Four Wars MatchUp

by Nell Bartusch

Nell is an assistant trainer and voice mail administrator at SDSU. She has raised four fine sons and now has three grandkids (if you have an hour she'll show you their photos). In her spare time she prefers being with her family, reading, remodeling her condo, putzing around with her plants, and watching television (only educational TV, of course).


INSTRUCTIONAL OBJECTIVE: The learners will be able to remember at least seven facts about one of the following four wars, within one week of playing one game: the Civil War, World War I, World War II, or the Vietnamese War.

LEARNERS/CONTEXT: The learners are junior high or high school U.S. History students between 12 and 16 years old. The game is entertaining, as well as educational, and therefore, will be enjoyed by adults purely for amusement.

The game should be used as a supplement to text and class room lectures. Students can play it either before a lesson on the subject matter as a preview or after as a review. Students will want to play it whenever they have spare time during class time as well.

RATIONALE: The game has been structured in such a way that the participants are forced to read about the major war events described on the cards if they want to win. One card contains 13 clue facts about an historical U.S. war, while 13 other cards contain a short paragraph about a particular event in that war. Buried within the paragraph is a clue fact that closely matches one of the 13 clue facts. The paragraph is short so students do not need to spend a long time reading, but is challenging enough for them to experience the fun of searching for the clues. Until students know the facts about an event, they cannot guess about which cards to match without risking losing the game.

Not only does this game provide many facts about historical events, but it's fun to play.


The Deck:

The card deck of Four Wars MatchUp card game contains 56, 2" x 3-3/4" plastic laminated cards consisting of four War Cards and 52 Category Cards.


The back of each card is designed with a nonrepresentational pattern that prevents the players' opponents from seeing which cards they are holding.

The front side of the cards contains all the information necessary for game play (see War Cards and Category Cards below).


War Card Stand:

The deck also includes four, 2" x 3/4" x 3/4" pieces of molded plastic. A 1/2" deep slit has been cut on one of the 2" lengths . The players may place their War Cards into the slit and position the stand on the playing area facing them for easy viewing to reference facts throughout the game. Although not essential for play, the stand makes the game easier to play.

War Cards:

There are four War Cards in the deck, each representing a war that had a major impact on the society, culture, and politics of the United States. These were: Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnamese War.

The War Cards are printed on very light blue paper which sets them off from the rest of the deck for easy dealing.

At the center-top of each card, in bold type, is the name of the war. Below, and to the left, in smaller type are the 13 categories, each followed by a brief "clue fact" that is buried somewhere in the narrative paragraph of the Category Card.

Category Cards:

There are four sets of 13 Category Cards for a total of 52 cards. Each of the four sets relates to one of the wars cited above.

A 1/2" border edges all four sides of each of the Category Cards. The border is color keyed to one of the 13 categories. This sets each category apart and helps the players track the categories that they already have in their hand and those that are still needed. To further help the players identify the category, the name of the category is printed around the edge of the card on all four sides. No matter how the card is held in their hand, the players will know to which category it belongs.

The name of the war does not appear anywhere on a Category Card, except in the paragraph on the card. The players are, therefore, forced to read the paragraph to discover the "clue fact" which will let them determine whether or not the card matches with their War Card.

Within the colored border, each Category Card is printed with: 1) a visual or graphic (described under Category Card List below), and 2) a short narrative paragraph of facts relating to the person or event involved in that war. Buried somewhere within that paragraph is the "clue fact" that matches the fact on the War Card. The reader is forced to read the narrative to match the Category Card to the War Card.

Category Card List

The following is a list of the categories, the color of each category border color and the graphic/visual that appears on each card.

1. Dates: Gray Border -- A calendar of the time period

2. First Shot: Orange Border -- Map

3. Rival(s): Lavender Border -- Flag(s)

4. President: Light Blue Border -- Portrait

5. Rival Leader: Red Border -- Portrait

6. General: Tan Border -- Portrait

7. Rival General: Light Green Border -- Portrait

8.-11. Key Battle (4 cards): Yellow Border -- Map showing site

12. Place of Surrender: Lime Yellow Border -- Map showing site

13. Technology Developed: Turquoise Border -- Picture of item(s)

RULES: Two to four people may play at the same time, however play is more challenging and entertaining when two play.

Game Objective:

The objective of the game is for players to accumulate the most Category Cards that match up with their War Card, while holding the least number of other war's Category Cards. The ideal hand is MatchUp which is holding no other cards except all 13 Category Cards matched to their War Card.

The Deal:

Someone is chosen as dealer. If there is a dispute, players can draw from the War Cards placed face down until someone draws the Civil War Card.

The dealer separates the four War Cards from the 52 Category Cards and mixes them up. Without looking at them, he/she places the cards face down on the playing surface.

Starting to the dealer's right, each player selects one War Card which they keep hidden from their opponents. If only two are playing, the dealers opponent selects first.

The dealer then shuffles the 52 Category Cards. Starting with the person to his/her left (when there are 3 or more players), the dealer deals one card at a time to each player until everyone has five cards. He/she then places the rest of the cards face down in the center of play.


Play starts with the player to the dealer's left, (or the dealer's opponent when only 2 are playing). The player starts by taking the top card from the deck. He/she may either keep the card or discard it face up next to the deck. If the player chooses to put the card in the discard pile, the next player can either take a new card (draw) from the top of the deck or take one or more discarded cards. Players may chose to pass when it's their turn.


Players may pick up one or more cards from the discard pile, but can return no more than one card at a time to the discard pile during their turn. Or, the player may chose not to return any card to the discard pile. Players may chose more than two cards from the discard pile, but all the cards they select above the bottom card must be picked up. In other words, players cannot make specific selections from the pile, they take all or nothing.

Play continues until one player thinks they've won and declares so. However, the player has not won unless he/she has all 13 category cards (MatchUp) and none of the other war Category Cards. If the declarer does not have a complete MatchUp, then everyone counts their cards to determine a final score.


Each Category Card counts as 10 points. After play stops, the players total up all the cards they are holding that belong to their war. From that number, they subtract other wars' Category Cards they couldn't get rid of during play. The player with the highest score wins.

DESIGN PROCESS: I started by thinking of this game entirely in terms of a rummy game played with a regular 52 card deck, and play would have been very similar. Each war would be a different color and the cards would be imprinted with a category icon that would be readable from the corners. As I was designing the deck in my head, I realized that the players would not learn anything because all they would need to do was match colors and category icons. It was then that I thought of the two types of cards idea with one containing clues and the other with clues buried in text.

I developed a prototype and played through several hands, using rummy rules where the player was dealt seven cards and is required to discard a card for every play. I found that the player had no way to accumulate enough cards to get the 13 Category Cards without drawing on the discard pile. However, it made play too easy, and the game ended too quickly. By adding the one twist, the fact that the players do not have to discard, added the potential for strategy as well as learning.

Because all wars contain basically the same elements, I could see this game being easily developed for many different wars. The single topic card containing many clues that are matched to "category" cards could be used for other subject matter, too.

References Elllington, H., Addinall, E., & Percival, F. (1982) A handbook of game design. London: Kogan Page. pages 19-46.

Last updated by Nell Bartusch on September 28, 1995.

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Educational Technology 670, Fall 1995.