bomb on any card *except a 2 or the 5 of spades*. See item 6 below.

    4. Yes if, thanks to a 9 or a 5 of clubs, a player inherits someone else’s hand with one card (or two or more cards that could be conceivably played all at once), that player best yell out “Kapaga” real quick before someone catches him with Kapaga. Because he has Kapaga, you see.

    5. No no, a 2 or a 5 of spades can only be dropped on top of an 8 if they satisfy the demand of the 8-player. Example: Suzie plays an 8 & says “I want to see a spade.” Then Louis is free to drop his 5 of spades down (or a 2 of spades, if he’s less cruel). But if Suzie had said when playing her 8, “I want to see a 7,” then Louis would have no choice but to hold on to his deadly 5 of spades (or the less deadly 2). Of course, if Louis had an 8 of his own, he could play it on top of Suzie’s & say, “I want to see a 5.”

    6. When a 2 or that old 5 of spades is played, the *only* thing the next player can do is play another 2 (thereby rolling over the pain to the next player, with interest) or shamefacedly pick up penalty cards. Only when that 2/5 of spades has done its damage (ie, when somebody has picked up cards as a result) can another player play on top of it — by following suit, or playing an 8 or a Joker.

    7. (Bonus item — Ross didn’t ask, but it’s worth emphasizing) Even when a 2 or 5 of spades has done its damage (as described in the previous item), if nothing else has been played on top of it & someone subsequently plays a 2, it springs back to life, like some horrid undead zombie. Here’s an example: Suzie, Louis, Romaine, and Dudley are playing a friendly game of Kapaga. Suzie plays a 2 of hearts. Louis doesn’t have a 2, so he must pick up two cards (even though he has a Joker and an 8 — it seems unfair, but they do him no good in this situation). Romaine has no hearts and no 2s, so she picks up one card and the play moves on. But Dudley has a 2 of clubs — he plays it on top of Suzie’s 2 of hearts. Disaster for Suzie! Since she doesn’t have yet another 2, she now has to pick four cards. Louis, Romaine, & Dudley all taunt Suzie & she takes an angry swig of her malt liquor refreshment.

  6. Firstly, thank you for responding so quickly to my last post. Here are some more questions I’ve encountered while playing the game.

    1. When someone plays the 5 of spades, is the next person limited to picking up 5 cards/playing a 2 of spades or can they respond?

    2. If you have one ace in your hand and have already declared kapaga, does the round end when you discard the ace and before you need to pick a card for the ace? Or do you continue the game with the card that you just drew?

    3. Four nines have just been played to render all effects neutral. A player plays an 8 asking for a 9. If that player has the other three 8s, do people keep on picking up cards until they get back to one of the 9s?

    4. If a 9 of diamonds has just been played and I have a 9 of clubs, but no diamonds, and I like my hand, can I choose to draw 1 card from the deck? Can I choose to pass my turn indefinitely, whether or not I have the suit in my hand? If I could pass indefinitely, would I have to draw for cards on which I would not be able to respond or draw a card every turn?

    5. When a player plays a 2, and the next player also has a 2, does the next player draw two cards and end his turn, play the 2 and end his turn as if it were a hot potato, or draw two cards and play the two?

    6. What does Kapaga mean in Danish/Inuit?

  7. How heartwarming it is to see the corners of Kapaga being plumbed. Many years ago we had a Kapaga Greyzone going on this site that housed debate on just such topics, now lost in the mists of dot com antiquity. Anyway, here goes:

    1. When a 5 of spades is played, the next person can do nothing but pick up 5 cards or play the 2 of spades (in which case the next player would pick up seven, or roll over the pain with yet another 2).

    2. A player holding just an ace does have Kapaga, because she could conceivably end the round. But since an ace must *always* be played with another card, the only way that could happen is if she played the ace, picked up another card from the discard pile of the same suit, & thus were able to immediately able to play that card too. Then and only then: round over.

    3. Wow, what an esoteric situation! Has this really ever happened in real life? But yes, if four players are playing & all four nines are played, the hands “pass” to their original holders. Then if a player is cruel enough to play an 8 & demand a 9, then yes people pick & pick until a 9 is played — or until another 8 is played to relieve everyone from their misery (or avoid utter mutiny from the game).

    4. You always have the option to not play a playable card, & opt instead to pick a card from the deck. It’s a free country.

    5. Back to our players: Suzie plays a two. Louis has a 2. Louis has a couple of choices. CHOICE ONE Louis can hold his 2 in his hand, in which case he would have to pick up two cards and his turn is over. Romaine then can play any card that is the same suit as Suzie’s 2 (or an 8, or a Joker); if Romaine plays a 2, then she revives the pain & Dudley has to pick up four cards. CHOICE TWO Louis decides to play his 2 on top of Suzie’s 2, forcing Romaine to pick up four cards — unless Romaine also plays a 2, then Dudley has to pick up six cards. The *only* response to a 2 is to pick up penalty cards (no subsequent discard) or play another 2.

    6. In the original Kapaga Greyzone, some Danes quarreled about the word “kapaga”. Apparently it could be spelled differently. I have no idea what it means. The word comes to me from sailors who replicated Leif Ericson’s voyage & were infected with this game in Greenland. See http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9803E0D91F31F935A25754C0A96E958260
    and http://www.amazon.com/Viking-Voyage-Unlikely-Adventurers-Attempts/dp/B000C4SRV8

  8. absolutely love this game!! Just to clarify, can a 5 of spades be played on a 2 of spades? I know that you can play a 2 of spades on a 5.

  9. Hi Kapaga guy – sorry to leave you hanging with your question —
    A 5 of spades cannot be played on a 2 of spades. But, as you mention, a 2 of spades can be played on a 5 of spades — a particularly sweet turn of events.

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