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Home > Traditional Games (Parlor Games) > Card Games > Ocean Go-Fish Rules and Strategy

Card Game Rules
and Strategy

Go Fish or ‘Ocean Go Fish’ is a card game that can be enjoyed by casual and advanced players, young and old alike. Played by 2 or more players, it requires minimal skill – mainly memory. It is undaunting for beginners because the strategy/tactics required to advance in skill level can be picked up over the course of a few games.

Playing Cards Spades Family

A popular and easy game ideal for huge groups!

To play, a deck of playing cards and a flat surface is all that is required. Of special note is the requirement that players are expected to play the game honestly: no game can be played to conclusion if all players persist in dishonesty.

What's Needed to Play Go-Fish:

* a deck of cards
* a flat surface big enough to accommodate the play area
* honest players

Objective of a Game of Go-Fish:

* to form as many ‘books’ during the course of the game. The player who forms the most ‘books’ wins

How to Set Up a Game of Go-Fish:

* the dealer thoroughly shuffles a deck of 52 playing cards (jokers/wildcards should be removed from a brand new deck)
* 7 cards are dealt face-down to each player in a game with 5 or more players; in a game with less than 4 players, each player can be dealt 9 cards, which makes the game run faster
* the remaining cards are scattered (or simply spread) face-down. This constitutes the ‘ocean’.
* the game is now set up and ready to play

Playing a Game of Go-Fish:

Once the cards are dealt, all players are required to check their cards for any ‘books’ that they may already have. A ‘book’ is a four-of-a-kind: a complete set of 4 cards of the same rank. For example: 4 Aces or 4 Queens. ‘Books’ must be placed face-up on the playing table the moment they are formed.

One player should be selected to start the game (i.e., take the first turn). This player asks any player of his choosing for a card of any rank (3, 5, Jack, King, etc). As an illustration, Ron is selected to take the first turn. He decides to ask Jason. “Jason, do you have any Aces?”

The player who is asked (Jason in the example) is required to reply in 1 of 2 ways:
..if he (Jason) doesn’t have any Aces, then he should reply “Go Fish!”
..if he (Jason) has any Aces, he should give all of these to the player who asked (Ron in the example)

The player who asked (Ron in the example) must now end his turn. He must do the following actions:
..if he (Ron) was told to fish, then he must get a card – any card – from the ‘ocean’
..next, he (Ron) must lay down any ‘books’ that he has formed

Cartoon Man Deals Playing Cards

The turn then passes on to the player who was asked (Jason in the example).

In the course of the game, the player who was asked can run out of cards before he takes his turn. In the example, if Jason is only holding 2 cards, and both are Aces, he is still required to give these to Ron. When Jason takes his turn, he will have no cards left to him. In thise case, he simply picks a card from the ‘ocean’ and proceeds to ask. Note: in this situation, he is required to ask for the same rank of the card that he has just picked up.

The game continues in this manner: asker receives a card from askee. Or if rebuffed by askee, asker gets a card from the ocean. The askee then takes his turn and becomes the new asker. ‘Books’ are laid down as soon as they are formed. Gameplay proceeds until all possible ‘books’ are formed. The player who forms the most ‘books’ wins.

Noteworthy Constraints that bear repeating are the following:
..The asking player can only ask for cards that he actually has in hand
..The asked player must necessarily give away all the cards he is asked for. He may not, for example, give out 2 cards and hold back 1 in order to go back and ask the other player for the same cards at a later time. This is cheating, and this makes the game unplayable if committed by enough players.

Tactics and Strategy for Winning in Ocean Go-Fish:

It's a Memory Game: The game favors players with the most prodigious memory. That said, a useful overall strategy is to keep the majority of the cards in your hand a secret for as long as possible. Bear in mind that everybody’s memory is freshest at the start of the game, and so revealing your cards early in the game is a big mistake.

In most cases, the card that you have just ‘fished’ from the ‘ocean’ is an unknown value to everyone but yourself. In conjunction with the above, try to keep its value secret for as long as you can.

As an alternative, you can also try the reverse tactic: by always asking for the value of the most recent card that you fished, you may keep the others guessing as to the values of the original cards that were dealt you. This may keep you in a good position to pounce upon a player whom you know already holds a 3-of-a-kind, allowing you to form an easy book on your next turn.

Forming Alliances: An unspoken alliance can be formed between 2 players when they target the same player for their fishing expeditions. Such an alliance can rapidly reveal the cards held by the targeted player. This could severely diminish the targeted player’s chances of forming books. On the other hand, this could allow other players to become ‘invisible’ and steal a victory from under the radar.

Rule Variation: Playing with 2 or more Decks of Cards:

For games with a great number of players, two decks can be shuffled together and dealt out as one. This presents a more confused and perhaps more uproarious game as keeping track of who holds how many of which cards can quickly become too much of a mental exercise, and players simply stop trying to remember and start having fun. Books can still be formed as a 4-of-a-Kind (regardless of a suit), or it may be formed as a complete set of 8 cards.

More Variations on the Standard Rules of Ocean Go-Fish:

..instead of forming ‘books’ of 4 cards, players may simply form pairs. This simple twist changes the dynamics of the game. Try it and see!
..instead of simply asking for a card by its ‘rank’ (e.g., Ace, Two, Three, Four..), players are required to specify the rank and suit (e.g., Ace of Clubs, Two of Diamonds, Three of Spades..). The asking player is also required to show 1 card of the same rank while asking. This variation raises the difficulty level of the game insofar as the memory aspect is concerned. It also makes it more difficult to catch (asked) players who lie about not having the card asked of them.
..when a player runs out of cards, he draws a new hand from the ocean instead of drawing just one card. Alternatively, you can set the number of cards that will be drawn in such circumstance, which can be any number of cards greater than 1 but less than the number of a complete hand.
..when a player is told to ‘Go Fish!’, he is required to draw a card from the hand of the player he just asked. The turn then passes to the asked player, who starts his round by drawing a replacement card from the ocean.

Adult Versions of Go-Fish:

Adult versions of the game Go-Fish can be played at Adult-themed parties, and the results can be rather rambunctious. Check out our suggestions on how to liven up your Adult-themed party with an adult game of Ocean Go-Fish:

Drinking while Go-Fishing (How to Play Ocean Go-Fish as a Drinking Game):

Long Version: the player who forms the least books (or the bottom 2-3 players in games with many players) take a shot (or a double shot, for faster results) of hard liquor at the end of each game. Then a drunkenness test is performed. Players who fail the test are required to submit to challenges ala Truth or Dare.
Short Version: whenever a player forms a book, all other players are required to take a shot of hard liquor. At the end of the game, the bottom 1-3 player(s) who build the least number of books take a double shot of hard liquor and the drunkenness test is conducted. The players who fail the drunkenness test do a Truth or Dare challenge.

Playing Cards Spread - Pick a Card

Note: a creative drunkenness test can be employed such as walking a straight line with arms outstretched to the side, and touching the tip of the nose 4 times with the pinky finger by bending at the elbows, left pinky then right pinky in alternating fashion. Try it while you’re drunk! =P

Strip Ocean Go-Fish (How to Play Ocean Go-Fish as a Strip Game):

Long Version: All players are required to have identical number of clothing. The player or players who formed the least books in each game removes one article of clothing. Everybody plays as many games as it takes to completely undress 1 or more players. Players can decide which set of rules to follow.

Short Version: All players have identical number of clothing at the start of the game. For example, 8 articles of clothing: shoes, socks, pants, shirt, jacket, cap/scarf, belt, undies. Normal game rules apply with one additional condition: whenever a player successfully builds a book, everybody else must lose an article of clothing. The game continues until 1 or more players are completely undressed.

Shortest Version: All players have identical number of clothing at the start of the game, for example, 6 articles of clothing: shoes, socks, pants, shirt, jacket, undies. Each player is then dealt only the correct number of cards (i.e., 6 cards in this example). Whenever a player gives up a card (as when he is successfully fished from), he also loses an article of clothing. The game continues until 1 or more players are totally undressed. Note: Before the game begins, the deck has to be prepared such that all cards have at least a pairing. It would be unfair to deal out a single card without a pair as the player who holds this card cannot lose the game.

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